Rocking Horse Winner; music by Gareth Williams and libretto by Anna Chatterton, opened last night at the Berkeley Street Theatre. It’s based on the short story by DH Lawrence and is a co-commission of Tapestry Opera and Scottish Opera. There are some changes from the original story. Here Paul is a developmentally challenged adult (on the autism spectrum) rather than a child. The gardener is replaced by his personal care worker who moonlights as a caller at the local racetrack. This has a couple of advantages. It provides something of a rationale for Paul hearing the “voice” of the house and for his apparently inexplicable intuition about race winners and it also means that Paul can be cast as a tenor rather than having to make an awkward choice between a boy soprano or a pants role. As Paul is one of, perhaps the main, character, this simplifies casting considerably. The work is also gently updated. So gently in fact that it’s barely perceptible.
Against the Grain Theatre opened their new show last night on the worst day of the winter so far. Over 15cm of snow fell and the TTC was in utter chaos. It’s becoming a habit. Last year’s Messiah opened in weather almost as bad. Uncle John is the latest modern, Toronto based, adaptation of the Mozart/da Ponte trilogy. It follows on from last season’s smash hit Figaro’s Wedding and was created and produced with support from the COC and the Banff Centre. It will be followed by A Little Too Cosy next season. The formula is basically the same. It;s ataged in a non traditional spave; in this case a rock concert venue on Queen West. The libretto is in English and differs in detail from da Ponte while respecting the basic spirit of the original. It’s also very Toronto and a little bit Toronto opera scene insiderish. Much of the recitative is replaced by spoken dialogue. There’s no chorus and accompaniment to the singers is provided by piano and string quartet. It’s a musical solution I like. It adds enough weight and colour that one hardly misses the full orchestra while being, of course, much more affordable. It all works really well and if you can you should see it. I’m putting my more detailed thoughts under the cut because they contain lots of spoilers which you may not want to read if you are going.
We seem to be in some kind of post apocalyptic wasteland. Mime’s hut looks like a re-purposed storage tank but the bear and the forest are more or less realistic. It’s all very dark and there’s quite a lot of use of pyrotechnics. This is also our first look at Siegfried Jerusalem’s Siegfried and he is very good indeed. He captures the hero’s youthful vigour and arrogance extremely well. There is a strong performance too from a rather manic Graham Clark as Mime and John Tomlinson continues as a reckless and wild Wanderer.
The 1991 Bayreuth Ring cycle is one of those productions that has become a historical landmark, as much as Chereau and Boulez’ 1976 effort, or maybe even more so. For many people it is the Ring. So what is it like? The staging is very bare and much reliance is placed on effects like lasers and smoke. It also makes considerable acting and athletic demands on the singers. It is, in many ways, a very modern production for 1991.
It’s March break in Toronto which means lots of children friendly activities. Yesterday’s lunchtime concert at the Four Seasons Centre was one of them. It was a session/performance by soprano/educator Kyra Millan together with sidekicks baritone Jesse Clark and pianist Christina Faye. There were lots of kids, mostly quite young, there. Some had even brought their parents.