Suppose one were responsible for marketing the Royal Opera or ENO’s product in Canada what would you do? Personally I wouldn’t worry about signing up loads of suburban and small town fleapits. I’d go for the where the opera audience is in the downtown areas of the cities that have opera companies and maybe university towns. I’d also go for the upscale theatres with decent sound and bars with decent beer and that sort of thing. In Toronto that would be the TIFF Lightbox and Bloor Hot Docs. Elsewhere I don’t know but I’d like to push the idea with the ROH marketing folks so any ideas on the “right” cinemas in Montreal or Vancouver or even Hamilton would be most welcome.
I have now received the cinemaHD line ups from the Royal Opera House and the ENO. Basically if you live in Canada you are probably screwed. The baleful effects of the Met’s exclusive with Cineplex Odious are all too apparent. If one compares the ROH ballet line up with opera it’s clear. Whereas you can catch the ballet in just about every major population centre, the opera coverage is, at best, spotty. There’s nothing at all in Quebec and Ontario is represented by four screens in Waterloo, Kingston, Whitby and Orleans. It’s not much better elsewhere. And ENO apparently hasn’t figured out that Canada exists which sucks because I really want to see my favourite crazy lady’s Queen of the Night.
I really wonder about the Met’s motivation. They talk a great game about extending the audience for opera but then put barriers in the way of anything except their own rather boring product. I also wonder why on earth Cineplex agreed to an exclusive. When you pretty much have a monopoly you don’t need to take that shit from the Met. Without Cineplex they are screwed too. So it goes.
In an age of co-productions many opera productions are seen in multiple houses. Some of them we get to see in multiple guises. For example I’ve seen Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni on DVD and will be seeing it live later this season in Toronto. Spmething that’s been fermenting in my brain for a while now is why the same production can get a drastically different reception in different places. The piece that first made me think about this was Chris Alden’s Die Fledermaus. This was generally well received in Toronto (more perhaps by my friends and acquaintances than the print media but that’s par for the course) but universally panned in London when it played at ENO. Bryan’s interesting comments about the Carsen Falstaff kicked off the train of thought again and made me want to put some tentative thoughts into writing.
The latest entrant to the live HD cinema broadcast market is ENO. The first broadcast, on 23rd February, will be the current David Alden production of Britten’s Peter Grimes which will, current lurgy permitting, feature Stuart Skelton in the title role. As his is a Grimes I haven’t seen and particularly want to, I am not best pleased that no cinemas in Greater Robfordia seem to be carrying this program. You can check out the details here. May the tidal force be with you!
Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, which premiered at Glyndebourne in 1946, is an interesting work in a number of ways. Musically it marks a distinct break from Peter Grimes and anticipates the later operas in a number of significant ways. It’s written for much lighter forces than Grimes; string quintet, wind quintet plus harp, percussion and piano and there’s no chorus (in the conventional sense). It’s also not a “numbers” piece. There are no set pieces here. The orchestral writing is spare and somewhat dissonant with that absolute clarity that is so characteristic of Britten. Sometimes this almost distracts from the drama on stage.
English National Opera’s new season includes two Christopher Alden productions that originated at COC. Die Fledermaus is brilliant and a must see. Rigoletto may be a bit more of an acquired taste though it certainly has its strong points. The London cast for Fledermaus doesn’t look as strong (to me) as the Toronto cast but the Rigoletto has the estimable Quinn Kelsey in the title role, Barry Banks as the Duke and Anna Christy as Gilda.
My reviews of the Toronto performances; Die Fledermaus, with Ambur Braid and with Mireille Asselin (as Adele) and Rigoletto, with Lynch, Lomelli and Osborne and with Kelsey, Pittas and Sadovnikova (Rigoletto, Duke, Gilda).
David Pountney’s 1986 ENO production of Dvorak’s Rusalka is set in an Edwardian nursery. The action is all a dream or a figment of Rusalka’s imagination in which her grandfather, in a wheelchair, becomes the Water Gnome, her sisters water sprites, her governess the witch Jezibaba and so on. In Act 1 it works reasonably well. Clearly we are looking at a metaphor of Rusalka escaping the nursery for adult life with all the risks and discoveries that involves. It starts to get pretty strained in Act 2. There’s some not very subtle loss of virginity imagery but that’s about it. By Act 3 Pountney seems to have run out of ideas and the final denouement is played out pretty straightforwardly. Certainly there’s nothing in the ending to bring closure to the concept which seems like a cop out.
The performances, in English this being ENO, are mostly OK but not stellar. Elaine Hannan has a clear bright voice which suits the idea of Rusalka as a young girl but she doesn’t have the range of colour or dynamic range of, say, Renee Fleming. John Treleaven is rather good, if a bit stiff, as the Prince. You can definitely hear heldentenorish qualities in the voice. It’s a shame that, with his ‘tache and sideburns, he looks like a 1970s lounge lizard. Ann Howard is vocally competent as the governess/witch/Jezibaba but while she’s be fairly scary in a schoolroom she isn’t really the stuff of nightmares the part needs. Rodney Macann is a straightforwardly effective grandfather/Water Gnome but he doesn’t really dominate. The other parts are all quite well sung tough far from thrilling.Mark Elder conducts a rather routine sounding reading from the ENO Orchestra and Chorus. To be fair, part of the problem may be the sound, see below.
The video direction by Derek Bailey needs to be taken on its own terms for a record of what’s happening on stage it isn’t. There are lots of superpositions and some weird camera angles. It does reinforce the “dream” aspects of the production so I think it can be considered a valid approach.
Technically this is not a great disk. The 4:3 picture is 1986 TV to DVD quality. I suppose that, in a way, reinforces the dream quality too. The sound is very average Dolby 2.0. At times it’s worse than that. At the end of Act 1 it sounds like Treleaven is singing from the bottom of a well and nowhere does it do the orchestra any favours. There are no subtitles and the less than vivid sound makes it even harder than it otherwise might be to figure out the words. Documentation is limited to a track listing.
Given that Robert Carsen’s fascinating Paris production; strongly cast and well recorded, is also available on DVD it’s a bit hard to see why anyone would bother with this one.