Butterfly in the 1950s

My quest to find a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that has anything insightful to say about the piece continues.  This time it’s the 2018 production from Glyndebourne directed by Annilese Miskimmon.  I was interested to see how a female director would treat the obvious problems with the piece.  Miskimmon’s solution is to shift the setting to early 1950s Nagasaki and to treat Butterfly as one of many real and fake war brides.  Apparently there was a thriving fake war bride business at the time.  The obvious problem of a Nagasaki setting is just ignored.

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Maometto II

Rossini’s rarely performed opera seria Maometto II opened at the Four Seasons Centre last night in a production by David Alden and with substantially the same cast as when it played in Santa Fe on 2012.  This is the restored Maometto in the edition prepared by Hans Schellevis in an attempt to get as close to Rossini’s initial Naples score as possible.  So, no happy ending and all the complexity of Rossini’s original design.

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Big, fat Messiah

Sir Andrew Davis is in town conducting his own orchestration of Handel’s Messiah.  In the modern world this is probably as close as it gets to Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Huddersfield Choral Society.  He conducts the TSO with brass and woodwinds that Handel never saw and lots of percussion including snare drum, sleigh bells, tambourines and marimba. He also has the not inconsiderable heft of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

TSO Messiah 2015_Sir Andrew Davis (Malcolm Cook photo)

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Toronto Symphony 2015/16 season

The Toronto Symphony announced its 2015/16 season line up this morning.  From a choral and vocal music perspective the items of most interest were:

  • A “semi-staged” Mozart Requiem to be directed by Joel Ivany.  That’s scheduled for January 21st to 23rd next year with soloists Lydia Teuscher, Allyson McHardy, Frédéric Antoun and Philippe Sly.  Bernard Labadie will conduct.  I’m very curious to see what Joel does with this.
  • Handel’s Messiah in the extremely non-baroque Andrew Davis orchestration.  He will also conduct.  The soloists are Erin Wall, Liz DeShong, Andrew Staples and John Relyea.  This one is being recorded live for the Chandos label.  It runs December 15th to 20th this year.
  • Barbara Hannigan appears as both soprano and conductor.  On October 7th and 8th she has a program of Nono, Haydn, Mozart, Ligeti and Stravinsky.
  • Russell Braun shows up with Erin Wall for a performance of Vaughan-Williams Sea Symphony on October 21st and 24th and again during the New Creations Festival where he will sing Brett Dean’s Knocking at the Hellgate.
Barbara Hannigan 05 - copyright Musacchio Ianniello Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Barbara Hannigan – copyright Musacchio Ianniello Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

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Kaduce transforms Butterfly

My review of the opening night of the COC’s much revived Brian Macdonald production of Madama Butterfly was as lukewarm as the audience reaction.  In fact, I’ve never seen  an audience in that house so subdued.  Reviews of the alternate cast with Kelly Kaduce in the lead had generally been more encouraging so I was keen to see what she could do.  I saw it yesterday afternoon.  Let’s cut to the chase.  She transforms the production.  It’s like watching a different show and every scene she appears in has an energy that was lacking before.

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Madama Butterfly revived but not revitalised

The COC’s production of Madama Butterfly opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre.  I’m not a huge Madama Butterfly fan and it takes a really good production and a really good performance to get me past my instinctive dislike for a libretto based on child rape and sex tourism backed by Puccini soup with an infusion of Mikado.  This production, being revived for the umpty umpth time (It dates back to the Brian Dickie era) just wasn’t that.  Director Brian Macdonald writes in the programme “We both (he and Dickie) had had experience at the Stratford Festival.  That meant wood, simple props, no decoration that wouldn’t bespeak the essence of the play”.  Throw in an Allen key and it would sound like a trip to IKEA.  Which is pretty much what the designs are like; clean, functional and inoffensive.  Throw in costumes and gestures straight from the Mikado and you have it.  Not bad.  Just meh.

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Are you my mother?

Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia is based on one short episode in the storied life of the famous female pharmacist.  In it she twice poisons her son; once at the insistence of her husband, the second time by accident.  The second time her son refuses the antidote preferring to die with his equally poisoned buddies but learns in his dying breath that Lucrezia is indeed his mother.  It’s pretty unusual for a bel canto opera in that the leading female role (a) has agency, (b) doesn’t go mad and (c) doesn’t die.

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La Cenerentola

Last night we saw Rossini’s La Cenerentola at the Four Seasons Centre. It’s not my favourite opera by a long shot and reviews had been pretty mixed so expectations weren’t particularly high. Those expectations were, however, exceeded.

Cenerentola is a version of the Cinderella story and was cobbled together in a hurry for its first performance. It has all the emotional depth of a Disney Princess movie but it does have some reasonable comedy and some very singable music. The director, Joan Font, and designer, Joan Guillén, have taken the work at face value, created sets and costumes that look like something out of a children’s colouring book and upped the comedy, most notably by the introduction of six (non-singing) mice who provide a sort of physical commentary on the action while doubling as handy prop movers. The colour palette is very bright and reinforced by the lighting plot.

Photo gallery

Critics have criticised this approach as lacking emotional depth and character development but, really, is there any to be found in this piece? I rather doubt it. Within the parameters that have been set the blocking and physical acting is remarkably good. There are a couple of places where characters seem to stranded uncomfortably far upstage for too long leading to some audibility problems but nothing grave. The ugly sisters (Rihab Chaieb and Ileana Montalbetti) camped it up better than I might have expected and veteran comedians like Brett Polegato and Donato di Stefano had a field day.

The singing was fine, sometimes very fine. Lawrence Brownlee as Don Ramiro and Elizabeth DeShong in the title role were quite excellent. Both sang beautifully and accurately as befits bel canto. Larry tossed off high notes with ease and Elizabeth’s coloratura was most assured. All the others were well up to their roles. The all male chorus was as good as ever. Anne Larlee accompanied the recitatives on the fortepiano and was her usual sympathetic self. Leonardo Vordoni in the pit took some sections perhaps more slowly than some others but at least that provided a bit of light and shade. There’s enough “breathless Rossini” in this score to sink a battleship.

So, all in all, an enjoyable production of a work that I think is rather over-rated. I don’t care whether I ever see Cenerentola again but I’m glad I went last night.

Should you go see it? Well tickets for the last three shows go as low as $20 (use discount code “RBA”) but the same is true for Ariadne auf Naxos which is also currently in repertoire and is a much more interesting opera. The Ariadne cast is stellar and Sir Andrew Davies is conducting. Hell, for $20 per show you can see both.

Today it’s off to the cinema to see the Met’s Die Walküre followed by sabotabby’s birthday bash at Vegan Valhalla.