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?
This just in. Ukrainian Canadian soprano Natalya Gennadi will replace Ambur Braid in the title role in Tapestry’s Oksana G. I should have seen that coming as I know that Ambur is singing in a Krenek’s The Secret Kingdom at Oper Frankfurt until May 21st and Oksana G. opens on the 24th! I’ve only seen Ms. Gennadi sing once but she was impressive and she’s a protégée of Sondra Radvanovsky.
Sadder, Talisker Players are shutting up shop at the end of the season after eighteen years. Likely another example of there only being so long any one person or team can keep up the funding grind. Talisker’s concerts were an often interesting mix of music and related readings and no-one else really operates in that niche.
Last night saw the first performance of this season’s run of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the COC. It’s a revival of the Diane Paulus 2011 production with Ashlie Corcoran as revival director. It has a “theatre within a theatre” overlay in Act 1; it’s supposed to be an aristocratic birthday party for Pamina where the guests perform the opera, which mysteriously disappears in Act 2 though it makes an odd reprise right at the end where all the characters appear to perform a country dance. Strip that element out and it’s a workmanlike Flute with nothing much to say but some pretty visuals. The animals are cute and the trials scene is rather well done. There is one notable change from 2011. Pamina’s lurid pink Disney princess outfit is gone, replaced by something Regencyish and far less jarring.
So finally we have dates and casting for the long awaited Oksana G (music Aaron Gervais, libretto Colleen Murphy) from Tapestry Opera. This one has been years in the making. Back when I saw the second act workshop in 2012 there were all kinds of rumours about who would eventually (co)produce it. Now it looks like Tapestry have come up the resources to do it as a standalone. That’s no mean feat as this is a full blown two acter with orchestra and chorus. It will play May 24th – 30th, 2017, at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre of the Canadian Opera Company, 227 Front St. E. (just around the corner from the Kitten Kondo) and the title role will be played by Operaramblings’ favourite crazy lady Ambur Braid. As she showed recently as Dalinda in the COC’s Ariodante she’s now much more than a series of impressive high notes. She’s become a singing actress of real substance and Oksana is certainly a role a girl could get her teeth into. The rest of the casting is also impressive with the always impressive Krisztina Szabó as Oksana’s mother, Adam Fisher as Father Alexander, and Keith Klassen as the baddy Konstantin. Jordan de Souza conducts and Tom Diamond directs. This is one not to miss!
What are we to make of Handel’s Ariodante? The plot centres on the notion that female chastity is the be all and end all of life. It’s not a notion that would find much support in 21st century Toronto, even among a Sunday afternoon audience at the Four Seasons Centre. Ginevra, princess of Scotland and heir to the king, is betrothed to Ariodante. Ariodante has a rival, Polinesso who is loved in a besotted kind of way by Ginevra’s maid, Dalinda. Polinesso claims to have slept with Ginevra and offers to prove it to Ariodante. He drugs Ginevra and gets Dalinda to put on Ginevra’s clothes and invite him into her room. Ariodante disappears, apparently having committed suicide in a fit of despair. On the flimsiest of evidence Ginevra, who has no idea what happened, is condemned to death. Her accusers, including her father, don’t even bother to ask who the man in her room was. Polinesso tries to remove the now inconvenient Dalinda from the scene but fails and when Ariodante shows up again she spills the beans. Polinesso is killed by Ariodante’s brother in a duel but not before confessing. All is forgiven and everyone carries on as if nothing in the least traumatising just happened. So, what to do with this?
It’s been four years since the initial Canadian Art Song Project concert in the RBA. Since then they’ve commissioned a number of works and started a recital series that has included innovative presentations such as the performance of Brian Harman’s Sewing the Earthwormgiven in November. A work premiered that night; Erik Ross’ The Living Spectacle formed the conclusion to yesterday’s concert but first came a series of works performed by students from the University of Toronto.
The Canadian Art Song Project branched out last night with a ticketed concert at The Extension Room. The opening number was the latest CASP commission; The Living Spectacle by Erik Ross to words by Baudelaire translated by Roy Campbell. Like a lot of modern song the three movements were all quite piano forward and hard on the singer. The second text, The Evil Monk, certainly brought out the darker and more dramatic side of Ambur Braid’s voice while the third, The Death of Artists, was cruelly high even for someone with Ambur’s coloratura chops. She coped very well and Steven Philcox’ rendering of the piano part was suitably virtuosic.
Calgary once again offers three main stage performances. The season opens with Delibes’ Lakmé. It’s a Tom Diamond production so probably not very Regie. Aline Kutan, seen as Queen of the Night in Toronto not so long ago, sings the title role with Andrea Hill as her sidekick Mallika. Lakmé’s paramour, the handsome British officer Frederic, is sung by Canadian opera’s current answer to Rudolph Valentino, Cam McPhail. Gordon Gerrard conducts. There are three performances on November 21st, 25th and 27th.
In an age of co-productions many opera productions are seen in multiple houses. Some of them we get to see in multiple guises. For example I’ve seen Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni on DVD and will be seeing it live later this season in Toronto. Spmething that’s been fermenting in my brain for a while now is why the same production can get a drastically different reception in different places. The piece that first made me think about this was Chris Alden’s Die Fledermaus. This was generally well received in Toronto (more perhaps by my friends and acquaintances than the print media but that’s par for the course) but universally panned in London when it played at ENO. Bryan’s interesting comments about the Carsen Falstaff kicked off the train of thought again and made me want to put some tentative thoughts into writing.