Beautiful Helen

Offenbach’s La belle Hélène, given in English translation, opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre last night.  The production by Guillermo Silva-Marin is an uncomplicated and fast paced romp.  There a few cuts.  The scene with Orestes and his girls for instance is gone and the dialogue, as is the norm, is gently updated with a Facebook reference and an allusion to a certain orange real estate magnate.

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Christmas improv

Wednesday evening saw the last Whose Opera is it Anyway? of the year in the new digs at Bad Dog Comedy Club.  Last month’s line up of singers; Rachel Krehm, Michael York, Gillian Grossman and Amanda Kogan, were joined by Adanya Dunn and an elf.  Natasha Fransblow was at the keyboard again.  Greg Finney; the thinking man’s Don Cherry, MC’d.  The format was as ever; a line up of improv games with audience input.  Highlights included the Three Minute Messiah, Adanya giving her mum a dildo and the deep, dark depths of Keith Lam’s Instagram account.  And beer.  And Greg’s suit.

The news is that LooseTEA now has a regular slot for WOIIA.  In the new year you will be able to catch them at Bad Dog on the third Sunday of the month at 9.30pm.  It’s a better venue than the old place and it’s a fun way to spend an hour and a half or so.

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The Widow

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Lynn Isnar – wearing one of the dresses she wore yesterday

Calixa Lavallée’s main, perhaps only, claim to fame is that he wrote the music for O Canada!  He also wrote an operetta, The Widow.  Yesterday I saw it at Toronto Operetta Theatre in a production by Guillermo Silva-Marin.  It’s pretty silly.  The plot turns on a scheming widow who pretends to drown herself while most of the rest of the characters pretend either to be someone else, or to be married to someone else, or both.  Still, it’s fast paced and quite funny and the various sillinesses work out more or less logically.  The music is pleasant and well crafted but not strikingly original.  I don’t think I actually recall a single tune.  So, a worthwhile enough piece but hardly an undiscovered masterpiece.

The production, in variations on concert wear for the most part, was quite kinetic with lots of rushing about and some dance elements.  There are probably more entrances and exits than a Brian Rix farce (and for much the same reasons) so that helps.  Performances were pretty good.  Julie Nesrallah struck the right note as the somewhat overripe Spanish widow Donna Paquita de something-something-something.  She sang well and her knowing, almost wink-at-the-audience, approach was just shy of over the top.  It made a good anchor.  The vocal star was Lynn Isnar as Nanine.  It’s classic operetta soubrette territory and her bright tone, easy top and controlled coloratura were just right.  She has a nice sense of timing too.  Her aria which opened the second act was the vocal highlight of the afternoon.  The rest of the cast was made up of TOT regulars and young singers.  Everyone sang well and the acting was also good.  The young lovers, of both flavours, were appropriately decorative and there was a bumbling ineffectual aristo for Greg Finney to play.  Michael Rose accompanied perfectly competently at the piano.  So, basically, all operetta boxes ticked.

All in all, a pleasant enough way to spend a really gloomy November Sunday afternoon.

AtG’s La Bohème six years on

Six years ago a bunch of unknowns calling themselves “Against the Grain Theatre” put on Joel Ivany’s English language, updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème in the back room of the Tranzac club.  I was there.  I reviewed it on my LiveJournal because it would be another six months before I started this blog.  There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then.  The Tranzac has been tarted up quite a bit since La Bohème 1.0, though even by 2011 it had become a lot smarter than when the Nomads hung out there and the wall featured a photo of Sorbie with the McCormick cup.  Lets face it anywhere would be more sedate without Neil (RIP mate).  Oh yeah, and the original AtG crowd have become quite respectable, even famous perhaps.  The singers are all Equity members and get paid properly.  There are sets and props that weren’t borrowed from Topher’s mum.  Topher and Joel have done the conducting and directing thing for major companies in real opera houses.  And I’ve been writing this stuff most every day for six years.

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The Chocolate Soldier

Toronto Operetta Theatre’s current production is Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier in the English version.  It’s based on Shaw’s Arms and the Man but, as is usually the case with musical adaptations of Shaw, it’s rather less acerbic than the original.  In fact, it comes over as a somewhat farcical love story with a few gentle pot shots at the military and militarism.  There are some good comic lines and the music is tuneful and well crafted.

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Season announcements

adrianluciaBy an odd coincidence two season announcement pressers hit my in box today; Toronto Operetta Theatre and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.  Toronto Operetta Theatre have four shows:

  • The Waltz Rivals (November 6th at 3pm) is a Léhar and Kálmán greatest hits show featuring Lucia Cesaroni, Adrian Kramer, Holly Chaplin, Stefan Fehr and Greg Finney with Michael Rose at the piano.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance runs from December 27th to January 8th, 2017.  Colin Ainsworth sings Frederic, Vania Chan is Mabel and Curtis Sullivan is the Major General.  Derek Bate conducts and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.
  • Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, runs on April 26th, 28th, 29th and 30th, 2017. Peter Tiefenbach leads the orchestra and the cast includes Jennifer Taverner, Anna Macdonald, Michael Nyby and Stefan Fehr.
  • Finally there’s an Offenbach tribute concert on June 4th 2017.

All performances are at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

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Fashion first at the COC

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Intellectual and Germanic

Observers of the Toronto opera scene will have noted the creeping influence of facial hair in the industry locally.  Perhaps it didn’t start with COC General Director Alexander Neef’s intellectually Germanic goatee but who could deny that it had a profound impact.  Earlier this week the four tenors of the Ensemble Studio appeared together sporting face rugs in varying stages of development and the scene is replete with other notable beardies.  Geoff Sirett, Robert Gleadow, Greg Finney and Alexander Dobson come to mind.  It’s almost compulsory, it seems, for baritones.   Continue reading