The Ensemble Studio do Mozart, Bellini and Handel

Last night saw the Ensemble Studio’s big main stage performance.  Rather than perform one of the COC’s current productions (hard to imagine how they could cast one from the current line up) we got scenes from three operas; two of them from the COC’s current season.  They were performed with the orchestra on stage in front of the backdrop to the opening scene from the current Die Zauberflöte and in concert dress rather than costume (more or less, there were some nods to the roles in question) and with some blocking as far as limiting movement to the front of the stage permitted.

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Magic Flute – the other cast

Last night I saw the alternate cast of the COC’s Magic Flute.  Owen McCausland swaps First Armed Man for Tamino with Andrew Haji, Kirsten MacKinnon comes in as Pamina, Phillip Addis is Papageno and Matt Boehler is Sarastro.  The changes don’t really affect things much at all.  All the new faces are very good.  MacKinnon is a very perky Pamina which works well with Addis who has maybe a bit more of the “cheeky chappy” than Hopkins.  Fans of Owen McCausland and Andrew Haji will see exactly the differences in timbre and vocal technique one would expect but the interpretation is pretty much the same.  Overall, I would say that someone not very familiar with these singers would scarcely notice any differences.  What I did notice is how much better this production looks from Ring 3 than from the Orchestra.  Getting something of a “plan view” makes the antics during the overture look less cluttered and frantic and the trials scene is much more effective.  And the sound is better too.

Photos by Michael Cooper under the fold. Continue reading

Twilight

Last night the COC began its run of Götterdämmerung, the last and longest opera in Wagner’s epic tetralogy at The Four Seasons Centre.  It’s very different from Die Walküre and Siegfried.  The visual elements that tied them together; tottering Valhalla, disintegrating world ash, gantries, dancers, heaps of corpses are mostly gone.  In Tim Albery’s production the visuals are spare almost to abstraction.  The Gibichung Hall is a CEO suite with computer monitors and red couches, both Brünnhilde’s rock and the Rhinemaidens’ hang out look improvised, almost like squatters’ camps.  Costuming, apart from an occasional flashback, as in Waltraute’s scene, is severely modern business; grey suits, black dresses.  Only Siegfried himself in tee shirt and leather jacket stands out from the corporate crowd.  Dancing flames are replaced by red lights.  Everything that can be understated is and the world ends not with an overflowing Rhine and collapsing Valhalla but a stately pas de quatre between Brünnhilde and the Rhinemaidens.

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Getting busier

We are moving into busy season for the next two or three weeks.  Next week, Tuesday sees a lunchtime recital in the RBA by Phillip Addis with song cycles by Maurice Ravel and Erik Ross.  Wednesday sees a concert staging of Salvatore Sciarrino’s The Killing Flower (Luci mie traditrici).  It tells the story of Carlos Gesualdo’s murder of his wife and lover.  Performers include Shannon Mercer, Geoffrey Sirett, Scott Belluz and Keith Klassen.  It’s at Walter Hall at 7.30pm with a pre-show with the composer at 6.30pm.  Sciarrino is involved in other events connected with the New Music Festival all week.  Thursday is opening night for the COC’s Götterdämmerung at the Four Seasons Centre with an early kick off time of 6pm.  Alternatively the TSO are doing the Fauré Requiem with Karina Gauvin and Russell Braun on both Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

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Music Theatre Wales’s touring production of The Killing Flower at Buxton Festival. Photograph: Clive Barda

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Next week (mostly) in the RBA

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Things are still a bit quiet on the vocal music front (the lull before the storm judging by my agenda) but there are a couple of free concerts of interest at noon in the RBA next week.  On Tuesday, bass Goran Jurić, currently singing Sarastro at the COC, is teaming up with Anne Larlee in an all Russian program featuring works by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Spiridov.  Then on Thursday there’s a concert in the chamber music series featuring the members of the COC orchestra academy.  But once again, the chamber series deceives because half of the program (at least) features soprano Jaqueline Woodley in a series of Handel arias.  Later, at 7pm at The Fifth Pubhouse, the COC is hosting Opera Trivia Night with trivia master Russell Harder.  It’s free but ticketed.  Tisckets from coc.ca or the Four Seasons box office.  The COC’s Magic Flute continues with the first chance to see the alternative cast on Sunday afternoon (29th) at the Four Seasons Centre, which is pretty close to sold out.  No doubt the matinee show will be a lot of kids’ first opera.

Magic Flute revived at COC

Last night saw the first performance of this season’s run of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the COC.  It’s a revival of the Diane Paulus 2011 production with Ashlie Corcoran as revival director.  It has a “theatre within a theatre” overlay in Act 1; it’s supposed to be an aristocratic birthday party for Pamina where the guests perform the opera, which mysteriously disappears in Act 2 though it makes an odd reprise right at the end where all the characters appear to perform a country dance.  Strip that element out and it’s a workmanlike Flute with nothing much to say but some pretty visuals.  The animals are cute and the trials scene is rather well done.  There is one notable change from 2011.  Pamina’s lurid pink Disney princess outfit is gone, replaced by something Regencyish and far less jarring.

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So basically it’s all about the performances and here we were well served by a (mostly) youngish cast with a strong Canadian element.  The star of the show for my money was Elena Tsallagova as Pamina.  She combines a sweet voice with plenty of projection and very affecting acting.  She nailed the big numbers and combined beautifully with Andrew Haji’s Tamino and Joshua Hopkins’ Papageno.  Haji too was excellent.  He really does have the ability to shade his voice and vocal technique for the piece he’s singing in so last night he, I think, throttled back a bit and concentrated on sounding beautiful and stylish rather than heroically Italianate.  (Some of this may have been where I was sitting where everything sounded a wee bit “throttled back”).  Hopkins’ Papageno was well sung.  Perhaps not the most exuberant Papageno ever but quite funny and convincing.

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Ambur Braid showed us why she is so much in demand as Queen of the Night.  The two big arias were spot on with some real menace in Der Hölle Rache and pinpoint coloratura.  It was also great to have a genuine bass with real low notes in Goran Juric as Sarastro.  The supporting roles were heavy on past and present Ensemble Studio members with Michael Colvin (Monastatos), Jackie Woodley (Papagena), Aviva Fortunata, Emily D’Angelo and Lauren Segal (Girls biker gang aka Three Ladies) plus Owen McCausland, Neil Craighead, Charles Sy and Bruno Roy all getting in on the action.

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Bruno Labadie conducted and brought a brisk, HIP sensibility to the piece.  He didn’t let his singers wallow and things kept moving without being too frenetic.  He was probably also responsible for pushing the singing style somewhat towards a lowish vibrato baroque kind of sound.  The COC chorus and orchestra were, as usual, top notch.  All in all then, a serviceable and well sung Magic Flute but hardly revelatory.

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There are eleven more performances between next Friday, when the alternate cast will sing, and February 24th.  I’ll be back to see that cast with Owen McCausland, Kirsten MacKinnon, Phillip Addis and Matt Boehler coming in as Tamino, Pamina, Papageno and Sarastro respectively.  The Magic Flute is playing at the Four Seasons centre and tickets are available from the box office and at coc.ca.

Photo credits: Chris Hutcheson, Gary Beechey and Michael Cooper x2.

COC 2017/18

Last night the Canadian Opera Company announced the line up for the 2017/18 season.  It was all pretty much as predicted.  My predictions post got five out of six right and Dylan was right on the money down to timing.  So what do we get?

The fall season features, finally, Tim Albery’s production of Strauss’ Arabella first seen at Santa Fe.  Erin Wall, as expected, takes the title role while Jane Archibald, in one of three season appearances, sings Zdenka.  The Mandryka will be one of the few high profile imports, Tomasz Konieczny.  There are welcome appearances for David Pomery as Matteo and Claire de Sevigné as Flakermilli.  It’s a season full of Ensemble Studio graduates.  Patrick Lange conducts.  Partnering Arabella is Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in a production by James Robinson adapted to set the piece in pre WW1 Niagara on the Lake.  Simone Osborne and Andrew Haji play Adina and Nemorino with Gordon Bintner as Belcore.  This is, I think, the first time I’ve seen husband and wife as soloists at the COC though the Pomeroys have been seen on stage together quite a few times.  Brit Andrew Shore rounds things out as Dulcemara.  Yves Abel makes his COC debut in the pit.

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