Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, in a production by Stephen Lawless, opened last night at the COC. Bel canto fans, canary fanciers and, just maybe, the rest of us should rush and see it. The singing is extraordinary. The cast is led by Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role and she gives, pretty much, a masterclass in bel canto technique. The control is extraordinary with gleaming top notes, exquisitely floated pianissimo, genuine trills and real emotion. Only a slight raspiness occasionally evident in the recits even hinted that this was a singer who was too sick to perform only a few days ago. Where to go next among some very fine performances? Bruce Sledge as Percy I think. This was thrilling tenor singing with passion, ringing high notes and wonderful musicality.
The COC’s revival of Robert Lepage’s 2009 production of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, revived by Marilyn Gronsdal, is a delightful mix of witty and clever stagecraft coupled with some fine music making. It’s very much a work of two contrasting halves. The first is a carefully constructed program of shorter Stravinsky vocal and instrumental works; all from the period 1911-1919 and all with a sound world reminiscent of The Firebird or Petrouchka rather than The Rite of Spring or the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto. The full line up was:
Wajdi Mouawad’s production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, originally seen in Lyon, opened last night at the COC with Valérie Négre as revival director. The piece has been somewhat restructured and the spoken dialogue changed to explode the idea that the piece is “about” some kind of crude juxtaposition of the “West”; Enlightened, civilized etc, and the “East”; obscurantist, cruel, barbarian etc. To this end Mouawad has inserted a prologue before the overture where Belmonte’s father is holding a party to celebrate the return of his son and the others where he makes the above comparison in extremely crude terms and then invites his guests to play la tête du Turc, a game that involves hitting a Turk’s head with a sledgehammer. The guests wade in with drunken abandon, except for Konstanze and Blonde who are clearly revolted by the idea. This leads to a conversation around who changed and how while they were in captivity and so to telling the whole story in flashback.
If anybody is wondering why I haven’t yet posted a review of the Rigoletto that opened at the COC on Saturday it’s because, for the first time, I was reviewing for Bachtrack; a London based classical music site. The teaser is:
Christopher Alden’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto returned to Toronto tighter, more focussed and with fewer dramatic incongruities. Add to this that every aspect of the music making was top notch and it made for a fine evening at the theatre.
So last night was this year’s iteration of the COC’s glitzy competition with cash and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake. It’s a bit of a weird thing to write about because the public, and this year the media, only see a fraction of what the judges are judging. We saw each singer do one aria. There had been a closed round earlier in the day to which, unlike in previous years, the media were not invited. Then there’s what the judges have seen in rehearsal, reputation etc. All in all what happens on the night influences the outcome about as much as at an Olympic figure skating event. So, in many ways it’s surprising that my picks were as close to the judges as they were.
James Robinson’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was designed for various American regional houses. It has been updated to 1914ish and been given “regionalization” tweaks in the towns in which it has appeared. The version that opened at the COC last night has been transported to small town Ontario, Niagara on the Lake perhaps, during a Fall Fair. There’s a bit of a problem. The iconography; Kitchener recruiting posters, steel helmets etc, clearly place the action during, rather than before, WW1. Maybe an American director just doesn’t get, or doesn’t care about the implications but Adina buying Nemorino out of the army for example would hardly have been seen as virtuous in the white feather infested British Empire of 1914. Fortunately most of the audience either didn’t get it or didn’t care either and frankly even persnickety me was prepared to let it go and just enjoy the rather silly romp that we got. After all, this is not the other opera about love potions!
Tim Albery’s production of Richard Strauss’ 1933 opera Arabella, first seen at Santa Fe in 2012, finally made it to Toronto last night. It’s, I believe, a Canadian premiere for the piece, which is a bit shocking for an important opera by a major composer. It’s not a perfect piece. The librettist, the incomparable Hugo von Hofmannsthal, died before he and Strauss could revise the second and third acts and there are places where it feels a bit unfinished but it’s still an impressive work. The plot’s a bit contrived perhaps, though no more so than many more famous operas, but there’s real depth of humanity and Mandryka, the landowner/tribal chief from the southern fringes of the Habsburg empire, is a really fascinating study.