The TSO’s season opener on Wednesday night featured Renée Fleming in one of her rare visits to Toronto. As one might expect for a crowd friendly season opener it was largely a collection of “lollipops” though the all Ravel first half of the program perhaps had higher ambitions. The orchestra kicked off with Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso; a rather vulgar piece full of castanets, twiddly Spanish tunes and solo bassoon standing in for a clown. I guess one could at least say that Peter Oundjian and the orchestra were well into the spirit of the thing. It was followed up with Schéhérazade. I’m not sure what the score markings on this are… perhaps “très langueurezzzzz”. It was a very Renée performance with beauty of tone (even in the soprano killing acoustic) dominating over drama or diction (though again I’m cognisant that the hall swallows words). It was a bit understated and I heard comments in the interval from people less well seated than myself that “they couldn’t hear a thing”.
Wozzeck is a tricky piece for a director. There seem to be two possible approaches. One can find a character for Wozzeck himself that resonates with contemporary audiences and treat the piece more or less realistically. That’s the approach taken by both Bieito and Tcherniakov. Alternatively one can run with the overtly expressionist aspects of the piece and present it in a more abstract way as Peter Mussbach did. Andreas Homoki’s 2015 Zürich production takes the second route. The piece is presented as if the characters are puppets in a puppet theatre in a sort of ultra-grim version of Punch and Judy. It’s visually quite arresting and there are some very well composed scenes. To give just one example, immediately after Wozzeck has decapitated Marie the chorus appear as nightmarish Maries while Wozzeck sits nursing the severed head. That said, the concept does pall and maybe hasn’t really got the legs, absent any other real directorial ideas, to carry the piece for two hours.
This looks like the week the season really starts. The big event is the season opener at the TSO on Wednesday where Renée Fleming is featured. There’s Ravel’s Shéhérazade plus Puccini, Walton and others finishing up with three numbers from The King and I. This one’s at Roy Thomson Hall at the slightly unusual time of 7pm. The next night at the Alliance Française there’s a show called Singing Stars of Tomorrow. It features ten young singers who will have been engaged in a day long workshop with Sondra Radvanovsky. It’s organised by the IRCPA. Tickets are $25 from ircpa.net.
If I had been languishing in obscurity for 250 years like Joseph Bodin de Boismortier I think I’d rather stay that way than be rescued by Hervé Niquet and the French “comedy” duo Dino and Shirley (Corinne and Gilles Benizio). To be fair their take on Boismortier’s 1743 ballet-comédie Don Quichotte chez la duchesse isn’t nearly as bad as their previous brutal murder of Purcell’s King Arthur but it’s really weird and patchy. It’s rather hard to describe in fact. It’s a sort of mash up of farce, commedia, slapstick and pastiche in which bits of baroque opera occasionally break out. It’s also staged as meta theatre with the stage interacting with the pit and Niquet himself ending up in the action.
Continuing my struggle with Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia I got hold of the Blu-ray recording of Fiona Shaw’s 2015 Glyndebourne production. I’m beginning, I think, to see my way to understanding the problems inherent in the libretto and some of the strategies that can be used to overcome them. The more minor problem is Junius and the odd scene early in Act 2 where he seems to be inciting the Romans to revolt while acting as a general in Tarquinius’ army while, also, apparently, been in some sense complicit in the rape. So we have a two faced power hungry schemer who is oblivious to the consequences of his mischief making; whether rape or rabble rousing (a sort of Roman Boris Johnson). Most productions ignore this aspect of things and probably rightly.
A bunch of announcements today; most of them from Against the Grain Theatre. The big one I suppose is the announcement of a formal arrangement with the COC which sees a two year “company in residence” arrangement whereby AtG will be based at the COC’s Front Street offices and where COC execs will mentor their AtG equivalents. The relationship has been going on for a while so it’s not terribly surprising that they have decided to shack up together.
Toronto Masque Theatre have announced their 2016/17 season. There are two main stage productions and three salon concerts. First of the main stage shows is a double bill of Handel’s dramatic cantata Apollo and Daphne with Jacqueline Woodley and Geoffrey Sirett and dancer Stéphaie Brochard, directed and choreographed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière paired with Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden based on the epic poem by Tennyson, performed by actor Derek Boyes and pianist Angela Park. This one is at 8:00 pm on November 17th, 18th and 19th with a pre-show event at 7:15 pm each evening at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse.