Abstract Fidelio

Fidelio is an interesting piece.  The music is great and it has a powerful, very straightforward, plot.  There are no convoluted subplots here.  But there is a lot of spoken dialogue which slows things down.  Is it necessary?  Claus Guth doesn’t think so and in his 2015 Salzburg production he replaces the dialogue with ambient noise and also doubles up Leonora and Don Pizarro with silent actor “shadows”; the former using sign language in the manner of the narrator character in Guth’s Messiah.  It works remarkably well.  The ambient noise sections are quite disturbing and the “shadows” add some depth, especially the frantic signing in the final scene.  Perhaps worth noting that the “noise” contains a lot of very low bass and precise spatial location.  It may need a pretty good sound system to have the intended effect.

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Ensemble Studio Marriage of Figaro

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.

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Another look at the Guth Figaro

Back at the Four Seasons Centre last night for another look at the current Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro.  It was a somewhat different experience than opening night.  The timing and physical comedy seems to have crisped up and the audience seemed more relaxed.  There was a lot of laughter.  A lot.  I could see why too, although I have never thought of this as a “funny” production.  Indeed the 2006 Salzburg original earned its reputation as “the darkest Figaro ever”.  Interval conversation suggested that the production has been progressively “lightened up” in its various Salzburg revivals and maybe this was just the next step in that progression.  There seemed to be fewer dead birds too.  One effect of the shift was to bring the character of Figaro more to the fore.  I thought Joseph Wagner was a bit anonymous on opening night but he impressed me last night.

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Guth’s Figaro at the COC

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”.

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Canadian Opera Company announces rather more than just the 2015/16 season

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

Dense and dramatic Ariadne

Claus Guth’s 2006 production of Ariadne auf Naxos recorded at the Opernhaus Zürich in 2006 is a compelling piece of theatre.  It’s one of those Regietheater pieces that combines a workable concept with compelling Personenregie to create a whole that’s extremely illuminating.  The entire Vorspiel is played out, in modern dress, in front of a grey curtain.  We get an immediate idea of how Guth is going to explore/exploit metatheatricality as soon as the Haushofmeister appears.  He’s played by none other than Zürich Intendant Alexander Pereira.  Who is calling the shots?  This is reinforced when he drops the bombshell that the opera seria must be combined with Zerbinetta’s farce.  This speech is delivered by Pereira from among his guests in the Intendant’s box.  It’s very clever.  But there’s so much more going on during the Vorspiel.  The Komponist is getting seriously deranged; perhaps even more so after he begins his infatuation with Zerbinetta.  There’s a moment when it looks like a love triangle is being set up.  The diva just gives one look that suggests that she’s got her eyes on the Komponist.  It’s a typical moment.  A look, a gesture, seems to convey so much.  It all concludes with the deranged Komponist shooting himself.

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Beyond pale

Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-bleue is a setting of a libretto by the symbolist poet and playwright Maeterlinck.  It’s roughly contemporary with both Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Strauss’ Salome.  It shows.  It really is a product of a particular fin de siècle world view.  Like Debussy’s piece, Ariane is loosely based on a folk tale.  In this case it’s the gory story of Duke Bluebeard and his six wives but here it’s curiously etiolated.  It’s as if Maeterlinck is reacting to the ultra-realism of, say, Zola, by retreating into a strange inner world.  It’s not even the troubled inner world of Freud or Jung either.  It’s colourless (and we’ll come back to that).  All this is reinforced by Maeterlinck’s style of telling rather than showing.  Much of what “action” there is takes place off stage and is narrated by the on stage characters.  Both words and music are used to fill in the gaps.

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