I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.
Nuits blanches is the title of a new CD from Karina Gauvin and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. It’s largely a subset of the material they performed at Koerner Hall in November and I don’t see much point in repeating my thoughts which are indeed confirmed by the CD. There’s less music on the CD (about 55 minutes) so no Berezovsky sonata or Paisiello divertimento. It’s a collection of mostly arias with the odd instrumental piece by Bortniansky, Dall’Oglio, Berezovsky, Fomine and Gluck.
The performances are as good as at Koerner and the disk, which was recorded at the Église Saint-Augustin in Mirabel in October 2019 is nicely balanced and clear. There is very complete documentation in the accompanying booklet, albeit in cruelly small print.
Gluck’s Orfeo/Orphée is one of those works where things get a bit complicated because an Italian and a French version wre produced and then all kinds of mash ups of the two versions. It’s a bit like Don Carlo/Don Carlos or Guglielmo Tell/Guillaume Tell. The original Orfeo ed Euridice, which premiered in Vienna is quite short and has Orfeo written for a castrato. The Paris version spreads the piece out over three acts, adds both new vocal music and lots more dance music and has Orphée written for haut-contre. Today, when people do the French version they usually cut some of the new music and us the higher Orphée music; casting either a mezzo or a counter-tenor. This is true of both recordings (Paris 2000 and Munich 2003) which have come my way in the past.
Off I went to the Four Seasons Centre to see Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer perform some Schubert. Sadly Sam was indisposed so what we got was a hastily, but very well, constructed program featuring some of the other singers in the Ensemble Studio.
Things kicked off with the increasingly impressive Anne-Sophie Neher in an accomplished rendering of Mozart’s “show off” piece Exsultate jubilate, in which she showed very decent control in the rather fiendish runs. She was back later with “The Presentation of the Rose” from Der Rosenkavalier which sounded suitably Straussian and sufficiently girlish at the same time. Nicely done. She made a third appearance with one of Adèles’s arias from Le comte Ory. This didn’t quite do it for me but it was fun to hear Stéphane playing around with the very Rossiniesque accompaniment.
Against the Grain Theatre’s Orphée+; a burlesque inflected version of Gluck’s Orphée, opened a three show run last night at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront. There are many, many things I want to say about this show and the challenge is going to be to present them in some kind of orderly sequence. First off there are expectations for an AtG show in Toronto that probably weren’t present when it opened in Columbus (It’s a co-pro with Opera Columbus and the Banff Centre). We have come to associate AtG with various kinds of “doing differently”; transladaptations, site specific stagings, staged art song and so on. In that context this is a rather conservative show. It’s a production of a canonic opera in a conventional theatre. It’s not a traditional production and would likely shock at the Met or the Lyric but would probably raise only half an eyebrow in Berlin or Barcelona. So I’m inclined to treat it as if I had seen it in Europe.
The first time I saw a DVD recording of Gluck’s Alceste I put my reaction of utter tedium down to Robert Wilson’s highly stylized and static production. This time I looked at a production, recorded at Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2006, by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Marabito, who did a rather good job on the rather dreary La Somnambula, expecting rather more. Actually I think they have some good ideas but they can’t obscure the fact that this is basically a very dull opera.
Against the Grain Theatre have announced the line up for their 2017/18 season. First up is a workshop of a Handel mash up called BOUND. It’s a collaboration with composer Kevin Lau and will explore aspects of the refugee crisis through Handel’s music as well as contemporary real life stories. It’s the beginning of a three year concept to production cycle. The workshop cast will include soprano Danika Lorèn, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritone Justin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and soprano Miriam Khalil. It will play at the COC’s Jackman Studio on December 14, 15, and 16, 2017.
Opera Atelier’s spring production; Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydyce, opened last night under most unspringlike conditions. Much had been made in the run up to the opening of the use of Berlioz’ 1859 performing edition, representing Tafelmusik’s deepest push into the 19th century and I think many of us were wondering how far this somewhat different sensibility would be reflected in the staging. In the event it was a non event. Connoisseurs of 19th century brass instruments might just have been able to hear a difference between the cornets à piston used in place of the natural instruments but nobody I talked to could. The staging too was a remount of a previous production in classic Opera Atelier style though some of the dance numbers did feature point shoes and a more athletic style; notably the pas de deux in the closing ballet which was surely the terpsichorial highlight of the evening.
Mireille Lebel (Orpheus), Peggy Kriha Dye (Eurydice) and Meghan Lindsay (Amour). Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Gluck’s Alceste is not as well known as Orfeo ed Eurydice or the Iphigénie operas but in some ways it’s an even better example of what Gluck meant by “reform”. It’s simple, restrained and elegant. The plot has some similarities with Orfeo. The good king of Thessaly, Admète, is doomed to die unless someone else volunteers in his place. Naturally enough, this being opera, his wife Alceste volunteers. There is much dignified lamenting. She descends to Hades. Husband and wife reproach each other for their selfishness in being the one to die. Hercules shows up and, in gratitude for earlier hospitality, saves the day. There is (dignified) rejoicing. It;s an easy score to listen to with plenty of good tunes but no blockbuster, memorable, numbers.
Opera Atelier announces its usual two production season. The fall 2014 production will be Handel’s Alcina with Meghan Lindsay in the title role. She will be joined by Allyson McHardy as Ruggiero, Marie Lenormand as Bradamante, Mireille Asselin as Morgana, Krešimir Špicer as Oronte and Olivier Laquerre as Melisso. Despite the absence of Curtis Sullivan, the advance publicity suggests that the trend to ever increasing amounts of bare flesh will continue.
The spring 2015 production will be Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice in the Berlioz orchestration. This will push Tafelmusik even further into 19th century romantic rep. Is Tannhäuser on the cards? Mireille Lebel will sing Orpheus, Peggy Kriha Dye appears as Eurydice with Meghan Lindsay as Amour.
In many ways this is the most interesting season OA have offered for some time and the venture into Handel is very welcome. More details and tickets can be found here.