Offenbach’s La Périchole is one of his less often performed works and I think I can see why. It really isn’t as good as La Belle Hélène or Orphée aux Enfers but it has its moment and in the completely mad, over the top, utterly French treatment it got at the Opéra Comique in 2022 it’s really quite enjoyable.
La Vie Parisienne isn’t my favourite work by Offenbach by a long shot. The plot is absurd and the music, while not without wit (for example Bobinet;’s entrance in Act 5 is signalled by the Commendatore’s theme from Don Giovanni) and invention, mostly sounds like stuff one has heard before. I was intrigued though by a recent production in Paris that used an attempt to reconstruct the score as Offenbach and his librettists Meilhac and Halévy might have wished it in1866. As it happened a combination of censorship and the inability/reluctance of the cast (singing actors rather than opera singers) to tackle the more challenging music led to cuts throughout the rehearsal process and the virtual evisceration of acts 4 and 5. Now scholars at that most interesting organisation the Palazetto Bru Zane have gone back to the autograph materials used in that first run to try and reconstruct a “complete” version.
This year’s fall offering from UoT Opera is three short comic operas presented at the MacMillan Theatre in productions by Michael Patrick Albano. The first is Paul Hindemith’s Hin und Züruck; a twelve minute musical joke which manages to send up a lot of operatic conventions in a very short time. It’s a musical and dramatic palindrome. A man discovers his wife has a lover and shoots her. The paramedics arrive and attempt to revive her. In this staging this includes a giant syringe and no prizes for guessing where that goes. The remorseful husband shoots himself. An angel (Ben Done) appears and explains that the usual laws of physics don’t apply in opera and the entire plot and score is replayed backwards. It was played effectively deadpan by Cassandra Amorim and Lyndon Ladeur while Jordana Goddard, as the elderly deaf aunt, sat through the whole thing entirely oblivious. Good fun.
Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at the St. Lawrence Centre last night. Guillermo Silva-Marin gives it a pretty conventional treatment with minimal scenery, “Greek” costumes and no big surprises. It’s sung in English which has pros and cons for while the dialogue is intelligible enough the comprehensibility of the sung part is a bit variable.
The 2021 recording of Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann from the Staatsoper Hamburg is fairly straightforward but it’s visually interesting and musically excellent. I don’t think Daniele Finzi Pascas’ production has a “concept” as such. It’s still about three imaginary women who make up Hoffmann’s dream woman and he still ultimately rejects even her in favour of Art. Each of the five acts is given as different and distinctive look and feel though the use of mirrors and aerial doubles is a recurrent theme. It’s worth noting up front that Olga Peretyatko sings all four ladies.
The COC’s latest on-line offering is now available on-line. It’s called Voices of Mountains and the video is just shy of an hour long. Only about half of that is music though. The rest is introductions, artist statements and a 10 minute piece about the Land Acknowledgement installation created for the lobby of the Four Season Centre by Rebecca Cuddy and Julie McIsaac. It looks very interesting but, of course, one can’t visit it.
2021 was another year of parts. Pretty much no live indoor performances before September then a few chances to get to the theatre and now, well who knows? So what stood out for me in 2021? Here’s a round up by category.
Not much of course but there were some good shows, though opera didn’t really figure. The Home Project from Native Earth and Soulpepper was a thought provoking look at the the idea of “home”. MixTape at Crow’s Theatre explored the variegated nature of relationships through the medium of the once ubiquitous mix tape. And on a more conventional note there was a rearranged at short notice recital at Koerner hall that showcased the extremely talented Davóne Tines. Continue reading →
So the latest Toronto organisation to announce a return to “live” is Toronto Operetta Theatre. There are three shows:
Oscar Straus’ A Waltz Dream will play December 29th, and 31st and January 2nd and 4th. The cast includes Andrea Nuñez, Scott Rumble, Elizabeth Beeler, Keith Klassen and Greg Finney. Derek Bates conducts.
Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld will be presented on February 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th. The cast includes Vania Chan, Tonatiuh Abrego, Ryan Downey and Rosalind McArthur with Derek Bates again conducting.
Finally, there’ll be the premiere of Michael Rose’s musical, A Northern Lights Dream. This will play May 5th, 6th and 7th with Natalya Gennadi, Karen Bojti, Ian Backstrom, Daniela Agostino and Stephanie O’Leary.in the cast. Suzy Smith conducts.
All three shows will play at the St. Lawrence Centre. At time of writing two shows in each run will be restricted to 50% capacity though I imagine that could change before May.
I guess many opera goers in the English speaking world will have at least a passing acquaintance with Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle but I suspect fewer will have seen Offenbach’s take on Perreault’s rather grim tale. It will probably come as no great surprise that Offenbach’s Barbe-bleue is a somewhat tongue in cheek version of the story of the notorious serial killer.
The Salzburg Festival rarely does operetta but in 2019 they decided to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Offenbach’s birth with a new production of Orphée aux enfers by Barrie Kosky. With Kosky and comedy one sort of knows what to expect but there’s always something very original. Here, in order to get the (German) dialogue as crisp as possible he takes it away from the singers and gives it to a new character; John Styx, played by actor Max Hopp, who not only speaks all the dialogue in an amazingly wide range of voices but also produces all the sound effects. The only other character who speaks is Anne Sofie von Otter as L’Opinion publique and even she is doubled by Hopp. Not that the singers have nothing to do during the dialogues. They pantomime their words, often in quite an exaggerated fashion and to great effect.