The third of Saturday night’s webstreams was Toronto City Opera’s double bill of Menotti’s The Telephone and Poulenc’s La voix humaine. The choice of rep makes sense in that it meant that very few people had to be assembled in the Ernest Balmer Studio where the recordings took place though it also looks a bit odd for a company that in normal times is about participation.
The Menotti is essentially a rather weak joke stretched out for half an hour. A man is trying to propose to a girl but every time he gets close to popping the question she either receives or makes a phone call. I thought it was a bit feeble the first time I saw it and it doesn’t wear well. It doesn’t help that it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to marry this utterly boring girl except, perhaps, her utterly banal suitor. I guess the basic problem is that anything trying to be “realistic” from the US in the 50s and 60s is almost bound to be dull as just about any interesting aspect of human life was off limits due to various kinds of censorship. Anyway, I think TCO got as much out of the piece as there is to be got. The contemporary updating had its witty moments and both Nicole Dubinsky and Johnathan Kirby; backed up by Ivan Jovanovic gave strong performances in the singing and acting departments.
Gounod’s Faust is very French, stuffed with a specifically Catholic religiosity and has all the elements, welcome or not, of 19th century French opera; it’s long, it has ballet, there are interpolated drinking songs etc. Alaina Viau and Markus Kopp’s adaptation Dissociative Me, presented by LooseTEA Music Theatre, is none of these things (OK there’s an interpolated drinking song, Stan Rogers even, but at least it happens in a bar) and it’s all the better for that.
I met with Alaina Viau, Artistic Director of Loose TEA Theatre, earlier today to discuss her upcoming show Dissociative Me; a transladaptation™(*) of Gounod’s Faust. We started by exploring the reasons why one might choose transladaptation rather than either a “straight” production or simply a radical restaging à la Herheim or Tcherniakov. The starting point for Alaina, one that I completely share, is that certain works are so problematic that they can’t realistically be presented “straight” and still do the things that “art” is supposed to do; stimulate, challenge etc. If a work contains elements that have so radically changed meaning since the original composition that one must treat it as a museum piece or intellectually disengage to make a piece tolerable then, we both believe, something has to be done. I realise that there are those who can enjoy, for instance, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; a squalid tale of paedophilia and sex tourism, at a superficial level but count me out there.
This year’s opera offering from the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory is Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen. It’s a pretty good choice for a student production with a wide variety of roles and it’s a great vehicle for showing off the excellent Royal Conservatory Orchestra. The school has chosen to present the work in English translation which probably makes sense given the difficulties of training a whole new cast in Czech even though it somewhat undermines the composer’s extremely tight linkage of text and music.
Korngold’s Silent Serenade is, to put it mildly, odd. The plot could have been taken from Dario Fo and the only possible excuse for the schmaltzy music is that Korngold initiated many of the saccharine clichés he relies on. Last night the students of the Glenn Gould School under the direction of Joel Ivany and the musical leadership of Pieter Tiefenbach bravely tried to rescue it from well deserved obscurity.
The plot concerns a dressmaker who is accused of breaking into the bedroom of, and trying to abduct, one of his clients; an actress who happens to be engaged to the Prime Minister. In Naples this is a hanging offence. Meanwhile someone has made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the unpopular Prime Minister with a bomb. The king is dying and, we learn from his confessor, wishes to make a great act of mercy before he finally snuffs it. He wishes to pardon the bomber. Unfortunately the police don’t have a suspect. The solution is obvious. The dressmaker must confess to both crimes so that he can be pardoned and hanged for neither. Unfortunately the king dies before signing the pardon and so the dressmaker must hang. Following this so far? Fortunately for him the unpopular Prime Minister is killed in a popular uprising and he is installed in his stead much to the annoyance of the anarchist who did plant the bomb. They agree that the dressmaker will return to his salon and the actress, who has now fallen in love with him and is, conveniently, no longer engaged. There’s also a subplot concerning a newspaper reporter and an aspiring actress.
Last night saw the first of two performances of Don Giovanni by the students of the Glenn Gould School at Koerner Hall. Koerner Hall isn’t the easiest venue to do fully staged opera since it is basically a concert hall with very limited lighting and stage facilities. Ashlie Corcoran and Camellia Coo pulled off perhaps the most inventive staging I have seen there by using a giant staircase to link the part of the gallery that wraps around the stage to the stage itself. Within this basic configuration they deployed a few bits and pieces of furniture, mostly couches. It made a very serviceable unit set for the various scenes. The production was set in the 1960s and seemed to revolve around the basic idea of Don Giovanni as a “chick magnet”. All the usual suspects are clearly attracted to him. There’s no hint of coercion in the opening scene with Donna Anna and Zerlina is a very willing seductee. The idea is reinforced in “Deh vieni” when, as Don Giovanni is serenading Donna Elvira’s maid, five or six women make their way to the staircase and down to the man himself.
Opera Five’s schtick is that they satisfy all five senses. In their current show that means matching a food offering with each of the three short operas on display. It’s a neat idea. In the current show a palindromic skewer of sausage, pickle and cheese is matched with the palindromic Hindemith work Hin und Zurück, assorted Russian pasty like objects are paired with Rachmaninov’s Aleko and some sort of chocolate on a stick thing with Milton Granger’s 1999 piece Talk Opera.