Una Voce Opera Gala Concert

St George's Hall Concert Room, Liverpool
12th March 2016

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Founded in 1996 'to bring Opera to all and all to Opera' this was a concert to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Merseyside-based company. Held in the auspicious surroundings of St George's Hall's Concert Room it promised an evening of favourite arias and duets by rising singers.

With a full complement of dignitaries in attendance it must have been disappointing for the organisers that there were not more attendees in the crowd to witness the event.

Nevertheless after some introductions from the floor the evening got underway with a change to the advertised programme, Ugandan baritone Terence Ayebare being called in at short notice for the indisposed Darwin Leonard Prakash.

Undaunted, to warm applause, he opened proceedings with an aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute and continued with a duet from the same composer with Natasha Agarwal (soprano), in La ci darem a mano, ('there we will give each other our hands') from Don Giovanni.

The couple sang into a spotlight that splendidly lit up themselves and a preordained caryatid from those holding up the roof with it's spectacular chandelier.

Unfortunately it was also like a burning disc reflecting into the eyes of those in the raised section to the left of the stage. This prompted some shifting of lesser personages to seats where the gilded backdrop pillars offered relief to their straining eyes.

The programme continued with a Susannah bridal aria from The Marraige of Figaro testing the Liverpool born soprano, before more from the very proficient Ayebare.

Next up was another Soprano, Eilin O'Dea from Ireland. She sang the ever popular Si mi chiamano Mimi (Yes they call me Mimi), from Puccini's La Boheme.

Tenor Benjamin Sweeney then took centre stage with an aria from Verdi's Luisa Miller, to be followed by young saxophonist Ehren Agarwal, in three movements of JS Bach's Sonata in G Minor. Originally for harp and flute, tonight he was joined on piano, (as were all the singers) , by John Peace on piano. Sweeney then came back in masterly fashion with On with the Motley, sung in the original Italian from Leon Cavallo's I Pagliacci.

The interval came after more Boheme magic reflecting on Musetta's change of heart, ably carried off by Eilin O'Dea. After the dignitaries had departed first, the half-time chill in the huge entrance hall added the drama, with the red wine on sale being a bit too cold for some people's liking.

The evening continued apace with the Habanera from Carmen, followed by some Wagner and Britten, before O'Dea again got a show stopper with Vissi' d'arte, where Tosca reflects on her love of art and love itself.

Ayebare signed off with Bellini's Vaga Luna (Beautiful Moon) before James Rae's Gymnopedie Bleu; East Coast Mainline from the saxophonist, two movements in slow and quick tempo respectively.

There was still time for Agarwal to reminisce over Massenet's 'little table' from Manon and the two competing males to conjure Marcello! Finalmente! from La Boheme, before the Sweeney boomed out with Nessun Dorma before the applause.

As the dignitaries crowded on the stage for the photo shoot it was left for lesser mortals to reflect on events. All the performers deserved credit but perhaps the tenor carried the day.

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