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.
So, after the rather scattered events of the summer last night’s fundraiser for Opera 5 at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu felt like the start of a new season. It was well attended and organised in an intriguing and fun format. Basically, Team Day and Team Night were competing to see who could raise the most money. There were four rounds in which a singer from each team presented an aria, song or MT number. The one with the most pledges got to sing his or her “show off” aria. For an additional donation, the loser got to do the same. Given that some of the city’s best young singers were performing it was to be expected that it was a good show.
Toronto Operetta Theatre and Toronto Masque Theatre have announced their respective 2014/15 season line ups. TOT will present three shows. The first is a zarzuela; Federico Chueca’s La gran via. Jose Hernandez conducts and the cast includes Margie Bernal, Fabian Arciniegas, Pablo Benitez and Diego Catala. There’s one performance on November 2nd. The Christmas show will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Singers include Lucia Cesaroni, Mia Lennox, David Ludwig and Giles Tomkins with Derek Bate conducting. There are six performances scheduled between December 27th and January 4th. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, is a revival of Victor Davies’ 2008 piece Ernest, the Importance of Being. It’s based on the Wilde play and will star Jean Stilwell as Lady Bracknell. Larry Beckwith conducts. There will be four performances on April 29th and May 1st to 3rd. All three shows will be directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin and will be staged at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. (www.stlc.com)
Shelter; music by Juliet Palmer, libretto by Julie Salverson, has been ten years in the making. It premiered in Edmonton a couple of years ago, finally, got its Toronto premiere at the Berkeley Street Theatre last night under the auspices of Tapestry. It’s a complex and eclectic piece dealing with what it is to be human in a nuclear age. There are two parallel plots which intersect in a way that makes dramatic sense but violate conventional notions of synchronicity. This is, after all, a piece rooted in post Einsteinian physics. The first concerns Austrian Jewish physicist Lise Meintner, one of the discoverers of nuclear fission. She has been forced into exile by the Anschluss and is seen here refusing to work on the Manhattan project. The second plot concerns a highly stereotypical 1950s American couple Thomas and Claire who meet at a social, marry and quickly produce a child; Hope. Their “American Dream” is shattered when it turns out that the baby glows! Fast forward 21 years and Hope is demanding her freedom in a world from which she has thus far been sheltered. Reenter Meintner, engaged by Thomas to be Hope’s tutor, and still obsessing about the Manhattan project. The final twist comes with the arrival of the Pilot, in WW2 Army Air Corps uniform, who uses a Geiger counter to find his prey. He fails to convince Meintner to change her mind but does persuade Hope to fulfill her destiny as He pilots the Enola Gay to 31,000 feet and a clear sky. It’s weird, disturbing and powerful.
The opening weekend of April is almost absurdly rich in opera going opportunities and I’ve already previewed it here. There are updates on the Tapestry/Volcano show Revolutions. This is going to be highly experimental and aims to “test the boundaries of how opera is presented in the 21st century.” by exploring the relationship between physical and musical expression. Marie- Josée Chartier (contemporary dance), stage director Michael Mori, will work with four athletic young opera singers, Neema Bickersteth, Andrea Ludwig, Adrian Kramer and Andrew Love. Unfortunately it’s one night only and I shall be at the opening of Peter Sellars’ production of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. Eric Owens, Alice Coote, Richard Croft, David Daniels and Lucy Crowe are singing and Harry Bicket is in the pit. If that’s not incentive enough the COC is offering a 25% discount if you buy tickets to any two of the three spring operas (the other two are Roberto Devereux and Don Quichotte). Continue reading
It’s pretty Grimm in Toronto these days. Friday will see the 500th performance of Dean Burry’s 1999 opera for children The Brothers Grimm. Now, 500 performances for any recent opera is pretty remarkable. 500 performances for a Canadian work is extraordinary. Anyway, in the lead up to Friday there are a number of events scheduled including a concert yesterday lunchtime in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre with a Grimm theme.
Eric Domville introduced the music. He gave us a disquisition on the Grimm brothers, philology, the Great German Dictionary, folk tales and the oral tradition, his childhood, Romanticism as a reaction to Enlightenment, the plot of several folk tales in their English, French and German incarnations and a potted summary of the cultural, political and religious state of Germany in the mid 19th century. It was perhaps just a teeny bit more than one resally needed to explain three arias from Hansel and Gretel and one from Königskinder. Continue reading
Last night I went to see Essential Opera’s cheap and cheerful production of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. It was a semi staged production in the relatively small Heliconian Hall. Semi-staged in this case meant sung in costume from music stands with very basic blocking. Accompaniment was by Cathy Nosaty on piano and accordion which actually suited the music pretty well.
The singing was good, sometimes very good. Probably the stand out was Laura McAlpine’s Jenny. Of all the singers on display she was the one who seemed most immersed in the sound world of the piece and could vary style and technique appropriately. Erin Bardua’s Lucy Brown was really quite idiomatic too. The others were more consistently operatic which sounded a bit odd in places but worked surprisingly well in, for example David Roth and Heather Jewson’s rather refined refined and bourgeois Peachums. Obviously this approach also worked for the character who are usually sung operatically; Macheath, Brown and Polly for example. The ensembles were all also very effective.