Sometimes curiosity just gets the better of me. I rather enjoyed Toronto Operetta Theatre’s production of Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier so I was prepared to take a look at the 1955 made for TV version directed by Max Liebman. I probably shouldn’t have bothered. There’s so much weird here. First off the plot is changed out of all recognition, besides being cut down to 77 minutes. Nothing much is left apart from the basic idea of the heroine Nadine falling for the Swiss soldier who is chased into her bedroom rather than her bumptious fiancé Alexius. His escape and return are replaced with a silly impersonation of a visiting general and a farcical court martial. In mucking about with the plot most of the humour and essentially all the satire is lost leaving just a very silly and dated Broadway style romcom.
The catalogue is full of La Bohèmes from regional houses sung by serviceable casts. The version recorded at the Teatro Regio Torino in 2016 is another. My reason for wanting to look at it is because the production was directed by Àlex Ollé of La Fura dels Baus and I hoped it would prove as insightful as Stefan Herheim’s Oslo production. It doesn’t really. He gives the piece a fairly gritty modern setting but I don’t think it speaks to our modern insecurities the way Herheim does. Rather it plays pretty much as a gritty 19th century setting, which is, admittedly, vastly preferable to Zeffischenk excess or ne0-Broadway tweeness.
I’m not really sure that it’s a good idea to take Rameau too seriously, especially a work like Les Indes galantes but that’s what Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui does in his production for the 2016 Münchner Opernfestspiel. As written, the piece has five separate parts; an allegorical prelude and four scènes, each telling a love story in an “exotic” setting; Turkey, Peru, Persia, among les sauvages of North America. It’s a spectacle but it uses the exotic settings to poke fun at certain aspects of Western culture in Rameau’s usual irreverent way. There’s no linking narrative and the characters in each scène (the goddesses Amour and Bellona aside) only appear once.
After the madness of November, December is much quieter. Messiahs aside there are only a handful of events of note. On Saturday at 7.30pm at Runnymede United Church the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir have a concert of seasonal music which includes Kim André Arnesen’s Magnificat with Adanya Dunn as soloist. On Tuesday 5th the noon recital in the RBA features Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer. The program hasn’t been published yet but I’m told it includes the Berg Seven Early Songs and a number of songs by Frank Bridge. On Thursday evening at 9pm it’s Opera Pub Night at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The theme is Messiah Pariah. You have been warned. The operatic event of the month is Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound. This uses a mash-up of Handel’s music to explore issues related to the current worldwide refugee crisis. It plays December 14th, 15th and 16th at the COC’s Jackman Studio. As of now, it’s sold out except for the final 9pm performance on the 16th. Toronto Consort have a Spanish themed Christmas show Navidad, featuring motets by Victoria and Guerrero plus villancicos and dances from Latin America. This one is on December 8th and 9th at 8pm and 10th at 3.30pm. Trinity St. Paul’s of course. Also this weekend, more performances of Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts (see last post).
The current Tapestry Briefs show presents work from the 2016 LibLab. It’s all new and, inevitably, very mixed. It started very strongly with a scene, The Call of the Light (Imam Habibi/Bobby Theodore) based on the 1984 attack on the Quebec National Assembly. The combination of an assault rifle carrying camo clad Alex Dobson , the rest of the cast (Jacquie Woodley, Keith Klassen, Erica Iris) writhing on the floor and dissonant extended piano from Michael Shannon was genuinely disturbing. Having a gun pointed straight at you from a few feet away doesn’t happen often at the opera.
Thackeray thought Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther was so boring and idiotic that he wrote a satirical poem about it (you can find it at the bottom of the page). Massenet’s reaction, alas, was to write a three hour opera based on it. Add to the implausible and dull plot (altered but slightly from Goethe’s original) Massenet’s overblown romantic music and penchant for any sentimentality he can find (at the end, a children’s chorus sings a Christmas song while Werther is bleeding to death in Charlotte’s arms) and it’s well nigh unbearable.
Yesterday’s VOICEBOX presentation was Handel’s Rodelinda. It was given in their usual style. No sets (bar the odd projection), minimal props, concert wear and the singers mostly in front of an onstage orchestra. The main attraction was the “all star” cast. To have Christina Haldane, David Trudgen, Charles Sy and Alex Dobson in the principal roles is something of a luxury. The two young mezzos rounding out the cast; Gena van Oosten and Meagan Larios weren’t half bad either.