Le miracle d’une voix is a compilation of scenes from various recordings in which Natalie Dessay featured made between 1993 and 2003. It’s especially interesting in that a couple of pieces feature more than once. There are three Les oiseaux dans les charmilles; Olymia’s aria from Les contes d’Hoffmann and two Grossmächtigen Prinzessin from Ariadne auf Naxos. Thrse demonstarte what I have always believed to be Dessay’s greatest strength; her ability to recreate a character to fit in a particular production. The two Zerbunetta arias illustrate this perfectly. In the first, a Salzburg production from 2001, Zerbinetta is a depressed, heavy drinking, prostitute who celebrates a kind of deeply sad sisterhood with Ariadne before being dragged off by a very sleazy Russell Braun. In the second, from the Palais Garnier in 2003, she’s a bubble headed tourist in bikini and wrap who pesters poor Ariadne all around what looks like a Mediterranean building site. They are completely different characterisations but both highly effective. The same is true of the three Olympias who range from very conventional doll to inmate in some sort of asylum or home.
Obeah Opera is an ambitious work using music, words and dance to explore some aspects of the 17th century Salem witch trials through the eyes of enslaved African women. It’s being presented by Nightwood Theatre and Culchaworks Arts Collective as part of the New Groundswell Festival. The central character is Tituba, a traditional healer and practitioner of Obeah; a traditional religion or system of magic. The narrative takes us through the transportation of the women from Barbados to be sold in Salem and their lives as domestic servants to the pivotal point where Tituba saves the life of the sick daughter of the local minister and is accused of witchcraft. Along the way we get some very high energy action from the large cast, especially where African themes are explored. It’s an all female cast and the music is all sung a capella. This was also a workshop of a work in progress intended for the arts festival at next year’s Pan-Am games so last night did not represent the finished product.
Pergolesi’s relatively popular comedy La serva padrona was originally intended to be performed as an intermezzo for his opera seria Il prigionier superbo. It’s therefore fitting that recordings by substantially the same forces, though recorded two years apart, should be released as a package. The recordings were made at the Teatro G.B. Pergolesi in Jesiin 2009 and 2011 respectively. Both performances were directed by Henning Brockhaus and feature the Accademia Barocca di I Virtuosi Italiani conducted by Corrado Rovaris. The works are presented on separate disks rather than the having the two halves of the intermezzo inserted in the intervals of the more serious work as they would originally have been performed.
So, after the rather scattered events of the summer last night’s fundraiser for Opera 5 at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu felt like the start of a new season. It was well attended and organised in an intriguing and fun format. Basically, Team Day and team Night were competing to see who could raise the most money. There were four rounds in which a singer from each team presented an aria, song or MT number. The one with the most pledges got to sing his or her “show off” aria. For an additional donation, the loser got to do the same. Given that some of the city’s best young singers were performing it was to be expected that it was a good show.
There’s a bit at the end of the first act of Parsifal where Gurnemanz looks at Parsifal and says “you haven’t understood anything have you?” or words to that effect. Watching Romeo Castellucci’s 2011 production for Brussels’ La Monnaie theatre my sympathy was very much with the Pure Fool. This is one of the most incomprehensible productions I have seen. Act 1 is very dark. Most of the time only a tiny fragment of the stage is lit. The first thing we see is a snake in its own tiny patch of light. Then we are in a forest and the Grail Knights appear to be part of the forest. Whether they are just wearing suits of leaves or are actually plants is unclear. Kundry, in a white hoodie, and Parsifal in street clothes are recognisably human. Titurel and his squires wear overalls and hard hats. One of them carries a chain saw. The “swan” appears to be a lit up tree branch though later it appears as a very decomposed skeleton. The Grail Scene is played out with a white curtain, with a small black comma on it, across the entire stage. The curtain is withdrawn and we see fluorescent lights above the greenery, which takes up much less space than one has so far imagined. Is Monsalvat a grow-op and the knights marijuana plants?
Written on Skin; music by George Benjamin, text by Martin Crimp, was first seen at the Aix en Provence festival in 2012. The following yewar it was given, in the same production by Katie Mitchell and with substantially the same cast, at Covent Garden. Both versions were televised and now the ROH version has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s an unusual, complex and rewarding work. 21st century angels decide, for reasons not entirely clear, to return to the 13th century to create and participate in a human drama. The medieval humans are The Protector; a rich man of mature years utterly confident of his privileged position and his own righteousness, and his wife Agnès; younger, illiterate, downtrodden. Into their world comes The Boy; one of the angels in fact, who will create for The Protector an illuminated book; a precious object celebrating his wealth and worthiness. Inevitably, The Boy and Agnès fall in love and The Protector’s revenge, whipped up by the angels, is quite revoltingly violent. It’s essentially a simple and classic plot but Crimp shapes it skilfully with carefully placed anachronisms and by using the device of having the characters, sometimes, narrate their own actions in the third person. Benjamin’s score is in a modern idiom. He’s not afraid of a tonality and he uses a very wide range of colours to create a score that ranges from meditational to almost unbearably violent. Certainly words and music work together here to great effect.
Toronto Operetta Theatre and Toronto Masque Theatre have announced their respective 2014/15 season line ups. TOT will present three shows. The first is a zarzuela; Federico Chueca’s La gran via. Jose Hernandez conducts and the cast includes Margie Bernal, Fabian Arciniegas, Pablo Benitez and Diego Catala. There’s one performance on November 2nd. The Christmas show will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Singers include Lucia Cesaroni, Mia Lennox, David Ludwig and Giles Tomkins with Derek Bate conducting. There are six performances scheduled between December 27th and January 4th. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, is a revival of Victor Davies’ 2008 piece Ernest, the Importance of Being. It’s based on the Wilde play and will star Jean Stilwell as Lady Bracknell. Larry Beckwith conducts. There will be four performances on April 29th and May 1st to 3rd. All three shows will be directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin and will be staged at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. (www.stlc.com)