By an odd coincidence two season announcement pressers hit my in box today; Toronto Operetta Theatre and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Toronto Operetta Theatre have four shows:
The Waltz Rivals (November 6th at 3pm) is a Léhar and Kálmán greatest hits show featuring Lucia Cesaroni, Adrian Kramer, Holly Chaplin, Stefan Fehr and Greg Finney with Michael Rose at the piano.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance runs from December 27th to January 8th, 2017. Colin Ainsworth sings Frederic, Vania Chan is Mabel and Curtis Sullivan is the Major General. Derek Bate conducts and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.
Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, runs on April 26th, 28th, 29th and 30th, 2017. Peter Tiefenbach leads the orchestra and the cast includes Jennifer Taverner, Anna Macdonald, Michael Nyby and Stefan Fehr.
Finally there’s an Offenbach tribute concert on June 4th 2017.
All performances are at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, which premiered at Santa Fe in 2015, is an example of what seems to be becoming the standard American formula for new opera. It takes a story from a best selling book that has already been made into a Hollywood film and turns it into an opera. Add to that that it’s a melodrama set in the currently fashionable Civil War South. Melodramatic it certainly is. Within five minutes Owens (Robert Pomakov) has been stabbed and buried alive and his son (Adrian Kramer) bound, gagged and dragged off to the army. A little later our hero, a Confederate deserter played by Nathan Gunn, rescues Laura (Andrea Nūnez) from being thrown from a cliff by her preacher boyfriend (Roger Honeywell). He ends up as part of a heap of chained together corpses. This production is rough on Canadian singers. There’s much more in the same vein with summary executions, baby torture, a choir of dead soldiers and the hero dying with the last shot of the piece. All of this is spun around the romance between the hero, Inman, and his classy but clueless girlfriend Ada (Isabel Leonard) who is busy dodging the attentions of the creepy and repulsive Teague (Jay Hunter-Morris) with the help of the sassy but practical Ruby (Emily Fons).
I thought I’d managed a pretty comprehensive update on the Toronto opera/choral/vocal music scene for March but there are a couple of gigs I got rather later info on.
On March 23rd at 7pm in Walter Hall, CASP have a concert of works from the more humorous end of the Canadian Art Song rep. Mary-Lou Fallis, Geoff Sirett, peter Tiefenbach and Steven Philcox are performing. Tickets are $40, $25 (senior) and $10 (student).
Then on Friday 27th Maureen Batt and Cheryl Duvall are performing a program of contemporary American and Canadian works, many of them written for Maureen, at Heliconian Hall. It’s at 8pm and tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door and there are $15 early bird tickets available at https://www.bemusednetwork.com/events/detail/69
And in other news Voicebox:Opera in Concert have announced a cast change for their performance of Charpentier’s Louise on the 29th. Keith Klassen replaces Adrian Kramer as the poet Julien.
Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are such a stock staple of amateur dramatic societies in the English speaking world that one might think they were easy to stage. They are not. They are a tricky genre; entirely sui generic and strewn with as many pitfalls as the field at Bannockburn. The first and greatest is the primacy of the text and, embedded in that, W.S. Gilbert’s relentless guying of English Victorian society. A director really has to choose to go with that or come up with something really rather different. In Toronto Operetta Theatre’s new production of The Mikado director Guillermo Silva-Marin hasn’t really done either. There’s nothing very new in this production which seems to focus mostly on the visuals; streamer twirling and fancy fan work. One senses the mostly young cast have been left to develop their own characters without a whole lot of help. It’s a big ask and the result is that much of the time, even when the words are fully audible, one senses the players aren’t really aware of what and where the joke is. It’s no surprise then that it’s the veterans of the cast who get closest to the essence of the piece. Both David Ludwig as Pooh-Bah and Giles Tomkins as The Mikado perform with sly wit and excellent diction. The Katisha of Mia Lennox is quite idiomatic too but perhaps lacking a bit of bite.
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
Last night was the second annual fundraiser for St. Michael’s ICU in memory of Elizabeth Krehm. The work for the evening was Beethoven’s 9th symphony; an ambitious project for what amounts to a pick up orchestra and chorus with minimal rehearsal time. The orchestra, most competently conducted by Evan Mitchell did not disappoint. Ensemble was excellent and the sound at times thrilling. The choir sang with great enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment but the sound was a little “churchy” where something richer might have been preferred, though maybe in not in the resonant church acoustic. In any event that’s a nit in the overall scheme of things. The quartet of soloists was very good indeed. The guys get the exposed bits and both bass Jeremy Bowes and tenor Adrian Kramer sang out clearly and powerfully with excellent diction. The ladies too; soprano Rachel Krehm and alto Erin Lawson, clearly projected their lines over and through the orchestra and chorus. All in all it was most impressive and enjoyable. It was also well attended so hopefully the goal of raising lots of money for St. Mike’s was achieved.
There were crazy choices available to concert goers in Toronto last nigt but enough chose Extensions of Us at the Extension Room (where else) to fill the joint. We were there to see a performance of piano, song and dance provided by the team of baritone turned tenor Adrian Kramer, soprano Lucia Cesaroni, dancers Jennifer Nichols (who also choreographed) and Justin De Bernardi with pianist and music director Maika’i Nash. The complex motivations for the show and the full line up of music is contained in my interview with Adrian and Lucia here.
November 17th sees the second annual Elizabeth Krehm memorial concert. It’s at Metropolitan United Church at 8pm and will feature Beethoven’s 9th sympony. The soloists will be Rachel Krehm, Erin Lawson, Adrian Kramer and Jeremy Bowes with the Canzona Chamber Players and a choir drawn from the Univox Choir and friends of the Krehm family. Evan Mitchell conducts. Admission is by tax receiptable donation to St. Michael’s Hospital where Elizabeth spent the last month of her life.
On 28th November, at Runnymede United Church a starry cast are donating their services for a charity performance of Bach’s Weinachtsoratorium. The beneficiaries will be the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee Education Program and Open Table Community Meal at Runnymede United Church. Johannes Debus will conduct the Bach Consort with soloists Monica Whicher, Vicki St. Pierre, Lawrence Wiliford, Colin Ainsworth and Russell Braun. Tickets are $50 in advance or $60 on the door.
I spoke earlier today with Lucia Cesaroni and Adrian Kramer (via Skype to the west coast where Lucia is appearing with Pacific Opera Victoria) about their upcoming “recital” Extensions of Us; Melody and Movement at the Extension Room on November 13th. It’s pretty much received wisdom that in Toronto the traditional art song recital is dying or maybe already dead. Certainly audiences have declined and the format seems unable to draw the younger audience, even of opera goers. I asked Lucia and Adrian about the motivation and inspiration for their show and also asked them to tell me a little more about what we are going to see and hear.
There a few things coming up in Toronto over the next week or two that might be worth a look.
Tomorrow at noon in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre Lauren Segal and Robert Gleadow accompanied by Sandra Horst are giving a free concert featuring Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs, de Falla’s Siete canciones populares Españolas, Ibert’s Chansons de Don Quichotte and Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel.