Toronto City Opera has been around for a while but its previous performance location at the Bickford Centre was quite sufficient to keep me away. The Miles Nadal JCC is quite another matter. The basic idea of TCO is that the chorus is open to, essentially, anybody and that their subscriptions, plus fund raising, allow the company to do a couple of staged shows each year with young professional soloists, director, conductor and pianist. So, in theory it’s a chorus centric endeavour so the choice of Le Nozze di Figaro seems a bit odd since it has less than ten minutes of chorus and that is usually covered by a small group of eight or so ladies. That said, Nozze is their first of two productions this season and I saw the last show in the run this afternoon.
Alaina Viau directed and was responsible for all the design elements. She treats it as a fairly straightforward comedy with nods to the commedia; notably in the heavy makeup of especially the male characters. It’s in modern dress; at least for the principals. The chorus wear assorted white outfits with plastic looking black and white wigs. The effect is somewhat akin to the the “Gumby chorus” in the Salzburg Ascanio in Alba. The other “modern” element of the production is that the surtitles tell the story in an updated way and are often quite far from being a translation of the Italian actually being sung while also including elements like “Hey it’s opera. The next fourteen pages the characters repeat themselves.” I think this is a cop out. If one wants a trendy English updating of daPonte’s text then sing the trendy English updating!
There is some attempt to give the chorus more stage time. Besides a very large, mixed, chorus rather incongruously singing about being village maidens they are introduced as voyeurs in Cherubino’s initial scene and as a sort of mobile set element in the fourth act. The little music they have is really rather well sung.
So, to the principals. It’s a young cast and they are all good movers, good actors and good musicians. The quality of the voices on display though was a bit variable. Brittany Rae’s Susanna was well managed and all the notes were there but the voice is just too bright and strident at the top end for my taste. This may well change. She’s still young and she’s certainly a good musician. Dylan Wright sang Figaro and he’s about eight feet tall and has a really powerful voice. He’s also a very good comic actor. I just don’t find the voice very beautiful but if, as one may reasonably expect, the voice just keeps getting bigger there’s a Wotan in there and who cares whether Wotan sounds beautiful?
Peter Bass’ Count was competent but not terribly distinctive and all the minor roles were well taken with a notable grasp of the appropriate style by Jeffrey Smith as Basilio/Don Curzio (no effort at all being made to present these two roles as separate people). Which leaves the two vocal stars of the show. Jonelle Sills sang the Countess. Readers will know I’m a fan and she didn’t disappoint here. The Countess really has to do two things; nail Porgi amor and Dove sono and evoke an appropriate sense of pathos in the denouement. All the boxes got ticked here with plenty of beautiful creamy tone and tear jerking. Lillian Brooks also impressed as Cherubino. She sang extremely convincingly and managed the appropriate girl_plays_boy_plays_girl dorkiness really well. Ivan Jovanovic managed the three and a quarter hour marathon at the keyboard with aplomb and Jenn Tung managed to keep the various elements properly in synch.
So, an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon but I’m curious to see what they do with an opera with more work for the chorus. La Traviata next year might just be the thing to check out.
Photos when I get them.