Paul Curran’s production of Tosca, seen in 2008 and 2012, opened at the COC yesterday afternoon. It didn’t feel like a routine revival production of a warhorse. In fact it felt much fresher and focussed than last time around. Perhaps Mr. Curran, who is again directing, found some new insights or, more likely, the chemistry between the principals is better this time. The result is a very satisfactory show.
Rossini’s La Donna del Lago is based on the Walter Scott poem, itself a deliberately romantic view of Scottish history, simplified until not much is left but the rivalry for the heroine’s hand by her three suitors and a completely unexplained war between the king of Scotland and the Clan Alpine. Dramatically it’s thin indeed but it’s Rossini so there is crazy virtuosic music and it’s very hard to cast. One needs two mezzos; one a mistress of Rossinian coloratura, the other more dramatic, and two tenors; both of which can do the crazy high stuff. The supporting roles aren’t easy either. Realistically only a major house could cast this adequately.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a one off performance of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at The Winter Gardens, the upstairs part of the Elgin Theatre that I had never before been in. The production originated in a Banff Centre/Against the Grain/COC joint project directed by Paul Curran but was recreated here in semi-staged form by Anna Theodosakis. It was on the “quite close to staged” end of the spectrum so, although the band was on stage behind the action and there was no scenery or curtain it came off as much more than a concert in costume.
Oddly enough, what Toronto Operetta Theatre does best is operetta and the production of Romberg’s The Student Prince that opened yesterday afternoon is a pretty good example of why. I suppose, technically, that it’s a Broadway musical but everything about it, down to the humour and sentimentality seems Teutonic enough. Anyway, there’s a solid trio in the lead roles, the key back ups are thoroughly professional and the minor roles and chorus are filled out by talented and enthusiastic young singers. The band is big enough to cover all the colours of the score and the staging is appropriate and not overly ambitious. The piece gets to do its tuneful, rather bittersweet thing.
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.
Opera 101(I) at the Duke of Westminster last night was more interesting than I expected. Besides the usual host, Brent Bambury, we had the director of the current production Paul Curran, Mark Delavan, who is singing Scarpia, and Julie Makerov, one of two Toscas. Delavan and Makerov were engaging and funny if not specially revelatory though both revealed a taste for country music which is a bit disturbing. Most of the interest came from Curran. He’s an intense little Scot who tells it how he sees it. He grew up in the less salubrious parts of Glasgow (I’m reliably informed that there are salubrious bits!) and the first opera he saw was Wozzeck which he describes as the story of his life. I was struck by his emphasis on the role of the music in his directorial process. He described himself as a “musician first” and talked at some length about his role in making sure that the singers can sing to their best ability. He’s also no literalist. I asked him whether the very specific time and place setting of Tosca was constraining or liberating and he went on a bit of a rant which I loved! He listed off the historical inaccuracies with the Tosca libretto with encyclopaedic accuracy peppered with expressions like “complete bullshit” basically ending up at “so I feel I can do pretty much what I like with it”. He’s also not one for the pretties. He told a story about being criticized because Tosca’s dress in Act 2 was inelegant. His response “It’s a rape scene (F word not far away here we feel). I don’t think she’s asking ‘does my bum look big in this?'”. I liked his take on “Vissi d’arte” as a Jewish aria too. He’s alluding to it’s sense of a contractual relationship with God as opposed to Tosca’s over Catholicism (he’s from a very Catholic family). All in all good value.
We had a brief chat afterwards about Britten, ‘difficult’ operas and stuff. I want to see his Peter Grimes but, unfortunately, Santa Fe isn’t exactly next door.
In a couple or three hours it will back to COC for me for the third time in 24 hours. This time for the 2012/13 season announcement.
fn1. Opera 101 is a pub based series of fairly informal talks by members of the creative team for various COC productions.