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.
One of the interesting things about Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann is that there is no definitive edition so creative teams have a lot of flexibility in how they cut and combine material. Director Tobias Kratzer and conductor Carlo Rizzi created a really interesting take for their production at Dutch National Opera in 2018. It’s a very modern, very dark interpretation that while it keeps Offenbach’s music (though not interpolations like Scintille diamante) and the words are all from (some version of) the libretto the storyline varies a lot from what we are used to while keeping intact the central psychological fact that Hoffmann is incapable of relating to real women.
Offenbach’s La belle Hélène, given in English translation, opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre last night. The production by Guillermo Silva-Marin is an uncomplicated and fast paced romp. There a few cuts. The scene with Orestes and his girls for instance is gone and the dialogue, as is the norm, is gently updated with a Facebook reference and an allusion to a certain orange real estate magnate.
French operetta is notoriously difficult to get right. The genre treacherously combines a kind of humour that doesn’t always translate well in time or language, difficult music to sing and a need to be as “naughty” as the original seemed without being crass. It’s a huge credit to Michael Patrick Albano and his student cast that they pretty much pulled off all of that last night with their new production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. One could nit pick details (I shall) but overall it was a well paced show with some good singing and acting and it was genuinely funny. Unsurprisingly the audience lapped it up. Continue reading →
Today at 2.30pm Voicebox:Opera in Concert are performing Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. It’s Bellini’s take on Bandello rather than Shakespeare, not a lot happens and the orchestral music is ho hum so a semistaged version with piano isn’t a bad bet if the singing is good. Juliet is the up and coming Caitlin Wood. Romeo, on whom much depends, is Anita Krause. It’s at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
UoT Faculty of Music have just announced their 2016/17 season. It’s the usual broad range of performances so I’ll highlight the opera and vocal music contributions.
UoT Opera is offering four shows. The fall main production is Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld with new English dialogue and stage direction by Michael Patrick Albano. Choreography i by Anna Theodosakis and Russell Braun makes his podium debut. There are four performances November 24th to 27th. Spring sees a Handel rarity; Imeneo. Tim Albery directs and Daniel Taylor is in charge of the music. This one runs March 16th to 19th. Both shows are in the MacMillan Theatre.
Last year’s student composed opera; The Machine Stops
Giancarlo del Monaco’s production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann recorded in Bilbao in 2006 isn’t nearly as weird as the interviews on the first disk might lead one to expect. It has its moments but in many ways is more “by the book” than the Laurent Pelly production I looked at last week. The interviews talk of a “Sartrian” Hoffmann and a Freudian approach to Antonia. Ok so Hoffmann is portrayed as a hunchback and he’s fairly damaged but he’s basically your standard drunk poet fixated on a woman or women he can’t have. I can’t actually see this dude nailing his hand to a nightclub table with a knife or drowning his cat to prove a point.
Laurent Pelly’s 2013 production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Liceu is one of those productions that’s a bit hard to take in at first go. Part of it is the performing edition used (Michael Kay and Jean-Christophe Keck) which seems to have added a lot of dialogue compared to any version I’ve seen before and includes Hoffmann killing Giulietta in Act 3. This produces a constant sense of “where they heck are we in the piece”. It doesn’t help that the DVD package contains no explanatory material at all. There are no interviews on the disks and the documentation is sub-basic.
Despite a thin to non-existent plot and music that sounds like a remix of all the other Offenbach operettas, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, performed by largely French forces and recorded at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2004 is a highly enjoyable romp. The plot centres on the susceptibility of the Grand-Duchess to fall rather hard for younger men. This makes it a perfect vehicle for Felicity Lott who rather seems to specialise in such roles; whether Strauss’ Marschallin or La Belle Hélène. She’s brilliant. She sings gorgeously except where she doesn’t want to and her comic timing is impeccable. She’s well backed up by Yann Beuron as the young soldier Fritz who she promotes from private to général-en-chef without swaying his affections for his sweetheart Wanda sung by the irrepressible and cute Sandrine Piau. The slapstick element is provided by François Le Roux, as Le Général Boum, Franck Leguérinet as Le Baron Puck and Eric Huchet as Le Prince Paul who are set on getting the Grand-Duchess to marry Paul even if it means murdering Fritz. They get lots of up tempo numbers that sound as if they are singing a Korean restaurant menu.