QuintEssence “menu” missed the “meat”

q1by Val Friesen

A menu for a musical feast! QuintEssence, a Vancouver-based vocal quartet plus pianist offered a literal “menu” of operatic favourites on Friday evening to a packed Frank Venables Theatre. This final program in the South Okanagan Concert Society’s 2014-15 season, from drinks and appetizers right through to the dessert choices, had zero calories. But there were some problems.

The evening kicked off with “Drinks,” a champagne toast: Verdi’s famous Brindisi from La Traviata. Some rather shrill soprano vibrato and smudgy tenor notes there, so not exactly a propitious start. Some people left—not because they hate opera, quite the opposite. They emailed me about it.

Second piece, although it was not on the “menu” ( nor was it identified, just dropped on the table, so to speak), a funny little drinking song, was thrown in. Then a rather cute vodka chaser, Vanka Tanka (throughout the evening, the English translations were projected on a back screen). However, the advertised third item on the “Drinks” menu was omitted. No explanation, just not delivered. Waiter?!

The first “Appetizer,” an Offenbach operetta favourite,Belle nuit, featured a quite lovely duet by soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen and mezzo Barb Towell. This was followed by another French aria for soprano, Gounod’s Je veux vivre. (Pianist Tina Chang did a splendid job as orchestra throughout the evening. Our new Steinway piano sounds wonderful, too.)

The four “Main Course” offerings were drawn from some of the finest moments of Essential Opera: fromCarmen, the Flower Song (sung by tenor Frédérick Robert) and the famous Toreador Song (baritone Peter Alexander), then the soulful tenor-baritone duet from The Pearlfishers. The two artists obviously enjoyed singing this piece.

But the fourth item on the main course menu, the Quartet from Rigoletto, perhaps the best known of all opera quartets, and the Porterhouse steak item on the whole menu, was simply dropped, no explanations, and we got a serving of wieners instead of steak—the “upbeat and silly” (their words) quartet from Martha. So this was the third menu item change with no explanation. Waiter!?

Following intermission, the audience got to choose not one but three dessert pieces. This was a bit of fun for the audience, as the pieces were chosen by applause and a human applause meter. Two of the three pieces chosen allowed first the soprano, then the tenor, to provide what for me were the best performances of the evening.

The soprano piece, “Ain’t it a pretty night,” from the American composer Carlisle Floyd’s opera, Susannah (misspelled in the program guide, as was Bizet’s first name and Habanera and La Bohème). Soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen deftly caught the bleakness of an innocent girl who is targeted as a sinner in a small mountain town of Tennessee. The audience held its breath. Moving, although the mood was somewhat altered in the louder, and might I say shriller, sections.

Tenor Frédérick Robert similarly created the perfect mood for “Lonely House” from Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. It was obvious how much more comfortable these two artists were through their body language alone as they sang in English. They got it, they projected it, we felt it.

Not so much in the third piece chosen by the audience, the quartet from La Bohème, which caught next to none of the profound pathos or irony of the piece.

To close the evening QuintEssence provided Liquors and Cognac with “Somewhere” from Bernstein’s West Side Story, but then asked the audience to sing along with them in the Log Driver’s Waltz. Some tried, but how do you sing along with a basically unfamiliar piece? If you really wanted us to sing along, QuintEssence, give us something we know.

Applause. Finish. But no, an encore, which though not announced, was the Champagne song from Die Fledermaus, and nicely sung. But then, another little bit that didn’t sit well with me. They wanted to video the audience appreciation of their show to send forward to their next venue, Salt Spring Island. They could have videoed the genuine reaction as they had the iPhone ready at the end of their act, but no, it had to be staged. But no standing ovation. No “tip.”

Many of the chosen program pieces are among those that form the heart of opera, transcending the often superficialities of sets, costuming and stupid plots, because they are brilliant; the music, words and drama magically uniting as they bring joy, yearning, betrayal, and other profound emotions to the heart. There wasn’t much of that here. So, one star—and that goes to the marvellous accompanist, Tina Chang. I’d be at the front of the line if she gave a recital here. But I don’t think I’d care to visit the QuintEssence restaurant again. Too much of a Joe’s Grill masquerading as Bishop’s for me.

As an addendum, American superstar soprano Renée Fleming said in an interview recently: “There’s no substitute for going into a hall and having a shared cultural experience—something you can talk to people about, something you can feel. You know, I want to learn something, or feel something. I want something to make me feel deeply. And it’s the arts that can do that…”

We here in Oliver have a beautiful performance hall where that can happen, thanks to groups like the South Okanagan Concert Society, among others. It was such a pleasure to see a full house for this concert. And by the way, while this was the final of the quartet of concerts offered by the Society this season, a very special fifth concert featuring our own soprano with class, Jena Moore, will be held on Friday, April 10th at 7:30.

See you there.

Jena PosterWhen the executive of the South Okanagan Concert Society sat down to plan for the concert season, it suddenly seemed possible to bring lyric soprano, Jenavieve Moore, home.   She was out there, equally at ease on the opera or the concert stage, performing in London and Germany and Shanghai and “sending chills through the audience with her brilliant performances”.   Here we had a fabulous new theatre and we could bring Jena, as she is known locally, back to her home community.  The date was set.   Jena will perform Friday, April 10th at 7:30 pm at the Venables Theatre.   Tickets for $20 (a fraction of the price she commands in Europe) are available at Beyond Bliss in Oliver and Imperial Office Pro in Osoyoos.

Many of us remember the little girl who loved to play both flute and piano as well as sing her heart out.  She was the child who won a string of gold medals from the Royal Conservatory of Music.  When she was accepted to study at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music in London, we all celebrated her success.   No longer that little girl, Jenavieve has matured into a beautiful young artist with an elegant soprano voice that masterfully executes the coloraturas and trills required to make her mark on the world stage.   The South Okanagan Concert Society felt it was time to bring Jena home and help her share her exceptional talents with the people who cared for her, supported her and encouraged her during her growing up years.

Jena really stands as an inspiration to every kid in town who wants to aim high.  She is living proof that a small town girl with small town support can reach goals and dreams of the highest order.    She hasn’t forgotten the local Kiwanis who covered the costs of trips so she could compete at higher levels after winning the local contests.   She hasn’t forgotten the way members of the Oliver United Church spontaneously donated $20 bills towards her further musical education after she sang for them.

The Arts Council presented Jena with various grants through those early years. The council also hosted and supported Jena’s last Oliver appearance, in the summer of 2011, with a standing-room only fundraising concert that raised $1000 from the council, $1250 in audience donations, and some private benefactors for ongoing support. For a full review of that concert, go to http://oliverartscouncil.org/?tag=jena-moore

Teachers including her own mother (Dorothy Moore), Antonia Mahon from Leir House, Sue Gay of Oliver and later Rosalyn Franz of Kelowna all contributed to Jena’s musical development.  She now holds two Performance A.R.C.T. diplomas from the Royal Conservatory in piano and flute as side lines to her vocal career.

Jenavieve has won so many awards it would take pages to name them all.   Most important is that she will simply be home and she will sing her heart out once again for the community that holds her dear.  Come out and welcome her!    She will be accompanied on piano by Kelly Charlton currently a senior member of the Piano Faculty at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

Can icon be saved?

Haynes smallODHS Annual General Meeting highlights Haynes Ranch Legend

Oliver, BC; March 24, 2015:  Can we still save some of the iconic Haynes Ranch Buildings? Why should we go to the effort?

Photo: Haynes Barn and Blacksmith building, circa 1982 (OLP.983.263.4)

Join the Oliver and District Heritage Society at their 35th Annual AGM where historian Randy Manuel will recount the compelling story of this remarkable Haynes family and their legacy, one that began in the early colonial settlement period and is still with us today in government, in ranching and in land development.  The Haynes were more than just an ordinary family.  Father, sons and daughters experienced not only great joys but also great sorrows in the years that followed their arrival with a loss of a mother, a child, a home and then an “empire”.

The shadow of that ranching “empire” is still evident today in the skeletal remains of the buildings perched on a sandy dune on Road 22.  These ruins hold a lifetime of memories and of times long past.  Are any or all of the structures worth saving? Can they even be saved and, if so, what for?  Dave Mattes of the Haynes Ranch Preservation Committee will follow Randy’s presentation with an update on efforts underway to try and save the mortise and tendon barn, possibly for wildlife habitat.  It is a fascinating proposal the working group is pursuing, a combination of historic and natural heritage preservation.

Randy is the 4th generation of the Manuel Family to live in the Okanagan. His great grandfather ran the Hotel Penticton and his grandfather was a railway engineer on the Kettle Valley Railway. Given his strong personal connection to history shaping events in the region, Randy traded a career in the retail world for one in the heritage field. For nearly 20 years he was the director/curator of the Penticton Museum and Archives and, in the process, established the S.S. Sicamous Restoration Society, the Kettle Valley Steam, Railway, the City of Penticton’s Heritage Committee and, following his retirement, he took a lead role in saving the 1921 three story Pen High brick school house as the home for the now successful Okanagan School of the Arts. Historic storytelling is in his blood.

reworked logoThe 35th Annual AGM for the Oliver and District Heritage Society will take place 7 p.m. Thursday April 16 at the Quail’s Nest located at 5840 Airport Street. Everyone is welcome but only those with current membership in the ODHS will be eligible to vote during the meeting. Memberships will be available for purchase prior to the meeting or can be purchased by visiting the Museum (474 School Ave.) or the Archives (430 Fairview Rd.) during open hours. Please feel free to call 250-498-4027 or e-mail info @ oliverheritage.ca with any questions.

Bringing Jena home

Jena Moore Heidelbergby Marion Boyd

When the executive of the South Okanagan Concert Society sat down to plan for the coming season, it suddenly seemed possible to BRING HER HOME.  Here we had a fabulous new theatre and one of our own, lyric soprano Jenavieve Moore, has been studying at the prestigious Guildhall School in London and performing in the UK and Europe “sending chills through the audience with her brilliant performances”, Her “elegant soprano voice masterfully executing the coloraturas and trills in Mozart’s…” and on and on.   It was time to bring this beautifully matured young artist back to her home community and help her share her exceptional talents with the people who cared for her, supported her and encouraged her during her growing up years.

Jena Moore VerdiMany of us remember the little girl who loved to play both flute and piano as well as sing and who won a string of gold medals from the Royal Conservatory of Music.   When she was accepted to study at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music in London we all celebrated her success. Jenavieve is a poised and mature artist equally comfortable on the opera and concert stage.   She is regularly featured on BBC Radio, got rave reviews when she stepped in with only a few hours notice to sing the soprano solo in Verdi’s Requiem in Barbican Hall, and has upcoming engagements in Shanghai and a Mozart Oratorio to perform in Switzerland and Germany.  She is living proof that a small town girl with small town support can reach goals and dreams of the highest order.  She stands as an inspiration to every kid in town who wants to aim high.

The concert society is flying Jena home and if we sound a little sentimental, please forgive us!   She will be performing at Venables Theatre on Friday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m.   Tickets for only $20 are on sale now at Beyond Bliss in Oliver and Imperial Office Pro in Osoyoos.

Polar opposites fight and flirt onstage

Melville 3 - Sara and BrohmFishing, beer, cheesies, and girls: a weekend at the cottage is looking good to Owen Melville. To his older brother Lee, who has a more sober retreat in mind, Owen’s intentions spell disaster. So begins the South Okanagan Amateur Players’ spring comedy, The Melville Boys by Norm Foster.

Foster, Canada’s answer to Neil Simon, writes richly nuanced, believable characters and natural dialogue.  New director Nathan Linders appreciates one of the consequences of a strong script: “I couldn’t believe everyone was off-script in less than a month of rehearsing. This is such a strong cast.” While Linders keeps a steady hand on the reins of this production, he is assisted by Diane Gludovatz who has a keen eye for onstage funny business.

With an easy drawl and cheeky attitude, newcomer Brohm Dason brings beer-swilling Owen to life. Dason’s film school and stage musical experience aids his performance, as he cuts the comedy with an undercurrent of pathos.  Dason hints there may be more to Owen’s party persona than first meets the eye.

Playing Lee Melville, the responsible older brother, is Craig Bjornson. SOAP audiences will remember Bjornson’s comic timing in another Foster play, The Long Weekend. A master of the comic pause, Bjornson wrings both humour and poignancy from his character.

Despite his brother’s protests, Owen attracts the attention of two sisters, Mary and Loretta, boating on the lake, and the foursome spend an evening together. With Lee contentedly married and Owen heading to the altar, their awkward socializing becomes the source of much of the play’s comedy.

Robin Stille (last onstage in Lend Me a Tenor) plays sensible Mary, impatient with her younger sister`s flirtatious nature. Jilted by her husband, Mary is simply “getting by” emotionally.  She confides in Lee, who reciprocates with a surprising revelation of his own.  Mary and Lee share an emotionally charged scene which is one of the show’s comic highlights.

New to the stage but a natural comedienne, Sarah Williams plays the flighty Loretta. Williams brings a sunny sparkle to the character, snapping off breezy one-liners with ease.  Her casual romance with Owen Melville provides a number of slapstick moments. Pictured: Owen (Brohm Dason) flirts with Loretta (Sarah Williams) by trying to guess her weight. 

Set designer Tom Szalay pulls out all the stops, bringing to life a Muskoka style cottage, with set décor and painting by Jennifer and Brian Mapplebeck.

The Melville Boys opens Friday April 24 – Saturday April 25 at OSS Theatre (Osoyoos) and continues Friday May 1 and Saturday May 2 at Frank Venables Theatre (Oliver). Curtain 8:00 p.m.  Tickets are $18 advance at Sundance Video (Oliver), Your Dollar Store with More (Osoyoos), and Dragon’s Den (Penticton). Available at the door for $20. Info:  www.soplayers.ca and soap @ telus.net

Photo Credit: Penelope Johnson

I wanna hold … some tickets

Beatles 6

The Sage Valley Voices presents

“Favourite Songs of the Beatles”

Oliver United Church

Saturday April 25 at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday April 26 at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets $10.00 available at the door.

Price includes refreshments

Donations of non perishable food for the Oliver Food Bank greatly appreciated.


Wear your shamrock!

On Thursday March 19 the fantastic Irish Band, Goitse, takes to Medici’s stage. Playing their way across North America, they are stopping for one last kick at the blarney stone before heading for home. They are one of the most sought after bands among connoisseurs of Irish Traditional music across the globe. The band has skyrocketed to the forefront of the traditional Irish music scene.

Medici’s in Oliver… 250-498-2228….doors open at 6:30.tickets $40….planned seating.

The mic is yours

Friday Night Live2Medici’s Friday Night Live is on again this March 20th at 7:00PM.

Is this the best live music gig in town?….in the entire valley???…ye it is!! Marcel, who is away this week, invites you to bring your love of music , your instrument and your voice and become part of the night sounds. Bruce Springsteen has once again been asked to guest host with the promise that he may get to play a tune if we don’t run too late….so we’ll see. We crank up the music shortly after 7:00. The music is huge…Tons of talent…all we need is you!

We are licensed. We have beer, wine, coffees with a kick and our usual great gelato and snacks and sweet treats. Friday March 20th at 7:00 PM. 522 Fairview Road. 250-498-2228.

Bling on sale soon


The Oliver chapter of Grandmothers for Africa (Stephen Lewis Foundation) are preparing for their Spring Bling sale on Saturday April 11 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Oliver United Church. Stop by for new and old jewelry, home decor, and women’s accessories. Those who attended last year will already know that exciting buys can be found as well as opportunity to run into many friends from the community.  All proceeds are donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grandmothers Campaign to support African grandmothers raising children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

African grandmothers are heroic women who meet adversity head-on as they raise their voices in song, move their bodies in rhythm and heal themselves and their communities.   We celebrate and support them.  Stephen Lewis believes we must continue to get funds directly into the hands of their grassroots organizations.   They know exactly what to do and how to do it.  They simply need the funds to make it happen.  They are the ones who make a protective embrace for the orphan children of the African continent.

One of the human rights issues that is of great concern in the developing world is that 1 in 9 girls is married before 15 years of age.   Some are only 8 or 9.   They experience dangerous early pregnancies, get little education, live in poverty and are subject to HIV infection and domestic violence.  Work with grandmothers in Africa includes programs to encourage the end of child marriage.   The theme of these programs for growing girls is “Let girls be girls and not brides.”

Grandmothers need help to see the granddaughters they are raising do not join the throng of endangered child brides.   These girls need food, shelter, good parenting, love, education.   Despite heartache and hardship, it is the grandmothers of Africa that provide the functional homes every child needs.   Their courage and resilience is inspirational.

So come to the Spring Bling, have some fun, try and get lucky with a door prize and know that the proceeds will help show African grandmothers that we are determined to be with them every step of the way!

Pictured are participants at last year’s Spring Bling. It shows Grandmothers for Africa (yellow is Oliver, white is Penticton, blue is Osoyoos) with some of the jewelry and other bling on sale. Past President Sue James (in yellow) stands at front centre between Linda Nunweiler and Heather Fink (seated) and new President Mavis Grant is also in yellow to her left.

Deadline March 20th

Spring Art Faire 2015 - Entry sm

If you need an entry form – call 250-498-0753 or email

Ordering music a la carte


On Friday, March 27,  QuintEssence, a group of  four internationally renowned vocalists and pianist, Tina Chang, will be performing the final concert for South Okanagan Concert Society’s 2014-2015 season. They will be on stage at the Venables Theatre at 7:30 pm to showcase cherished opera repertoire and exotic musical gems by songwriters spanning from Schubert to Britten, and from Gershwin to Weill.

QuintEssence offers a fresh innovative concert experience for lovers of classical music of any style.  They are quite capable of dazzling you with vocal pyrotechnics.   They can melt your heart with beautifully sung poetry and they can stretch your musical frontier to the limit with adored music from off the beaten track.

QuintEssence concerts encourage audience participation with their “a la carte” programme set out like a first class menu.  Would you like an appetizer from  Tales of Hoffman and something from Romeo and Juliet?   Your main course might be a selection from Bizet’s Carmen and perhaps a quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto.   When it is time for dessert, the audience chooses three.   No diets here!   Do you fancy “Ain’t It a Pretty Night” from Susanna, a lyric and lovely quartet from Puccini’s La Boheme, a father’s plea from La Traviata, maybe Lonely House from Weill’s Street Scene.   It all sounds delicious!  When it is time for liqueurs and cognac, the menu includes Somewhere from Bernstein’s West Side Story and the Log Driver’s Waltz arranged by John Greer.  This musical meal promises to be a real treat.

QuintEssence features  soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen, mezzo Barb Towell, tenor Frederik Robert and baritone Peter Alexander.  All have collected individual rave reviews for their performances on the world stage.

Pianist and coach Tina Chang was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Vancouver as a child.   She did her undergraduate degree in music at UBC and her Masters at the University of Minnesota.   She is currently on staff at Vancouver Opera.

Tickets for the QuintEssence concert are on sale at Beyond Bliss in Oliver, Imperial Office Pro in Osoyoos and at the door.   Single tickets are $20.  For those with season flex passes, this is the time to invite a friend and use up any extra admissions.   Don’t forget to bring your cheque book and get a flex pass for next season at Early Bird prices.

There will also be tickets on sale for the April 10th performance of one of our own.  Soprano Jenavieve Moore will be flying home from Europe to entertain us.

Anyone in need of transportation to the Venables Theatre can call Maureen at 495 7978 to make arrangements to come by the bus.