Pacific Opera Victoria

Blitzstein's Regina

Dates and Venue 17, 19, 22, 24, 26 April 2008 @ 20.00 | The Royal Theatre, Broughton Street, Victoria

Regina Giddens Kimberly Barber Birdie Hubbard Kathleen Brett Alexandra Giddens Robyn Driedger-Klassen Benjamin Hubbard Doug MacNaughton Oscar Hubbard Gregory Dahl Horace Giddens Dean Elzinga William Marshall J. Patrick Raftery Leo Hubbard Lawrence Wiliford Addie Tracie Luck Cal Deandre Simmons Jazz Louise Rose

Conductor Timothy Vernon Director Glynis Leyshon Sets Pam Johnson Costumes Erin Macklem Lighting Alan Brodie Choreographer Anne Wootten

Reviewer J H Stape

The Canadian première of this rarely performed 1949 opera, based on Lillian Hellman's 1939 play The Little Foxes, comes to Pacific Opera Victoria ... and the match is one made in heaven.

Long known for its imaginative repertoire, for its casting of singing actors, and for its finely detailed performance values, the company pulls out all the stops for this one from its superb casting to its gorgeous sets and costumes (made by POV). Beg, borrow, or, if need be, steal a ticket, for this is one of those music-theatre events in which every element coalesces -- but that's a POV trademark.

To start with, Glynis Leyshon's superlative dramatic sense galvanizes this opera-made-from-a-play (with a good deal of spoken dialogue). Blitzstein's work is unlikely to gain a toe-hold in the standard repertoire: it's too long (the first act needs pruning), too static, has too little memorable music, and a creaky plot, but this fine production works and even more than works on all levels.

Enthusiasm is often rightly suspect in reviewing, but POV brings together a creative team and group of thoroughly committed singers to give this opera what must be its best shot ever. Set in the Deep South, the action revolves around one of those classic dysfunctional families riven by money and driven by power. In this production, you can almost smell the magnolias and bourbon ... and the moral rot.

As in the Southern family, it's the women who count first and foremost. Kimberley Barber, in fine voice, dominates the stage in the title-role of the schemer and devouring mother, though she has less interesting music than the superb Kathleen Brett, whose performance of a modern mad scene (as she pours out her soul and details her life's plight) is spellbinding, or the honey-voiced Robyn Driedger-Klassen (fresh from her excellent performance as Marzelline in Vancouver Opera's Fidelio).

No less than astonishing are mezzo-contralto Tracie Luck as the faithful servant Addie, making her POV debut with her gorgeous voice having colour and depths exploited to the hilt, and local jazz singer Louise Rose in the trousers role of Jazz. Rose sings and dances her way into the audience's heart and offers a simply definitive performance.

The male singers likewise all and sing act as if their lives depended upon it, but if palms must be given out it is to Dean Elzinga as the (symbolically) ailing and hated husband of Regina and to Deandre Simmons in the role of the servant Cal.

This is work of festival quality: poised and assured, convincing and deft. Under the direction of Maestro Timothy Vernon the Victoria Symphony delivers a bravura performance, and one leaves the Royal Theatre in a state of near awe at the sheer artistic excellence on display.

POV's 2008-09 season sees productions of Massenet's Thaïs, Handel's Semele, and The Magic Flute. If any audience were thoroughly spoiled, count Pacific Opera Victoria's among them: this is opera for sophisticated adults, lovingly mounted, wonderfully sung and acted, and proudly intelligent. There ought to be more Timothy Vernons heading companies in Canada and elsewhere.

© 2008 J H Stape