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.
The music is rather pretty; perhaps too relentlessly so. It’s rather like listening to the Flower Duet from Lakmé for an hour. I rather enjoyed it but I heard enough comments at the interval to suggest that some people at least felt that the island in question was not inappropriately named Bora Bora. Maybe an orchestra would have helped? Maybe it was the singing that held my interest for at the heart of the piece were two fascinating performances. The young girl Mahéru was sung by Teiya Kasahara, who I’ve mostly seen in coloratura roles. I think this is the first time I’ve heard her sing an extended lyrical role and it was really impressive. There’s beauty in the voice but enough power to fill the fairly small auditorium easily and her vocal and dramatic characterization was spot on. The acoustic in the new theatre at the Alliance Française is pretty lifeless but she coped with it really well.
It was also my second opportunity to hear Adrian Kramer since his switch from baritone to tenor. There’s definitely a tenor there! As well, of course, as a very good actor. The top notes are there and not being pinched out though occasionally they sounded a bit harsh but I’m putting that down to the acoustics. Teiya and Adrian really dominated the stage in this piece but there were decent cameos from Benjamin Covey, as ‘Mahérus bible toting father (there’s some interesting theology buried in this piece too) and Emma Bergin as the princess Orena, ruler of the island. The small, very young, chorus also acquitted themselves well. Maika’i Nash played the piano and probably injected as much colour into the thing as one reasonably could.
After the interval, which featured rather good exotic cocktails as well as the usual stuff, we got Jacques Offenbach’s madcap piece Ba-ta-clan. The plot here is loony, even by Offenbach standards, We are in a small “Chinese” kingdom ruled by a tyrant Fè-ni-han. He and his court are all French but don’t know that the others are. They are threatened by rebels, led by one Ko-ko-ri-ko (yes really) and all secretly want to go back to France anyway. After much craziness it turns out that Ko-ko-ri-ko is also French and will let them go as long as he gets to be ruler.
In the first part of the opera the three aristos (played by Adrian Kramer, Teiya Kasahara and Justin Ralph) converse chaotically in what is supposed to be “Chinese”. How the three of them managed this extended passage of complete nonsense while sounding completely sincere is a mystery. It just gets sillier from there with Teiya given some typically Offenbachish vocal fireworks and Adrian given plenty of chance to display his skills with physical comedy including a scene where he wrestles with Ko-ko-ri-ko (Benjamin Covey) for a dismembered teddybear. Justin has a nonsense patter song of great length and complexity and Benjamin gets to be panto menacing. The four principals all gave terrific performances with teiya again tending to dominate the stage. She has the most spectacular music and here she gets to combine nailing it with considerable comic flair. She really has become a very accomplished singer/actress. Jasmine Chen directed. Again, the sets were very simple but she managed to keep the physical action going in a cleverly chaotic way that matched the music while inserting a few neat touches. Maika’i was again at the piano and played with terrific gusto. Daft as it sounds this is a very funny, fast paced, romp that had the audience laughing out loud many, many times.
So, two contrasting shows well brought off. It’s rather a fun evening, especially the second half. There are further shows tonight and tomorrow night at 7.30 pm at the Alliance Française, 24 Spadina Road (just north of Bloor). Tickets available here or at the door; $25, $20 Alliance Française members.