There are some pretty silly opera plots. Donizetti’s Emilia di Liverpool comes to mind but the Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing probably tops even the thundering torrents of the Mersey as it descends from the Cheshire Alps for silliness. Basically one John P. Wintergreen is a candidate for POTUS. His campaign gimmick is that he will marry whoever wins a beauty contest, held naturally enough, in Noo Joysy. Unfortunately(?) he falls in love with the homelier corn muffin maven Mary Turner and marries her instead. He duly gets elected but diplomatic complications with the French follow when it is revealed that the pageant winner; Diana Devereaux of Louisiana is the “illegitimate daughter of the illegitimate son of the illegitimate nephew of Napoleon”. Impeachment proceedings follow but, of course, there’s a happy ending. Along the way almost every US institution and region gets gently pilloried and the jokes are even funnier because what might have seemed risque in 1930 seems “business as usual” now, as when three White House interns sing about how the Presidential Mansion is the safest place in America for a young girl…
Here’s what’s coming up in the first part of March. Thursday 1st is Opera Pub Night at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club at 9pm. On Friday March 9th Soundstreams are presenting Tan Dun’s Water Passion at Trinity St. Paul’s at 8pm. On Wednesday 14th and Friday 16th the Glenn Gould School is presenting Die Fledermaus in a production by Joel Ivany. That’s at 7.30pm in Koerner Hall. It’s a good looking cast and recommended. Thursday 15th through Sunday 18th the UoT Opera is presenting Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing in the MacMillan Theatre. The production is by Michael Patrick Albano and start times are 7.30pm except for Sunday at 2.30pm.
Here is what’s coming up. Valentine’s day sees two vocal recitals. At noon in the RBA there’s Clare de Sévigné and Rachel Andrist with The Truth about Love; the story of a young woman’s love gone awry. At 8pm Ian Bostridge has an all Schubert program at Koerner Hall. Thursday is also busy with members of the Ensemble Studio in a Russian program in the RBA at noon, a Johannes Debus masterclass at UoT at 2pm and Opera Trivia at the Four Seasons Centre at 7pm. Then on Friday at 7.30pm in Walter Hall there’s a free concert; Vocalini, from the undergrads of the UoT Opera. Also Thursday and Friday MYOpera have a couple of opportunities to see emerging artists. There’s a public masterclass with Philip Morehead at 6pm Thursday at the Edward Jackman Centre and a concert at 7.30pm Friday at the Vandenberg House.
It’s that time of year when one reflects on the good and the not so good. What one would like to see more of and not. What seemed significant about the year. As I look back over my writings for the last twelve months one clear theme stands out, Reconciliation. There was the COC’s very thoughtful and thought provoking remount of Somers’ Louis Riel in April and all the fascinating events that went on around that. There were attempts by the TSO to incorporate Indigenous themes; the Tanya Tagaq concert in March and Adizokan with Red Sky in October. Neither of these quite came off but the intent was good. Then there was a really fine recital of works by Indigenous composers by Marion Newman at the beginning of the year. Then, of course, the Clemence/Current piece Missing, about murdered and missing Indigenous women, which premiered in British Columbia and which I haven’t seen yet but really, really want to. 2017 was also the year when Land Acknowledgements went mainstream in the Toronto arts world. I guess there’s some tokenism here but there does seem to be far more engagement with Reconciliation in the arts world than in, say, the political mainstream which is unfortunate because opera isn’t going to produce clean drinking water. We have to start somewhere I guess.
The Opera Division’s fall production this year is Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Marilyn Gronsdal. Let’s start with the production. The sets are all paper and boxes with a few props and the costuming is 1940s. The aesthetic is film noir. There are trilbies and Don Ottavio is packing a piece in a shoulder holster. It set, for me and my companion at least, an expectation that this would be a “film noir production” but although there were nods in that direction; Leporello as the comic sidekick, statuette of the Commendatore as the murder weapon for example, the idea wasn’t really developed at all. Instead we got a very straightforward narrative with the a few twists. Gronsdal included a chorus of silent women who comment on the action (didn’t she do this in Saskatoon as well?) and Don Giovanni isn’t dragged down to Hell.
UoT Opera’s fall production of Don Giovanni will open in three weeks time. Today, in Walter Hall we got a few hints on what we may be seeing plus some semi staged excerpts.
For director Marilyn Gronsdale one way into Don Giovanni (and she accepts that there are many) is to see it as being about how the actions of the powerful impact the lives of the many. In a sexual context it’s clearly of relevance to our times with a serial groper in the White House, a British cabinet minister out on his ear for sexual impropriety and one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures rapidly being cast into outer darkness. One technique to be used to emphasise this is a silent chorus of women who will witness/bear witness to the action. Maybe this is something like the Land Assembly in Peter Hinton’s take on Louis Riel? We also learned that the design aesthetic will be stylized 1940s film noir and that we may be in for a surprise with the ending.
Act 2 sextet: Brendan Friesen, Matthew Cairns, Alyssa Durnie, Jamie Groote, Sarah Abelard, Alex Halliday (I think)
UoT’s show Porgi amor consisted of a series of staged and costumed scenes from Mozart operas with linking commentary, all designed by Michael Patrick Albano. The operas ranged from La finta giardiniera to La clemenza di Tito with all the major bases in between covered off. The emphasis was on ensemble numbers and providing opportunities for as many singers as possible so there was a cast of thousands. It was well structured, quite slick and there was some very decent singing. One expects a reasonably high standard from UoT Opera and we got it. As I usually do with this kind of show I’ll refrain from a play-by-play and just talk about a few highlights and do some “talent spotting”.