Opera company performing Beatrice et Benedict

If a local opera company were to stage a performance here on the day Prince George was incorporated, a good choice might have been Béatrice et Bénédict.

The show was first staged in 1962 and was written in a fairly classic opera style but with a few musical hints of the modern era that was coming. It was based on a play by Shakespeare, which is never a poor strategy for getting an audience to feel a connection to the work. And it was a comedy, and who, especially an opera audience subjected to so many tragic plots, doesn't love to laugh?

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When an opera company did form in Prince George, 100 years after the fledgling town was first born, these reasons still applied.

Melanie Nicol is the birthforce behind the Fraser Lyric Opera Society. Their first full production is a centennial project for the city, and they turned to the Hector Berlioz operatic adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.

Béatrice et Bénédict will star Nicol in the female title role, and tenor Matt Chittick in the male title role, with soprano Anna Shill as Hro and baritone Peter Monaghan as Don Pedro.

Nicol said all these singers are professionals and added that Chittick "has a voice that will blow the roof off the theatre, unlike any voice Prince George has heard before, it is so powerful, I guarantee it."

Local voices have been added – some of them pro quality, some are amateurs capable of the role they've been assigned, and some are strong emerging talents. They include Luke Lapp, Barry Booth, Emily MacLise, Finnlay Peterson, Paige Marriott, David Leach, Kris Dalio, Zachary Chipman, Kat Gordon, Brianna Harasimiuk and Damian Dorschner who is also the chorus master of the 17-plus voice choral ensemble.

For Chittick, it's partly bemusing and partly inspiring to be around such an upstart venture that was ambitious from the start in what it wanted to accomplish. In the past couple of years the Vancouver-based pro (originally from Ottawa) has performed in the Czech Republic, Italy, toured in the United States, Toronto, Burnaby, Vancouver Island and more.

"I'm amazed at how well-organized and how prepared this company is," he said. "When something is new you expect some disorganization and even some disarray, but this production has been operated clean and efficient right from the start.

"It's really exciting to be part of something just being invented," he added. "I love seeing that process and being up close to something so new, but not have to be the one doing the actual organizing. I'm loving the part, the music is something I really get to sink my teeth into, but a whole other part of why I'm enjoying being here is seeing how well they have created this company. Ya dun good," he said nodding to Nicol.

The public response echoes Chittick's sentiment. The call for auditions caused a wave of interested singers trying out for the main roles. There has also been an encouraging number of tickets sold in advanced.

"Because this is so new, we really had no idea what to expect," said Nicol.

"So we planned modestly and that's working out in our favour. We are exceeding our expectations. We are thrilled to be part of this momentum in Prince George right now with the Shakespeare done at City Hall, the Tympana Drum Society's big drumming day, all the stuff happening with Theatre North West, you've got The Sound of Music going on..."

Nicol also admitted she has been caught listening instead to her own cast's rehearsal work instead of concentrating on her part because she has been caught up like a fan in their progress.

"The music in this production is so beautiful, and you hear that so clearly when a talented cast gets their hands on it, and that's what's happened for us," she said.

Chittick jumped in to agree.

"It's actually quite hard to sing, in some parts, it's on the technical side for sure, for the singer, and that was a surprise even for me after just listening to it, because it sounds so simple and then you discover, as the singer, that's all a lie. This is tough stuff, but that makes it fun," he explained.

"It is a challenging piece for the girls; daunting, actually," said Nicol, "but they are rising to the occasion."

"Mel and I have worked together twice before, and I have worked with all the principals before at different times, so to get to do it all as one unit, finally, feels really enjoyable, and I hope that helps the singers in the cast who aren't professional to feel more comfortable around the rehearsal process," Chittick said.

"Some of us have had to travel here, and that's what you're used to in this profession, so it's great for me to be in an unfamiliar setting but really liking the people and the process."

The orchestral trio providing the music includes Jose Delgado-Guevera, Hans Nygaard and Deena Grier. All are acclaimed for their skills far beyond Prince George.

Leading the direction process is Brenna Corner and conductor Stuart Sladden, with arrangement reduction by rising B.C. symphonic music star Kimberley-Ann Bartczak.

The show will be performed the evenings of Friday and Saturday with a matinee show on Sunday. All performances take place at Theatre North West.

Tickets are on sale at Books & Company or online via the Theatre North West internet box office at the TNW website.

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