For one night only the spirited opera rarity Montezuma was presented in concert version by Mercury Baroque. Antonio Vivaldi composed the piece in 1733, but it was lost until 2002 when it was discovered in Berlin.
The sound of the opera is unmistakably Vivaldi: lively tempo, lilting melodies, exuberant, virtuosic. It was a little strange hearing this style of music telling a story about Spanish conquistadors invading the Aztec empire of Mexico. But no one ever said opera isn’t sometimes very odd.
The Mercury Baroque ensemble is the tightest baroque orchestra you are ever likely to hear. Their sound is never ponderous, but light, airy, and precise. Quebec native Antoine Plante, Artistic Director, is a masterful programmer, conductor, and schmoozer – all necessary to the success of this blooming organization. Or should I say blossomed? Mercury Baroque is ten years old this year!
Another outstanding feature of the evening was the superb talent gathered to sing this little gem. They were by far the best group I have ever heard sing with Mercury Baroque.
During the last aria of Teutile, Montezuma’s daughter (Kiri Deonarine), I felt that I was experiencing a moment of perfect beauty – the stars were aligned between singer, orchestra, composer, and the moment.
Michael Maniaci, male soprano, is someone I could write an entire post about – and may do so. He sang the part of Ramiro, brother of the Spanish conquistador and lover of Teutile (Romeo & Juliet situation). His sound is so unique and meltingly gorgeous – a great talent.
Sumner Thompson sang Montezuma with outstanding agility in the baroque vocal ornamentations, not so common for a baritone. Even though his character was usually angry, he still sang with beautiful tone and expression.
Another standout was mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle as Mitrena (Mrs. Montezuma). Her nimble voice knew no bounds; she made the baroque flourishes and trills seem effortless – which they are NOT. All these singers had incredible technique.
Canadian powerhouse soprano Shannon Mercer played Fernando, the invading Spanish conquistador. Her voice, technique, acting, and sheer energy drew all eyes and ears to her. She/he was also usually angry which she demonstrated in a forceful way.
Contrary to historical fact, a happy ending was tacked on to the end of the opera: no one dies and the lovers are united. In the opera Mexico is invaded by a foreign power, all parties are angry, lives are threatened, suicide is frequently considered, but the musical score to the story is lilting, light, and happy. An oddity to modern ears, but all in a day’s composing in the Baroque era!