Wajdi Mouawad’s production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, originally seen in Lyon, opened last night at the COC with Valérie Négre as revival director. The piece has been somewhat restructured and the spoken dialogue changed to explode the idea that the piece is “about” some kind of crude juxtaposition of the “West”; Enlightened, civilized etc, and the “East”; obscurantist, cruel, barbarian etc. To this end Mouawad has inserted a prologue before the overture where Belmonte’s father is holding a party to celebrate the return of his son and the others where he makes the above comparison in extremely crude terms and then invites his guests to play la tête du Turc, a game that involves hitting a Turk’s head with a sledgehammer. The guests wade in with drunken abandon, except for Konstanze and Blonde who are clearly revolted by the idea. This leads to a conversation around who changed and how while they were in captivity and so to telling the whole story in flashback.
I’m not really sure that it’s a good idea to take Rameau too seriously, especially a work like Les Indes galantes but that’s what Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui does in his production for the 2016 Münchner Opernfestspiel. As written, the piece has five separate parts; an allegorical prelude and four scènes, each telling a love story in an “exotic” setting; Turkey, Peru, Persia, among les sauvages of North America. It’s a spectacle but it uses the exotic settings to poke fun at certain aspects of Western culture in Rameau’s usual irreverent way. There’s no linking narrative and the characters in each scène (the goddesses Amour and Bellona aside) only appear once.
Croatian bass Goran Jurić is currently making his North American debut as Sarastro in the COC’s Magic Flute. Today he gave a lunchtime recital with Anne Larlee in the RBA. It was an all Russian programme; Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Sviridov. I don’t want to do a blow by blow review because I don’t know the rep well enough and it seems a bit pointless. Instead let’s talk about Jurić as an artist, as shown by his performance here (and not surprisingly as Sarastro). He’s a genuine bass, no messing. The low notes are all there and the timbre is rich and dark when he wants it to be. But he’s also extremely lyrical. He can lighten up without ever stopping sounding like a bass. It’s a most pleasant combination. He’s also a terrific storyteller. This seems like an odd thing to say about a recital where not a word was spoken and all the songs were in a language I scarcely understand at all, yet I felt he was communicating the essence of the text with great clarity as a good lieder singer must. Anne was great as an accompanist too. There was quite a lot of range in the piano parts from quite delicate and playful in some of the Sviridov to cranking the pedals up to 11 in some of the Rachmaninov. A very good way to spend one’s lunch break.
Besides, it was great to see Anne Larlee back at the Four Seasons Centre and to discover a young bass who I want to hear a lot more of. Fortunately he’s back next season as Osmin in Entführung.
Things are still a bit quiet on the vocal music front (the lull before the storm judging by my agenda) but there are a couple of free concerts of interest at noon in the RBA next week. On Tuesday, bass Goran Jurić, currently singing Sarastro at the COC, is teaming up with Anne Larlee in an all Russian program featuring works by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Spiridov. Then on Thursday there’s a concert in the chamber music series featuring the members of the COC orchestra academy. But once again, the chamber series deceives because half of the program (at least) features soprano Jaqueline Woodley in a series of Handel arias. Later, at 7pm at The Fifth Pubhouse, the COC is hosting Opera Trivia Night with trivia master Russell Harder. It’s free but ticketed. Tisckets from coc.ca or the Four Seasons box office. The COC’s Magic Flute continues with the first chance to see the alternative cast on Sunday afternoon (29th) at the Four Seasons Centre, which is pretty close to sold out. No doubt the matinee show will be a lot of kids’ first opera.
Last night saw the first performance of this season’s run of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the COC. It’s a revival of the Diane Paulus 2011 production with Ashlie Corcoran as revival director. It has a “theatre within a theatre” overlay in Act 1; it’s supposed to be an aristocratic birthday party for Pamina where the guests perform the opera, which mysteriously disappears in Act 2 though it makes an odd reprise right at the end where all the characters appear to perform a country dance. Strip that element out and it’s a workmanlike Flute with nothing much to say but some pretty visuals. The animals are cute and the trials scene is rather well done. There is one notable change from 2011. Pamina’s lurid pink Disney princess outfit is gone, replaced by something Regencyish and far less jarring.