Tim Albery’s production of Richard Strauss’ 1933 opera Arabella, first seen at Santa Fe in 2012, finally made it to Toronto last night. It’s, I believe, a Canadian premiere for the piece, which is a bit shocking for an important opera by a major composer. It’s not a perfect piece. The librettist, the incomparable Hugo von Hofmannsthal, died before he and Strauss could revise the second and third acts and there are places where it feels a bit unfinished but it’s still an impressive work. The plot’s a bit contrived perhaps, though no more so than many more famous operas, but there’s real depth of humanity and Mandryka, the landowner/tribal chief from the southern fringes of the Habsburg empire, is a really fascinating study.
The COC’s production of Madama Butterfly opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I’m not a huge Madama Butterfly fan and it takes a really good production and a really good performance to get me past my instinctive dislike for a libretto based on child rape and sex tourism backed by Puccini soup with an infusion of Mikado. This production, being revived for the umpty umpth time (It dates back to the Brian Dickie era) just wasn’t that. Director Brian Macdonald writes in the programme “We both (he and Dickie) had had experience at the Stratford Festival. That meant wood, simple props, no decoration that wouldn’t bespeak the essence of the play”. Throw in an Allen key and it would sound like a trip to IKEA. Which is pretty much what the designs are like; clean, functional and inoffensive. Throw in costumes and gestures straight from the Mikado and you have it. Not bad. Just meh.