Last time I spoke to Opera 5’s Aria Umezawa she was about to head off to San Francisco to join SFO’s Merola program. Now she’s been named as an Adler Fellow for 2017; the first stage director since 2002 to be named to the program. She’ll be joined by pianist/coach Jennifer Szeto, also of this parish, and another Canadian; Vancouver soprano Sarah Cambridge. I have greatly enjoyed Aria’s work with Opera 5 and hope that this is a step on the road to a major career as an opera director. The full story on this year’s Adlers is here.
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.
I met with Aria Umezawa yesterday to talk about Opera 5’s latest project, a rather unusual take on Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. The project grew out of a desire to break Opera 5’s association with reviving rather obscure pieces and to do something “from the canon”. But, of course, for this company there had to be an angle. In this case it’s that Act 2 will be an immersive, audience participation exercise. We are all invited to Orlofsky’s party. There will be aerialists, burlesque dancers and a grand waltz for all which will probably reduce choreographer Jenn Nichols to tears. There a few other change ups. Frosh is gone and Ivan is replaced by drag queen Pearl Harbor, who will emcee the party. It’s in English, as the set up would make surtitles pretty much impossible. And the cast is pretty good. Michael Barrett sings Eisenstein with Rachel Krehm as Rosalinde, Julie Ludwig as Adele and Erin Lawson as Orlofsky among others.
Opera 5’s Die Fledermaus opens at 918 Bathurst (just north of Bloor) on June 8th at 8pm with further performances on the 9th, 10th and 11th. Tickets here.
Back in January I saw Opera 5’s show Modern (Family) Opera at the Arts and Letters Club. I didn’t review it here because I was covering it for Opera Canada. It seems that there was some breakdown in communication, probably the dodgy email connection at our temporary digs last winter, and it never made it to the mag and so wasn’t printed. It’s a pity as it was a good show and so, belatedly, I’m sticking the review here, for the record, instead.
Opera 5’s latest show presents two rarely seen French one act operas. First up was Reynaldo Hahn’s 1897 work L’île du rêve. It’s one of those French officer falls in love with beautiful sixteen year old girl on tropical island and then “duty” calls and he dumps her and she dies of a broken heart pieces. The only twist is that here he offers to take her back to France but the ruling princess advises her that, away from the island, she will lose her charms and he’ll come to despise her so she doesn’t. A touch of French worldliness colouring this rather overdone plot device perhaps? The staging, by Aria Umezawa, is fairly simple though clearly a lot of thought went into how to make the intimate scenes between the principals work. There are also some rather beautiful projections involved.
Casting details for Opera 5’s Halloween themed show, Requiescat in Pace, have been announced. The singing line up is soprano Lucia Cesaroni, American baritone and recent Tanglewood fellow David Tinervia and, making a welcome return to Toronto, baritone Adrian Kramer.
Last night Opera Five staged a double bill of two one act Spanish operas from the first quarter of the twentieth century. The first was de Falla’s El retablo de maese Pedro. This was written as a puppet opera blending a chivalric tale about the days of Charlemagne with an intervention by an increasingly angry Don Quixote. Structurally it’s an interesting piece with the story being told to a quite simple vocal line by the soprano (Rachel Krehm) playing the puppet master’s boy with interruptions by her boss (Conrad Siebert) and, increasingly, by the one man audience, Don Quixote (Giovanni Spanu). In between the action is acted out by shadow puppets accompanied by a a rather lush “soundtrack”. Finally Don Quixote loses patience with the whole thing and tears down the set before going on a rant about the virtues of knights errant and himself in particular. Staged as a sort of children;s game by director Aria Umezawa, it played very well to this company’s strengths. It was well sung, clever, funny, irreverent and enormously enjoyable. Music director Maika’i Nash once again did that thing I find incredible,m impersonating a whole orchestra on piano, this time with some help from Conrad Siebert on various percussion instruments.