Six years ago a bunch of unknowns calling themselves “Against the Grain Theatre” put on Joel Ivany’s English language, updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème in the back room of the Tranzac club. I was there. I reviewed it on my LiveJournal because it would be another six months before I started this blog. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Tranzac has been tarted up quite a bit since La Bohème 1.0, though even by 2011 it had become a lot smarter than when the Nomads hung out there and the wall featured a photo of Sorbie with the McCormick cup. Lets face it anywhere would be more sedate without Neil (RIP mate). Oh yeah, and the original AtG crowd have become quite respectable, even famous perhaps. The singers are all Equity members and get paid properly. There are sets and props that weren’t borrowed from Topher’s mum. Topher and Joel have done the conducting and directing thing for major companies in real opera houses. And I’ve been writing this stuff most every day for six years.
As is their wont the COC run of Tosca is double cast, at least as far as the principals go, and last night was the second performance for the alternate cast. Keri Alkema sang Tosca, Kamen Chakev was Cavaradossi and Craig Colclough played Scarpia. Sometimes the cast change makes a big difference, for better or worse, in the show. This time I really didn’t feel that was the case. This felt very much like the show I saw on opening night with minor differences.
Maybe Alkema’s Tosca is a bit “girlier” than Pieczonka but it’s very fine and Vissi d’arte brought the house down. If you alternated Colclough and Marquardt as Scarpia I’m not sure I’d notice. The biggest difference (and it’s still a fine one) is Chakev. He has the Italianate sound I rather missed in Puente though I think he saved most of it for the last act. In any event it made for a very fine Act 3 duet; probably the highlight of the night. So, bottom line, whichever cast one chooses to see it’s a good show.
Paul Curran’s production of Tosca, seen in 2008 and 2012, opened at the COC yesterday afternoon. It didn’t feel like a routine revival production of a warhorse. In fact it felt much fresher and focussed than last time around. Perhaps Mr. Curran, who is again directing, found some new insights or, more likely, the chemistry between the principals is better this time. The result is a very satisfactory show.
Not too many CDs of new opera recordings, at least of mainstream repertoire, come my way these days. Studio recordings have become rare and the usual medium is a video recording, itself a spin off from a live broadcast; TV, cinema or web, of a live performance. This makes sense to me. Just listening to an opera has always seemed a second best. Anyway, that’s all by way of saying that I was a bit surprised to find myself listening to a CD edition of a live recording of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut from the 2016 Salzburg Festival. How did this recording happen you ask? The answer is on the box, where Anna Netrebko in the title role, gets top billing, even over the composer.
Today’s noon recitalists in the RBA were Andrew Haji and Liz Upchurch. We had been promised Britten’s Serenade but an absence of non-knackered horn players due to the COC’s Götterdämmerung run scuppered that and instead we got a very varied program of songs and arias on the theme of love and its travails. Four Brahms songs kicked things off and produced some very fine lieder singing. Beautiful throughout with fine phrasing, characterisation and diction there was more. The final “wonnewoll” of Wie bist du, meine Königin was a thing of floaty beauty and there was a real sense of ecstasy in Mein Liebe ist grün.
The TSO’s season opener on Wednesday night featured Renée Fleming in one of her rare visits to Toronto. As one might expect for a crowd friendly season opener it was largely a collection of “lollipops” though the all Ravel first half of the program perhaps had higher ambitions. The orchestra kicked off with Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso; a rather vulgar piece full of castanets, twiddly Spanish tunes and solo bassoon standing in for a clown. I guess one could at least say that Peter Oundjian and the orchestra were well into the spirit of the thing. It was followed up with Schéhérazade. I’m not sure what the score markings on this are… perhaps “très langueurezzzzz”. It was a very Renée performance with beauty of tone (even in the soprano killing acoustic) dominating over drama or diction (though again I’m cognisant that the hall swallows words). It was a bit understated and I heard comments in the interval from people less well seated than myself that “they couldn’t hear a thing”.
Last night I ventured forth to experience another way of presenting “opera” at the cinema. It was a film called Jonas Kaufmann – An evening with Puccini and was based around a recording of a concert Herr Kaufmann gave at La Scala last year with the Filarmonica della Scala conducted by Jochen Rieder. The full program is here.