Laurent Pelly’s 2017 production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia for the Théatre des Champs Élysée is classic Pelly. The sets and costumes are very simple and essentially monochrome. The sets in fact are constructed from flats painted as music paper. The black, white and grey costumes are more or less modern and pretty nondescript. But, in the classic Pelly manner, the action is fast paced and convincing. There’s lots of synchronised movement and the physical acting and facial expressions are a bit exaggerated. I toyed with the word “cartoonish” but that’s a bit crude if not entirely inaccurate. The overall effect is positive.
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 →
The COC’s new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville opened last night at the Four Season’s Centre. The production is by the Catalan collective Els Comediants, the same team who did La Cenerentola a few seasons back, with direction by Joan Font and designs by Joan Guillén. It’s a riot in a good way. It’s bold, colourful and very well choreographed. There are giant props; for example a huge guitar from which Almaviva sings his serenade and a giant pink piano which serves for all kinds of shenanigans. A lot of the “sung action” is doubled by actors in a sort of on stage projection cube. Scene changes are “on the fly” and the curtain only comes down for the interval and the end. Bold, clever, slick.
Alek Shrader as Count Almaviva. Photo: Michael Cooper
Lauren Segal performs in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo: Chris Hutcheson
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was given by mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal and bass-baritone Robert Gleadow with Sandra Horst at the piano. The programme was titled Gypsy Songs, Travel Songs. First up was Robert, who looks considerable less rakish without a beard, with three songs from Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. All three; The Roadside Fire, Bright is the Ring of Words and Whither Must I Wander are familiar recital fare but sung as well as this are a joy to hear. Gleadow has a big, full sound with quite a range of colour but he can also float very beautiful high notes. It was very impressive.
Lauren came next with Dvorák’s Cigánské melodie. These songs cover a wide range of moods, all vividly captured by Segal. Her voice is dark toned and very mezzo; no soprano 2 here! Onewould think her perfectly suited for gloomy Slavic rep until, as she did later, she cut loose on de Falla’s Siete canciones populares Españolas. Here she was every bit the dark eyed Spaniard singing with fiery passion of love and loss. Both sets ended with fierce, bravura numbers brought off with panache. The lady knows how to work a crowd!
Back to the COC’s production of Falstaff last night for a second look. I felt I spent so much time last week trying to figure out who was who and what was what in this rather madcap comedy that I was really looking forward to seeing it in a more relaxed way. I had figured out that there was a lot of detail to unpack that I had missed first time around; partly because I was attention challenged and partly because I had forgotten my opera glasses. Last night; perched up in Ring 5, I watched a good part of this show through the glasses and saw many things I missed first time around. I think I want to watch it from close up if I can, even if there’s an acoustical price to pay for that.
Last night, the COC opened its 2014/15 season with Verdi’s Falstaff; a work I was not familiar with and one that turned out to be a bit of a surprise. It’s not your usual Verdi. It’s his last opera, composed when he was 80, and is not at all typical of his earlier work. There are hardly any “big tunes” or even conventional arias. The odd chorus harks back to an earlier style but much of the music is quite dark; heavy use in places of the lower pitched instruments, especially for a “comedy”. Don’t take that as a criticism though. It’s a musically and dramatically tight, even compact, work that is both incredibly funny and also something more disturbing. Perhaps it’s as much about mortality as love.
The Canadian Opera Company has just announced the 14/15 line up for the free lunchtime (mostly) concerts in the very beautiful Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. Highlights, from my point of view, include recitals by Jane Archibald, Krisztina Szabó, Lauren Segal, Colin Ainsworth, Joshua Hopkins, Robert Gleadow, Barbara Hannigan and Ekaterina Gubanova. There will also be ten concerts by the Ensemble Studio plus the Quilico competition. The Canadian Art Song Project will showcase Allyson McHardy in a new song cycle by Marjan Mozetich. There’s also a themed series of concerts to commemorate anniversaries of the First and Second World Wars, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This will comprise six concerts drawn from the Vocal, Chamber Music and Piano Virtuoso programs.
The last of this season’s Recitals at Rosedale was on the theme of the the Seven Deadly Sins. It was an interesting and enjoyable afternoon, perhaps notable as much for what it had to say about the state of the industry as for the music making. The format was four singers moving fairly rapidly between short (more the most part) songs linked by a one or two sentence chosen text. The effect was to keep things moving along swiftly and even to generate a kind of narrative arc. There was no time for applause between numbers for example. It was a very different feel from the traditional art song recital where one or two singers sing sets of related songs. It was also quite operatic. All the singers chose to act physically and with the voice. Again, a far cry from the art song tradition where a raised eyebrow is considered over acting. Overall I thought it worked and in a city where the music commentariat has been lamenting the death of the art song recital for years somebody has to try something!
Things are starting to quieten down a bit on the Toronto vocal music/opera scene but there’s still a fair bit to seer in May. Here are some of the highlights:
Friday, May 8 sees the opening of Massenet’s Don Quichotte at the COC. It’s strongly cast with Ferruccio Furlanetto, Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili headlining. There are seven performances between Friday and May 24.
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.