Who knew Frosch could be funny?

Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus at the St. Lawrence Centre last night.  It’s a will crafted production; basically traditional as to costumes and sets and with a generous amount of more topical jokes added to the dialogue (both dialogue and musical numbers are performed in English).  The one thing about it that is a bit different and much to be praised is that the jailer Frosch, played by director Bill Silva-Marin, is actually funny and sings pretty well for a guy who doesn’t sing a lot anymore.  The schtick is that he is obsessed with singing and insists on singing lessons from Alfred (or here Alfredo) when he appears in the jail in place of Eisenstein.  The singing lessons are kind of a parody with plenty of jokes about vocal production and a fair bit of physical humour.  All this is actually set up from the beginning by making Alfred a rather larger role than usual with a fair amount of interpolated snatches of Verdi and Puccini.  It may not sound that radical but it does liven up the third act which all too often can be pretty dull and anti-climactic.

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SOLT and Classical Pursuits

soltSummer Opera Lyric Theatre has announced its 2018 season.  There are three shows.  Massenet’s Manon plays July 27th (8pm) and 29th (2pm) and August 1st (2pm) and 4th (8pm).  Handel’s Semele plays July 28th (8pm) and August 1st (8pm), 3rd (8pm) and 4th (2pm).  Mozart’s Così fan tutte plays July 28th (2pm) and 31st (8pm) and August 2nd (8pm) and 5th (2pm).  Guillermo Silva-Marin directs the young artists of SOLT and all performances are at the Robert Gill Theatre, University of Toronto, 214 College St. (entrance on St. George).  Subscription packages for $60 are available. Single tickets are $28, ($22 for students and seniors).  For subscription and single tickets call 416-366-7723 (Mondays to Fridays from 12 pm to 6 pm), at the door 2 hours prior to performances, or online at www.ticketmaster.ca.

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Beautiful Helen

Offenbach’s La belle Hélène, given in English translation, opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre last night.  The production by Guillermo Silva-Marin is an uncomplicated and fast paced romp.  There a few cuts.  The scene with Orestes and his girls for instance is gone and the dialogue, as is the norm, is gently updated with a Facebook reference and an allusion to a certain orange real estate magnate.

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Victor Davies’ Rita Joe

Victor Davies’ The Ecstasy of Rita Joe opened last night in a production by Guillermo Silva-Marin at the Jane Mallett Theatre.  It’s based on the play by George Ryga that caused a stir when it opened in Vancouver in 1967.  The play was described as indirect and allusive with no clear narrative thread by the critics back then and was praised perhaps more for tackling the subject than for its intrinsic merits which were far from universally appreciated.  Interestingly, as is so often the case in Canada, although rarely performed it has attained “classic” status.  One word Victor Davies uses to describe the play is “expressionistic” but curiously rather than taking that as a jumping off point for the music (as Strauss and Berg did) he decides it’s an inappropriate idiom for “the lyric approach needed for the melody to unfold”.  Why one needs “melody to unfold” in a disturbing tale of a young native woman’s descent into a hell of sexual abuse, alcohol, drugs, prison and, ultimately, her murder and why that melody should be couched in 1940s jazz/swing terms wasn’t obvious to me.

Marion Newman and Michelle Lafferty

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Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Candide

I’ve been familiar with Voltaire’s satirical novella since I was a teenager and have reread it many times but I’d not seen the Bernstein operetta/musical version until last night when it opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre with, I think, the original Lillian Hellman 1956 book though a later reduced orchestration (I’m guessing on that).  I was very curious because it’s not obvious how one might turn Voltaire’s sequence of drily narrated, utterly absurd scenes into drama.  The answer turns out to be to insert the author as a spoken word narrator linking scenes and play it straight though the two mile high cliffs and sheep get lost in the wash.  Fair enough.  It works pretty well.  The whole thing is reasonably true to the spirit of the original though in places, especially in the musical number, it’s definitely tailored to a 1950s Broadway sensibility.

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Elizabeth Beeler with company and Tonatiuh Abrego as Candide

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The Widow

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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.

The Chocolate Soldier

Toronto Operetta Theatre’s current production is Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier in the English version.  It’s based on Shaw’s Arms and the Man but, as is usually the case with musical adaptations of Shaw, it’s rather less acerbic than the original.  In fact, it comes over as a somewhat farcical love story with a few gentle pot shots at the military and militarism.  There are some good comic lines and the music is tuneful and well crafted.

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