Heil dir, Sonne!

François Girard’s Siegfried, a revival of his 2006 production, opened last night at the COC.  Despite using the same basic set concept as Atom Egoyan’s Die Walküre, Girard’s Siegfried, has a rather different look and feel.  The fragments of Valhalla and the remains of Yggdrassil are still there but they are supplemented in imaginative fashion by a corps of supers and acrobats who play a key role in shaping the scenes.  For example, in the opening scene we have Yggdrassil festooned with bodies, as if some enormous shrike were in residence.  Some of these are dummies and some aerialists who come into the drama at key points.  The flames in Siegfried’s forge are human arms.  Acrobats make a very effective Fafner in the Niedhöhle scene and the flames around Brünnhilde’s rock are human too.  Most of the characters are dressed in sort of white pyjamas which makes for a very monochromatic effect on the mostly dark stage.  The one visual incongruity is the “bear” who is present, tied to Yggdrassil, throughout Act 1.  Frankly it looks less like a bear than John Tomlinson after a night on the tiles.  Still, all in all, the production is effective without being especially revelatory.


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Best of 2013

So what was I most impressed with on the opera and related scene in in 2013?

Big house opera

frau1The COC had a pretty good twelve months.  I enjoyed everything I saw except, maybe, Lucia di Lammermoor.  Making a choice between Christopher Alden’s probing La Clemenza di Tito, the searing opening night of Peter Sellars’ Tristan und Isolde; the night when I really “got” why people fly across oceans to see this piece, Robert Carsen’s spare and intensely moving Dialogues des Carmélites or Tony Dean Griffey’s intense and lyrical portrayal of the title character in Peter Grimes is beyond me.  So, I shall be intensely disloyal to my home company and name as my pick in this category the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten.  Wernicke’s production is pure magic and Anna Schwanewilms was a revelation.

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AtG’s Messiah

Expectations could hardly have been higher for last night’s first performance of Against the Grain’s new production of Handel’s Messiah.  By and large they were met.  It’s become quite the thing to stage Handel’s oratorios and, for the most part, that’s fine.  They are really operas in disguise and work well when liberated from the concert setting.  Messiah is trickier.  Rather than a linear narrative there are a series of Biblical texts selected by librettist Charles Jennens to promote a literal and conservative evangelical Christianity.  There is no obvious staging solution.  One possibility is to invent a narrative and spin the story around it as Claus Guth did at Theater an der Wien in 2009.  AtG’s Joel Ivany’s solution is to stage it as a choreographed performance and use movement to bring depth to the words.  Here he is aided and abetted by choreographer Jennifer Nichols who has created a movement language tailored to the abilities and limitations of the singers.

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Kurtág and Janáček at the Extension Room


Joel Ivany

Against the Grain Theatre have another hit on their hands.  Joel Ivany once again successfully combines young talent, unusual repertoire and a funky performance space to create a brilliant evening of song and story.  This time the space was a yoga studio on Eastern Avenue and the works on offer were the Kafka-Fragments op. 24 by György Kurtág and The Diary of One Who Disappeared by Leoš Janáček.  Neither work was written for the stage but both were well suited to Ivany’s sensitive direction and Michael Gianfrancesco’s minimalist “sets”.  Continue reading

Shout out to Washington

Rihab Chaieb and Mireille Asselin

Rihab Chaieb and Mireille Asselin

In February I attended a brilliant lunchtime concert of vocal music by Kaija Saariaho sung by three singers from the COC Ensemble Studio.  I wasn’t the only one who was impressed.  The composer was so taken with the standard of performance that she has arranged for them to perform a slightly different selection of her works in Washington DC in February.

If you aren’t from Toronto or Montreal (or perhaps Paris, Lyon, Dublin or Belgrade) you probably haven’t heard much about Mireille Asselin, Rihab Chaieb or Jacqueline Woodley (except maybe on this blog) but you will!  Strongly recommended both for the music and the singers.

Against the Grain Theatre’s season announcement

The following just in from arguably Toronto’s most exciting opera company; Against the Grain Theatre.  So a party, György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments and Leoš Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared (with the brilliant Jacquie Woodley) and Figaro’s Wedding; a Toronto centred reworking of the Mozart classic with an orchestra for the first time.  Following on from successes like their Tranzac based La Bohème and a brillian The Turn of the Screw, this looks very exciting.

Full details, links for tickets etc, below the fold.

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An engaging Semele from the COC’s Ensemble Studio

Mireille Asselin and Phillipe Sly

Last night saw the annual main stage performance by the COC’s young artist programme, the Ensemble Studio.  This year it was Handel’s Semele in the production which I saw a couple of weeks ago.  The main roles were cast from the Ensemble Studio with the the exception of the countertenor role of Athamas which was played by Ryan Belongie, an Adler Fellow.  The title role was split with Mireille Asselin singing the first two acts and Ambur Braid coming in for the third act.  This seemed like a sensible solution given the size of the role and the two singers’ strengths. Continue reading