The Widow

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Lynn Isnar – wearing one of the dresses she wore yesterday

Calixa Lavallée’s main, perhaps only, claim to fame is that he wrote the music for O Canada!  He also wrote an operetta, The Widow.  Yesterday I saw it at Toronto Operetta Theatre in a production by Guillermo Silva-Marin.  It’s pretty silly.  The plot turns on a scheming widow who pretends to drown herself while most of the rest of the characters pretend either to be someone else, or to be married to someone else, or both.  Still, it’s fast paced and quite funny and the various sillinesses work out more or less logically.  The music is pleasant and well crafted but not strikingly original.  I don’t think I actually recall a single tune.  So, a worthwhile enough piece but hardly an undiscovered masterpiece.

The production, in variations on concert wear for the most part, was quite kinetic with lots of rushing about and some dance elements.  There are probably more entrances and exits than a Brian Rix farce (and for much the same reasons) so that helps.  Performances were pretty good.  Julie Nesrallah struck the right note as the somewhat overripe Spanish widow Donna Paquita de something-something-something.  She sang well and her knowing, almost wink-at-the-audience, approach was just shy of over the top.  It made a good anchor.  The vocal star was Lynn Isnar as Nanine.  It’s classic operetta soubrette territory and her bright tone, easy top and controlled coloratura were just right.  She has a nice sense of timing too.  Her aria which opened the second act was the vocal highlight of the afternoon.  The rest of the cast was made up of TOT regulars and young singers.  Everyone sang well and the acting was also good.  The young lovers, of both flavours, were appropriately decorative and there was a bumbling ineffectual aristo for Greg Finney to play.  Michael Rose accompanied perfectly competently at the piano.  So, basically, all operetta boxes ticked.

All in all, a pleasant enough way to spend a really gloomy November Sunday afternoon.

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Spooktastic

My second concert of the day was a Halloween themed recital given by soprano Jennifer Taverner at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu.  Now previously I had only heard Jennifer sing operetta, at which she is very good, so I had little idea what her range is.  Last night I found out.  The first part of the program was pretty normal recital fare.  Ombre pallide from Handel’s Alcina was knocked off with flair and some bravura in the repeat.  Then came some French chansons of spookiness including Saint Saens’ Danse macabre where Jennifer and pianist Andrea van Pelt were joined by Jennifer Murphy on violin.  All nicely done with fine diction.

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Eastern breezes, western winds

That’s the title of a new CD from soprano Kira Braun and pianist Peter Krochak.  Yesterday I got to hear them perform music from it at Rosemarie Umetsu’s new digs on Davenport.  This is a great venue for small scale concerts and recitals and has a really good Yamaha piano.  It’s also less awkward to get to than, say, Gallery 345 so check out their website and facebook page to see what’s happening.

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Musik für das Ende

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Claude Vivier’s Musik für das Ende had to wait until 35 years after the composer’s death for its first fully staged performance.  That happened last night at Crow’s Theatre under the auspices of Soundstreams.  It forms the main and concluding part of a really interesting show  directed by Chris Abraham.

The first part of the program is a monologue, Il faisait nuit, of Vivier returning to his Paris apartment and describing his life and his final composition.  Written by Zack Russell and brilliantly played by Alex Ivanovici it’s a French/English piece based on extensive discussions with people who knew Vivier and is said to capture his verbal and physical mannerisms with uncanny accuracy.  It also introduces us to key design elements of the evening.  We, the audience, are lining the walls of a “black box”.  The set is created by lighting effects and there is an electronic sound track.  It’s a very immersive experience. Continue reading

Four marriages and a Figaro

Opera Atelier’s remount of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro opened last night at the Elgin.  It’s a curious production made up of parts that don’t really fit together, hence the review title.  At the core is a rather elegant traditional production.  It’s wigs and crinolines and might have been seen almost anywhere almost any time in the last fifty years or so.  Most of the excessive baroque gesturing is gone and the acting is stagey but no more so than in many opera productions.

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Musical Chairs II – On the Move

Todays concert in the UoT’s Thursdays at Noon series at Walter Hall was given by baritone Giles Tomkins, soprano Elizabeth McDonald, pianist Kathryn Tremills, clarinettist Peter Stoll and cellist Lydia Munchinsky.  The music they played was sometimes in familiar combinations of players and sometimes very much not.  Hence the title.

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(Dido and Aeneas)x2

The decision by Toronto Masque Theatre to pair Purcell’s miniature opera, Dido and Aeneas, with James Rolfe and André Alexis’ piece on the lovers’ inner thoughts, Aeneas and Dido, paid off last night.  It produced an evening of just the right length with two contrasting but complementary pieces working really well together.

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