Conductor Nancy Hermiston Director
Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson
A fizzy presentation from UBCOpera of a ditzy comedy by Nino Rota has graced the boards of the Chan Shun Concert Hall. Composer of film scores (La Dolce Vita, The Leopard, The Godfather), Rota is not as well-known for his operas, of which he wrote many, and The Florentine Straw Hat itself is better known under slightly variant titles as a silent movie or a stage play. Be that as it may, this zany cross between French farce and comedy of manners is a lively addition to the repertoire, well suited for a university ensemble, full of small cameo roles, cheerful references to the greats of European comic opera, lively tunes and rich orchestration.
The outline of the plot is familiar to any afficionado of CBC’s “Vinyl Cafe”: the rituals of a social occasion, in this case a wedding, are carried out in the face of another, increasingly bizarre, scenario. A young man, Fadinard, is driving home in his carriage through the Bois de Boulogne expecting to greet his bride, her frightening father, her deaf uncle and a host of guests with presents. But, a pretty straw hat left on a tree branch is eaten by Fadinard’s horse. The owner of the hat, a married woman, is now compromised if she goes home without it, her dashing lover threatens Fadinard with a duel if the hat is not replaced, and the two of them invade his house. Fadinard scours Paris for a replica while at the same time following the time-honoured plan for a French wedding: Church, City Hall, a restaurant for a banquet and finally home to put the happy couple to bed. Mistaken identities, running gags and general mayhem ensue.
Nancy Hermiston’s direction kept the frantic plot well under control and let her young cast shine in the many small roles. Allyson Hop as La Modista and Taylor Pardell as Minardi made the most of their few minutes and the shop girls’ Charleston was a delight. Francesca Corrada, the Baronessa, had a great time vamping it up. Special credit to her, not just for her splendid mezzo used to excellent effect, but for filling in for an ailing cast member at short notice.
With a beautiful tone, a lovely line and clean, clear embellishment, Natascia Dell’erba embodied the sweet young thing Elena, in fine contrast to Yichan Shu’s seductive and seductive-voiced Anaide, the conniving owner of the hat. Sheldon Baxter (Emilio, the boyfriend) and William Grossman (Felice, the valet) both sang with confidence and brought a light touch to their roles. Scott Brooks (Nonancourt, the father) and Kyle Lehmann (Beaupertuis, the jealous husband) were both very good, both of them irascible and puzzled in equal measure.
To the principal role of Fadinard, Brian Yeatley brought a most appealing tenor voice and good acting chops. His progression through the day from hell as it grew slowly madder was nicely controlled, and the final resolution endearing.
The UBC orchestra led by Leslie Dala played with high spirits, keeping up a dashing pace and sense of humour.
The imaginative design, by Alessia Carpoca, using clips from original silent movie and complemented by Jeremy Baxter's lighting, kept the plot clear and firmly set the tongue-in-cheek mood.
© 2014 Elizabeth Paterson