My predictions were rubbish but we’ll come back to that. There are two new productions in the upcoming season; Parsifal, which had already been announced and Janáček’s Káťa Kabanová in a David Alden production with Amanda Majeski in the title role. This is great. It’s been far too long since Janáček featured at the COC.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was the last for the year in the vocal series and featured members of the Ensemble Studio. Rachael Kerr was scheduled to do about half the accompanying but illness prevented her from playing so some hasty reprogramming meant that what we got differed somewhat from the printed programme but it was still a very well put together effort.
Yesterday Matthew Cairns and Rachel Kerr performed an unusually wide range of songs in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s part of Matthew’s prep for his CBC recording session which was part of the prize at last year’s Centre Stage and which will be broadcast in the new year. They kicked off with a contrasting pair of Duparc song’s. First came the almost dreamy L’invitation au voyage with it’s arpeggio accompaniment followed by the much more dramatic Le manoir de Rosemonde. These really set the tone for the recital. There was power where it was needed but also considerable delicacy from both singer and pianist.
David McVicar’s production of Dvořák’s Rusalka opens with a prelude while the overture plays. We see the Foreign Princess and the Prince. She appears to be upbraiding him and he is drinking hard. Are we seeing a failed/forced marriage that in reality the Prince made rather than some preferred alternative? Is what we see over the next three and half hours some dream version of what might have been? In this most Freudian of operas, why not?
I don’t think I’m ever going to love Mozart’s La finta giardiniera. It has some pleasing music, though oddly the two principal characters don’t get much of it, but the plot is ridiculous and it really outstays its welcome. That said, Michael Patrick Albano’s production for UoT Opera in the MacMillan Theatre at least makes the complexity clear. We never lose sight of who is who; even if the other characters do, and what logic there is in the plot comes through clearly enough. Albano sets it entirely realistically in 18th century dress with set elements efficiently dropped in from the fly loft or carried around by a small band of liveried servants. There’s a fair bit of “park and bark” but then there’s a lot of prosy explaining going on.
No big surprises in the announcement of new members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It’s the three prize winners from last year’s Centre Stage; tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian and mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote. Also joining is pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway. Cairns and Groote are UoT grads and are well known to many Toronto opera goers through their appearances in UoT productions and elsewhere. Gabrielian is a Toronto native but studied at the Curtis so is not so well known. It will be interesting to get to know him.
New COC Ensemble Studio members (l – r): tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian, mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote, pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway
The annual Student Composer Collective opera at UoT is, as far as I know, unique. A libretto is written. The work is divided up and student composers write music for their assigned section(s). The finished work is presented fully staged with orchestra. In recent years the libretto and direction has come from Michael Patrick Albano, as was the case with this year’s effort presented in the MacMillan Theatre yesterday afternoon. Who Killed Adriana riffs off Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Adriana Amaro, a very divaish diva, is making her Covent Garden debut as Adriana. In the first half of the show, set backstage between Acts 2 and 3, we see her waspishly putting down all the other characters before making her grand entrance. This time though the poisoned violets of the final scene are just that and the second part is a whodunnit search for the murderer. Along the way no stock opera joke is left unused. Tenors are neurotic, understudies insecure, managers harassed, fans obsessive, there are fake Italians and so on. But in typical Albano style it works and provides a coherent, and at times very funny, plot line for the composers to work with. And some of the jokes were new. Adriana’s chauffeur, Umlaut, is revealed as the answer to every Austrian’s prayer; the inventor of musical strudel.
This year’s fall production by UoT Opera is Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. It’s a tricky piece in many ways. It’s part opera, part Broadway musical. The moods range from light comedy to something very much darker and lurking treacherously at its core is a sentimental streak that can easily overwhelm its merits. Michael Patrick Albano’s production, coupled with Anna Theodosakis’ energetic and varied choreography, managed to keep the focus on the strengths of the piece and deliver a very satisfying evening at the theatre.
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.