Tag Archives: theatre

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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First foray to Stratford this season.

Last Thursday, I headed to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival with a couple of friends to see Richard III.  I had heard some months ago that Seana McKenna had asked to play Richard, that he was a character that she had wanted to inhabit for a long time.  So it was with great anticipation that we purchased tickets.  In the intervening weeks, some failry negative reviews came out in the press that had me second guessing myself.

Well, the play completely blew me out of the water.  It was in the Tom Patterson Theatre that has a long thrust stage.  It’s a smallish space with no poor seats.  McKenna was brilliant.  Garbed all in black, sporting a hump and wig with long stringy hair over a bald spot, she limped on stage, seething with hatred and mockery of her rivals. It only took a few phrases to dismiss the slight incongruity of her voice which did not sound as if she was lowering it. The play is noteworthy in that Richard shares a lot of commentary with the audience in asides, often adding to, or completely contradicting, information he gives to his court.

A little excerpt:

It was lovely, if overcast, day.  We left Toronto around 10 am, had a picnic lunch beside the Avon River before the play at 2:00.  Afterwards, we visited the theatre shop and then enjoyed an excellent dinner at Down the Street before heading home.

I’m looking forward to returning to Stratford later this summer to see a few more productions including Jesus Christ Superstar and The Grapes of Wrath.  McKenna is also doing a one-woman play called Shakespeare’s Will which I hope to catch.

Seven Quick Takes Friday

7_quick_takes

  1. The boys are both away from home this week and it’s been nice, in a wierd kind of way. Alex is up at the cottage witih his girlfriend and they’re due back sometime today. Michael is working at the Toronto District School Board’s Music by the Lake camp for elementary school students. He’s a junior staff assistant, asked to work sort of last-minute-ish as they needed a trombone player. From the few texts we’ve received, it sounds like he’s having a good time. We’ll pick him up tomorrow around noon and then he needs to study for his exams next week.
  2. Saw the absolutely thrilling production of Alice in Wonderland last night at the National Ballet of Canada. I’m not a big ballet afficianado…I’ve only ever been to The Nutcracker (multiple times, from childhood) but this got such raves that I thought it was worth checking out.  I’m a convert! Originally a production of the Royal Ballet, it’s full of surprises with stunning sets, props, and effects, and the score by Joby Talbot is terrific.
    Red_queen

    <Image courtesy of National Ballet>

  3. Saw an old friend from high school on Wednesday evening. It’s been years, yet we fell into conversation as if it had been a few days. Isn’t it wonderful how that happens?  I’ll see her again tonight as we’re both attending Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, courtesy of Opera By Request, in which a mutual friend (also from high school) is singing.
  4. The annual Luminato Festival starts this weekend and we’ve actually lined up tickets to some events this year! On our calendar:
    – One Thousand and One Nights, a new theatrical production of these Arabic folktales. It’s actually being staged in two three-hour segments, but we’ll see one of them.
    – We tried to get tickets to hear Lebanese author and creator of the script for 1001 Nights Hanan al-Shayk, but they were sold out. I’m hoping maybe they’ll repeat the event. 
    – Next weekend, we’ll see “a raw and shocking re-imagination of Racine’s classic play [Andromache] from provocative Scottish director Graham McLaren.” Z studied the play in school, but I am completely ignorant, so I should probably do a little reading about it … 
    – I’m keen to take in the free installation by architect Philip Beesley called Sargasso. It was at the Vienna Biennale. There’s a little promo video about it at the link that’s well worth a watch.
    – Next Friday is a free outdoor concert in David Pecaut square featuring kd lang. Yay! 
    Can you see why I love Toronto?! 
  5. Next Thursday, I’m heading to Stratford with two gal pals to see Seana McKenna in Richard III. As Richard III. The play did NOT get great reviews, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.
    Mckenna

    <Image courtesy Stratford Shakespeare Festival>

  6.  Our garden is actually looking somewhat acceptable this summer. There is still a whole section to tidy up, but I’ve started putting mulch down after I pull weeds, and the grass seed I picked up at Costco on the spur of the moment is doing really well in filling in some of the patchiness of the lawn. Being on a corner lot, everuthing is basically exposed, so it’s been kind of embarrassing to have this wild and wooly thing happening on our property.  
  7. Just finished a terrific book, Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. It’s the story of a young Irish woman in the 50s who emigrates to Brooklyn and finds herself stuck between her old and new lives.  It’s a compelling portrait of that time, relations between Irish, Italians, Jews, and African-Americans in this bustling city of immigrants. As a genealogist, it gave me some insight into what it must have been like for single women to come to the “new world” for a better life, without family, having to make new friends and find their way on their own (or, as in this case, with help from her parish priest.)  I highly recommend this quick read.
  8. Bonus: I am desperately trying to break my habit of putting two spaces after a period. There has been so much mockery of old-school people like me who were taught that in the last century, and it’s terribly ingrained. But I’m trying.

Visit Jennifer over at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!