When François Girard’s production of Wagner’s Parsifal opened at the Met in 2013 the COC was listed as a co-producer. A year passed: winter changed into spring, spring changed into summer, summer changed back into winter, and winter gave spring and summer a miss and went straight on into autumn… until one day… at a Wagner Society meeting COC boss Alexander Neef came up with something more definite. One day was last night. The plan, apparently, is to stage the piece in 2021, hors saison. It will form an epilogue to the 2020/21 (presumably in late May) season or a prologue to the 2021/22 season (late September). This would appear to have two advantages; firstly it means that the technical problems of running a show where the stage is flooded with thousands of gallons of blood in tandem with another production are avoided and it means that if financing falls through the regular seasons are safe. Naturally there is still the issue of the seven digit number so expect four years of rather intensive fund raising. Anyone fancying sponsoring a flower maiden should contact Mr. Neef.
As is their wont the COC run of Tosca is double cast, at least as far as the principals go, and last night was the second performance for the alternate cast. Keri Alkema sang Tosca, Kamen Chakev was Cavaradossi and Craig Colclough played Scarpia. Sometimes the cast change makes a big difference, for better or worse, in the show. This time I really didn’t feel that was the case. This felt very much like the show I saw on opening night with minor differences.
Maybe Alkema’s Tosca is a bit “girlier” than Pieczonka but it’s very fine and Vissi d’arte brought the house down. If you alternated Colclough and Marquardt as Scarpia I’m not sure I’d notice. The biggest difference (and it’s still a fine one) is Chakev. He has the Italianate sound I rather missed in Puente though I think he saved most of it for the last act. In any event it made for a very fine Act 3 duet; probably the highlight of the night. So, bottom line, whichever cast one chooses to see it’s a good show.
I went back to see the COC’s Louis Riel again on Friday evening. Unlike opening night I wasn’t all keyed up to see whether Peter Hinton’s production “worked”. I knew it did. I think, too, perhaps the cast were less nervy and had settled into the show. In any event it allowed me to see the show in some different ways though I suspect that to fully unpack it would take a couple more viewings. It’s more than a crying shame that there will be no video recording, unlike 1969. In fact it’s a damning indictment of successive Canadian governments and the CBC.
What follows isn’t intended as an exhaustive analysis or review. Rather it’s a few thoughts that have been percolating.
Yes it is and here’s what’s coming up. Sadly Natalie Dessay’s Koerner gig tonight has been cancelled. Get well soon and please come back! Tomorrow at 8pm the TSO has a concert with Carla Huhtanen featuring Morawetz’ Carnival Overture, Boulez’ Le soleil des eaux and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherezade. On Sunday Lyndsay Promane has a recital at 3pm at Islington United Church with works by Dowland, Faure, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Strauss. Admission is by donation
Next week there are a bunch of free concerts in the RBA at noon. On Tuesday it’s Alysson McHardy and Rachel Andrist with a program of Schumann and Zemlinsky. Wednesday sees Aaron Sheppard and Stéphane Mayer perform Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation. They will also be joined by Sam Pickett and Megan Quick. Finally, on Thursday Lauren Eberwein, who is sounding really good recently, and members of the COC Orchestra will perform two J.S. Bach cantatas; Ich habe genug and Vergnügte Ruh.
Paul Curran’s production of Tosca, seen in 2008 and 2012, opened at the COC yesterday afternoon. It didn’t feel like a routine revival production of a warhorse. In fact it felt much fresher and focussed than last time around. Perhaps Mr. Curran, who is again directing, found some new insights or, more likely, the chemistry between the principals is better this time. The result is a very satisfactory show.
So here is the promised review of last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I have to phrase it that way because it was more than Somers’ opera Louis Riel though that of course was the major event. The evening kicked off with a performance in the RBA by the Git Hayetsk Dance Group. This is a west coast group and I’m not going to try and get into the complexities of nation, lineage and clan involved but it was a moving performance of traditional songs and dance with a brilliantly witty piece involving the trickster raven and a lot of stolen handbags. This was also the beginning of the public conversation about the use of the Nsga’a mourning song in Louis Riel. That conversation continued when the same group made a brief appearance on the main stage immediately before the opera performance. I understand that the intent is for the leader of the dancers to report back to the matriarch of the clan that owns the song on what happened and for the conversation to continue from there.
Harry Somers’ Louis Riel is iconic. It was the first Canadian opera to be performed by the COC (in 1967) and with its uncompromising musical modernism it stands out quite distinctly from the general corpus of Canadian operas. Even after 50 years it retains an “edgy” quality musically. It’s also iconic in that it uses the story of the Métis rebellions of 1870 and 1885 to explore the nature of Canadian identity. It’s also hugely problematic in that the libretto, quite naturally, sees that issue in 1960s terms; i.e French vs English with a side of Ottawa versus the West. There’s little room for Métis or First Nations sensibilities and the original production, recorded by the CBC in 1969, exacerbated that with a hyper-realistic treatment that made unfortunate use of a number of derogatory stereotypes of Aboriginal people. This was compounded by the use of a sacred Nisga’a mourning song with new words as a lullabye; the most famous part of the opera – the Kuyas – without acknowledgement or permission.