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.
So it looks like January is finally over and that means we can look ahead to next month. Things are definitely winding down. There’s the last Opera Pub of the season on the 3rd at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The Vancouver Symphony is appearing with Bramwell Tovey at Roy Thomson Hall on the 26th with the highlight being Marion Newman singing Ancestral Voices; a piece Tovey wrote for her. Also that evening the Canadian Children’s Opera opens a two performance run of Alice Ping Yee Ho’s new piece The Monkiest King. That’s at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
As is their wont the COC run of Tosca is double cast, at least as far as the principals go, and last night was the second performance for the alternate cast. Keri Alkema sang Tosca, Kamen Chakev was Cavaradossi and Craig Colclough played Scarpia. Sometimes the cast change makes a big difference, for better or worse, in the show. This time I really didn’t feel that was the case. This felt very much like the show I saw on opening night with minor differences.
Maybe Alkema’s Tosca is a bit “girlier” than Pieczonka but it’s very fine and Vissi d’arte brought the house down. If you alternated Colclough and Marquardt as Scarpia I’m not sure I’d notice. The biggest difference (and it’s still a fine one) is Chakev. He has the Italianate sound I rather missed in Puente though I think he saved most of it for the last act. In any event it made for a very fine Act 3 duet; probably the highlight of the night. So, bottom line, whichever cast one chooses to see it’s a good show.
Last night saw the final performance of the COC’s run of La clemenza di Tito. I had seen the Ensemble Studio performance a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it but had some questions and reservations about the production. Last night many of those issues were resolved. It seemed more closely directed and the characterizations were more fully rehearsed. A good example of this would be Michael Schade’s intensely neurotic Tito which was central to the concept. Many things make sense if one sees Tito as being in love with an idea of himself. In this context his betrayal by Sesto is particularly hurtful because it implies that his closest confidante isn’t buying it and his “clemency” is necessary to restore his faith in his own self-projection. This Tito gives Robert Gleadow’s Publio space and reason to be more than the dutiful, rather thick plod. He’s the one who has seen through Tito but must “play the game”. His final, rather sharp, exchanges with Vitellia suggest a genuine capacity for malevolence. This is, after all, an Imperial Court, where by definition life is dangerous and nothing what it seems.
Last night saw the third performance in the current run of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Canadian Opera Company.
It’s a peculiar work. It was Offenbach’s first and only foray into grand opera and he didn’t live to complete it. This leaves all sorts of performance issues regarding orchestration, sequence of the acts and spoken dialogue vs accompanied recitatives among others. The COC version uses the conventional act order; Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta, and recitatives with orchestral accompaniment which makes for a long night but is probably the best fit with director Lee Blakeley’s take on the piece, previously seen at Vlaamse Opera in 2000.