And so, Mr. Riel…

So here is the promised review of last night at the Four Seasons Centre.  I have to phrase it that way because it was more than Somers’ opera Louis Riel though that of course was the major event.  The evening kicked off with a performance in the RBA by the Git Hayetsk Dance Group.  This is a west coast group and I’m not going to try and get into the complexities of nation, lineage and clan involved but it was a moving performance of traditional songs and dance with a brilliantly witty piece involving the trickster raven and a lot of stolen handbags. This was also the beginning of the public conversation about the use of the Nsga’a mourning song in Louis Riel.  That conversation continued when the same group made a brief appearance on the main stage immediately before the opera performance.  I understand that the intent is for the leader of the dancers to report back to the matriarch of the clan that owns the song on what happened and for the conversation to continue from there.

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Looking forward to Riel

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(left to right) Russell Braun as Louis Riel, Jani Lauzon as the Prison Guard, Allyson McHardy as Julie Riel and director Peter Hinton rehearsing Act III, scene v – Photo by Tanner Davies for the COC

Harry Somers’ Louis Riel was written to “celebrate” Canada’s 100th birthday and was performed at the COC in 1967 and 1968 and was given a studio TV broadcast treatment on the CBC in 1969.  Eventually that broadcast made it onto DVD and I reviewed it about four years ago.  The COC is now reviving it for Canada’s 150th in a new production by Peter Hinton, a director noted for his stage work with native artists and native themes.  Yesterday I spent an hour at the COC watching a working rehearsal of one of the scenes and this morning I took another look at the DVD.

I had hoped to be able to offer some real insights into what one might expect to see when this production opens on April 20th but, to be perfectly honest, the deeper I dig the less certain I become about anything to do with it.  I know that Hinton and the COC are taking enormous pains to recreate the work in a way that’s sensitive to 2017 and the different way that, we hope or aspire to, treat Canada’s original peoples (some of us do anyway).  But what a challenge it seems to be.  Let me try and explore some themes though you will find few conclusions.

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Carmen in Cuba?

I caught the second performance of the current run of Carmen at the COC this afternoon.  It’s a revival of the production previously seen in 2010 but with, we are told, debuting director Joel Ivany being given some freedom to change things up a bit.  Obviously he was mostly constrained to use the existing sets and costumes which, for reasons that escape me, transplants the piece to 1940s Cuba which was, as far as I know, markedly short of both gypsies and bull fights but there you go.  Actually it matters scarcely at all because both sets and costumes are generic scruffy Hispanic and could be anywhere from Leon to Lima.  For the first two acts too the blocking and Personenregie is pretty standard too.  It’s all really down to the chemistry between the singers and the quality of the acting and neither is anything to write home about.  It says a lot when Frasquita is scene stealing.  Fortunately it livens up a lot after the interval.  The third act is atmospheric and Micaëla’s aria is deeply touching and for the first time I felt genuine emotion.  It gets even better after that with a really effective use of the whole auditorium for the parade which had much of the audience clapping along and a clever stage set up for the crowd during the final confrontation scene.  I don’t think it’s a production for the ages but it’s better than merely serviceable and I’ve seen much worse Carmens.  And, frankly, it’s simply not realistic to expect one of the season’s cash cows to push the envelope very far.

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Pelléas et Mélisande in the Tanenbaum Courtyard Garden

Hidden away up an alleyway behind the COC’s ioffice and rehearsal complex is a very beautiful garden.  I say hidden because I lived less than 200m away for 10 years before I discovered it.  Last night it made a rather magical setting for Against the Grain Theatre’s new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.  The piece is set in a gloomy castle and surrounding forest in Brittany.  The high, ivy covered walls and ironwork of the performance space, enhanced by Camelia Koo’s fractured flagstones forming patterns on the grass, evoked the essentially sunless world of Maeterlinck’s poem.  Costuming in the style of the period’s composition meshed nicely with the aesthetic of the roughly contemporary space.

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Rare Rameau

On February 2nd Voicebox: Opera in Concert will be performing Rameau’s rarely performed Hippolyte et Aricie at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.  The cast will be led by mezzo Alyson McHardy as Phèdre with tenor Colin Ainsworth as Hippolyte, soprano Meredith Hall as Aricie and veteran bass Alain Coulombe as Thesée.  Accompaniment will be by the Aradia Ensemble conducted by Kevin Mallon.  Tickets are available from www.stlc.com

It seems like some of the most interesting repertoire choices this year are being presented in concert rather than fully staged.  At least this one has more than piano accompaniment.

Authentic? Opera Atelier’s Persée on DVD

I’ve been attending performances of Opera Atelier for over twenty years off and on but until viewing this recording of Lully’s Persée I’d never seen them on DVD. I was curious to see how the unique Opera Atelier style would come over on DVD and to what extent watching a recording, which I could compare fairly with other DVD performances, would affect my views of Opera Atelier’s strengths and weaknesses.

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