Oscar Straus’ A Waltz Dream opened last night in a Toronto Operetta theatre production at the St. Lawrence Centre. The piece premiered in Vienna in 1907 and soon became a huge international hit with various English versions appearing quite early on. The version given by TOT appears to be a 1970s version with book by Michael Flanders, Edmund Tracey and Bernard Dunn and the music adapted and arranged by Ronald Hanmer.
Like pretty much everybody else Toronto Operetta Theatre has chosen to go virtual for their latest offering. It’s a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers filmed at the Edward Jackman Centre. It’s very much a “bare bones” production. The cast is reduced to nine roles and the chorus is gone. Accompaniment is piano and accordion. The Jackman Centre is a rehearsal space and looks like one. The film appears to havebeen filmed with a single camera, in one take with minimal post processing though, despite which the audio and video quality is excellent.
Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus at the St. Lawrence Centre last night. It’s a will crafted production; basically traditional as to costumes and sets and with a generous amount of more topical jokes added to the dialogue (both dialogue and musical numbers are performed in English). The one thing about it that is a bit different and much to be praised is that the jailer Frosch, played by director Bill Silva-Marin, is actually funny and sings pretty well for a guy who doesn’t sing a lot anymore. The schtick is that he is obsessed with singing and insists on singing lessons from Alfred (or here Alfredo) when he appears in the jail in place of Eisenstein. The singing lessons are kind of a parody with plenty of jokes about vocal production and a fair bit of physical humour. All this is actually set up from the beginning by making Alfred a rather larger role than usual with a fair amount of interpolated snatches of Verdi and Puccini. It may not sound that radical but it does liven up the third act which all too often can be pretty dull and anti-climactic.
I’ve been familiar with Voltaire’s satirical novella since I was a teenager and have reread it many times but I’d not seen the Bernstein operetta/musical version until last night when it opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre with, I think, the original Lillian Hellman 1956 book though a later reduced orchestration (I’m guessing on that). I was very curious because it’s not obvious how one might turn Voltaire’s sequence of drily narrated, utterly absurd scenes into drama. The answer turns out to be to insert the author as a spoken word narrator linking scenes and play it straight though the two mile high cliffs and sheep get lost in the wash. Fair enough. It works pretty well. The whole thing is reasonably true to the spirit of the original though in places, especially in the musical number, it’s definitely tailored to a 1950s Broadway sensibility.
Elizabeth Beeler with company and Tonatiuh Abrego as Candide
The Cousin from Nowhere is a German operetta by Eduard Künneke that premiered in Berlin in 1921. Last night it received its Canadian premier, in English translation, at Toronto Operetta Theatre. It’s a light, charming romcom with few pretensions but much to enjoy. The plot is simple in outline though convoluted in almost Gilbertian way. Julia is an heiress under the guardianship of her aunt and uncle and about to come of age and, thus, come into the fortune that hitherto the older couple have been able to enjoy. She is in love (or thinks she is) with her third cousin twice removed Roderich, who left to make his fortune in the East Indies seven years ago. Aunt and uncle scheme to marry her to their nephew August. Various more or less improbable plot twists involve August impersonating Roderich and successfully winning the heart of Julia while Roderich returns and falls instantly in love with Hanna, Julia’s bestie. It all ends happily. The music is not unlike Viennese operetta with some nods to jazz and popular post war dance music but if you are expecting pre echoes of Berg or Weill you are going to be disappointed. It’s quite conventional but essentially well crafted light entertainment.