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.