Nigeria’s foremost music centre, Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON), Onikan, Lagos, is set for its yearly festival of the arts. This year, the festival specifically has as theme ‘Celebration of Excellence in the Arts’ to draw attention yet again to the centrality of the arts in any society. Already, organisers have promised a rich bouquet of events to attract lovers of the arts from October 18 through October 29, when the festival comes to a close with a thrilling opera performance, La fille du Regiment by Donizetti, directed by Nigeria’s ace opera singer, teacher and director, Mr. Joseph Oparamanuike.
At a media briefing held last week, Chairman, 2017 Festival Planning Committee, Mr. Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan, reeled out a line-up of festival programmes. According to him, “The 21st MUSON Festival of the Arts 2017, starts on October 18, with MusiQuest/Youth Concert. Several young musicians are constantly emerging in Nigeria and the annual Musiquest is our way of showcasing and encouraging these talents. The youth concert is a competition that provides a platform of self-expression for these young, budding artistes. This platform is also MUSON’s modest contribution to the national effort at discovering and nurturing of our youths. Wednesday, October 18 will flag off the final phase of this competition. There are three categories of Pianoforte, Voice and other Instruments. MusiQuest is partly sponsored by Stanbic IBTC.
“Our unique personality programme, My Kind of Music, is scheduled for Thursday, October 19. As usual, our guests will be taken on a musical journey through the memories, experiences and life philosophies of a member of the diplomatic community in Nigeria and a great friend of MUSON, German Consul-General, Mr Ingo Herbert, and three Nigerians, who have distinguished themselves in their chosen areas of endeavour: CEO of Bestman Games and former banker, Mrs. Opunimi Akinkugbe, lawyer and CEO of BAP Productions, Mrs Bolanle Austen-Peters, and Managing Partner of SIAO and Pastor-in Charge, Trinity House, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo.”
Drama is also a regular feature of the festival has Sefi Atta’s The Engagement, with Chevron as sponsor. It will be staged at the Agip Recital Hall on Saturday, October 21 by the Jos Repertory Theatre, directed by Dr. Patrick-Jude Oteh.
A Gala Concert, sponsored by Total holds on Sunday, October 22; it will feature MUSON Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the virtuoso visiting conductor, Walter-Michael Vollhardt and the MUSON Choir, conducted by its veteran conductor, Sir Emeka Nwokedi in a combined performance. MUSON Day is scheduled for Wednesday, October 25. This event is a special members’ day, set aside to mark the founding of the society.
This year’s Jazz event is scheduled for Friday, October 27 and will take the form of a Jazz Party, organised in collaboration with Winehouse Jazz Family. It will feature Winehouse band, the MUSON School Jazz Band and guest artistes.
Earlier, a trustee of MUSON, Mr. Adeniyi-Williams, enjoined Nigerians to be part of the MUSON success story, as the society was providing Nigerians with sound music education and entertainment. Also, first festival planning committee chairperson and patron of MUSON, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, noted that continuing MUSON’s festival was “a fulfillment of what started many years ago; the result then wasn’t what we wanted, but it has grown like an oak tree. Our hope is that it shouldn’t just be a Nigerian festival, but one to attract outside people to Nigeria.”
MUSON’s General manager, Mr. Gboyega Banjo, noted, “We are gratified by the fact that the Festival has, over the past twenty years, established itself as a unique Nigerian cultural and artistic event. We will continue to do all we can to earn the continued support of our old partners, while exploring opportunities for recruiting new ones, who share our passion for promoting the arts in Nigeria. We will also continue to open the festival to other stakeholders in the Nigerian arts industry, who may wish to partner with us by contributing their funded events to our annual festival programmes.
“Finally, we thank all our artistes being featured this year, drawn from MUSON’s Orchestra and Choir, as well as all our guest artistes. The performances which they have in store for your enjoyment are the fruits of their dedication, professionalism and hours of remorseless rehearsals aimed at achieving MUSON’s standard of performance excellence.
“On this note, we invite you to settle down and enjoy our offerings of classical music, opera, jazz, drama and other favourites carefully packaged for your delight in our 21st MUSON Festival programme.”
September 2, 2022
With Glasgow’s Theatre Royal shut for improvement, this year’s collaboration between Scottish Opera and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland was not a fully staged opera performance, but a concert performance at the Queen’s Hall welcoming back recent graduates Michel de Souza and Elin Prichard and featuring present students from the Opera School, alongside one of Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists, soprano Sarah Power. The intriguing programme was of music and opera inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, something of a personal dream of John Wallace, Principal of the Conservatoire, as he introduced us to this evening of a mix of familiar and lesser-known music from the corners of the repertoire. In the 19th century, there was a lively European interest in Scotland, with its stories of battles and myths and Scott’s tales provided fertile sources for several classical composers.
It was a treat to see the orchestra of Scottish Opera resplendent on the concert platform instead of tucked away mainly out of sight under the stage, and also for young conductor Fergus Macleod to take charge for the popular opening piece, the overture The Land of the Mountain and the Flood. Composed by the 19-year-old Hamish McCunn who took the title from Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel, it is essentially a Victorian portrait of Caledonia, full of tunes which at times seem to echo from mountainsides. This was an exciting and lively interpretation, with the brass on particularly rousing form, building to an exhilarating finale.
Vincenzo Bellini’s last opera, and a favourite of Queen Victoria, was I Puritani, a story set in England’s Civil War, based on Scott’s Old Mortality. Riccardo had been promised Elvira’s hand in marriage, but finds her in love with Arturo, a Royalist. Michel de Souza sang Riccardo’s lovesick Act I cavatina “Ah! Per sempre... Bel sogno beato” in a rich baritone. Soprano Elin Prichard’s “Qui la voce... Vien, diletto” is the Act II “mad scene” where Elvira believes she has lost Arturo, and bemoans her fate. Prichard has a clear pure top to her voice which opened out to a big-toned, thrilling finish in this challenging aria.
Rossini’s comic operas are always in mainstream repertoire, but his more serious works perhaps deserve more exposure. La Donna del Lago (“The Lady of the Lake”) was the first of the Italian operas to be based on Scott’s works. In a complicated and political plot involving James V, Elena loves Malcolm but is forced to marry Rodrigo. Soprano Hazel McBain’s Elena and Eirlys Davies taking the mezzo trouser role of Malcolm in the Act I duet “Vivere io non potro” produced some finely blended singing, sensitively supported by the orchestra.
On more familiar ground, two excepts from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor followed, where Prichard, Davies and de Souza were joined by student singers Joseph Oparamanuike, Andreas Backlund and Arshak Kuzikyan in the famous Act II sextet “Che mi frena in tal momento”. It was fascinating to watch the singers take on the roles even in concert performance, particularly Prichard’s Lucia, the pawn in this amorous struggle. Her Act II duet “Apprestati... il pallor funesto” with de Souza’s Enrico was a dramatic unhappy affair with characters in fierce temper, a strongly and exhilaratingly sung tour de force.
Hector Berlioz’s very early overture Waverley, marked Op. 1, inspired by the atmosphere of the novel, came next. Long oboe notes heralded slow sighing phrases from the strings before the music brightened into unmistakeably Berlioz trademark motifs. Stuart Stratford, who conducted everything apart from the opening McCunn, seemed to have a particular rapport with this orchestra, at times merely flickering his fingers to bring in players. Although permitting the band to get a touch boisterous in parts, he was otherwise sensitive to the singers’ needs.
Rounding the concert off were three excerpts from Bizet’s lively La Jolie Fille de Perth. Tenor Luperci de Souza as Henri Smith, the blacksmith sang a lovely serenade to the fair maid Catharine Glover, “A la voix”, taking the music right down to pianissimo against hushed plucked strings. A bell chime announced his apprentice’s lugubrious and wonderful drinking song “Quand la flame de l’amour”, thrillingly sung by bass Arshak Kuzikyan, who clearly loved every second. The Act I finale, with Duet, Trio, Quartet and more was a rousing send off, with Scottish Opera Emerging Artist soprano Sarah Power singing the Fair Maid, torn between Henri Smith and the Duke of Rothesay as the act ends in a scene of confusion.
“Scott’s Opera” was an evening of surprising fun and wonderful singing. It was a glittering showcase for opera singers trained or training in Scotland, and made a convincing case for some serious reappraisal of this romantic repertoire. A real treat.
February 9, 2022