Xavier Montsalvatge’s El Gato con Botas, given last night by the Glenn Gould School at Mazzoleni Hall, may not be the most profound thing in the opera canon but it is fun. The 1948 score is jazzy and accessible and the libretto has fun with the fairy tale of the scheming cat and her gormless monkey servant. The lighter, even absurdist, elements of the plot were rather played up, and to good effect, in Liza Balkan’s production. Mazzoleni Hall is not the easiest place to present opera. There’s no pit and no way to do surtitles. Not much in the way of wing space or scenery handling either. Balkan got round this by placing the band on stage and using very simple sets and props that often spilled over into the auditorium even getting Charles Sy, sitting in the front row, to take a selfie of the wedding party at the end. Given that the Spanish numbers were not surtitled, it was smart to add extra English dialogue, much of it improvised. I certainly didn’t have any difficulty following the story. Credit too to lighting designer David Degrow too for making the most of the limited resources of Mazzoleni.
One probably can’t go far wrong with an adaptation of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and the operetta, Earnest,The Importance of Being by Victor Davies and Eugene Benson doesn’t. In fact it doesn’t go far from Wilde at all following the plot of the original faithfully and containing all the well known lines. It means too, of course, that it has the flaws as well as the virtues of the original. The first act can drag a bit as Wilde gets a bit too clever but t builds to a very effective second half which flies by. The duet for the girls, To Speak With Perfect Candour is probably the best number in the piece. Davies’ music too does not try to be too portentous. It’s a bit of a pot pourri of styles with, at least, big band music, classical operetta, popular song of the period and what seems to be a nod to Andrew Lloyd-Webber. It’s perfectly consistent with the text. I don’t think though that there’s a single number that one would call truly hummable.
Toronto Operetta Theatre and Toronto Masque Theatre have announced their respective 2014/15 season line ups. TOT will present three shows. The first is a zarzuela; Federico Chueca’s La gran via. Jose Hernandez conducts and the cast includes Margie Bernal, Fabian Arciniegas, Pablo Benitez and Diego Catala. There’s one performance on November 2nd. The Christmas show will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Singers include Lucia Cesaroni, Mia Lennox, David Ludwig and Giles Tomkins with Derek Bate conducting. There are six performances scheduled between December 27th and January 4th. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, is a revival of Victor Davies’ 2008 piece Ernest, the Importance of Being. It’s based on the Wilde play and will star Jean Stilwell as Lady Bracknell. Larry Beckwith conducts. There will be four performances on April 29th and May 1st to 3rd. All three shows will be directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin and will be staged at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. (www.stlc.com)
Last night saw the first of two performances of Don Giovanni by the students of the Glenn Gould School at Koerner Hall. Koerner Hall isn’t the easiest venue to do fully staged opera since it is basically a concert hall with very limited lighting and stage facilities. Ashlie Corcoran and Camellia Coo pulled off perhaps the most inventive staging I have seen there by using a giant staircase to link the part of the gallery that wraps around the stage to the stage itself. Within this basic configuration they deployed a few bits and pieces of furniture, mostly couches. It made a very serviceable unit set for the various scenes. The production was set in the 1960s and seemed to revolve around the basic idea of Don Giovanni as a “chick magnet”. All the usual suspects are clearly attracted to him. There’s no hint of coercion in the opening scene with Donna Anna and Zerlina is a very willing seductee. The idea is reinforced in “Deh vieni” when, as Don Giovanni is serenading Donna Elvira’s maid, five or six women make their way to the staircase and down to the man himself.