Tag Archives: Opera

Falling into the arts. It’s that time again.

Not only does the fall bring TIFF, cooler weather, and reading under a cozy throw, but our opera and orchestra subscriptions begin. Although I’d been to the Peter Grimes rehearsal a week ago, last evening was the first of our opera series with the opening of Puccini’s La Boheme.

Latin Quarter scene from La Boheme. COC.

It was a new production by director John Caird and was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. As he writes in his notes, not all that much happens in the opera, but the juxtaposition of some bald humour and intense sorrow was intoxicating.

There are two casts for this opera, and we heard Italian soprano Grazia Doronzio as Mimi and Canadian Joyce El-Khoury as Musetta, both making their COC debuts. Both captured the essence of their characters, Mimi suffering and stumbling, Musetta flirting and vivacious.

The music is familiar and, apart from some issues with sound balance between the orchestra and the voices and (possibly) a couple of late entries, luscious.

We’ll also be at the opening of Peter Grimes on Saturday which promises to be quite different: music by Britten, a tragic story with little respite, and a more avant-garde design.  It was a scheduling fluke that ended us up attending two opening nights, and you don’t always get the best performances, but it’s also nice to see it all come together but still be (a little) on the edge of your seat, knowing that the singers and musicians have been working towards just this moment.

Ahhh….

On a side note, it was a crazy day yesterday in terms of logistics of getting to dinner to meet my date and then to the Four Seasons Centre. It required me to change my clothes away from home and I didn’t make the best choice of footwear. I stumbled on the steps down to the subway, shocking some poor 14-year-old boy who put out his hands to help me. Luckily, by some stroke of genius, I had thrown a pair of emergency flats into my bag: you know those little shoes you can buy at the drugstore to get you home from an event when your feet hurt from your high-heeled shoes and (maybe) you’ve had too much to drink. I took off my too-lose wedge sandals and switched into those babies in the subway station and I was good to go! Popped the sandals back on when I got to the opera, and then back in to flats to head home. The sandals are going into my giveaway bag as they now have negative energy and I will be too nervous to wear them ever again. The flats will find a permanent place in my bag.

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Ciao, sweeties!

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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