A Canadian in Rossini?

Yes, there is a Rossini opera with a Canadian character.  Well, OK it’s a bit ambiguous whether he’s Canadian or American and the librettist doesn’t seem quite sure that they aren’t the same thing.  Anyway, likely the earliest of an appearance of a Canadian in opera unless one counts the Les sauvages d’Amérique section of Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes.  The opera is the early one act comedy, La cambiale di matrimonio.  It’s a bit of a one trick pony.  An English merchant has contracted to marry his daughter to the Canadian, Snook, but she’s already unofficially engaged to another.  After much faffing about Snook makes the contract over to the other suitor and makes him his heir.  The joke, such as it is, is that all this is carried out in the language of commercial contracts.  For example, when Snook minds out that Fanny is engaged he considers the “merchandise” to be “mortgaged” and so on.  Still it provides a back drop for some showy singing and the usual rapid fire Rossini ensemble numbers.

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Abraham, an oratorio

I really wanted to like David Warrack’s new piece Abraham that premiered last night at the Metropolitan United Church.  It’s described as an oratorio and tells the story of the patriarch Abraham and uses that as a jumping off point for arguing for the breaking down of barriers between Jews, Christians and Muslims based on their shared heritage(*).  Given recent events in Canada and elsewhere that’s obviously a worthy goal and the whole thing was in aid of the Metropolitan United Church Syrian Refugee Fund; reason enough, in itself, to go.

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All change for Seville

Last night saw the alternative cast for the COC’s Barber of Seville take the stage for the first time.  Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Basilio are all changed and, last night, owing to illness Joshua Hopkins was replaced as Figaro by Clarence Frazer which, in turn meant Jan Vakulik sang the Officer.

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Rare Rameau

On February 2nd Voicebox: Opera in Concert will be performing Rameau’s rarely performed Hippolyte et Aricie at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.  The cast will be led by mezzo Alyson McHardy as Phèdre with tenor Colin Ainsworth as Hippolyte, soprano Meredith Hall as Aricie and veteran bass Alain Coulombe as Thesée.  Accompaniment will be by the Aradia Ensemble conducted by Kevin Mallon.  Tickets are available from www.stlc.com

It seems like some of the most interesting repertoire choices this year are being presented in concert rather than fully staged.  At least this one has more than piano accompaniment.

Albert Herring

Britten’s Albert Herring is mysteriously under represented in the DVD catalogue.  The work is performed quite often being relatively inexpensive to mount and suitable for smaller venues but the many productions haven’t led to many recordings.  I have only been able to find one and that dates back to 1985 when it was recorded at Glyndebourne.  That’s appropriate enough as that’s the house the piece premiered in in 1947.  At least it’s a  fair and effective representation of the work.  Peter Hall’s production takes few liberties with the libretto and is a rather literal and effective, if necessarily somewhat caricatured,  representation of life in a Suffolk village.  The sets and costumes are evocative; especially the hall of Lady Billows’ house which really evokes a 17th century Great Hall and, as the view through the window tells us, is set in or close to the village, not in an isolated park.  There’s quite a lot of that kind of attention to detail in this production.

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Hell is oneself

No Exit 2Last night I attended Soup Can Theatre’s double bill of Barber’s A Hand of Bridge followed by Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit; an English translation by Stuart Gilbert, of his 1944 play Huis Clos.  The latter is a piece I’ve seen before and read in both English and French and I would never have imagined it could be presented as it was last night.  It’s a play about three people who find themselves in a room in Hell together.  They will be there for eternity, an eternal triangle I suppose, for they have been especially selected to get on each others’ nerves by continually reminding each character of that aspect of their former lives that they find least admirable.  I have always seen it as an incredibly bleak play as befits one that premiered in Paris in the last months of the German occupation.  I would never have imagined it as a comedy; albeit a dark one, but that’s what director Sarah Thorpe gave us.  Continue reading

Fidelio at Glyndebourne 1979

Southern Television’s 1979 Glyndebourne broadcast was Beethoven’s Fidelio. The production by Peter Hall with designs by John Bury is conventional enough though tendencies to exaggerate are clearly creeping in. The chorus of prisoners is almost zombie like and Florestan looks disconcertingly like the legless sea captain from Blackadder II. Apart from that it’s a conventional 1800ish setting where the prison’s a prison, the dungeon’s a dungeon etc. It’s also very literal in that the dungeon is so dark it’s almost impossible to see anything.  Continue reading