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.
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.
Last night was the “event” at which the COC brass and guests, with a bit of help from Brent Bambury, announced the upcoming season to a packed house of subscribers and friends. What struck me was how much news was packed in. It was far more than the usual schedule presentation with announcements of several major new projects. But first the season. Continue reading →
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
François Girard’s production of Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera was much written about at the time of the HD broadcast in March 2013. My review of that broadcast is here.I don’t think my opinion has changed very much. It’s a powerful and intensely beautiful production and there are some wonderful performances, especially that of René Pape. I’m not going to rehash the previous review but there were a few things I noticed second time around. In Act 1, for instance, the gendering of the scene is mirrored in other ways to emphasize the polarity. The knights are in white, the women in black. The men are in orderly circles, the women are just a crowd. Also the final scene is almost overwhelmingly intense. Kaufmann sings quite beautifully with fine diction, gravitas and simply gorgeous high notes. Pape caps off a performance of great pathpos and humanity with the gentle gesture with which he closes Kundry’s eyes in death. It’s compelling stuff.
It’s perhaps surprising that Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys isn’t performed much more often than it is. Most people probably only know it for the tenor aria Vainement, ma bien-aimée which crops up from time to time in recitals and competitions. Sure, it’s not strikingly original. The plot is a love triangle with overlays of revenge and divine retribution and the music is, with the exception of the rather fine overture, a bit on the rumpty tumpty side. But, let’s face it, there are plenty of standard repertoire works with implausible romantic plots and banal, if tuneful, music. I think there’s a large section of the opera audience that would very much enjoy this piece.
Yesterday’s Met Live in HD broadcast of Parsifal was one of the best I’ve seen. The production is highly effective, the starry cast lived up to the hype and the video direction was sensitive and true to the staging. Any reservations I have about the experience are due to the work itself but that may be matter for another day. It certainly reinforced my belief, consolidated by seeing Tristan und Isolde twice recently that these big Wagner operas are high risk, high reward. When they come off they are incredible. When they don’t it’s six hours of one’s life gone missing.