Tag Archives: John Malkovich

Review: The Giacomo Variations

(c) Natalie Bauer for The Giacomo Variations
(c) Natalie Bauer for The Giacomo Variations

I was really looking forward to this event, in Toronto for four performances this weekend. It is subtitled “a chamber opera play” and stars John Malkovich and a small cast of european singers/actors. The music is Mozart, a selection of arias and other songs pulled from his opera repertoire, and the singers are accompanied by the Orchester Vienna Akademie, directed by Martin Haselböck.

The good: the concept. Casanova looks back over his life and philosophizes on various topics while remembering his conquests. Incorporating the music of Mozart, with minor changes to the ensembles and arias (and some of the text) to suit the story had thrilling possibilities. The innovative sets, three giant hooped dresses which can roll around on stage, serve as backdrops, convenient spaces for costume changes and props, were interesting.

The bad: I would have left at intermission if I didn’t feel that it could only get better. Except it didn’t.

My main issues:

  1. There is no story arc, or at least it didn’t play out as I hoped it was imagined to. We never really care about any of the characters, except perhaps a maid who escapes rape because Casanova cannot perform. In trying to combine opera and theatre, the writer seemed to have forgotten that in both those arts, story is rather important.
  2. The music was mediocre. Some of the voices were nice, but the Elgin Theatre is not a place to hear opera. Malkovich was micced, but he didn’t sing much. (And when he did, one wished he wasn’t miked.) Volume was very uneven with some arias virtually inaudible in parts. The orchestra was uninspiring. Apparently they use period instruments which perhaps explains the rather lengthy time it took them to tune at the beginning of each act. At a couple of points (I think), four members of the orchestra stood to take the chorus parts and were virtually inaudible, although micced. There were many times when the singers and orchestra were out of sync, making it seem like a rehearsal rather than a show that has run in Prague, New York, and Montreal prior to its run in Toronto. Frankly, it hurts to think the production paid to fly this orchestra across the ocean to North America, which has a wealth of musical talent from which to draw.
  3. The set looked like it had been designed for travel. The rear screen at the back of the stage was not used for anything other than a blue light that didn’t change throughout the production. Our (expensive) seats were at the edge of the hall, just behind the cross-wise aisle, and a good part of stage right was blocked by speakers and what appeared to be a monitor.
  4. The lead actress had a significant Russian accent and a tight, smiley face with very narrow emotional range. Malkovich used his usual rather flat delivery which didn’t bother me as much as it did my date. His forays into singing during a couple of the ensemble pieces, and a single solo near the end had me imagining of a cross between William Shatner and Sting.
  5. The subtitles were atrociously produced. No excuse here. They were just bad. Mistranslated. Timing out. No titles for extended periods of time. Bleh.

I wanted to like it. My date came back from a business trip expressly to attend. But it just didn’t cut it. As we left the theatre, we reflected on the riches Toronto has to offer in the music, opera, and theatre scene and that, if nothing else, this production reminded us gently that sometimes the grass is greenest right in your own back yard.

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Seven Quick Takes Friday

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. Out of the mouths of my man-babies (shared this week on my Facebook timeline):

    While standing by the toaster, trying to get the other son to finish the older bread, says to the other “It’s really *godfather* to eat the heel of the loaf.”

    My young tubist was off for a gig at the Conservatory <this week>. Dressed in a black suit, white shirt, polished shoes, and hipster specs, his comment: “I’ll fit right in with the rush hour crowd. Except for the tuba on my back.”

  2. My little problem has been fixed,
    My little problem has been fixed…

    Thanks to a Facebook friend, I was encouraged to visit the Apple Store regarding the smashed back of my iPhone. Sure enough, the repair was $29+tax. If it’d been the front (screen) it would have been another story. I learned the lesson that a phone is not a particularly good thing to use as a bookmark, particularly if you leave it on a counter above a ceramic tile floor.

  3. Jawbone Up band in mint-green

    I did a little browsing in the Apple Store while I was waiting (the 10 minutes!) for my phone to be repaired. I came home with a Jawbone Up band, a little bracelet that you wear on your wrist to monitor your physical activity and sleep patterns. The accompanying app also lets you easily track your diet (using barcodes or manual search and a huge database of stored foods.) Even though it was a rainy day yesterday and I spent a lot of it indoors, I managed to log over 7200 steps. (My goal is 10,000 per day). You can set the band to vibrate to remind you to get active every so many minutes, and also to wake you up in the morning. I am very excited about this (as I am about so many things these days). I’m hoping my spouse might consider wearing one as well. Mine is a beautiful turquoise (although they call it mint-green). The band is compatible with iOS and Android.

  4. I gave up on Linden MacIntyre’s Why Men Lie. I really enjoyed his previous novel The Bishop’s Man, but I just couldn’t get in to this one. It’s on my Kobo, so I can come back to it later if I want.
  5. I picked up VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good by Mark Bittman when I was at Winners of all places. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I’m heading that way, both in terms of improving my diet as well as shepherding the resources of the planet more effectively. Essentially, he proposes that you eat a vegan diet before 6 pm and then at will after that.
  6. Michael and I went to the TSO last night and heard Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer as featured soloists. Bell is astounding, kind of my Perlman for the new millenium or something. He opened the second half with Ravel’s Tzigane, rapsodie de concert for Violin and Orchestra which begins with an extended solo before the orchestra joins in. I would pay the price of my ticket to hear that piece again. Meyer was featured in his composition, the Canadian premiere of the Concerto for Violin and Double Bass. I was underwhelmed by the composition, but that may just be my lack of comfort with modern repertoire. Or maybe it just needs another listen. The playing by both Bell and Meyer was magnificent. The concert opener (Copland’s Appalachian Spring) and closer (Respighi’s Pini di Roma) were absolute barnbusters, the kind of music that just opens up your heart.
  7. Tonight: The Giacomo Variations at the Elgin Theatre, featuring John Malkovich as Casanova. My date is arriving at 5pm, flying in from a week in Vancouver, so I hope his flight is on time. We’ll probably grab dinner at The Paramount.

And now my Up band is vibrating to tell me that I’ve been idle for too long! Gotta run. Consider subscribing to my blog by email (or follow me in WordPress) – use the box on the right if you’re reading this in a browser.

For more Seven Quick Takes Friday, visit Jennifer at Conversion Diary.

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