Mercadante’s I due Figaro(1) is one of a number of operas that continue the story of Figaro, Almaviva etc into a third instalment. It sets a libretto by Felice Romani based on Les deux Figaro by Honoré-Antoine Richaud Martelly. It premiered in Madrid in 1835 but was lost for many years before being rediscovered in 2009 and given at the 2011 Ravenna Festival. Yesterday in got its Canadian premier at VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert.
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.
Elizabeth Beeler with company and Tonatiuh Abrego as Candide
Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at the Jane Mallett Theatre last night. Bill Siva-Marin’s production is competent and very traditional with some strong performers in the key roles. It won’t leave you with any new insights into the piece but it’s a well executed production which is lots of fun and very funny in places. When I say traditional I mean pirates in pantomime pirate dress, maidens in some stereotypically Victorian maiden garb and a Major General in a cod colonial uniform. Tnere are the traditional mild updatings to the libretto including a couple of rather well crafted verses in the MG’s patter song that reference the Glorious Leader of our neighbour to the south. There are also a few nice touches. In the second act the MG spends much of the time clutching a bust of one of his purchased ancestors and the “catlike tread” scene is noisily anything but. That said, the choreography and blocking are pretty formulaic though there are some deft touches in the Personenregie. Mabel’s body language in Oh! Is there not one maiden breast? is worth a look.
Anna Theodosakis’ production of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia for MYOpera updates the piece from proto-historical Rome to somewhere in the mid 20th century which is fine but doesn’t seem, of itself, to add any layers of meaning to the narrative. There are neat visual touches in a simple but effective set design and the nature of and relationships between the characters are deftly drawn. The rape scene manages to be disturbing without being gratuitously graphic. It’s skilful theatre. But is that enough?
This spring’s main opera production from UoT Opera is Britten’s Paul Bunyan. It is a really peculiar work. The libretto is by WH Auden and is, well, weird. It mixes up the (apparently) profound with the absurd and the downright silly. There’s a Swedish lumberjack fish slapping dance, talking cats and dogs, trees that aspire to be product and a philosophical accountant (*). There are also countless pronouncements from the off stage voice of Bunyan along the lines of the closing:
“Where the night becomes the day, Where the dream becomes the fact, I am the Eternal guest, I am Way, I am Act“
Walt Whitman meets Dr. Seuss meets a lot of drugs? One of those 1970s English public schoolboy prog rock bands?
The Fatal Gaze is, in a way, a follow up to last year’s UoT Opera show Last Days in that it consists of a staged performance of pieces of vocal music to a theme. This time the theme is the dangers of seeing or being seen and there’s quite a lot to unpack. The music all lies on an arc from Monteverdi to Gluck and the stories are all taken from classical mythology or thee Bible with some commentary from more modern figures.
And so is Michael Albano’s new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore which opened last night at the MacMillan Theatre. It’s been a long time since the UoT Opera Division did G&S but it was worth the wait. Fred Perruzza’s straight forward unit set was really brought to life by a fast paced and lively production. From the very beginning of the overture we had members of the crew cavorting and dancing (Choreographer Anna Theodosakis) in a manner perhaps owing more to Broadway than D’Oyly Carte and the better for it! The set, a quarter deck with a gallery, provided cabin doors and traps in the deck for characters to come and go (including conductor Sandra Horst appearing from “below” to take her bow). And of coming and going and dancing there was plenty. There were some more than decent dancers in the chorus too.