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.
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)