A Northern Lights Dream is a new operetta by Michael Rose which premiered this last week at Toronto Operetta Theatre in a production directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin. A new operetta is a very rare thing. It;’s just not a form that contemporary composers seem to take to. There’s far too much spoken dialogue for an opera but the musical language; mostly tonal, often quite beautiful but not afraid to get more abrasive when appropriate, is much closer to that of contemporary opera than musical theatre. So an operetta it is.
So the latest Toronto organisation to announce a return to “live” is Toronto Operetta Theatre. There are three shows:
Oscar Straus’ A Waltz Dream will play December 29th, and 31st and January 2nd and 4th. The cast includes Andrea Nuñez, Scott Rumble, Elizabeth Beeler, Keith Klassen and Greg Finney. Derek Bates conducts.
Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld will be presented on February 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th. The cast includes Vania Chan, Tonatiuh Abrego, Ryan Downey and Rosalind McArthur with Derek Bates again conducting.
Finally, there’ll be the premiere of Michael Rose’s musical, A Northern Lights Dream. This will play May 5th, 6th and 7th with Natalya Gennadi, Karen Bojti, Ian Backstrom, Daniela Agostino and Stephanie O’Leary.in the cast. Suzy Smith conducts.
All three shows will play at the St. Lawrence Centre. At time of writing two shows in each run will be restricted to 50% capacity though I imagine that could change before May.
It’s not often that I’m completely baffled by an opera production but Frank Castorf’s 2018 production of Janáček’s From the House of the Dead (Z Mrtvého Domu) at the Bayerische Staatsoper comes pretty close. Since I really can’t explain what’s going on I’ll try to describe the various elements.
Canadian design/direction team Barbe & Doucet were engaged to create a new production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne in 2019. As they explain in the introductory feature The Making of the Magic, they had refused for 20 years to tackle this work because of what they saw as its inherent racism and sexism. Part of the interest therefore in watching this recording is to see whether and how they deal with those two issues.
I’m not, in the normal run of things, a huge fan of obscure bel canto operas. A very long list of them languish in obscurity for very good reasons. So, my hopes were not all that high when I stuck the 2015 Glyndebourne recording of Donizetti’s Poliuto in the player. I was wrong. This is probably the best martyrdom opera from Glyndebourne since Peter Sellars’ production of Theodora in 1998.
For quite some time I have wondered whether it’s possible to reinterpret Puccini’s Tosca or whether the specificity as to time and place in the libretto makes it effectively impossible? Indeed I had never even seen it tried. All this despite the many and obvious anachronisms in the libretto. All the Toscas I had seen were clearly set in Rome in that one week in 1800 (or at least the implausible version of it that’s contained in the libretto)! Phillip Himmelmann’s production for the 2017 Baden-Baden Easter Festival breaks the mould in giving it a contemporary, or perhaps near future, setting.
Lynn Isnar – wearing one of the dresses she wore yesterday
Calixa Lavallée’s main, perhaps only, claim to fame is that he wrote the music for O Canada! He also wrote an operetta, The Widow. Yesterday I saw it at Toronto Operetta Theatre in a production by Guillermo Silva-Marin. It’s pretty silly. The plot turns on a scheming widow who pretends to drown herself while most of the rest of the characters pretend either to be someone else, or to be married to someone else, or both. Still, it’s fast paced and quite funny and the various sillinesses work out more or less logically. The music is pleasant and well crafted but not strikingly original. I don’t think I actually recall a single tune. So, a worthwhile enough piece but hardly an undiscovered masterpiece.
The production, in variations on concert wear for the most part, was quite kinetic with lots of rushing about and some dance elements. There are probably more entrances and exits than a Brian Rix farce (and for much the same reasons) so that helps. Performances were pretty good. Julie Nesrallah struck the right note as the somewhat overripe Spanish widow Donna Paquita de something-something-something. She sang well and her knowing, almost wink-at-the-audience, approach was just shy of over the top. It made a good anchor. The vocal star was Lynn Isnar as Nanine. It’s classic operetta soubrette territory and her bright tone, easy top and controlled coloratura were just right. She has a nice sense of timing too. Her aria which opened the second act was the vocal highlight of the afternoon. The rest of the cast was made up of TOT regulars and young singers. Everyone sang well and the acting was also good. The young lovers, of both flavours, were appropriately decorative and there was a bumbling ineffectual aristo for Greg Finney to play. Michael Rose accompanied perfectly competently at the piano. So, basically, all operetta boxes ticked.
All in all, a pleasant enough way to spend a really gloomy November Sunday afternoon.
By an odd coincidence two season announcement pressers hit my in box today; Toronto Operetta Theatre and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Toronto Operetta Theatre have four shows:
The Waltz Rivals (November 6th at 3pm) is a Léhar and Kálmán greatest hits show featuring Lucia Cesaroni, Adrian Kramer, Holly Chaplin, Stefan Fehr and Greg Finney with Michael Rose at the piano.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance runs from December 27th to January 8th, 2017. Colin Ainsworth sings Frederic, Vania Chan is Mabel and Curtis Sullivan is the Major General. Derek Bate conducts and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.
Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, runs on April 26th, 28th, 29th and 30th, 2017. Peter Tiefenbach leads the orchestra and the cast includes Jennifer Taverner, Anna Macdonald, Michael Nyby and Stefan Fehr.
Finally there’s an Offenbach tribute concert on June 4th 2017.
All performances are at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
Continuing my struggle with Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia I got hold of the Blu-ray recording of Fiona Shaw’s 2015 Glyndebourne production. I’m beginning, I think, to see my way to understanding the problems inherent in the libretto and some of the strategies that can be used to overcome them. The more minor problem is Junius and the odd scene early in Act 2 where he seems to be inciting the Romans to revolt while acting as a general in Tarquinius’ army while, also, apparently, been in some sense complicit in the rape. So we have a two faced power hungry schemer who is oblivious to the consequences of his mischief making; whether rape or rabble rousing (a sort of Roman Boris Johnson). Most productions ignore this aspect of things and probably rightly.
David Hockney and John Cox’s production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress first saw the light of day at Glyndebourne in 1975 and there’s a video of it from back then. It’s been revived umpteen times since, all with Cox directing rather than an overawed revival director. It was done again in 2010, with Vladimir Jurowski conducting, recorded and issued on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s fascinating.