Toronto Operetta Theatre’s current production is Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier in the English version. It’s based on Shaw’s Arms and the Man but, as is usually the case with musical adaptations of Shaw, it’s rather less acerbic than the original. In fact, it comes over as a somewhat farcical love story with a few gentle pot shots at the military and militarism. There are some good comic lines and the music is tuneful and well crafted.
TOT’s production, directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin, is set conventionally c. 1900 and the story is told in a straightforward manner. Where there are opportunities to insert some movement he takes them which makes for a lively enough show. It’s mostly about the principals, their interactions and their ability to do comedy though. And the show is well served in that department. Jennifer Taverner, seen here as Nadina, a young Bulgarian maiden, may be just about the ideal operetta soubrette. She’s got a light, bright, agikle and accurate soprano, is a good actress with excellent comic timing and moves well. In fact she rather shows up some of the rest of the cast in the occasional dance numbers. She has two admirers; her fiancé, the Bulgarian “hero” Alexius and a distinctly unmilitary Swiss in Serbia service Bummerli. The former, a bumptious and insufferable character is played deadpan by tenor Cian Horrobin. He serves well as a comic foil for other characters and sings well. Bummerli is played by baritone Michael Nyby. It’s a very good acting performance, nicely bringing out the straightforward cynicism of the character. His singing is not at all bad but one might wish for a somewhat sweeter toned voice in a n operetta leading man.
Anna Caroline Macdonald plays Nadina’s cousin Measha and Eugenia Dermentzis her mother. They represent the somewhat airheaded female equivalents of the vacuous Bulgarian officers and do it extremely well. Dermentzis’ darker toned mezzo contrasts nicely with the brighter toned younger characters. Then there is Greg Finney. He plays Colonel Popoff, the ineffectual and unsoldierly commander of the Bulgarian army, who bumbles through the piece as little in control of his womenfolk as his army. It’s very funny and his singing is very solid indeed. The minor roles and the chorus are fine though the standard of dancing is a bit variable. Peter Tiefenbach conducts a well paced reading of the score with a small chamber orchestra.
All in all The Chocolate Soldier is an amusing enough way to spend a couple of hours. There’s one more chance to catch it, this afternoon at 3pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre.
TOT have also announced their 2017/18 season. There are four shows:
- September 22, 23 and 24, 2017 sees Operetts; a cabaret style show with tenors Michael Barrett, Adam Fisher and Thomas Sigwald with Christian Koch at the piano.
- November 5, 2017 there’s a single performance of Calix Lavallée’s The Widow with Julie Nesrullah.
- The big Christmas season show is Bernstein’s Candide with Elizabeth Beeler, Vania Chan and Michael Robert-Broder. There are performances on December 27, 28, 31, 2017 and January 5,6,7, 2018.
- Finally there’s Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène on April 25,27, 28 and 29 2018.
All shows are in the Jane Mallett Theatre. More details at www.torontooperetta.com
Photo credits: Gary Beechey