Saturday night saw the inaugural concert of the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers; the professional core of the much larger Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, at Trinity St. Paul’s with Jean-Sébastien Vallée conducting. There were four pieces on the programme; one very substantial and three shorter works. Things kicked off with a pleasant but essentially conventional arrangement by Dierdre Robinson of Steal Away. This was followed by an Arabic piece by composer-in-residence Shireen Abu-Khader called I Forgive where the choir was joined by soloist Raneem Barakat. This dealt with the short life and death of Egyptian LGBTQ activist Sarah Hegazi and was rather beautiful with intriguing Arab influences especially in the solo part. Then came Elgar’s Lux Aeterna arranged for choir by John Cameron.
Richard Strauss’ Elektra opened last night in a revised version of James Robinson’s 2007 production. The setting is fairly straightforward and a bit drab; vaguely Victorian, or perhaps Gormenghast, which seems about right for the hagridden House of Atreus. The stage is severely raked; back to front. and stage left to right. There are a couple of walls with entrances. There’s a strange little hut which, it turns out, forms a sort of trap door to the palace. Costumes are either shapeless (ladies) or vaguely reminiscent of evening wear (gentlemen). In this setting the action plays out convincingly enough with even difficult scenes like Elektra’s “death dance” well handled. The tricky scenes between Elektra and Klytämnestra and Elektra and Orest have the appropriate degree of tension and suspense.
James Robinson’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was designed for various American regional houses. It has been updated to 1914ish and been given “regionalization” tweaks in the towns in which it has appeared. The version that opened at the COC last night has been transported to small town Ontario, Niagara on the Lake perhaps, during a Fall Fair. There’s a bit of a problem. The iconography; Kitchener recruiting posters, steel helmets etc, clearly place the action during, rather than before, WW1. Maybe an American director just doesn’t get, or doesn’t care about the implications but Adina buying Nemorino out of the army for example would hardly have been seen as virtuous in the white feather infested British Empire of 1914. Fortunately most of the audience either didn’t get it or didn’t care either and frankly even persnickety me was prepared to let it go and just enjoy the rather silly romp that we got. After all, this is not the other opera about love potions!
UoT Opera’s fall production opened last night at the MacMillan theatre. It’s a double bill of Menotti works; The Telephone and The Medium. The former was cleverly updated by Michael Patrick Albano to reflect the age of the smartphone. It actually seems more relevant than ever and, slight as it is – an extended joke about a girl who won’t get off the phone long enough for her fiancé to propose – it was wryly amusing. The Medium I’m not so sure about. It’s a contrived piece written in the 1940’s but set a few years earlier about a fake medium and her deluded clients. It seems dated, not so much in the sense that seance attendance is pretty unusual today, but in the extent to which the characters are clichéd, cardboard cut outs even. The medium herself is bad enough but her sidekicks are her rather dippy, if kind, daughter and a boy who is mute (k’ching), Gypsy (k’ching) and “found wandering the streets” (k’ching, k’ching) “of Budapest” (k’ching, k’ching, k’ching). The first act in which the fake seancery goes on isn’t bad but then the medium gets a shock; a real or imagined cold hand on her throat (probably imagined as she is a raging alcoholic) and decides to go straight. The second act is pure bathos. I can see why it was a Broadway hit in the 1940s but I think tastes have moved on. And who the heck calls their daughter “Doodly”?
Calgary once again offers three main stage performances. The season opens with Delibes’ Lakmé. It’s a Tom Diamond production so probably not very Regie. Aline Kutan, seen as Queen of the Night in Toronto not so long ago, sings the title role with Andrea Hill as her sidekick Mallika. Lakmé’s paramour, the handsome British officer Frederic, is sung by Canadian opera’s current answer to Rudolph Valentino, Cam McPhail. Gordon Gerrard conducts. There are three performances on November 21st, 25th and 27th.
The 1983 Royal Opera house production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut is probably a pretty good representation of what that annoying person at your local opera company’s season launch means when they ask why they can’t have productions the way they used to be. Except it’s a rather exceptionally good example of what s/he means. Continue reading →
When the Royal Opera House mounted a new production of Britten’s Peter Grimes in 1975 with Canadian heldentenor Jon Vickers in the title role it was controversial. Whatever else one could say about it Vickers’ interpretation of Grimes was very different from that of Peter Pears for whom the part was written. Britten, it was said, hated it. I saw it that summer and was pretty impressed but then seventeen year olds impress easily. I certainly never expected that the young baritone singing Ned Keene would end up as a knight and Chancellor of the university where I began my degree a few weeks later. When the production was revived in 1981 there were some significant cast changes. Norman Bailey had replaced the retired Geraint Evans as Balstrode, Philip Gelling was in for Thomas Allen as Ned Keene and one John Tomlinson had taken over as Hobson the carter. The incomparable Heather Harper remained as Ellen Orford. It’s the revival cast that was recorded and broadcast by the BBC and which is available on DVD from Kultur in the Americas and Warner Video elsewhere.