I’ve been familiar with Voltaire’s satirical novella since I was a teenager and have reread it many times but I’d not seen the Bernstein operetta/musical version until last night when it opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre with, I think, the original Lillian Hellman 1956 book though a later reduced orchestration (I’m guessing on that). I was very curious because it’s not obvious how one might turn Voltaire’s sequence of drily narrated, utterly absurd scenes into drama. The answer turns out to be to insert the author as a spoken word narrator linking scenes and play it straight though the two mile high cliffs and sheep get lost in the wash. Fair enough. It works pretty well. The whole thing is reasonably true to the spirit of the original though in places, especially in the musical number, it’s definitely tailored to a 1950s Broadway sensibility.
Toronto Operetta Theatre and Toronto Masque Theatre have announced their respective 2014/15 season line ups. TOT will present three shows. The first is a zarzuela; Federico Chueca’s La gran via. Jose Hernandez conducts and the cast includes Margie Bernal, Fabian Arciniegas, Pablo Benitez and Diego Catala. There’s one performance on November 2nd. The Christmas show will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Singers include Lucia Cesaroni, Mia Lennox, David Ludwig and Giles Tomkins with Derek Bate conducting. There are six performances scheduled between December 27th and January 4th. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, is a revival of Victor Davies’ 2008 piece Ernest, the Importance of Being. It’s based on the Wilde play and will star Jean Stilwell as Lady Bracknell. Larry Beckwith conducts. There will be four performances on April 29th and May 1st to 3rd. All three shows will be directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin and will be staged at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. (www.stlc.com)
Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns must have seemed old fashioned even when it opened in 1929 in a Berlin that had already seen Wozzeck and Die Dreigroschenoper. With its waltzes and gentle chinoiserie it looks back rather than forward musically and makes few demands on its listeners. Similarly, the plot; a bittersweet romance between an Austrian aristocrat and a Chinese prince had nothing in it to disturb contemporaries though modern audiences might find the cultural appropriation a bit hard to take. However, if Turandot doesn’t bother you this likely won’t either.