The Canadian Opera Company released information on sales for the 2012/13 season today. Ticket sales totalled 109,297, down from 125,328 in 2011/12 and well below the 137,000 of the 2009/10 season. Ticket revenue was also off at $9.9 million versus $11 million in 2011/12 and $13.4 million in 2009/10. A reduction in the number of performances (and one hopes, costs) meant that capacity utilization only dropped to 90% compared with 91% in the previous season and 98% in 2009/10. At least revenue per seat sold rose to $94.26 compared with $87.76 the previous year though still below 2009/10′s $97.97. Part of this must have been due to the premium prices charged for Tristan und Isolde but one hopes it might also reflect slightly less frenetic discounting.
Overall I think this is pretty worrying. Three consecutive years of significant revenue decline is not good. The economy is tough everywhere but Toronto has probably suffered less than most major opera centres so it’s hard to blame the economy for all of the decline. A 26% drop in ticket revenue in four years is pretty extreme. I’m a big fan of the product that the COC is putting on the stage but I just don’t see the current situation as sustainable and, as yet, I don’t see any sort of remedial action (or even any admission that there is a problem). Still one lives in hope.
Pretty much all opera video recordings have sub-titles. Some, usually older, recordings just have hard coded English subs but most have selectable subs in half a dozen or so languages. They almost always include English French and German but the others seem to be pretty much a crap shoot. Does anyone, maybe who works in the business, know how they are chosen? Italian and Spanish are quite common. Usually the native language of the house in which the recording is made features and so I have recordings with Danish, Dutch, Catalan and Flemish subs though my Helsinki L’Amour de Loin lacks Finnish and there’s no Norwegian on my Oslo La Bohème. Even more oddly there’s no Italian on the La Scala Peter Grimes even though the text within the DVD is all in Italian. Asian languages are totally random though Chinese, Korean and Japanese all show up from time to time. Enquiring minds want to know.
Cavalli’s Ercole amante was written for the wedding of Louis XIV to Marie-Thérèse, a Hapsburg princess. The marriage itself being the seal on the French victory over Spain in the war that had lasted until 1659. It’s an odd work considering. It’s not nearly as weird as, say, Il Giasone or La Didone but it’s hardly what one would expect for the nuptials of Le Roi Soleil. It’s clear from both the Prologue and the ending that Ercole is Louis but he’s also a most unlikeable character. In this version of the Hercules story he’s in love with his son’s (Hyllo) girlfriend (Iole) and will stop at nothing to bed her including casting off his wife (Deianira), imprisoning his son and bumping off Iole’s father. In the end he’s attacked by the spirits of various people he has wronged before succumbing to the trick with the centaur’s poisoned shirt. He’s made immortal and paired off with Hebe in the heavens but it’s hardly a tale of kingly virtue or marital fidelity. For good measure, along the way a good chunk of the Graeco-Roman pantheon make an appearance.
There is, finally, a recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes on Blu-ray. It’s a Richard Jones production with a largely British cast, recorded at La Scala in 2012. The sound and picture quality are first rate. Unfortunately the production and performances aren’t so much.
Richard Jones has chosen to set the piece in the 1980s and to portray the inhabitants of the Borough as a sort of inbred hive mind fuelled by prejudice, alcohol and drugs. Actually it’s not a bad concept but it comes off as exaggerated with cast and chorus repeatedly making more or less coordinated middle aged disco moves. He also portrays the nieces as the sort of permanently stoned bubble heads one wants to avoid on the last train home. There are some neat touches. The Moot Hall, The Boar and Grimes’ hut are all formed by box like spaces that are tilted and rotated to good effect. The lighting is effective too. Unusually for a modern production Jones doesn’t provide any staging for the interludes, leaving the theatre dark with the curtain down. Overall, it’s a production I’d want to take a second look at but I suspect it’s just painted too broadly to be really effective.
Last night we attended a concert in the relatively new performance space at the Canadian Music Centre. It’s a very pleasant room, set up for recording, and seating maybe 50. The program consisted of four recent works by Canadian composers; three short opera scenes for soprano and piano and a piano piece.
It will come as no secret to regular readers that I am something of a Peter Grimes completist. Until recently this blog was probably the only place one could find detailed reviews of all the available video recordings of that great work. Now the recent La Scala production has been released on Blu-ray and I am no longer complete. Fear not though, the disk is in the mail as they say and the divine order will shortly be restored.
In other Grimes new, the Aldeburgh Festival is staging the work on the beach. The estimable Chris Gillett, Horace Adams both there and at La Scala, is blogging about it in his usual inimitable style. In some ways I really wish I could go but I know that coast. Even on a good day the wind will freeze one’s soft bits off. Definitely a challenging place to perform or even watch opera. It’s also just off the A12 and I still have the after effects of 24 stitches on my face from a rather unfortunate encounter on that highway in my youth. I shall patiently await Ben Heppner, Alan Held, Ileana Montalbetti et al at the Four Seasons Centre in the fall.
The Giacomo Variations is the latest collaboration between John Malkovich, Michael Sturminger, Martin Haselböck and,posthumously, W.A. Mozart. In that respect it has much in common with The Infernal Comedy. In other respects, not so much. It’s just wound up a six performance visit to Montreal and Toronto and last night I caught the final performance at the Elgin Theatre.
My attention has been drawn to a most unusual project. A group of people are trying to write a bel canto opera based on a Sherlock Holmes fanfic. I’m not really sure what I think of the idea of fanfic, which I have avoided to date, though I must note that persons I consider almost entirely sane are quite committed to the genre.
Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria hasn’t proved as popular as his other late work L’incoronazione di Poppea but, given as compelling a performance as it got at the Teatro Real, it’s a bit hard to see why that is. On this 2007 recording we have an elegant and interesting production by Pier Luigi Pizzi, an excellent cast headed by Kobie van Rensburg and Christine Rice and the incomparable William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants. It’s a compelling package.