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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