I’m rarely disappointed by a Pierre Audi production and his Tristan und Isolde for Teatro dell’opera di Roma, recorded in 2016, was far from that. It’s a bit of a slow burn but then so, really, is the work itself. It’s starkly simple. The sets contain few elements and no fuss. Costuming is almost drab but the direction of the singers is compelling and it builds to a brilliant staging of the Liebestod with Isolde silhouetted, motionless in a kind of frame and absolutely nothing happening which, paradoxically, is riveting.
We went to see the opening performance of FAWN Chamber Creative’s new show Pandora at Geary Lane last night. There’s a lot to like but it’s a dense and in some ways confusing show so I’d suggest that if you plan to go you do your homework. So, don’t expect anything closely related to any of the many versions of the Greek legend. That’s just a jumping off point to explain how both evil/malice and hope came into the world. A very brief prologue in which a character discovers Pandora’s box (or jar or whatever) after centuries and releases Hope into the world sets up three scenes which each, in their own way, reflect the duality of Good/Evil, Despair/Hope or however you want to characterise it. I strongly suggest reading the Director’s Notes and the Libretto before the show to understand what the three scenes are and where the transitions are. There are no surtitles (money!) and not many of us can read a printed libretto in the dark. Also, cast members change character sometimes without change of costume. It’s helpful to know when that’s happening! While there’s only one librettist, David James Brock, there are three composers but stylistic differences between them aren’t so obvious that one realises there has been a transition.
So May Day greetings and hello again. And here are some things you might care to see this month during your eight hours for “what you will”. It’s a bit belated for reasons previously announced but it’s here and I’m back.
Tonight at Lula Lounge at 7pm Tongue in Cheek productions have Democracy in Action. Several noted singers (Krisztina Szabo, Julie Nesrallah, Natalya Gennadi, Teiya Kasahara, Asitha Tennekoon, Romulo Delgado, Alexander Hajek and Stephen Hegedus) will perform pieces based on audience voting.
The Canadian Art Song Project branched out last night with a ticketed concert at The Extension Room. The opening number was the latest CASP commission; The Living Spectacle by Erik Ross to words by Baudelaire translated by Roy Campbell. Like a lot of modern song the three movements were all quite piano forward and hard on the singer. The second text, The Evil Monk, certainly brought out the darker and more dramatic side of Ambur Braid’s voice while the third, The Death of Artists, was cruelly high even for someone with Ambur’s coloratura chops. She coped very well and Steven Philcox’ rendering of the piano part was suitably virtuosic.
The Glenn Gould School’s production of Offenbach’s 1864 operetta La belle Hélène opened at Koerner Hall last night. Overall, it’s an enjoyable show with some strong performances though there are aspects of it that, in my view, rather missed the mark. Certainly it made me realise just what a difficult piece to really bring off really well La belle Hélène is. There are some very difficult singing roles and yet they need to sound effortless. It needs the exquisite comic timing of a bedroom farce. There’s also a difficult to define quality; very French and with a sexiness of the “I know it when I see it” variety. I think it was a shortage of this last that was largely the problem last night.
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.
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.
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.