Season announcements, it seems, are like the King Street streetcar(1). You wait for ages then three come along at once. This time it’s Opera Atelier announcing the 2017/18 season. As ever there are two productions. A remount of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro runs October 26th to November 4th. The cast icludes Douglas Williams, making his Opera Atelier debut, in the title role, with Mireille Asselin (Susanna), Stephen Hegedus (Count Almaviva), Peggy Kriha Dye (Countess Almaviva), Mireille Lebel (Cherubino), Laura Pudwell (Marcellina), Gustav Andreassen (Bartolo), Christopher Enns (Basilio/Don Curzio), Olivier Laquerre (Antonio), and Grace Lee (Barbarina). This one will be sung in English.
Opera Atelier’s production of (mostly) Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas opened last night at the Elgin. I say “(mostly) Purcell” because director Marshall Pynkowski had decided to add a Prologue. As he explained in his introductory remarks nobody reads Virgil’s Aeneid anymore so it was necessary to play out the back story in a prologue. I find this pretty patronising. It’s not a particularly convoluted story and I would have thought that the gist of the story is well enough known to most opera goers and, you know, some of us have read the Aeneid. Besides, even without detailed knowledge of the back story there’s nothing remotely hard to understand. FWIW the dumbing down carried over into the surtitles with, for example, “Anchises” rendered as “his father”. Anyway we got a prologue spoken by Irene Poole while the orchestra played other Purcell airs followed by a bit of extraneous ballet and poor Chris Enns (Aeneas) and Wallis Giunta (Dido) running around making the stock baroque “woe is me” gesture. I guess it made the piece (plus Marshall’s speech) long enough to justify an intermission, which was taken after what is usually Act 2 Scene 1, but the prologue was neither necessary nor welcome and I think the ensuing intermission was an unnecessary break in the flow of the action.
There’s a lot on today. Handel’s Ariodante opens at the COC at 2.30pm. There’s also a concert featuring Russell Braun with the Amici Ensemble at 3pm in the Mazzoleni Concert Hall at the Conservatory. The Elmer Iseler Singers and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir also have concerts. Thursday sees the opening of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at Opera Atelier with Wallis Giunta and Chris Enns as the lovers which promises both eye and ear candy. That’s at the Elgin at 7.30pm. Then on Saturday there’s Singing Stars of Tomorrow, the result of a Sondra Radvanovsky intensive, at the Alliance Française at 7.30 pm. The line up is Valerie Belanger,soprano; Stephanie De Ciantis, soprano; Natalya Gennadi, soprano; Beth Hagerman, soprano; Jessica Scarlato, soprano; Sara Schabas, soprano; Caitlin Wood, soprano; Danielle MacMillan, mezzo-soprano; Marjorie Maltais, mezzo-soprano; Asitha Tennekoon, tenor. Quite a mix, from people I’ve never heard of to one who has already made her COC debut.
In other news, the COC and Show One Productions have announced a gala concert to take place at the Four Seasons Centre on April 25th next year. It’s billed (modestly) as Trio Magnifico: The Ultimate Opera Gala and the big draw is the Canadian debut of Anna Netrebko. She will appear with her husband tenor Yusif Eyazov and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. They will be accompanied by the COC Orchestra conducted by Jader Bignamini. Given that Dima alone turned Koerner Hall into a frenzy of screaming Russian grannies, this could get interesting.
Last night was the one of only two chances to see Bicycle Opera Project in Toronto this year. (The other is tonight). It was a show in collaboration with Toy Piano Composers’ Collective called Travelogue and featuring four new works around the broad them of travel. The show was run without an interval but with each composer introducing their own work by reading, e.g., post cards from their travels or, hilariously, in the case of the absent Tobin Stokes, recordings of the voicemails he left apologising for not having finished the piece yet. Staging was, in the BOP way, minimalist but effective.
Opera Atelier has announced its 2016/17 season. The fall production will be Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. It isn’t clear whether this is a new production or a revival. The company has done the piece before; at the MacMillan Theatre in 1989 and 1994, in 2005 at the Elgin and in sundry tour venues. It’s not paired with anything so it’s either a very short show or there is a lot of interpolated dance. Wallis Giunta and Chris Enns play the lovers with a supporting cast that includes Meghan Lindsay, Laura Pudwell, Ellen McAteer, Karine White and Cory Knight. Nice to see Karine getting a chance on a professional stage. There are six shows at the Elgin between October 20 and 29, 2016.
François Girard’s Siegfried, a revival of his 2006 production, opened last night at the COC. Despite using the same basic set concept as Atom Egoyan’s Die Walküre, Girard’s Siegfried, has a rather different look and feel. The fragments of Valhalla and the remains of Yggdrassil are still there but they are supplemented in imaginative fashion by a corps of supers and acrobats who play a key role in shaping the scenes. For example, in the opening scene we have Yggdrassil festooned with bodies, as if some enormous shrike were in residence. Some of these are dummies and some aerialists who come into the drama at key points. The flames in Siegfried’s forge are human arms. Acrobats make a very effective Fafner in the Niedhöhle scene and the flames around Brünnhilde’s rock are human too. Most of the characters are dressed in sort of white pyjamas which makes for a very monochromatic effect on the mostly dark stage. The one visual incongruity is the “bear” who is present, tied to Yggdrassil, throughout Act 1. Frankly it looks less like a bear than John Tomlinson after a night on the tiles. Still, all in all, the production is effective without being especially revelatory.
I was back last night to see Bicycle Opera Project’s Shadowbox again. This time it was in the more intimate, and highly appropriate, setting of a bicycle shop; Curbside Cycle on Bloor Street. Minus the high roof of the Davenport-Perth Community Centre it was much easier to understand the sung text which is pretty important with this show. The show is an interesting concept. It’s still a series of scenes by different composers and librettists but they are linked thematically by the common idea of memory and dramatically by the auction of objects that set up each scene The auctioneer is rather brilliantly played by Chris Enns who, curiously, seemed quite sinister at Davenport-Perth (like something out of a German Expressionist movie perhaps) but seemed quite avuncular close up.