The seven finalists for the COC’s Centre Stage have been announced. Centre Stage is a singing competition and gals that serves as a sort of final audition for the following year’s Ensemble Studio, a contest for cash prizes and a beano for the rich. This year it’s being held on November 3rd when, unfortunately, I shall be overseas. So, no report here. The finalists are baritone Samuel Chan (Calgary); soprano Maria Lacey (St. John’s, N.L.); soprano Myriam Leblanc (Saint-Lazare, Que.); soprano Andrea Lett (Prince Albert, Sask.); mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh(Vancouver); soprano Andrea Núñez (Markham, Ont.); and baritone Geoffrey Schellenberg (Vancouver).
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).
Hidden away up an alleyway behind the COC’s ioffice and rehearsal complex is a very beautiful garden. I say hidden because I lived less than 200m away for 10 years before I discovered it. Last night it made a rather magical setting for Against the Grain Theatre’s new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. The piece is set in a gloomy castle and surrounding forest in Brittany. The high, ivy covered walls and ironwork of the performance space, enhanced by Camelia Koo’s fractured flagstones forming patterns on the grass, evoked the essentially sunless world of Maeterlinck’s poem. Costuming in the style of the period’s composition meshed nicely with the aesthetic of the roughly contemporary space.
It was quite a party at the MacMillan Theatre this afternoon. The MacMillan opened fifty years ago with a production of Britten’s Albert Herring and this afternoon marked the final performance of a new production to celebrate the occasion. Directed by Joel Ivany, it was a straightforward but lively and very well characterised interpretation that brought out many of the very specific and quirky elements of the local culture while taking it mysteriously up market in some ways. (*). Coupled with very good singing by any standard, and this was a student production, it made for a most enjoyable afternoon.