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.
After the interval (chocolate brownies and sangria) we got Granados’ piece Goyescas apparently inspired by paintings by Goya though how one was to know that beyond the programme notes I don’t know. It’s got a paper thin plot about a posh guy and a posh girl who are more or less challenged into attending a low life dance where the posh guy falls out with the not posh guy. The posh guy is killed and the posh girl laments. It strikes me as one of those pieces which is designed as a sort of vanity vehicle for the soprano to be given in a Zeffirelliesque production because Renée Fleming wants to sing the big number (c.f. Giordano’s Fedora). It doesn’t strike me as an ideal piece for piano accompaniment (despite being based, musically, on a piano suite), a low budget and Gallery 345. Still, the principals gave it a pretty good go with Conrad Siebert as the posh guy and Giovanni Spanu as the non posh guy singing robustly and Emily Ding singing really elegantly as the posh girl, Rosario, making the most of her big number in the third tableau. The most interesting feature of the design was Rosario’s dress which appeared to be complete with reef points and an entire crew to make and shorten sail as required. The lemur tells me this was not an uncommon feature of walking dresses of the time (the reef points not the crew) but it was a first for me.
Opera Five also used the opportunity to announce their 2013/14 season which begins with a gala fundraiser at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu. There’s also a show at the Arts and Letters Club in the fall featuring three short operas based on stories by Edgar Allen Poe and and a co-production with Alliance Française at their new digs featuring works by Offenbach and Hahn. There will also be some educational work in concert with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
All the details can be found at www.operafive.com