Opera Five’s schtick is that they satisfy all five senses. In their current show that means matching a food offering with each of the three short operas on display. It’s a neat idea. In the current show a palindromic skewer of sausage, pickle and cheese is matched with the palindromic Hindemith work Hin und Zurück, assorted Russian pasty like objects are paired with Rachmaninov’s Aleko and some sort of chocolate on a stick thing with Milton Granger’s 1999 piece Talk Opera.
The Hindemith was the most interesting work from a staging point of view and was one of the best I’ve seen from a small company. Director Aria Umezawa gave it an expressionist twist with supers in white body suits intervening to make “wine” flow from cut out paper bottle to cut out paper glass or to hold up signs of the “Wham!” and “Pow!” variety at appropriate points. The slightly absurd quality matched the basic loopiness of the work where a simple drama of jealousy and murder is played first forward then back in a highly stylised manner. Excellent idiomatic singing and acting here from the two principals Rachel Krehm and Christopher Mayell.
The Rachmaninov was musically the highlight of the night with solid and very Russian singing from soprano Natalya Matyusheva as Zemfira She was well backed up by father, husband and lover. Respectively Dylan Wright, Joshua Whelan and Justin Stolz. The ladies of the chorus were very good too and there was some inspired piano accompaniment from Maika’i Nash. The music was great but unfortunately dramatically it’s a pretty dull piece. It’s ostensibly about gypsies but they are very Russian gypsies; permanently depressed, so we go from gloomy marriage to joyless infidelity to resigned murder and passionless exile. No wonder vodka consumption is so high!
After the interval Milton Granger introduced his Talk Opera. The conceit is a shock talk show, a la Springer, with opera characters as guests. He chose the Duke, Gilda and Rigoletto but it could have been any one of opera’s myriad dysfunctional families. Host Cookie assisted by a couple of loud and brainless audience members assail the trio with the canonical mix of tabloid morality and pop psychology in a sort of basically tonal but shouty idiom vaguely reminiscent of Anna Nicole. The trio respond with a mixture of talk show banality and heavy invocation of their operatic character sung to the best known tunes in Rigoletto. In the end they all decide to go into therapy. As you do. The best singing came from Johnathan Kirby as Rigoletto. He has a big voice and a grasp of the idiom and one could easily see him actually singing the Verdi role. He got good support from the clingy, gormless Gilda of Leigh-Anne Allen and a wonderfully camp, narcissistic Duke in Christopher Mayell. Erin Stone rather shrieked her way through the role of Cookie. It did her voice no favours but I guess that’s how it’s written. All in all it was amusing enough, genuinely funny in places, but a bit of a one trick pony of a work.
The talent base in Toronto is truly astonishing. This show featured some really good singers and pianists and some very high class directing but it’s playing, with minimal publicity, to an audience of maybe a hundred in an improvised space in the west end of the city. We have so many exciting small companies and nobody knows about them.
The show continues until tomorrow night at Gallery 345 on Sorauren. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased here.