The Ballad of East and West?

Wajdi Mouawad’s production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, originally seen in Lyon, opened last night at the COC with Valérie Négre as revival director.  The piece has been somewhat restructured and the spoken dialogue changed to explode the idea that the piece is “about” some kind of crude juxtaposition of the “West”; Enlightened, civilized etc, and the “East”; obscurantist, cruel, barbarian etc.  To this end Mouawad has inserted a prologue before the overture where Belmonte’s father is holding a party to celebrate the return of his son and the others where he makes the above comparison in extremely crude terms and then invites his guests to play la tête du Turc, a game that involves hitting a Turk’s head with a sledgehammer.  The guests wade in with drunken abandon, except for Konstanze and Blonde who are clearly revolted by the idea.  This leads to a conversation around who changed and how while they were in captivity and so to telling the whole story in flashback.

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Rigoletto at the COC

If anybody is wondering why I haven’t yet posted a review of the Rigoletto that opened at the COC on Saturday it’s because, for the first time, I was reviewing for Bachtrack; a London based classical music site.  The teaser is:

Christopher Alden’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto returned to Toronto tighter, more focussed and with fewer dramatic incongruities. Add to this that every aspect of the music making was top notch and it made for a fine evening at the theatre.

The full review can be found here.

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Photo credit: Michael Cooper

Centre Stage

So last night was this year’s iteration of the COC’s glitzy competition with cash and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake.  It’s a bit of a weird thing to write about because the public, and this year the media, only see a fraction of what the judges are judging.  We saw each singer do one aria.  There had been a closed round earlier in the day to which, unlike in previous years, the media were not invited.  Then there’s what the judges have seen in rehearsal, reputation etc.  All in all what happens on the night influences the outcome about as much as at an Olympic figure skating event.  So, in many ways it’s surprising that my picks were as close to the judges as they were.

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Elixir in Niagara?

James Robinson’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was designed for various American regional houses.  It has been updated to 1914ish and been given “regionalization” tweaks in the towns in which it has appeared.  The version that opened at the COC last night has been transported to small town Ontario, Niagara on the Lake perhaps, during a Fall Fair.  There’s a bit of a problem.  The iconography; Kitchener recruiting posters, steel helmets etc, clearly place the action during, rather than before, WW1.  Maybe an American director just doesn’t get, or doesn’t care about the implications but Adina buying Nemorino out of the army for example would hardly have been seen as virtuous in the white feather infested British Empire of 1914.  Fortunately most of the audience either didn’t get it or didn’t care either and frankly even persnickety me was prepared to let it go and just enjoy the rather silly romp that we got.  After all, this is not the other opera about love potions!

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Arabella at the COC

Tim Albery’s production of Richard Strauss’ 1933 opera Arabella, first seen at Santa Fe in 2012, finally made it to Toronto last night.  It’s, I believe, a Canadian premiere for the piece, which is a bit shocking for an important opera by a major composer.  It’s not a perfect piece.  The librettist, the incomparable Hugo von Hofmannsthal, died before he and Strauss could revise the second and third acts and there are places where it feels a bit unfinished but it’s still an impressive work.  The plot’s a bit contrived perhaps, though no more so than many more famous operas, but there’s real depth of humanity and Mandryka, the landowner/tribal chief from the southern fringes of the Habsburg empire, is a really fascinating study.

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Tosca – second cast

Tosca-MC-1176As is their wont the COC run of Tosca is double cast, at least as far as the principals go, and last night was the second performance for the alternate cast.  Keri Alkema sang Tosca, Kamen Chakev was Cavaradossi and Craig Colclough played Scarpia.  Sometimes the cast change makes a big difference, for better or worse, in the show.  This time I really didn’t feel that was the case.  This felt very much like the show I saw on opening night with minor differences.

Maybe Alkema’s Tosca is a bit “girlier” than Pieczonka but it’s very fine and Vissi d’arte brought the house down.  If you alternated Colclough and Marquardt as Scarpia I’m not sure I’d notice.  The biggest difference (and it’s still a fine one) is Chakev.  He has the Italianate sound I rather missed in Puente though I think he saved most of it for the last act.  In any event it made for a very fine Act 3 duet; probably the highlight of the night.  So, bottom line, whichever cast one chooses to see it’s a good show.

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Tosca at the COC

Paul Curran’s production of Tosca, seen in 2008 and 2012, opened at the COC yesterday afternoon.  It didn’t feel like a routine revival production of a warhorse.  In fact it felt much fresher and focussed than last time around.  Perhaps Mr. Curran, who is again directing, found some new insights or, more likely, the chemistry between the principals is better this time.  The result is a very satisfactory show.

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