This was the seventh time I’ve seen Soundstream’s Electric Messiah. It’s different every time of course but some things stay, more or less, as features. The biggest change this year is the shift from the Drake Underground to Crow’s Theatre. It’s staged as a conventional proscenium arch type show with the audience sitting in tiered rows facing the stage rather than being set up night club style. There’s no bar in the actual performance space but you can still take a drink to your seat. The drinks are cheaper than at the Drake too!
The sixth iteration of Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah unsurprisingly morphed from a live show in the intimate setting of the Drake Underground to a streamed video recorded on location in various places in Toronto. There is much that was the same as previously and some interesting differences. The selection of arias and choruses is very similar to previous years starting with “Comfort Ye”; arranged for all four singers and finishing up with “Hallelujah”.
It’s the fifth year that Soundstreams has put on Electric Messiah which I guess means it’s pretty much becoming a holiday tradition. This iteration may just be the best yet. This version seemed quite stripped down compared to some years and all the better for it. It’s centred around rearranged (and shortened) excerpts from the Handel work supplemented with some personal touches for the cast. This time the “band” was Wesley Shen on harpsichord, Joel Visentin on keyboards and electric organ, Joel Schwartz on assorted acoustic and electric guitars and Adam Scime directing from the (laptop) keyboard which controlled lots of effective electronics. SlowPitchSound was there on turntables with Lybido dancing.
Back to the Tranzac last night for the first Toronto performance of Against the Grain’s national tour of the Joel Ivany transladaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème which started it all back in 2011. The Tranzac has changed a lot and so, of course, has Against the Grain. The room is way smarter, they brought in a proper piano to replace the one that Topher plonked the first performance out on (and which memorably accompanied Jonathan MacArthur’s rather startling Hitler a few years later). And not in any way to knock that first cast it’s a sign of AtG’s rising stature that this time they are fielding a cast that would not be out of place in most regional houses in Canada.
We went to see the opening performance of FAWN Chamber Creative’s new show Pandora at Geary Lane last night. There’s a lot to like but it’s a dense and in some ways confusing show so I’d suggest that if you plan to go you do your homework. So, don’t expect anything closely related to any of the many versions of the Greek legend. That’s just a jumping off point to explain how both evil/malice and hope came into the world. A very brief prologue in which a character discovers Pandora’s box (or jar or whatever) after centuries and releases Hope into the world sets up three scenes which each, in their own way, reflect the duality of Good/Evil, Despair/Hope or however you want to characterise it. I strongly suggest reading the Director’s Notes and the Libretto before the show to understand what the three scenes are and where the transitions are. There are no surtitles (money!) and not many of us can read a printed libretto in the dark. Also, cast members change character sometimes without change of costume. It’s helpful to know when that’s happening! While there’s only one librettist, David James Brock, there are three composers but stylistic differences between them aren’t so obvious that one realises there has been a transition.
There are some pretty silly opera plots. Donizetti’s Emilia di Liverpool comes to mind but the Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing probably tops even the thundering torrents of the Mersey as it descends from the Cheshire Alps for silliness. Basically one John P. Wintergreen is a candidate for POTUS. His campaign gimmick is that he will marry whoever wins a beauty contest, held naturally enough, in Noo Joysy. Unfortunately(?) he falls in love with the homelier corn muffin maven Mary Turner and marries her instead. He duly gets elected but diplomatic complications with the French follow when it is revealed that the pageant winner; Diana Devereaux of Louisiana is the “illegitimate daughter of the illegitimate son of the illegitimate nephew of Napoleon”. Impeachment proceedings follow but, of course, there’s a happy ending. Along the way almost every US institution and region gets gently pilloried and the jokes are even funnier because what might have seemed risque in 1930 seems “business as usual” now, as when three White House interns sing about how the Presidential Mansion is the safest place in America for a young girl…
The Opera Division’s fall production this year is Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Marilyn Gronsdal. Let’s start with the production. The sets are all paper and boxes with a few props and the costuming is 1940s. The aesthetic is film noir. There are trilbies and Don Ottavio is packing a piece in a shoulder holster. It set, for me and my companion at least, an expectation that this would be a “film noir production” but although there were nods in that direction; Leporello as the comic sidekick, statuette of the Commendatore as the murder weapon for example, the idea wasn’t really developed at all. Instead we got a very straightforward narrative with the a few twists. Gronsdal included a chorus of silent women who comment on the action (didn’t she do this in Saskatoon as well?) and Don Giovanni isn’t dragged down to Hell.
Such was the title of yesterday’s performance by the UoT Opera ‘s performance in the RBA. Now personally I don’t subscribe to the notion of the 19th century (ugh!) as a “golden age” of anything but yesterday suggested that the UoT program, if not quite in golden age territory is going through a bit of a purple patch. This was, I think, the best student performance overall that I have heard in the last two or three years.
French operetta is notoriously difficult to get right. The genre treacherously combines a kind of humour that doesn’t always translate well in time or language, difficult music to sing and a need to be as “naughty” as the original seemed without being crass. It’s a huge credit to Michael Patrick Albano and his student cast that they pretty much pulled off all of that last night with their new production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. One could nit pick details (I shall) but overall it was a well paced show with some good singing and acting and it was genuinely funny. Unsurprisingly the audience lapped it up. Continue reading →