There are over 40 video recordings of Don Giovanni in the catalogue, dating back to 1954, and Thomas Allen sings the title role in quite a few of them. This one was recorded at La Scala in 1987 and features a very strong cast in a careful, traditional staging. It’s also pretty decent technical quality for the era. The director was Giorgio Strehler in a comparatively rare opera outing. His sets and costumes are of some vague aristocratic past with liveried footmen, big hats and twirling capes. It’s quite handsome but not in any way revelatory. Nor is any aspect of the production really. We are clearly in an aristocratic milieu. Tom Allen’s Don Giovanni is arrogant and proud with plenty of swagger. Ther’es no hint of ambiguity about Edita Gruberova’s Donna Anna or Ann Murray’s Donna Elvira and Francisco Araiza is a properly dutiful chump of a Don Ottavio. It’s all quite serious with comic relief only in the most obvious places. Having said that, there are some very effective scenes; especially the ending which has a an interesting lighting plot and manages not to be anti-climactic.
The Perfect American is the ironic title of Philip Glass’ latest opera which premiered in Madrid last year. It’s about Walt Disney and set at the end of his life looking back at his life and forward to his death. It’s a not very flattering portrait. It depicts Disney as blinkered, racist, virulently anti-Communist and, in fact, only comfortable with a sort of Leave it to Beaver America; though passionate about that.
Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia is based on one short episode in the storied life of the famous female pharmacist. In it she twice poisons her son; once at the insistence of her husband, the second time by accident. The second time her son refuses the antidote preferring to die with his equally poisoned buddies but learns in his dying breath that Lucrezia is indeed his mother. It’s pretty unusual for a bel canto opera in that the leading female role (a) has agency, (b) doesn’t go mad and (c) doesn’t die.
October is the month things usually really get going again in Toronto and this year is no exception. The calendar for the first third of the month is very busy. Highlights include three free concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, the opening of two productions at the Canadian Opera Company and Nuit Blanche events at the Canadian Music Centre and the UoT Music Department.
Here’s another fine example of how well Handel’s oratorios can work when staged. It’s a recording of Hercules made at Paris’ Palais Garnier in 2004. The staging is by Luc Bondy and William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are joined by a youngish cast of extremely good singers. It’s compelling stuff. I think what, for me, makes the oratorios much more interesting than most of Handel’s opera seria is structural. The operas tend to alternate recit and da capo aria with maybe a duet or chorus to close an act but they are pretty predictable. In the oratorios Handel makes much more use of ensembles and the chorus and, for me, that’s vastly preferable.
Yesterday lunchtime saw the first free lunchtime concert of the season in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Following tradition, it was presented by the members of the Ensemble Studio. Or, to be more accurate, by six of the nine as an unprecedented three singers had fallen victim to the virus that is apparently sweeping the Toronto opera world (HighCbola?).
I was talking to Leslie Barcza of barczablog at a concert yesterday. He asked me what I was most looking forward to in the upcoming season and I was a bit stumped for an answer because there’s lots of good stuff in Toronto this season but nothing that really sets my pulse racing. Finally I answered with the TSO’s Dream of Gerontius, which, it turns out, is not exactly high on Lesley’s bucket list. This led to a brief discussion about how origins affect our reactions; that is until the actual concert interrupted our talk.