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Lara Secord-Haid

Lara Secord-Haid (Marcelline), Fidelio, Manitoba Opera, 2014.
Photo: R. Tinker

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera, 2014.
Photo: R. Tinker

Larry Desrochers


by Rhonda Spivak, December 10, 2014









I had the pleasure of attending the Manitboa Opera's terrific production of Beethoven's ode to Freedom, Fidelio, which featured a very impressive MO debut to Winnipeg-born Jewish soprano Lara Secord-Haid, and was an opera presented in honour of the opening of the Canadian Human  Rights Museum. 




The MO 's extraordinary performance  of Beethoven's  only opera  ( which the iconic composer worked on for 12 years until his final version in 1814) celebrates courage in the face of tyranny and earned a standing ovation from the audience and a  deserved 5 stars out of 5  review by Holly Harris in the Winnipeg Free Press. The 5 star designation is a signal that the MB Opera under the capable direction of general director and CEO Larry Dresrochers has soared to new heights in its 42 season.




"Fidelio’s themes of personal sacrifice and heroism and the struggle for liberty and justice will offer a fitting celebration of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights," Desrochers, stated in a press release before the performance.  The two act opera is about the courageous Leonore who poses as a boy (Fidelio) in order to work in the prison where her husband (Florestan) is wrongly imprisoned for the political opinions and beliefs he holds.   Leonore, who is willing to risk discovery and die for her loved one manages finally to rescue her beloved from his chains before his imminent execution ( and in addition also rescues his fellow prisoners from oppression.  Desrochers' adaption of this heroic tale gives it a more modern complexion by transplanting Beethoven's original story to the context of 1989 Cold War Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall.




Interestingly, as Desrochers wrote in a message he gave in the program book of Fidelio, "to gain the approval of the censors ([n the Austrian-Habsburg Empire], Beethoven had to reset the opera to the 1700s, 100 years before the time in which he composed it."




Fidelio was the first opera performed in Berlin after the end of the World War II, in September 1945. At the time, Thomas Mann remarked: "What amount of apathy was needed [by musicians and audiences] to listen to Fidelio in Himmler's Germany without covering their faces and rushing out of the hall!"




In the Manitoba Opera production, Ileana Montalbetti gave a great performance in her MO debut  as protagonist Leonore ( s role in which she switched back and forth from the manly Fidelio, to the devoted wife Leonore). Her remarkable performance was matched by that of Canadian tenor David Pomeroy, as the prisoner Florestan whose able acting and dramatic voice evoked true compassion from the audience.




Secord- Haid, the only child of Winnipeg's Elba Haid (President and CEO of Real Care, a pioneer in providing home and institutional healthcare services in the city) and the late architect Marshall Haid, gave a very strong and dramatic performance as Marzallina, the teenage daughter of  jailer, Rocco. Marzallina is madly in love with Fidelo, the new errand boy who arrives to work for Rocco and is stressed out by Marcilina's interest in him. Marzalina diverts the romantic attentions of  Jaquino, played by Canadian tenor Michael Colvin  in a duet in which Secord-Haid's exquisite voice soared to the heavens. Secord-Haid, an accomplished pianist who  speaks  German, French, Italian and Hebrew,  graduated from Joseph Wolinsky collegiate,  began voice lessons at age twelve. In 2004, at the beginning of her career, she sang with the Chai Folk Ensemble, and in 2005 earned the Silver Medal for her Royal Conservatory of Music Grade Seven singing exam, and in 2006 received the Winnipeg Music Festival’s Alma Wynn Memorial Trophy. In 2010, she  won five gold medals in the Manitoba Music Festival, in the categories of Italian Art song, French melody, Aria, German Lieder and Spanish Cancion, as well as one silver medal in Oratorio.






With her vocal strength, dramatic flair, charisma and passion for opera   I think it is safe to say that we can only expect Secord-Haid's opera career to flourish in the future. [Secord -Haid's other recent performances include 3 settings of Celan by Harrison Birtwistle, Tytania in A  Midsummer Night's Dream (Opera on the Avalon),  Ms. Silverpeal in The Impresario (North Shore Music Festival), Verdi's Requiem and Handel's Messiah (Shelter Rock Orchestra), Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, Suor Genovieffa in Suor Angelica (Manhattan Opera Studio), and Manon in Excerpts from Manon (New York Lyric Opera).]




In the MO’s Fidelio, bass-baritone Kristopher Irmiter as governor of the prison Don Pizarro,  gave a convincing performance as did  Valerian Ruminski, as jailer Rocco.




For the climactic finale of this outstanding Fidelio opera, which had a well suited set and lighting, the stage was filled with refugees who have now made Winnipeg their home-- people who have had to escape their homelands, and who have their own real life stories of courage and heroism, and of fleeing tyranny.




As Desrochers wrote in the program, the refugees who filled the stage for the finale "are living examples of the vigilance we must all keep to ensure that all of humanity has the chance to live in peace and freedom."




As Secord-Haid told the Winnipeg Jewish Review in 2010, “The drama in opera has always captivated me. Like an actor, an opera singer can express with the body and with the voice but composers write subtext, implications, feelings or psychology that can't be shown with the body into the orchestral part and to me, that's where the magic comes; opera has the means to express some of the most intense aspects of the human experience.”






Secord-Haid says it was her late father that instilled a love of opera in her, noting that she was privileged to have music in the house all the time.








[ Editor's note  on Beethoven and The Kol Nidre Melordy: In researching for this article about Ludwig Von Beethoven's opera “Fidelio” for , I happened to come across some fascinating  information about  how the main theme in the sixth movement of Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 131 appears to be based on the Yom Kippur Kol Nidre melody. In 1825, the Austrian Emperor allowed the Jews to build a great synagogue in Vienna in a residential complex where no one seeing the synagogue could identify it as such from the street. The synagogue, one which I visited this past summer, is known as the  Stadttemple or Seitstettengasse Synagogue .  Interestingly enough, when this synagogue, was about to be dedicated,  the Viennese Jewish community leaders sought to commission a work from Beethoven, asking him  to write a cantata for the inauguration of the new synagogue, but he eventually declined to do so. According to  the Reform Judaism website,  the main theme in the sixth movement of Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 131 [which was written shortly after Beethovan was approached to write a work for the synagogue in Vienna]  "appears to be based on the Kol Nidre melody. Beethoven was apparently approached by leaders of the Jewish community in Vienna to compose music for the inauguration of a new synagogue. Since they were looking for music of a "Jewish character," they supplied the composer with what they considered important examples of Jewish music, among them Kol Nidre. The commission was never completed, but since this is the only formal connection that can be established between Beethoven and the Jewish community, this brief contact is the likely source of the composer's inspiration."(


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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