Tim Albery’s production of Richard Strauss’ 1933 opera Arabella, first seen at Santa Fe in 2012, finally made it to Toronto last night. It’s, I believe, a Canadian premiere for the piece, which is a bit shocking for an important opera by a major composer. It’s not a perfect piece. The librettist, the incomparable Hugo von Hofmannsthal, died before he and Strauss could revise the second and third acts and there are places where it feels a bit unfinished but it’s still an impressive work. The plot’s a bit contrived perhaps, though no more so than many more famous operas, but there’s real depth of humanity and Mandryka, the landowner/tribal chief from the southern fringes of the Habsburg empire, is a really fascinating study.
I had mixed feelings about attending something billed as a “children’s opera” but Laura’s Cow turned out to be quite a lot of fun. The piece was created for the Canadian Children’s Opera Company by composer Errol Gay and librettist Michael Patrick Albano. It’s a 70 minute long, somewhat wry take on Laura Secord and the War of 1812. It manages not to be too sentimental and pokes fun at the Tea Party, coyotes and Americans; which is a bit harsh on coyotes. Writing for a children’s opera company obviously places some constraints on the composer. There have to be simple choruses for the younger children. There have to be not too demanding short solos for promising older singers and so on. Within those limits Mr. Gay managed to create a score with quite a lot of musical interest especially in the orchestral writing. The sets and stage direction were effective too especially given the logistics of handling a large cast in a fairly restricted stage area. Continue reading →