Making a film of an opera rather than filming an opera involves interesting choices and one of the strengths of the DVD of Penny Woolcock’s film of John Adams’ and Alice Goodman’s The Death of Klinghoffer is that includes 47 minutes of Woolcock, Adams and others discussing just how one takes a rather abstractly staged opera (the original staging was, inevitably, by Peter Sellars) and turn it into an essentially naturalistic film. Of course, naturalism will only go so far with opera but this goes a long way in that direction. The soloists are filmed mainly on location and they sing to the camera. The choruses, mainly backed by documentary footage, and the orchestra were recorded in the studio but the actors sing ‘live’. The one concession to “being operatic” is having a mezzo voice one of the Palestinians though he is played by a male actor.
Yesterday, Easter Saturday, I got to see the Royal Opera House production of Wagner’s Parsifal. It was broadcast live to many locations of December 18th last year but hasn’t been seen in Toronto until now. It was very much a three act experience. At the end of the first and longest act I thought we were perhaps seeing greatness in the making. Stephen Langridge’s production concept supported by Alison Chitty’s fairlybabstract modern designs were making all kinds of sense to me. At centre stage is a white, semi transparent cube serving as both grail shrine and Amfortas’ hospital room. Within it, various aspects of the back story are shown to us and it comes off as a place of knowledge; perhaps of a much deeper kind than has yet been revealed. This impression is reinforced with the unveiling of the Grail late in the act. It is a young, Christ like boy. The grail ceremony involves Amfortas cutting him to release the blood for the ceremony. There’s a lot of blood letting but it makes sense. We are seeing a very wounded and dysfunctional polity.
Handel’s Partenope is a bit unusual. It feels lighter than a lot of Handel’s Italian operas and it is basically a romcom, albeit one that still has a vaguely classical setting. Handel also plays with opera seria conventions by, for example, writing “heroic” arias for non-heroic texts and putting accompagnato in odd places. The number of potential match ups that need to be tracked is fairly staggering. Basically everybody is in love with, or pretending to be in love with, Partenope, queen of Partenope aka Naples. These include the invading prince of Cumae, Emilio; Arsace, prince of Corinth; Armindo, prince of Rhodes and Eurimene, an Armenia who is really Rosmira, princess of Cypress and formerly betrothed to Arsace. The only character who isn’t in love with Partenope is the philosophical captain of the guard, Ormonte, who is easy to spot as he’s a bass. At the start of the piece Partenope is in love with Arsace but Eurimene/Rosmira isn’t having that and engineers a duel with Arsace. This takes most of two acts but it’s the only essential bit of plot. In Act 3 Arsace, who really doesn’t want to fight his former fiancée finally comes up with the wizard wheeze of demanding that the duel be fought bare chested. Apparently this was perfectly normal under Neopolitan duelling conventions. maybe it’s what gave Patrick O’Brian the idea of having Stephen Maturin always duel bare chested? Anyway the modest Rosmira isn’t about to do any boob flashing (somewhat ironically as Inger Dam-Jensen, in the title role, has been bosom heaving with the best since the overture) so confesses to being, shock horror, female. Arsace and Rosmira are reunited and Partenope awards herself as a consolation prize to Armindo. Got that?
Massenet’s Don Quichotte is one of those works where one does a double take on learning when it was composed. It dates from 1910 but sounds like it was composed at least 50 years earlier. It’s lushly romantic and dressed up with elements of flamenco but to nothing like as good effect as in de Falla’s La vida breve. There’s also plenty of scmaltz. The intro to Act 5, for example, being highly reminiscent of the Meditation in Thaïs. The plot’s pretty thin too. Don Quixote loves the unattainable Dulcinea. He goes off and encounters some bandits who eventually take pity on him and rather than killing him give him Dulcinea’s necklace, which they have stolen. He returns it to her. She is grateful but still not interested in marrying him. He dies. Great!
Easter is fast approaching and there are various appropriate choral offerings around. Good Friday options include a Sing-Along Messiah at Armour Heights Presbyterian Church, 105 Wilson Ave. It’s at 2.30 pm and tickets are $20; $15(sr/st). Fancy that, a Messiah at Easter.
Back to the Four Seasons Centre last night for a second look at Peter Sellars’ production of Handel’s Hercules. This time we were sitting lower down in the house, in the front, left of the orchestra ring. As predicted the set wasn’t as effective as when seen from higher up but in some ways the lighting effects were more successful. Given the house’s acoustic properties favour the rings I’d say this is definitely one to see from somewhere other than the orchestra.
What did I particularly notice compared to opening night? First off, Richard Croft. I think I was so wrapped up in Lucy Crowe and Eric Owen’s singing the first time around that I almost failed to notice what a fine performance he gave. His voice is very mature for a tenor now but he’s a terrific interpreter of text and has flawless technique. His intensity remains remarkable. And the schtick with the crutches? It turns out he recently had hip surgery.
The news continues to flood in! Toronto Operetta Theatre will close out their season with the Canadian Premiere of The Cousin from Nowhere (Der Vetter aus Dingsda); a 1921 work by the German Eduard Künneke. Described by TOT General Director Guillermo Silva-Marin as “a very special work, a chamber operetta really, written by a Berliner who incorporated American and Latin dance rhythms into a lyric framework”; it will be conducted by Jürgen Petrenko and stars tenor Christopher Mayell, and soprano Lucia Cesaroni. There will be fours shows at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on May 1, 2, 3, 4 (mat). For tickets call the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts at 416-366-7723, 1–800-708-6754 or online at www.stlc.com