Aaron Gervais’ and Colleen Murphy’s Oksana G. finally made it to the stage last night after a most convoluted journey. It’s being produced by Tapestry at the Imperial Oil Theatre with Tom Diamond directing. The wait, I think has been worth it. The story, set in 1997, of a naive country girl from the Ukraine who gets caught up in sex trafficking is dramatic and the it convincingly depicts the sleazy underworld of southern and eastern Europe created by the collapse of the USSR, the civil wars in the Balkans and the pervasive official corruption in countries like Ukraine, Greece and Italy. It’s gritty and, at times, not at all easy to watch.
A couple of days ago I sat down to chat with Natalya Gennadi who will sing the title role in Tapestry’s upcoming premiere of Oksana G by Aaron Gervais and Colleen Murphy. It’s a story about a Ukrainian girl who gets caught up with a sex-trafficking ring; an all too real phenomenon in Eastern and Central Europe as the Soviet system disintegrated. For Natalya it’s a very personal piece. She is Ukrainian and much the same age as Oksana would be. It’s her era and Oksana is, she feels, a similar sort of person from a similar background and there but for…
Thankfully, Natalya’ “career path” has been rather different. She didn’t set out to be a singer. In fact she trained in linguistics before applying to, and being accepted by the Moscow Conservatory though she never studied there. Instead she moved to Ottawa with her husband where she began to study music formsally. With a degree from the University of Ottawa she came to Toronto to study for her masters. Along the way she appeared in a number of student productions and since graduating has been keeping busy with roles mainly with opera companies and orchestras in the Toronto suburbs(*); most recently in the title role of Suor Angelica with Cathedral Bluffs and the countess in Le nozze di Figaro with the Brott Festival. The latter representing something of a vocal shift from Puccini and the like to lighter rep. This is something that she sees as an important (if slightly unusual) career direction. There have also been competitions and the Karina Gauvin scholarship and a “career blueprint” award from the IRCPA.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Hamburg State Opera cooperated with Polyphon and NDR to make a series of thirteen films for television of assorted operas. They are all available as a boxed set called Cult Operas of the 1970s but one or two of them are also available separately. One such is a 1968 recording of Weber’s Der Freischütz. It was directed for film/TV by Rolf Liebermann and recorded in the studio using the HSO’s stage production. I think the action is lip synched to a pre-recorded soundtrack (normal practice at the time) but I’m not sure.
Opera 5’s interactive production of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus opened last night in the Great Hall at 918 Bathurst. It’s an intriguing but, above all, fun show. I think it’s fair to say that presented straight Die Fledermaus has more than a few elements of meta-theatricality. Here it’s central to the plot from MC Pearle Harbour’s initial apology for the lack of a fourth wall because “we can’t afford one” through a whole series of “interventions” by various characters. Unpacking it all would probably make as much sense as Umberto Eco’s Three Owls on a Chest of Drawers and I’m not as clever as the late Professor Eco and, in best Fledermaus tradition, it’s the morning after and I’ve only had five hours sleep. So, I’ll avoid the meta and try and describe the show.
Against the Grain Theatre revived their 2013 choreographed Messiah last night Harbourfront Centre. It’s quite heavily reworked from the 2013 edition and I think the changes are an improvement. The creative team of Topher Mokrzewski (Music), Joel Ivany (Stage direction) and Jenn Nichols (choreography) remains the same as does the overall “look and feel”. The soloists are supported here by a 16 strong chorus and 18 instrumentalists.
The Talisker Players’ latest show is pretty typical of what they do best; partner with some excellent singers and an actor to create an interesting program of words and music on a given theme. Last night, as the title suggests, the theme was classical mythology; a rich enough seam for almost anything! Most of the musical works chosen were twentieth century or later with only excerpts from a Pergolesi cantata harking back to an era that drew more heavily on these sources.
The first piece was Alan Hovhaness’ Hercules for soprano and violin performed by Carla Huhtanen and Elizabeth Loewen Andrews. This was so very Hovhaness; haunting, disturbing and very beautiful. It seems as rooted in the pre-classical world as the Heroic Age but perhaps that’s just a kind of timelessness. It’s a perfect fit for Carla and the violin playing was beautiful too.
Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are such a stock staple of amateur dramatic societies in the English speaking world that one might think they were easy to stage. They are not. They are a tricky genre; entirely sui generic and strewn with as many pitfalls as the field at Bannockburn. The first and greatest is the primacy of the text and, embedded in that, W.S. Gilbert’s relentless guying of English Victorian society. A director really has to choose to go with that or come up with something really rather different. In Toronto Operetta Theatre’s new production of The Mikado director Guillermo Silva-Marin hasn’t really done either. There’s nothing very new in this production which seems to focus mostly on the visuals; streamer twirling and fancy fan work. One senses the mostly young cast have been left to develop their own characters without a whole lot of help. It’s a big ask and the result is that much of the time, even when the words are fully audible, one senses the players aren’t really aware of what and where the joke is. It’s no surprise then that it’s the veterans of the cast who get closest to the essence of the piece. Both David Ludwig as Pooh-Bah and Giles Tomkins as The Mikado perform with sly wit and excellent diction. The Katisha of Mia Lennox is quite idiomatic too but perhaps lacking a bit of bite.