Opera houses and public transit

The Four Seasons Centre. The sharp eyed will be able to see the TTC logo by the entrance.

A few years ago I stopped being a car owner for the first time in twenty five years or so. I walk, I cycle, I use public transit and, for the rare occasions I need one, I’m a member of a carshare service. I figured out the other day that I can probably walk to 90% of the opera performances in Toronto without undue difficulty. If I don’t want to walk my main opera destination has a subway station under the building (and as a result has some ingenious engineering to isolate it acoustically from the subway line and the street outside which is the main route to three teaching hospital ERs and sometimes seems like siren central). It wasn’t much different when I lived in London; Covent Garden and the Coliseum are a hop, skip and a jump from the Tube. Likewise, as I recall, the opera houses in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle are all easily transit accessible and doesn’t Paris have a Metro station called Opéra?  So, I was taken aback when I checked out the Michigan Opera Theater schedule to find directions from umpteen freeways but no mention of how the carless might access their house.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I’ve worked often enough in Detroit and the associated sprawl to know what it’s like but it does seem an odd set of priorities for a city; an opera house but no transit.

How to write an opera review for a Toronto newspaper

The following quick guide to how to write an opera review for one of Toronto’s (inexplicably) prestigious newspapers is based on extensive analysis of the same.  Given that those papers seem hell bent on sacking anybody with actual knowledge of the arts it is felt that such a guide might prove useful to, say, the Gardening Correspondent, when he or she finds that they have been assigned to cover an opera. Continue reading

In defence of Robert Lepage

I am getting well pissed off with people taking ill informed shots at Robert Lepage based solely on his Ring cycle at the Metropolitan Opera. For three decades Lepage has been one of the most brilliant minds in the dramatic arts. His oeuvre spans straight theatre, film, circus, opera, multimedia performance art and stuff I don’t even know how to categorize. He acts, he directs, he designs. He also takes risks. In the nature of risk taking, sometimes they don’t come off and, frankly, I don’t think his Ring works. That said I think it shows the height (or depth) of poor taste and ignorance to launch ad hominem attacks on Lepage based on that one production and ignore all the things that have succeeded. The list is long; Elsinore and The Seven Streams of the River Ota would top my list but there have also been award winning opera productions such as Erwartung, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and The Nightingale and other Short Tales along with a dozen movies, a Cirque du Soleil show that has run for years and an astonishing outdoor multi-media exhibition celebrating the history of Québec. There’s lots more if one cares to look. Even Shakespeare had his off days. Would anybody go on and on and on about how crap Shakespeare was based solely on seeing A Comedy of Errors?

Foaming at the mouth

I am developing a pathological hatred of the people who do the video direction for opera DVDs. The sole exception I can think of is François Roussillon. Brian Large, Humphrey Burton, Kriss Rumanis, Gary Halvorson and the rest I could happily roast over a slow fire while poking them with a sharp stick. I do not want to see the tenor’s dental work or the soprano’s tonsils. I certainly don’t want a head shot of someone who isn’t even singing filling the whole screen. I do not watch opera on a 1950s television with a ten inch screen. Who does? FFS let us poor viewers see what is going on on the stage. It’s quite likely that the stage director does all that stuff deliberately(1) and maybe we might be able to understand the production if we could only see the bloody thing. This rant brought to you courtesy of trying to decode David Alden’s Ariodante while looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

This is what I want to see much/most of the time:

With tons going on all around and in the background this isn’t helpful:

And as for this…

Words fail me.

fn1. OK this may not be true of Zeffirelli or similar Met favourites. If the alternative is a furniture catalogue I’ll take the close ups.