Off I went to the Four Seasons Centre to see Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer perform some Schubert. Sadly Sam was indisposed so what we got was a hastily, but very well, constructed program featuring some of the other singers in the Ensemble Studio.
Things kicked off with the increasingly impressive Anne-Sophie Neher in an accomplished rendering of Mozart’s “show off” piece Exsultate jubilate, in which she showed very decent control in the rather fiendish runs. She was back later with “The Presentation of the Rose” from Der Rosenkavalier which sounded suitably Straussian and sufficiently girlish at the same time. Nicely done. She made a third appearance with one of Adèles’s arias from Le comte Ory. This didn’t quite do it for me but it was fun to hear Stéphane playing around with the very Rossiniesque accompaniment.
The COC 2019/20 season was revealed last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I liked the set up this time. A brief introduction from Alexander Neef, an overture and then a well scripted narrative, read by William Webster, describing the works in turn within the theme of “Once Upon A Time”, with a performance of one number from each opera. And so, what do we get:
Puccini – Turandot – September 28th to October 27th 2019 – 9 performances.
This is the Robert Wilson production from Madrid. Tamara Wilson and Marjorie Owens share the title role with Sergey Skorokhodov and Kamen Chanev as Calaf and Joyce El-Khoury/Vanessa Vasquez as Liu. Carlo Rizzi conducts. I’m not a huge fan of Wilson’s elegant but static productions but I could see it working for Turandot. I’m told the usual Alfano completion will be used.
Stefano Poda’s production of Turandot (he is also responsible for the sets, costumes and lighting) for Teatro Regio Torino, recorded in early 2018, is one of the most visually effective productions of this (or perhaps any opera) that I’ve seen. I don’t know whether it makes “sense” (but I’m also not sure that any Turandot does) and, if it does, I doubt one would be able to unpack it in a single viewing because there’s a lot going on (but see comment at the end).
Most opera singers come to the profession through fairly well defined pathways; music degree, post graduate degree or conservatory training, young artists program, and so on. Occasionally one comes across someone with a very different background. The English (well Scouse) mezzo Jennifer Johnston read law and practiced at the bar before becoming a professional singer. Burkhard Fritz studied medicine before committing to singing. Yesterday Mexican-American tenor Joshua Guerrero, in town to sing the Duke of Mantua, used his lunchtime recital in the RBA to tell us his story in words and music.
The catalogue is full of La Bohèmes from regional houses sung by serviceable casts. The version recorded at the Teatro Regio Torino in 2016 is another. My reason for wanting to look at it is because the production was directed by Àlex Ollé of La Fura dels Baus and I hoped it would prove as insightful as Stefan Herheim’s Oslo production. It doesn’t really. He gives the piece a fairly gritty modern setting but I don’t think it speaks to our modern insecurities the way Herheim does. Rather it plays pretty much as a gritty 19th century setting, which is, admittedly, vastly preferable to Zeffischenk excess or ne0-Broadway tweeness.
Six years ago a bunch of unknowns calling themselves “Against the Grain Theatre” put on Joel Ivany’s English language, updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème in the back room of the Tranzac club. I was there. I reviewed it on my LiveJournal because it would be another six months before I started this blog. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Tranzac has been tarted up quite a bit since La Bohème 1.0, though even by 2011 it had become a lot smarter than when the Nomads hung out there and the wall featured a photo of Sorbie with the McCormick cup. Lets face it anywhere would be more sedate without Neil (RIP mate). Oh yeah, and the original AtG crowd have become quite respectable, even famous perhaps. The singers are all Equity members and get paid properly. There are sets and props that weren’t borrowed from Topher’s mum. Topher and Joel have done the conducting and directing thing for major companies in real opera houses. And I’ve been writing this stuff most every day for six years.
As is their wont the COC run of Tosca is double cast, at least as far as the principals go, and last night was the second performance for the alternate cast. Keri Alkema sang Tosca, Kamen Chakev was Cavaradossi and Craig Colclough played Scarpia. Sometimes the cast change makes a big difference, for better or worse, in the show. This time I really didn’t feel that was the case. This felt very much like the show I saw on opening night with minor differences.
Maybe Alkema’s Tosca is a bit “girlier” than Pieczonka but it’s very fine and Vissi d’arte brought the house down. If you alternated Colclough and Marquardt as Scarpia I’m not sure I’d notice. The biggest difference (and it’s still a fine one) is Chakev. He has the Italianate sound I rather missed in Puente though I think he saved most of it for the last act. In any event it made for a very fine Act 3 duet; probably the highlight of the night. So, bottom line, whichever cast one chooses to see it’s a good show.