Dido and Belinda is the first show from Opera Q and Cor Unum Ensemble. It’s a reimagining of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas from Belinda’s perspective and with a decidedly gender fluid twist. Nathum Tate’s libretto is extended by spoken passages which give Belinda’s take on the story and make it very much a story of the two sisters. The back story is Dido’s flight from Tyre rather than Aeneas’ flight from Troy. The future is about Belinda as Queen of Carthage not Aeneas’ “promised Empire”. It works pretty well though I have reservations about interpolating text in the final scene. I think Belinda’s accession as Dido’s successor could have been conveyed without interrupting some of the most sublime music ever composed. That’s a minor quibble though in a story concept that works.
I think I may have been missing out a bit with the Toronto Consort. I’ve been to the odd show that’s been identifiable as music theatre such as their excellent Play of Daniel but until I sat down with David Fallis and Laura Pudwell a few weeks ago I didn’t really have a clear sense of what they are about. Last night’s concert, Renaissance Splendours, at Trinity St. Paul’s, gave me a pretty good idea of what I’ve been missing and how it fits into my musical universe.
UoT’s show Porgi amor consisted of a series of staged and costumed scenes from Mozart operas with linking commentary, all designed by Michael Patrick Albano. The operas ranged from La finta giardiniera to La clemenza di Tito with all the major bases in between covered off. The emphasis was on ensemble numbers and providing opportunities for as many singers as possible so there was a cast of thousands. It was well structured, quite slick and there was some very decent singing. One expects a reasonably high standard from UoT Opera and we got it. As I usually do with this kind of show I’ll refrain from a play-by-play and just talk about a few highlights and do some “talent spotting”.
As has become the norm, UoT Opera opened their concert season with a free “preview” of their spring show in the RBA at noon today. It was a series of Mozart scenes which were given semi-staged today but will, in the fullness of time, form a staged and costumed performance. It’s always an interesting event because it’s so early in the academic year. It’s the first chance to try and talent spot and see how things develop over the rest of the cycle. As such, it’s often a bit rough but today really wasn’t. It was a surprisingly high quality across the board effort which augurs well. That said, it was all ensembles and nobody was asked to pull out vocal fireworks so maybe not the sternest test imaginable which makes star picking that bit trickier.
Anna Theodosakis’ production of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia for MYOpera updates the piece from proto-historical Rome to somewhere in the mid 20th century which is fine but doesn’t seem, of itself, to add any layers of meaning to the narrative. There are neat visual touches in a simple but effective set design and the nature of and relationships between the characters are deftly drawn. The rape scene manages to be disturbing without being gratuitously graphic. It’s skilful theatre. But is that enough?
This spring’s main opera production from UoT Opera is Britten’s Paul Bunyan. It is a really peculiar work. The libretto is by WH Auden and is, well, weird. It mixes up the (apparently) profound with the absurd and the downright silly. There’s a Swedish lumberjack fish slapping dance, talking cats and dogs, trees that aspire to be product and a philosophical accountant (*). There are also countless pronouncements from the off stage voice of Bunyan along the lines of the closing:
“Where the night becomes the day, Where the dream becomes the fact, I am the Eternal guest, I am Way, I am Act“
Walt Whitman meets Dr. Seuss meets a lot of drugs? One of those 1970s English public schoolboy prog rock bands?
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured the assembled students of UoT Opera in a staged programme called The Art of the Prima Donna. It was a sequence of mostly ensemble numbers drawn from the core 19th century rep. Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Donizetti, Bellini, Bizet and Rossini all featured with works made famous by the great divas of the era’ Patti, Pasta, Malibran etc. Linking narrative, which skipped over who slept with Rossini, was provided by Michael Albano who directed the staging with Anna Theodosakis. Sandra Horst headed up the musical side and accompanied with help from Sue Black, Kate Carver and Ivan Jovanovic. Continue reading →
The Fatal Gaze is, in a way, a follow up to last year’s UoT Opera show Last Days in that it consists of a staged performance of pieces of vocal music to a theme. This time the theme is the dangers of seeing or being seen and there’s quite a lot to unpack. The music all lies on an arc from Monteverdi to Gluck and the stories are all taken from classical mythology or thee Bible with some commentary from more modern figures.
June is still a bit quiet but I have had word of a few more performances around the city. On the 13th Lindsay Promane, Daevyd Pepper and pianist Natasha Fransblow; all seen recently at either Metro Youth Opera or various UoT events, have a recital at Islington United Church. Featured composers include Ravel, Tosti and Saint-Saens. It’s at 7.30pm and it’s Pay What You Can.
On the 17th and 18th at 8pm Array Music are presenting How it Storms. It’s an opera for gamelan ensemble by Allen Cole. The singers will be Salzburg and Zürich bound Claire de Sévigné, Danielle MacMillan (where’s she been this year?), Chris Mayell and Keith O’Brien. This one is at The Array Space, 155 Walnut Ave and admission is $15.00.
Then on the 21st there’s a concert performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at St Simon-The-Apostle Anglican Church. It’s at 7pm and it’s Pay What You Can.
Finally, you can catch the broadcast of the Royal Opera’s recent production of Weill’s Mahagonny at the Bloor Hot Docs on the 28th at noon.
The Play of Daniel (Danielis ludus) is a 12th or 13th century Latin liturgical play from Beauvais in nothern France. It appears in the liturgy for January 1st, The Feast of the Circumcision, and appears to have been an attempt to channel the traditional post Christmas disorder into more acceptable channels. It was probably performed by the sub deacons of the Cathedral; young men in minor orders. Alex and David Fallis have run with this setting and tried to create a piece that would evoke the same sort of reactions from a 21st century audience as the original did for those who saw it in Beauvais. That’s a huge ask but, to my mind, they succeeded admirably.