So last night was this year’s iteration of the COC’s glitzy competition with cash and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake. It’s a bit of a weird thing to write about because the public, and this year the media, only see a fraction of what the judges are judging. We saw each singer do one aria. There had been a closed round earlier in the day to which, unlike in previous years, the media were not invited. Then there’s what the judges have seen in rehearsal, reputation etc. All in all what happens on the night influences the outcome about as much as at an Olympic figure skating event. So, in many ways it’s surprising that my picks were as close to the judges as they were.
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.
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.
What are we to make of Handel’s Ariodante? The plot centres on the notion that female chastity is the be all and end all of life. It’s not a notion that would find much support in 21st century Toronto, even among a Sunday afternoon audience at the Four Seasons Centre. Ginevra, princess of Scotland and heir to the king, is betrothed to Ariodante. Ariodante has a rival, Polinesso who is loved in a besotted kind of way by Ginevra’s maid, Dalinda. Polinesso claims to have slept with Ginevra and offers to prove it to Ariodante. He drugs Ginevra and gets Dalinda to put on Ginevra’s clothes and invite him into her room. Ariodante disappears, apparently having committed suicide in a fit of despair. On the flimsiest of evidence Ginevra, who has no idea what happened, is condemned to death. Her accusers, including her father, don’t even bother to ask who the man in her room was. Polinesso tries to remove the now inconvenient Dalinda from the scene but fails and when Ariodante shows up again she spills the beans. Polinesso is killed by Ariodante’s brother in a duel but not before confessing. All is forgiven and everyone carries on as if nothing in the least traumatising just happened. So, what to do with this?
Once a season the young artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio get to perform one of the company’s productions on the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre. Last night it was the Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro. I’ve said enough about the production already here and here so let’s cut to the chase.
I took a quick look at the Metropolitan Opera’s recently announced 2016/17 and while for the most part it’s business as usual there’s maybe one surprise. There are 26 productions; 6 new, 20 revivals for a total of 225 performances. The first thing that struck me was how little Puccini there is. Only two Puccini works (La Bohème and Manon Lescaut) are being performed for a total of 23 shows (10.2%). There’s nothing pre Mozart and only one opera written post WW1; L’Amour de Loin which gets 8 performances (ETA: Apparently Cyrano dates from 1936 though you wouldn’t guess that to hear it. Still only 4 performances so it doesn’t affect the stats much). There are only two other works which could, at a stretch, be called “modern” stylistically; Salome and Jenůfa, but they were written in 1905 and 1903 respectively, and get only 6 performances each. Then there’ Rusalka (1901) and Rosenkavalier (1911) which are 20th century but not by any stretch “modern”. So, even on generous definitions of “modernity”, over 85% of the Met’s output is, essentially, 19th century.
Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, first seen at Salzburg in 2006, opened last night at the COC. I was curious to see how it would be received because, while by no means an extreme production by European standards, it’s well beyond the 1970s aesthetic beloved by sections of the Toronto audience. The aesthetic is Northern European; a Strindberg play or a Bergmann film perhaps. It’s monochromatic, quite slow and focusses on the darker side of the characters’ psyches. It’s the antithesis of Figaro as Feydeau farce. There’s also a non-canonical character, Cherubim. He’s a winged doppelganger of Cherubino and seems to be a cross between Cupid and Puck. Pretty much omnipresent he manipulates scenes and characters though with a power that falls well short of absolute. Perhaps the whole production is best summed up in the final ensemble. Cherubim visits each couple in turn and is brusquely rejected. Only Cherubino is still subject to his power and that seems to have become destructive. Perhaps the message is “Now we are married forget this love nonsense and let us get back to our drab lives of quiet despair”.