Cold Mountain

CD-Cold-Mountain-CDThis review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.

Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, which premiered at Santa Fe in 2015, is an example of what seems to be becoming the standard American formula for new opera. It takes a story from a best selling book that has already been made into a Hollywood film and turns it into an opera. Add to that that it’s a melodrama set in the currently fashionable Civil War South. Melodramatic it certainly is. Within five minutes Owens (Robert Pomakov) has been stabbed and buried alive and his son (Adrian Kramer) bound, gagged and dragged off to the army. A little later our hero, a Confederate deserter played by Nathan Gunn, rescues Laura (Andrea Nūnez) from being thrown from a cliff by her preacher boyfriend (Roger Honeywell). He ends up as part of a heap of chained together corpses. This production is rough on Canadian singers. There’s much more in the same vein with summary executions, baby torture, a choir of dead soldiers and the hero dying with the last shot of the piece. All of this is spun around the romance between the hero, Inman, and his classy but clueless girlfriend Ada (Isabel Leonard) who is busy dodging the attentions of the creepy and repulsive Teague (Jay Hunter-Morris) with the help of the sassy but practical Ruby (Emily Fons).

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Guth’s Figaro at the COC

Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, first seen at Salzburg in 2006, opened last night at the COC.  I was curious to see how it would be received because, while by no means an extreme production by European standards, it’s well beyond the 1970s aesthetic beloved by sections of the Toronto audience.  The aesthetic is Northern European; a Strindberg play or a Bergmann film perhaps.  It’s monochromatic, quite slow and focusses on the darker side of the characters’ psyches.  It’s the antithesis of Figaro as Feydeau farce.  There’s also a non-canonical character, Cherubim.  He’s a winged doppelganger of Cherubino and seems to be a cross between Cupid and Puck.  Pretty much omnipresent he manipulates scenes and characters though with a power that falls well short of absolute.  Perhaps the whole production is best summed up in the final ensemble.  Cherubim visits each couple in turn and is brusquely rejected.  Only Cherubino is still subject to his power and that seems to have become destructive.  Perhaps the message is “Now we are married forget this love nonsense and let us get back to our drab lives of quiet despair”.

Figaro-MC-1107

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