My review of the opening night of the COC’s much revived Brian Macdonald production of Madama Butterfly was as lukewarm as the audience reaction. In fact, I’ve never seen an audience in that house so subdued. Reviews of the alternate cast with Kelly Kaduce in the lead had generally been more encouraging so I was keen to see what she could do. I saw it yesterday afternoon. Let’s cut to the chase. She transforms the production. It’s like watching a different show and every scene she appears in has an energy that was lacking before.
At the Christmas 2012 Against the Grain Christmas party I won a mega box set of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau goodies which included a couple of DVDs of opera extracts including some footage of him singing the title role in Don Giovanni auf Deutsch. The full recording from which those excerpts were taken has recently been released on DVD. It’s a TV broadcast from the opening of the rebuilt Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1961. It’s the earliest recorded in a theatre, in front of an audience, TV opera broadcast that I have seen. It wasn’t, apparently, broadcast live. The recording was made during the final dress and broadcast the following evening simultaneously with the first performance proper.
Tapestry have announced this year’s Tapestry Shorts for November 13th to 16th at the Distillery. There’s a twist this year. Like last year the show will start in the Ernest Balmer Studio but then will move around different venues in the Distillery complex. Some of these locations will feature “booster shots” of flavour stimulants, ranging from craft beer and sake to artisanal ice cream. Think Mill Street, the sake place and Greg’s. Maybe Soma too? Chilli chocolate bleating goat shots? There will be ten shorts performed by Catherine Affleck, Alex Dobson, Keith Klassen and Krisztina Szabò. I’ve seen several of these pieces in workshop and I can’t wait to see them in more polished form. Seriously, this is one of THE opera events in the Toronto calendar. Go if you can.
Spuren der Verirrten (The Lost) is described on the box as an opera by Philip Glass. That’s pretty misleading. It’s more a theatre piece/ballet by David Pountney and Amin Hosseinpour with a soundtrack by Philip Glass. It was created for the opening of the new Landestheater Linz at the instigation of Artistic Director Rainer Mennicken (carefully trimmed beard, wire rimmed glasses) who wanted a piece that would encapsulate all the various theatrical forms the new building would stage, as well as show off its technical capabilities. Mennicken also wrote the “libretto” based on a highly abstract play by Peter Handke which seems to deal with the hopelessness of the human condition in some sort of post apocalyptic world. There’s no plot as such and the work unfolds in a series of scenes. For example there’s a ballerina point shoeing across the stage followed by a “spectator” in the auditorium commenting on the action followed by dancers with roadsigns followed by a Gumby like couple sitting under a table followed by more narration. Then come more dancers in Hosseinpour’s signature “jerky” style followed by a woman with an anti-nuclear sign having a row with her boyfriend in front of a giant green brain. And that’s just the first ten minutes of a piece that goes on for nearly two hours. Along the way we get a reality TV show in which the characters discuss whether a serial killer is worse than a goalkeeper who lets in a soft goal, a confrontation between the patriarch Abraham and a giant rabbit and a scene where a naked woman cuddles a human head while two dancers do the fish slapping dance around her. The piece concludes with the orchestra on stage and the chorus in the pit miming playing instruments and singing “blah, blah, blah” which actually fits the music pretty well.
Thomas Adès’ 2004 opera The Tempest was given at the Metropolitan Opera in 2012 in a new production by Robert Lepage. It got an HD broadcast and a subsequent DVD release. It’s an interesting work which, on happening, was compared to Peter Grimes as the “next great English opera”. Whether this early hype will turn into a sustained place in the repertoire is yet to be seen. Musically it’s not easy to characterize. Adès very much has his own style; mixing lyricism with atonality and, in this piece, setting one of the roles, Ariel, so high it’s surprising anyone has been found to sing it. Certainly it’s a more aggressively modern style than most of the work currently being produced in North America. The libretto two is unusual. Shakespeare’s own words were, apparently, considered too difficult to sing though, of course, Britten famously set great screeds of unadulterated bard in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For the Tempest, Meredith Oakes has rendered the text into couplets; rhymed or half rhymed. It works quite well with only the occasional touch of Jeremy Sams like banality.
The COC’s production of Madama Butterfly opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I’m not a huge Madama Butterfly fan and it takes a really good production and a really good performance to get me past my instinctive dislike for a libretto based on child rape and sex tourism backed by Puccini soup with an infusion of Mikado. This production, being revived for the umpty umpth time (It dates back to the Brian Dickie era) just wasn’t that. Director Brian Macdonald writes in the programme “We both (he and Dickie) had had experience at the Stratford Festival. That meant wood, simple props, no decoration that wouldn’t bespeak the essence of the play”. Throw in an Allen key and it would sound like a trip to IKEA. Which is pretty much what the designs are like; clean, functional and inoffensive. Throw in costumes and gestures straight from the Mikado and you have it. Not bad. Just meh.
Back to the COC’s production of Falstaff last night for a second look. I felt I spent so much time last week trying to figure out who was who and what was what in this rather madcap comedy that I was really looking forward to seeing it in a more relaxed way. I had figured out that there was a lot of detail to unpack that I had missed first time around; partly because I was attention challenged and partly because I had forgotten my opera glasses. Last night; perched up in Ring 5, I watched a good part of this show through the glasses and saw many things I missed first time around. I think I want to watch it from close up if I can, even if there’s an acoustical price to pay for that.