Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle is a twisted little opera with wonderful music. Atom Egoyan’s film Felicia’s Journey is equally twisted and also derived at root from the Bluebeard material. So it makes sense to mash them up and that, essentially, is what Egoyan has done in the latest on-line presentation from the COC.
The COC season continued last night with Atom Egoyan’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, first seen in January 2014. There are some changes from the previous outing but most of what I had to say about the production holds good still. This time there have been cuts. The show now runs as two ninety minute acts plus an interval and it feels tighter and doesn’t drag so much in the second act. In the process some of the heavy handed symbolism has been discarded; fewer pinned butterflies. I think the physical comedy may have ratcheted up just a touch but maybe that’s me misremembering. And the girls are brunettes, rather than redheads, but still well matched enough to look like sisters. Musically, I think it’s been lightened up somewhat. Bernard Labadie, something of a period specialist, conducts and Michael Shannon accompanies the recits on a fortepiano. But, still, fundamentally the same show.
Christine Goerke made her stage debut as Brünnhilde last night in Atom Egoyan’s production of Die Walküre at the COC. She didn’t disappoint. It’s a big voice with ringing high notes that ping over the orchestra. No scooping on the high notes either. She’s probably the next great Brünnhilde and that’s probably what last night will best be remembered for. With all the Elektras in her calendar it may also be a a case of “catch it while you can”. The rest of the singing was pretty distinguished too. Johan Reuter was a firm toned, perfectly solid Wotan. Heidi Melton, from beginning to end, was a wonderful Sieglinde to listen to; accurate, sweet of tone (for a dramatic soprano) and almost matching Goerke for power. Clifton Forbis, the Siegmund, still has genuine Helden high notes and was pleasant to listen to. One might have wished for a slightly more ardent approach to the Winterstürme scene but it was more than decent. Dimitry Ivaschshenko was a genuine solid bass Hunding who sounded just right and acted more, and better, than most. Janina Baechle made the most of her cameo as Fricka. The octet of junior Valkyries, made up of mostly younger singers, injected some youthful vigour into the whole enterprise to good effect. Johannes Debus in the pit impressed as a Wagnerian once more with a tightly structured and, at appropriate points, opulent reading of the score. The COC orchestra, always admirable, as so often last night pulled out their best for Johannes. So, admirable music making.
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
I was back at the Four Seasons Centre last night for another look at the COC’s new production of Così fan tutte. Broadly speaking, I stand by what I wrote about Saturday’s opening performance. There were a few things I noticed or paid more attention to this time though.
The girls in on the plot? – There’s a lot of silent business between Don Alfonso and the girls right at the beginning. Is he giving them rings? Is it a token that it will be all right on the night? The girls may know about the bet but do they know the details? Does it get a bit out of control and the emotions unleashed become genuine? All, I think, valid questions and none clearly resolved.
The chemistry between the girls is extraordinary. They really do feed off each other and are totally credible as teenage sisters. This has to be seen to be fully grasped.
Robert Gleadow is a very interesting combination of sexy and dangerous. He showed his abilities as Publio last year; making of the role more than I would have thought possible. Here, Guglielmo comes off as a just about in control sociopath. I really want to see this guy sing Don Giovanni.
The house was full on a truly filthy Toronto winter evening. People were enjoying themselves. There was laughter. Sure, I heard the occasional snooty remark about Egoyan’s OTTness but overall I think it showed that there is a market for smart, sexy opera that doesn’t assume that the audience is firmly stuck in the 1950s. Canada’s regional companies might take note.
That said, two of the three performances that aren’t padded by season subscribers have lots of tickets available. The “new” COC season model relies heavily on single ticket sales so it will be interesting to see whether that inventory moves.
Atom Egoyan’s new production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte opened at the Four Seasons Centre last night. It’s a visually appealing production with an interesting concept and some glorious singing and acting. One may question aspects of the concept but nowhere does it do serious violence to da Ponte’s libretto and the end result, coupled with some outstanding performances makes for a most enjoyable evening.
So I got my hands on the DVD documentary about Rufus Wainwright and the genesis of Prima Donna. There’s not all that much of the music on the disk but there’s enough to get a general impression. There’s also plenty of material for helping one judge where Wainwright is coming from and how he might approach a second opera.
I’m just back from being in the audience for a live event that featured Stefan Herheim, in Oslo, and Atom Egoyan, in Toronto, discussing and answering questions about their respective productions of Strauss’ Salome. It was set up with a live satellite link between the two cities which worked rather well. The event also featured two rather dry academic presentations about the productions and productions of Salome in general. This bit went on for nearly an hour and a half and reminded me of why one takes notes at university. It’s because if you don’t this stuff goes in one ear and out the other.
This Sunday afternoon (in Toronto) and evening (in Oslo) Brent Bambury of the CBC will interview Atom Egoyan (in Toronto) and Stefan Herheim (in Oslo) about their respective approaches to Richard Strauss’ Salome. The Egoyan version is just finishing up a run at COC (my impressions here) while Herheim’s version, previously seen in Salzburg, opens at Den Norske Opera & Ballett on Saturday. There will be live audiences in both cities connected by videolink. Details for Toronto are under the cut.
It comes as no surprise that an opera by Atom Egoyan comes across as somewhat cinematic but it’s hard not to use the term of his production of Richard Strauss’ Salome at Canadian Opera Company. It’s quite a spare production. There’s a raked stage; the raised end providing a sort of dungeon for Jochanaan and the back and side walls used for projections, especially of a giant mouth prophesying (shades of Big Brother here) and shadow puppets. Costumes are simple and in shades of red, white and green. The concept is based on the idea that Salome is a very young girl who has a history of sexual abuse at the hands of Herod that explains her “monstrousness”. It’s most vividly explored during the dance of the seven veils where Salome rises above the stage on a swing and her robes form a scrim on which a video is projected. It starts with a very young girl in a garden and gets progressively darker until it finishes up with today’s Salome being raped by her stepfather’s entourage. Fittingly, the opera ends with Herod himself strangling Salome, perhaps more to silence her than out of disgust.