New to opera? Symphony Hall’s Opera’s Greatest Hits was the perfect entry-level concert and an ideal introduction to some of the world’s best loved arias.
I always think I was lucky to grow up surrounded by opera. My grandad – a Black Country factory worker and as far from your typical opera buff as you get – had been a fan ever since hearing Puccini played on a gramophone during the war, and passed his passion down to my mum and then to me. I saw my first live performance in my early teens, Madame Butterfly I recall; I was privileged to see the Luciano Pavarotti perform one of only two UK concerts at the NEC back in 1994; and I’ve even experienced the sheer joy of an al fresco production of Tosca in Verona’s Roman arena.
But I get that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (ask my dad, he just thinks its caterwauling). Which makes concerts like Opera’s Greatest Hits at Symphony Hall perfect for those looking to gently dip their toe in the genre. Forget two hours of trying to work out story lines or reading subtitles on a giant screen while struggling to keep up with the action unfolding on stage, this entry-level performance was simply hit after hit as it ran through the whole gamut of stand-out arias. So much so, that I would defy anyone not to recognise at least one of the song choices.
Renowned sopranos Nadine Benjamin and Heather Lowe were joined by bass Nicholas Lester and heldentenor Charne Rochford, as they worked their way through centuries’ worth of comedy, tragedy and romance from Bizet to Verdi via Rossini, Delibes and Puccini. Kicking off with a trio from Carmen, we were treated to a skilfully performed masterclass of snippets from Rigoletto, Cavalleria Rusticana, The Pearl Fishers, Don Giovanni and the vocal gymnastics of The Barber of Seville before a rousing rendition of the most famous aria of them all, Nessum Dorma (yes that theme tune to Italia ‘90. See, I said you’d recognise at least one song).
From start to finish, the singers were supported by the incredible City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the energetic Matthew Kofi Waldren, and the 150-strong CBSO Chorus, who sounded just beautiful thanks to the world famous acoustics in Symphony Hall auditorium. The highlight for me was Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco and my absolute favourite piece of music, the Act 1 finale from La bohème – both proper hair-standing-on-the-back-of-your-neck moments.
I’d like to have seen Un bel dì, vedremo and Vissi d’arte included in the line-up, but then I am a little biased being an absolute Puccini gal. Having said that, the programme was so accessible and one that I’m sure even those new to opera would have thoroughly enjoyed.
You can find out more about the classical offerings at Symphony Hall and Town Hall – both B:Music venues – in our round-up here.