Centre Stage

Centre Stage is the COC’s annual gala/competition with cash prizes and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake.  Last night eight young singers competed.  The format was one aria before the reception; for judges and invited guests, and one after; for all the punters.  So here, in the order they sang in the first half are my thoughts.

contestants

Ensemble Studio Competition finalists, Centre Stage 2018. Photo: Michael Cooper

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Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian

I finally got to see Rufus Wainwright’s new opera Hadrian, to a libretto by Daniel Macivor, at the Four Seasons Centre last night.  There’s been a lot of hype around it and I was interested; the few bits of music from it that I had heard intrigued me but I’m no fan of his earlier work Prima Donna.  One thing was certain.  The piece does not lack ambition. There are four acts totalling something like 160 minutes.  There’s a large cast, a large orchestra, a large chorus and an epic storyline.  It’s clearly an attempt to produce a “grand opera” for our times.  Does it succeed?

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Anna Bolena at the COC

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.

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The Nightingale sang

The COC’s revival of Robert Lepage’s 2009 production of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, revived by Marilyn Gronsdalis 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:

  • Ragtime
  • Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet No.1
  • Pribaoutki
  • Berceuses du chat
  • Two Poems of Konstantin Balmont
  • Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet No.2
  • Four Russian Peasant Songs
  • Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet No.3
  • The Fox

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The Ballad of East and West?

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.

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Rigoletto at the COC

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.

The full review can be found here.

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Photo credit: Michael Cooper