GUELPH — From the spirited opening bars of the Introduction of The Merry Widow, to the final notes of Auld Lang Syne where the audience got to sing along, the Guelph Symphony Orchestra put on an entertaining New Year’s Day concert that filled the River Run Centre’s main hall Sunday afternoon.
It was the third concert the community orchestra performed this season under the direction of its new conductor Judith Yan and some gelling has taken place since their first concert, Pictures at an Exhibition, in October.
That one, save for a powerful performance by visiting violinist Jacques Israelievitch, felt a little flat. The notes were right, but the energy was low.
That was not the case on Sunday as Yan powered the orchestra through some tricky repertoire that included arias from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, waltzes by Johann Strauss, and a little Mozart to round out the program.
The orchestra was joined by tenor Mark DuBois and soprano Corinne Lynch, who had an easy chemistry on stage. DuBois is a perennial favourite with the Guelph Symphony Orchestra and he’s as funny as he is talented.
The Schubert Serenade was lovely; proving DuBois was right when he said what tenors do best is serenade under balconies. Lynch was equally skilled and she belted out the high notes at the end of Vilja, also from The Merry Widow.
And the two seemed to be having fun together as they sang Lippen Schweigen — DuBois as the Count, afraid to use the word ‘love’ and the funny moment when he finally does. The orchestra was a little sloppy with their starts and stops in this one, but the players in the quartet section made up for it.
Perhaps the best known and best executed piece was The Blue Danube waltz by Strauss. There are many tempo changes and long pauses in this piece and this time the orchestra was clean as they did them. Alexandra Sevastianova and Ronan Cherniazski of Ballroom Class made a few appearances during the program and they seemed to float across the stage as they danced to this waltz.
DuBois sang O Sole Mio for his encore performance — he called it dessert — in tribute to his favourite tenor Luciano Pavarotti. But what’s a tribute without a sense of humour? At one point DuBois pulled out a handkerchief the size of a tablecloth to wipe his brow.
“They say Luciano has the largest handkerchief, but I don’t think so,” he joked to the crowd.
Simon Irving, the previous conductor and artistic director of Guelph Symphony Orchestra, said when the orchestra first decided to try the New Year’s Day concert idea six years ago, it was met with doubt and trepidation.
“Will people come out to see it? Will there be enough players to put on such a concert? It was all unknown,” Irving said after Sunday’s performance.
“But this show is almost sold out and it’s been that way from the beginning. A nice way to start a new year, I think.”