Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s La Bohème recorded at the Royal Opera House in 2020 is, at first glance, a highly conventional “traditional” La Bohème. There’s no subtext. The story unfolds strictly in line with the libretto. And yet there’s something going on that raises it above the level of the typical canary fanciers’ La Bohème. Ultimately I think it’s a combination of avoiding sentimentality or glitz or glamour and really focussing on the characters and the relationships between them. It seems that the revival direction team of Julia Burbach and Simon Iorio and the cast have really worked on this.
I don’t spend a lot of time listening to disks of opera arias. I’s music I much prefer live and in context but right now a dose of good old fashioned verismo tenoring is very welcome! Piotr Beczala’s new CD Vincerò absolutely delivers it. There’s a reason this guy (normally) spends his time commuting between Vienna, Zurich, Salzburg and New York with the odd side trip to Bayreuth. He’s the real deal. There’s power to burn allied to control and proper ringing high notes. His diction is excellent too. There are no unnecessary histrionics, just top class delivery.
March is looking a bit thin right now. Both UoT Opera and the Glenn Gould School have shows though. From the 12th to the 15th in the MacMilan Theatre (7.30pm, Sunday 2.30pm) the university is doing Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park in a production by Tim Albery. I’m not familiar with this work but generally I’ve been very impressed with Dove’s vocal music. Casting etc is here. On the 18th and 20th the GGS is putting on Ravel’s L’heure espagnole and Puccini’s Suor Angelica which is certainly an unusual pairing. The double bill plays at Koerner Hall at 7.30pm. Casting and creative team details are here. UoT also have a show on the 27th at 5pm in Walter Hall called Parlami d’Amore. In non university gigs, Tapestry Songbook X is at the Ernest Balmer Studio on the 20th at 8pm.
In free events there are a couple of noon hour concerts in the RBA. On the 17th the Ensemble Studio have a March Break “Opera for All Ages” concert and on the 31st transgender soprano Brianna Sinclair is appearing. And of course there’s Opera Pub in its usual time and place on the 5th.
Back to the Tranzac last night for the first Toronto performance of Against the Grain’s national tour of the Joel Ivany transladaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème which started it all back in 2011. The Tranzac has changed a lot and so, of course, has Against the Grain. The room is way smarter, they brought in a proper piano to replace the one that Topher plonked the first performance out on (and which memorably accompanied Jonathan MacArthur’s rather startling Hitler a few years later). And not in any way to knock that first cast it’s a sign of AtG’s rising stature that this time they are fielding a cast that would not be out of place in most regional houses in Canada.
My quest to find a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that has anything insightful to say about the piece continues. This time it’s the 2018 production from Glyndebourne directed by Annilese Miskimmon. I was interested to see how a female director would treat the obvious problems with the piece. Miskimmon’s solution is to shift the setting to early 1950s Nagasaki and to treat Butterfly as one of many real and fake war brides. Apparently there was a thriving fake war bride business at the time. The obvious problem of a Nagasaki setting is just ignored.
September starts the slow ramp up to the new season. The first thing in my calendar is Mysterious Barricades on September 14th from 1pm to 2pm in Walter Hall. This is a series of coast to coast, dawn to dusk concerts in aid of Suicide Awareness. Russell Braun, Monica Whicher and Nathalie Paulin are all involved. It’s free but ticketed. Check the link for details.
Last night at the COC there was a special performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. The cast was made up, for the most part, of current and past Ensemble Studio members and tickets had been made available free to a variety of community groups. It was billed as “Opera for Toronto”. There had also been a small number of tickets available on line on a first come basis and, by the looks of things , a fair number of comps for the cast.
Afarin Mansouri giving an introductory talk in Farsi – Credit: Gaetz Photography
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.