I’ve been familiar with Voltaire’s satirical novella since I was a teenager and have reread it many times but I’d not seen the Bernstein operetta/musical version until last night when it opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre with, I think, the original Lillian Hellman 1956 book though a later reduced orchestration (I’m guessing on that). I was very curious because it’s not obvious how one might turn Voltaire’s sequence of drily narrated, utterly absurd scenes into drama. The answer turns out to be to insert the author as a spoken word narrator linking scenes and play it straight though the two mile high cliffs and sheep get lost in the wash. Fair enough. It works pretty well. The whole thing is reasonably true to the spirit of the original though in places, especially in the musical number, it’s definitely tailored to a 1950s Broadway sensibility.
2017 draws to a close and we haven’t had a nuclear war (yet). So it’s time to look ahead to what’s coming up opera and concertwise in January 2018. But first, there’s one show still to catch in 2017. Toronto Operetta Theatre opens a run of Bernstein’s Candide tomorrow night at the Jane Mallett. It stars Tonatiuh Abrego, Vania Chan, Elizabeth Beeler and Nicholas Borg. There are shows at 8pm on December 28th and 30th and January 5th and 6th with matinées on New Year’s Eve and January 7th. For the shows on 28th, 5th and 6th you can use code CANDIDE30 to get a 30% discount. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds!
Calixa Lavallée’s main, perhaps only, claim to fame is that he wrote the music for O Canada! He also wrote an operetta, The Widow. Yesterday I saw it at Toronto Operetta Theatre in a production by Guillermo Silva-Marin. It’s pretty silly. The plot turns on a scheming widow who pretends to drown herself while most of the rest of the characters pretend either to be someone else, or to be married to someone else, or both. Still, it’s fast paced and quite funny and the various sillinesses work out more or less logically. The music is pleasant and well crafted but not strikingly original. I don’t think I actually recall a single tune. So, a worthwhile enough piece but hardly an undiscovered masterpiece.
The production, in variations on concert wear for the most part, was quite kinetic with lots of rushing about and some dance elements. There are probably more entrances and exits than a Brian Rix farce (and for much the same reasons) so that helps. Performances were pretty good. Julie Nesrallah struck the right note as the somewhat overripe Spanish widow Donna Paquita de something-something-something. She sang well and her knowing, almost wink-at-the-audience, approach was just shy of over the top. It made a good anchor. The vocal star was Lynn Isnar as Nanine. It’s classic operetta soubrette territory and her bright tone, easy top and controlled coloratura were just right. She has a nice sense of timing too. Her aria which opened the second act was the vocal highlight of the afternoon. The rest of the cast was made up of TOT regulars and young singers. Everyone sang well and the acting was also good. The young lovers, of both flavours, were appropriately decorative and there was a bumbling ineffectual aristo for Greg Finney to play. Michael Rose accompanied perfectly competently at the piano. So, basically, all operetta boxes ticked.
All in all, a pleasant enough way to spend a really gloomy November Sunday afternoon.
Coming up this next week. Tomorrow Toronto Operetta Theatre are performing Calixa Lavallée’s The Widow. He’s the dude who wrote the music for O Canada! so no idea what to expect. It’s at the Jane Mallett Theatre at 3pm. Monday at 7pm at the Zoomerplex is the IRCPA Singing Stars of Tomorrow concert. My interview with Brett Polegato about it is here. And this is the link for ticket purchase.
There have been a few announcements over the last week or two. First up is a fund raiser for the music and social outreach programmes at St. Andrew by the Lake. St. Andrew by the Lake is the Anglican church that serves Toronto Islands and as everyone in Toronto knows this has been a tough summer for island dwellers and, among other things it’s messed up the usual summer music program at St. Andrew. The fundraiser is at Christ Church Deer Park on Thursday 24th August at 7.30pm. The concert features the Canzona Chamber Players with Evan Mitchell conducting and Rachel Krehm as soprano soloist in performances of Mozart, Gounod, Charpentier and Brahms. More details and tickets at http://www.standrewbythelake.com
Toronto Operetta Theatre’s current production is Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier in the English version. It’s based on Shaw’s Arms and the Man but, as is usually the case with musical adaptations of Shaw, it’s rather less acerbic than the original. In fact, it comes over as a somewhat farcical love story with a few gentle pot shots at the military and militarism. There are some good comic lines and the music is tuneful and well crafted.
March was a curiously quiet month. April starts to look busier, at least once we get past Easter. Tonight, Against the Grain have their monthly pub night at The Amsterdam Bicycle Club. Snow is forecast so you should all stay away and then maybe I’ll be able to get in. On Saturday at 4pm there’s a free (or PWYC) recital in Ernest Baumer Studio featuring soprano Stephanie Nakagawa and pianist Peemanat Kittimontreechai. They will be performing arias from contemporary Canadian operas. On Thursday 13th Philippe Jaroussky and Les Violins du Roy will be appearing at Koerner Hall. It’s at 8pm and features mainly fairly obscure Handel material.