James Robinson’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was designed for various American regional houses. It has been updated to 1914ish and been given “regionalization” tweaks in the towns in which it has appeared. The version that opened at the COC last night has been transported to small town Ontario, Niagara on the Lake perhaps, during a Fall Fair. There’s a bit of a problem. The iconography; Kitchener recruiting posters, steel helmets etc, clearly place the action during, rather than before, WW1. Maybe an American director just doesn’t get, or doesn’t care about the implications but Adina buying Nemorino out of the army for example would hardly have been seen as virtuous in the white feather infested British Empire of 1914. Fortunately most of the audience either didn’t get it or didn’t care either and frankly even persnickety me was prepared to let it go and just enjoy the rather silly romp that we got. After all, this is not the other opera about love potions!
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.
Edita Gruberova in recent years has pretty much cut her repertoire down to a handful of bel canto roles; Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux and the title roles in Anna Bolena, La Straniera, Norma and Lucrezia Borgia. The last of these was recorded in Munich in 2009 in a production by Christof Loy for the Bayerisches Staatsoper. It shows that Gruberova still very much at the height of her powers but the production is less satisfactory.
Lunchtime saw the annual concert featuring visiting members of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. It turned into something of a Donizettifest. First up was soprano Cécile Muhire with Adina’s aria Prendi, per me sei libero. This was quite competently sung though she seemed very nervous. The nerves seemed to vanish though when she was joined by her Nemorino, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, for the duet when he tries the elixir. One of the things that has always struck me about the Ensemble Studio is how quickly it teaches singers to have stage presence. J-P was a very funny, rather drunk, Nemorino and his swagger seemed to rub off on Cécile who looked much more at home in this number.
Friday night I went to see Teiya Kasahara and Stephanie Yelovich’s recital at First Unitarian. Unusually for a voice and piano (Mark-Anthony Del Brocco) recital it was essentially all bel canto; a mix of Bellini and Verdi songs with some Donizetti opera excerpts (plus a duet from Norma as an encore). It would be unusual programming for almost anyone and I was frankly a bit surprised because I don’t think of either singer as a bel canto specialist and, Teiya’s Lucia aside, a bel canto singer at all really.
I know that the event was a fundraiser to help pay for their summer in Italy studying mainly this rep and I guess, wherever one is headed as a singer, being able to sing bel canto well is an asset. So maybe, to use a rugby analogy, it wasn’t so surprising that this felt a bit more like the training field than a competitive game; especially when the duets were both mezzo/soprano pieces being sung by two sopranos.
Both these young ladies have big voices. Teiya in particular has real power, as well as coloratura chops, so perhaps she’s on the way to being that rare voice that can sing Norma and the Tudor queens. Who knows? Stephanie’s future probably lies north of the Alps though and it’s potentially a bright one. I’ve seen these two ladies separately and together in contemporary works and they were really, really good. Bel canto‘s not my sweet spot so maybe that’s part of the problem but I’m really not convinced it’s theirs either.
Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda featured in the MetHD series in January 2013 and has now been released on DVD. My review of the cinema broadcast is here. It’s always a bit different watching the DVD rather than the cinema version but in this case I think my somewhat different reaction has a lot to do with having recently seen various versions of the other Schiller/Donizetti Tudor queen operas, especially Stephen Lawless’ Roberto Devereux at the COC.
Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia is based on one short episode in the storied life of the famous female pharmacist. In it she twice poisons her son; once at the insistence of her husband, the second time by accident. The second time her son refuses the antidote preferring to die with his equally poisoned buddies but learns in his dying breath that Lucrezia is indeed his mother. It’s pretty unusual for a bel canto opera in that the leading female role (a) has agency, (b) doesn’t go mad and (c) doesn’t die.