Unfamiliarity Breeds Content

BBB-Opera1This month the Canadian Opera Company embarks on a season of greatest hits with operas (and even three productions of operas) that it has presented before. Over-familiarity, however, is not a danger, with many renowned singers making their COC debuts.

The COC opens the season with a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff directed by Canadian Robert Carsen, already acclaimed at the Royal Opera Covent Garden in 2012 and at the Metropolitan Opera in 2013 (which broadcast it live in December that year). Canadian baritone Gerald Finley returns to the COC for the first time in 20 years to sing the title role. The all-Canadian cast includes Simone Osborne as Nannetta, Frédéric Antoun as her lover Fenton, Russell Braun as Ford, Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Mistress Quickly and Lauren Segal as Meg Page. Johannes Debus conducts. Falstaff has seven performances from October 3 to November 1.

Running in repertory with Falstaff will be Puccini’s ever-popular Madama Butterfly in the timeless production created by Brian Macdonald and Susan Benson for the COC in 1990. The production plays from October 10 to 31. The 12-performance run conducted by Patrick Lange will necessitate the use of two casts of principals. Sopranos Patricia Racette and Kelly Kaduce, both making their COC debuts, will alternate in the role of Cio-Cio San. Tenors Stefano Secco and Andrea Carè, also both making their COC debuts, will alternate as Pinkerton. As Sharpless, Dwayne Croft, making his COC debut, will alternate with Canadian Gregory Dahl, while Elizabeth DeShong returns to sing Suzuki in all performances. The singers’ scheduled appearances are listed on the COC’s Butterfly page.

Czech Gem by Request: For operagoers seeking more unusual fare, one of Toronto’s smaller companies, Opera by Request, has come up with a real gem – the Canadian premiere of Antonín Dvořák’s Jakobín in the composer’s final version of 1898. Czech opera used to be a staple at the COC under Richard Bradshaw, but the company has not staged a Czech opera since Dvořák’s Rusalka in the 2008/09 season. That production was the fulfillment of a vow that Bradshaw had made to COC co-founder Nicholas Goldschmidt to stage the beloved work, but, sadly, both had passed away by the time the production premiered.

Jakobín is the seventh of Dvořák’s 12 operas. Rusalka is the one opera by Dvořák to join the repertoire outside of the Czech Republic, but according to John Holland, an expert in Czech opera and co-founder of the Canadian Institute for Czech Music, many Czechs regard Jakobín not only as Dvořák’s greatest opera but also as the most Czech of all his operas. The reason for this is that the opera is set in a Czech village and is permeated with the influence of Czech folksong and dance. In that way Jakobín follows in the tradition of Bedřich Smetana’s ever-popular The Bartered Bride (1866), the first Czech opera to enter the international repertoire.

BBB-Opera2The story of Jakobín, however, is quite different from that of Smetana’s opera. The piece is set in a small Bohemian village in 1794. The date is significant because the action shows how the events of the French Revolution, then ongoing, have repercussions in faraway Bohemia. We meet the elderly Count Vilém of Harasov, who is about to hand over his power and property to his wicked nephew, Adolf. The nephew has convinced the count that his son, Bohuš, who has been living in Paris and is sympathetic to progressive social policies, is in actuality a Jacobin, the name given to supporters of the French Revolution. The fact that Bohuš has a French wife (Julie) makes him even more suspect. The result is that when Bohuš returns home, the count disinherits him. How the falsehoods about Bohuš and Julie are discovered and how the count is reconciled with them form the main thrust of the action.

In the subplot, the count’s self-important burgrave (or châtelain) Filip pays unwanted attentions to Terinka, the daughter of the village choirmaster Benda. Terinka is in love with the gamekeeper Jiří, who helps her fend off the nasty Filip. In a review of a revival of Jakobín at the Buxton Festival this summer, critic Mark Pullinger noted, “Part of the opera’s charm involves a semi-autobiographical portrait; there are parallels between Jiří, the young gamekeeper, and Dvořák himself. Benda, the kindly schoolmaster, could easily have been modelled on Antonín Liehmann, who taught Dvořák the rudiments of music and also – perhaps not without coincidence – had a daughter named Terinka, with whom Dvořák sang in the choir.” Critic George Hall, commenting on the same production, noted that the strengths of the story lie in “its emphasis on a community holding on to its values at a time of wider social upheaval, and a second commentary on music’s ability to bind people together.”

The fact that music binds people together is evident not just in the opera but in how the Czech community has come together in supporting this production of Jakobín. Opera by Request is a small company where the singers choose the repertoire for performances in concert with piano accompaniment. Three of the singers in Jakobín had previously performed in OBR’s production of Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa last year. They wanted to do another Czech opera, perhaps another Janáček work. John Holland suggested that they do something more unusual since, as it so happens, 2014 is designated as “The Year of Czech Music.” His choice was Jakobín, an opera never before staged in Canada and staged only once before in North America. Holland points out that Jakobín contains a wonderfully patriotic duet in Act 2, very appropriate to the émigré Czech community, about how Czech music has sustained them as they have wandered in foreign lands.

From the beginning Holland’s desire was to have the performance be bigger than the presenter’s usual opera in concert. The Czech Consulate, Czech Ministry of Culture and members of the Czech community lent their support to the project. Holland received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to expand the accompaniment from a piano to a chamber orchestra, thus giving William Shookhoff, OBR’s indefatigable accompanist, the chance to conduct. The singers will be off-book and interact under the stage direction of Holland. The production is billed as “semi-staged” since there will be no set or costumes, but there will be both an adult and a children’s chorus as the score requires. And, while the opera will be sung in Czech, there will be English surtitles.

The cast includes baritone Andrew Tees as the Count, baritone Michael Robert-Broder as Bohuš, soprano Michele Cusson as Julie, bass-baritone Domenico Sanfilippo as Adolf, baritone John Holland as Filip, tenor Lenard Whiting as Benda, soprano Danielle Dudycha as Terinka and tenor Ryan Harper as Jiří. The single performance will take place October 24 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. One can phone 647-969-3498 for more information or visit the website of the Canadian Institute for Czech Music at canczechmusic.ca.

Other rarities: While Jakobín, as a Canadian premiere, may be the principal rarity of October, there are performances of other rarities on hand to enliven the month. Opera by Request is also presenting a concert performance of Hamlet (1868) by Ambroise Thomas in Toronto on October 10 at the College St. United Church after performances in Montreal and Point-Claire, Quebec, earlier in the month. Simon Chaussee is the Prince of Denmark, Gerda Findeisen is Ophelia, Ioanna Touliatu is Gertrude, Norman Brown is Claudius, Danny LeClerc is Laërtes, Gianmarco Segato is Horatio and Simon Chalifoux is Polonius. William Shookhoff serves as pianist and music director.

Last, but certainly not least, Opera Atelier presents its first full-scale opera by Handel in the form of his Alcina from 1735. The opera runs from October 23 to November 1 and as usual is directed by Marshall Pynkoski and choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunnesse-Zingg, with David Fallis conducting the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. The story from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso (1532) concerns the Circe-like sorceress Alcina who lives in a magical world composed of the souls of her past lovers. The question is whether the Christian knight Ruggiero can resist her enchantments to set these souls free.

The cast is made up of singers familiar from previous OA productions. Meghan Lindsay, who sang Agathe in OA’s Der Freischütz, returns to sing the title role. Allyson McHardy sings the trousers role of Ruggiero and Wallis Giunta is Ruggiero’s beloved Bradamante. They are joined by Mireille Asselin, Krešimir Špicer and Olivier Laquerre.

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.


Stellar Casting Offsets Same Old

 

For the 2014/15 opera season in Southern Ontario there will be a gap in offerings for fully-staged operas that many will feel keenly. This is the first season since 1980 in which there will be no Opera Hamilton. The company ceased operations early this year after its fall 2013 production of Verdi’s Falstaff. Management at Opera Hamilton used to say that the company functioned as the New York City Opera in relation to the COC’s Met, since OH was proud to showcase Canadian singers as often as possible. That comparison now has an ironic ring since the New York City Opera itself ceased operations in October last year. In March, Leonard Turnevicius, longtime reporter on the music scene for The Hamilton Spectator, wrote me to say, “It certainly looks as though fully staged, professional opera in Hamilton has come to an end.”

Not helping to alleviate the pall cast by the failure of Opera Hamilton was the announcement by the Canadian Opera Company that it would present only six productions in 2014/15 instead of its usual seven. The last time the COC presented only six productions was in the 2000/01 season when there was no separate COC Ensemble Studio production. (The last time the COC Ensemble Studio had its own production was in the 2007/08 season.)

Besides this, unlike last season when the COC presented three company premieres, this year not only has the COC staged all six operas before, but three of the productions are already familiar to COC audiences. What will make the new season exciting is the chance to see many well-known singers making their COC debuts.

features - on operaFinley in Falstaff: The season opener is a new production of Verdi’s final opera Falstaff by Robert Carsen running October 3 to November 1. This is a co-production with Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala, the Metropolitan Opera and De Nederlandse Opera. Many will have already seen what the production looks like from the The Met: Live broadcast of it in December 2013. Carsen has moved the setting forward from Elizabethan times to 1950s England.

For many fans the main draw for Falstaff besides Carsen’s production will be the chance to see Canadian baritone Gerald Finley in the title role, back at the COC for the first time in 20 years. Canadians in the rest of the cast include Simone Osborne as Nannetta, Frédéric Antoun as her lover Fenton, Russell Braun as Ford, Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Mistress Quickly and Lauren Segal as Meg Page. Johannes Debus conducts. 

Racette in Butterfly: Running in repertory with Falstaff will be Puccini’s ever-popular Madama Butterfly in the timeless production created by Brian Macdonald and Susan Benson for the COC in 1990. The production running from October 10 to 31 has proved so successful one only wishes the COC had asked the duo to created more opera productions. The production will mark the COC debuts of several singers. Patricia Racette and Kelly Kaduce will alternate in the role of Cio-Cio San and Stefano Secco and Andrea Carè will alternate as Pinkterton. Dwayne Croft, making his COC debut, will alternate with Canadian Gregory Dahl as Sharpless, and Elizabeth DeShong returns to the COC as Suzuki. Patrick Lange conducts.

Braun in Giovanni: The winter season begins with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Bolshoi Theatre and Teatro Real Madrid. The stage direction is by the Russian Dmitri Tcherniakov, though Tcherniakov has not stuck to merely directing Mozart’s opera. He has also given it a new story. Donna Anna is the daughter of the “Commander” but so is Zerlina. Donna Elvira is Donna Anna’s cousin and Don Giovanni is her husband. Leporello is said to be a relative who lives with them. The production had its world premiere in 2009 at Aix and that performance was filmed and is available on DVD from BelAir Classiques for those who want to test how they like Tcherniakov’s concept.

Russell Braun will sing Don Giovanni with Kyle Ketelsen as Leporello. They will be joined by Jennifer Holloway, Jane Archibald and Michael Schade. German early music specialist Michael Hofstetter will conduct. The opera runs from January 24 to February 21.

Goerke in Walküre: Running in repertory with the Mozart is a return of Atom Egoyan’s production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, first seen on its own in 2004 and last seen as part of the full Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2006. The cast is full of singers making their COC debuts, most notably renowned soprano Christine Goerke making her role debut as Brünnhilde. Also appearing with the COC for the first time are Heidi Melton as Sieglinde, Johan Reuter as Wotan, Dmitry Ivaschenko as Hunding and Janina Baechle as Fricka. Clifton Forbis returns in the role of Siegmund and Johannes Debus conducts. The opera runs from January 31 to February 22. 

Hopkins in Barber: The spring season opens with a new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, last seen here in 2008. This is a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, Opéra National de Bordeaux and Opera Australia. The stage director is the Catalonian Joan Font and the production is credited to a group called Els Comediants. If these names seem familiar it is because they were responsible for the colourful rat-filled production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola seen here in 2011. Again there will be many performers new to the COC, such as Joshua Hopkins as Figaro, Alek Shrader as Almaviva and Serena Malfi and Cecelia Hall alternating as Rosina. Rory Macdonald conducts and the production runs April 17 to May 22.

Relyea in Lepage revival: Running in repertory with the Rossini is the third revival of Robert Lepage’s double bill of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung. The surreal pairing was first seen in 1993 and last in 2002. The production marked the first time the COC was invited to the Edinburgh Festival and later to BAM in New York. The production, like François Girard’s Oedipus Rex in 1997, came from a time when the COC created Canadian productions that the rest of the world demanded to see rather than from simply partnering with well-known companies and seeing the results after the bigger companies had staged them.  

For this revival, John Relyea and Ekaterina Gubanova will sing Bluebeard and Judith in the Bartók while Krisztina Szabó will take on the role of the anonymous Woman in Erwartung. Johannes Debus will conduct and the double bill will run from May 6 to 23.

Atelier Breaks New Ground: While last season both productions by Opera Atelier were revivals, this season both not only are new but break new ground for the company. Running from October 23 to November 1 is OA’s first-ever production of a full-length Handel opera, in this case his Alcina of 1735. The story, from Torquato Tasso’s baroque epic Gerusalemme Liberata (1581), concerns the Circe-like sorceress Alcina who lives in a magical world composed of the souls of her past lovers. The question is whether the Christian knight Ruggiero can resist her enchantments to set these souls free.

The cast is made up of singers familiar from previous OA productions. Meghan Lindsay, who sang Agathe in OA’s Der Freischütz, returns to sing Alcina, Allyson McHardy sings the trousers role of Ruggiero, and Wallis Giunta is Ruggiero’s beloved Bradamante. They are joined by Mireille Asselin (Morgana), Krešimir Špicer (Oronte) and Olivier Laquerre (Melisso).

OA’s spring production is Hector Berlioz’s 1859 version of Gluck’s Orpheus et Eurydice. Berlioz drew from both of Gluck’s earlier French and Italian versions of the opera to recast it in his own orchestration, scoring the role of Orpheus for a contralto. Mireille Lebel will sing Orpheus, OA favourite Peggy Kriha Dye returns as Eurydice and Meghan Lindsay will sing Amour. The production is significant both for Opera Atelier and for Tafelmusik since it will mark their furthest incursion to date into the 19th century. The opera runs April 9 to 18. As usual Marshall Pynkoski will be the director for both productions and Jeannette Lajeunnesse Zingg will choreograph the artists of the Atelier Ballet.

features - on opera2TOT In Earnest: For additional fully-staged productions Torontonians have only to turn to Toronto Operetta Theatre. Its season begins with the zarzuela La Gran Vía (1886) by Federico Chueca on November 2. The work is a celebration of the old neighbourhoods of Madrid that were about to be destroyed by the Haussmann-like creation of a boulevard in the city. The TOT’s end-of-year show is a return of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado running from December 27, 2014, to January 4, 2015. The season concludes in April with a revival of the TOT-commissioned operetta Earnest, The Importance of Being (2008) by Victor Davies and Eugene Benson, based on the famous comedy by Oscar Wilde. This will be a rare occasion where a new Canadian work receives a revival after only seven years. 

features - on opera3Centuries apart: Enriching the season are two fully-staged productions of music theatre from completely opposite ends of the time spectrum. The Toronto Consort has performed many operas in concert but from May 22 to 24 it will mount a fully-staged production of The Play of Daniel, an English version of Ludus Danielis, a sung medieval play from the 13th century that tells the biblical story of Daniel in the lions’ den. Kevin Skelton will sing the role of Daniel with musical direction by David Fallis and stage direction by Alex Fallis.

In contrast to this, Soundstreams will offer the Toronto premiere of The Whisper Opera (2013) by American composer David Lang from February 26 to March 1. The opera explores the tension between our private and online selves by using a libretto made up of search-engine responses to questions of association. Soprano Tony Arnold and New York’s International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) make their Canadian debuts in an opera so quiet that it can be experienced by just 60 people at a time.

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.

 

Summer Harvest

1909 OnOperaWe think of opera season ending with the end of May, but this is by no means the case this year. Three important opera productions take place in June and operatic events occur throughout Ontario in July and August.

First up June 3 to 8 is the world premiere of Airline Icarus by Brian Current to a libretto by Anton Piatigorsky. Icarus is one of the figures in Greek mythology whose story is an example of humanity’s overweening pride. His father Daedalus fashioned waxen wings for himself and his son to escape the labyrinth Daedalus designed. While Daedalus took the moderate path halfway between the sun and the sea, Icarus attempted to fly as high as he could; the sun melted his wings and he plunged into the sea.

In referencing the story, Piatigorsky means to “impart a mythic dimension to the mundane experience of contemporary air travel.” The action is set on board a plane bound for Cleveland and explores the inner thoughts of the passengers and crew on their journey. The cast includes Dawn Bailey, Vania Chan, Sean Clark, Alexander Dobson, Larissa Koniuk, David Roth, Zorana Sadiq, Geoffrey Sirett, Krisztina Szabó, Jennifer Taverner and Graham Thomson. The composer conducts and Tim Albery, best known for his staging of the COC’s Götterdämmerung, directs. The opera runs from June 3 to 8 at Daniels Spectrum. See soundstreams.ca for more information.

From June 12 to 15 is the Toronto premiere of another new opera, Shelter by Juliet Palmer to a libretto by Julie Salverson. A coproduction between Tapestry Opera and Edmonton Opera, Shelter had been scheduled to open last year in Toronto after its world premiere in Edmonton in November 2012. Of the opera, a depiction of a nuclear family in the Atomic Age, Salverson says, “I’ve always been attracted to catastrophic events. Joseph Campbell says to ‘follow your bliss,’ and while most people go after love or fulfillment, I’m drawn to tragedy and the fault lines in the psyche of a culture – the secrets that fester in families, leak quietly into communities and eventually, sometimes, explode. Such is the story of Shelter.” Toronto audiences will remember New Zealand-born Palmer as the composer of the a cappella sewing-machine opera Stitch in 2008 and the women’s boxing opera Voice-Box in 2010. Palmer’s music for Shelter is described as combining the influences of Brahms, big band, funk and the post-apocalyptic sounds of 1990s Japanese punk. The cast includes Christine Duncan, Teiya Kasahara, Andrea Ludwig, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray. Leslie Dala conducts and Keith Turnbull directs.

June gives us not only new operas but older operas presented in new ways. That is what the inventive company Against the Grain Theatre intends with its production of Debussy’s 1902 masterpiece Pelléas et Mélisande. Continuing its mission of performing opera in unconventional places – La Bohème in a pub, The Marriage of Figaro at the AGO – AtG plans to stage Pelléas outdoors in the Max Tanenbaum Courtyard Gardens of the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre at 227 Front St. E. on June 19, 21, 23 and 25. 

Sung in French with English surtitles, Pelléas et Mélisande features an outstanding Canadian cast comprising baritone Étienne Dupuis making his role debut as Pelléas, soprano Miriam Khalil as Mélisande, baritone Gregory Dahl as Golaud, bass Alain Coulombe as Arkel, mezzo-soprano Megan Latham as Geneviève and soprano Andrea Núñez as Yniold. Guest music director Julien LeBlanc provides piano accompaniment, and the same creative team that created AtG’s much lauded 2012 production of The Turn of the Screw is reunited with direction by Joel Ivany, set design by Camellia Koo and lighting design by Jason Hand. 

On June 15, the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener is presenting an opera marathon. First on the bill is the one-person opera Love Songs by Ana Sokolović sung by Kristin Hoff. Next is a series of contemporary opera excerpts from the Bicycle Opera Project (see below). And last is a triple bill of new Canadian operas presented by Essential Opera. Premiered just in April this year, the three are Etiquette by Monica Pearce, Regina by Elisha Denburg and Heather by Chris Thornborrow. Also at Open Ears on June 11 and 12 is the multimedia chamber opera Mirror for soprano and visual artist from Inter Arts Matrix and on June 12 L’Homme et le cielfrom Fawn Opera. 

July: Those with a taste for old operas done in period style should head over to the Westben Arts Festival in Campbellford, a town about midway between Toronto and Ottawa on the Trent-Severn Waterway. There from July 4 to 6, Toronto Masque Theatre will perform Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with the Toronto Masque Theatre Chamber Orchestra and Chorus and members of the Westben Festival Chorus under the direction of Larry Beckwith.

1909 OnOpera2Late July and early August: Summer Opera Lyric Theatre has been a favourite refuge for operagoers in Toronto. This year all of SOLT’s performances fall in August. First to open is The Magic Flute playing on August 1, 3, 6 and 9 with Nicole Bellamy as pianist and music director. Next is Madame Butterfly playing on August 2, 5, 7 and 9 with Narmina Afadiyeva as pianist and music director. And last is a rare chance to see Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa (1958) playing on August 2, 6, 8 and 10 with Raisa Nakhmanovich as pianist and music director. The operas are performed by singers who have joined SOLT to hone their skills and develop their careers. This year’s stellar faculty includes Derek Bate, Kevin Mallon, Marshall Pynkoski, Wayne Gooding, Kathy Domoney, Henry Ingram, Stuart Hamilton, Catherine Robbin, Diane Loeb and Guillermo Silva-Marin.

Farther afield in Haliburton there are performances of the Highlands Opera Studio run by Richard Margison and Valerie Kuinka. On August 13 and 15 HOS presents a double bill of two comic rarities, Donizetti’s Rita (1841) and William Walton’s The Bear (1967). On August 22, 24, 26 and 28 it presents Puccini’s Tosca. One reason Rita is obscure is that the Opéra Comique for whom he wrote it rejected it and plans for performances in Naples fell through. Rita finally received its posthumous premiere in 1860, ironically at the Opéra Comique. It was only in 2009 that a new critical edition of the score was published.

This summer marks the third anniversary of the innovative Bicycle Opera Project that aims to bring contemporary Canadian opera to communities across Ontario that might otherwise not have the opportunity to hear it. According to its website, “The project focuses on operatic repertoire that deals with contemporary issues relevant to all audiences.” The singers and musicians travel from place to place by bicycle along with two trailers full of props, costumes and instruments. In so doing BOP aims to demythologize old ideas of what opera and what opera singers are like.

Their itinerary for this summer includes a stop on June 15 at the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener; July 12 and 13 at the Westben Arts Festival; July 25 to 27 at Stratford Summer Music; August 7 and 8 at the Toronto Summer Music Festival; and stops in between in Kingston, Prince Edward County, Belleville, Hamilton, Bayfield, London, Brantford, Waterloo and Guelph.

BOP’s 2014 repertory features short operas A little rain must fall by Chris Thornborrow, Bianchi: A Five Minute Bicycle Opera by Tobin Stokes written especially for the company, (What rhymes with) Azimuth? by Ivan Barbotin and Rosa by James Rolfe as well as opera excerpts from The Brothers Grimm by Dean Burry, Airline Icarus by Brian Current (see above) and L’Homme et le ciel by Adam Scime. The company includes Liza Balkan, stage director; Wesley Shen, music director; Geoffrey Sirett, baritone; Chris Enns, tenor; Stephanie Tritchew, mezzo; and Larissa Koniuk, Artistic Director and soprano.

Have an enjoyable summer!

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.

From Nowhere to East of the Sun

1908-OperaThis May opera companies are presenting several works new to Toronto audiences.  One of the operas, East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon, is a world premiere, but the others are works from the early part of the 20th century making a very belated first appearance.

The first work of note is The Cousin from Nowhere by Eduard Künneke (1885-1953) receiving its Canadian premiere from May 1 to 4 by Toronto Operetta Theatre. The curious title is one of two English versions of the original German title Der Vetter aus Dingsda.  After the operetta’s great success first in Berlin in 1921, then Vienna, and then all over German-speaking Europe, it opened in London in 1923 under the title The Cousin from Nowhere.  In 2000 when the Ohio Light Opera revived it and later recorded it, the company used the title The Cousin from Batavia.  The problem is that the word “Dingsda” just can’t be translated compactly into English.  Just as we say “whatshisname” when we can’t think of a the name of a person, Germans say “Dingsda” when they can’t think of the name of a place. 

What is certain is that The Cousin from Nowhere is one of the most delightful works from the Silver Age of operetta.  You need only listen to the excerpts on iTunes from the recording with the Kölner Rundfunkorchester to understand why the operetta was such a big hit.  Try the operetta standard for tenor “Ich bin nur ein armer Wandergesell” or the operetta standard for soprano “Strahlender Mond” to have a sense of Künneke’s gentle romantic side.  Then try “Sieben Jahr lebt’ ich in Batavia” for an idea of his clever satirical side.

The action is set in a small castle in Holland.  Julia (Lucia Cesaroni), heir to the castle but who has not yet come of age, is chafing under the rule of her aunt (Elizabeth Beeler) and uncle (Michael Nyby) who are her guardians.  She still dreams of her beloved cousin Roderich de Weert, who has been away in the Dutch colony of Batavia (in what is now Indonesia) for seven years.  Although she has sworn to be true to him, her aunt and uncle say she can’t wait any longer for Roderich.  Her uncle wants her to marry his nephew and a family friend wants her to marry his son.  One evening a mysterious traveller (Christopher Mayell) turns up looking for a place to stay.

Eventually, Julia begins to wonder if this traveller may actually be Roderich who has returned quite changed from the time spent in the Far East.  The traveller, however, denies it.  The next day, Julia’s best friend Hannchen (Charlotte Knight) arrives with a man who tells her that he is Roderich de Weert.  Who is the real Roderich and who is the impostor?  And what about Julia’s vow now that she has fallen in love with the traveller?  Those are the mysteries that the operetta poses and quite skilfully sorts out.

In Europe there have been five new productions of Der Vetter aus Dingsda since 2012.  The TOT production will be the first new production in North America since the revival of the extremely popular Ohio Light Opera staging in 2002.  As someone who has seen this charming work twice before, I urge operetta-lovers and anyone who loves the kind of 1920s dance music made popular by Max Raabe and his Palastorchester definitely not to miss it.  With Cousin, Jurgen Petrenko makes his TOT conducting debut and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.

Bat-ta-clan postponed: In On Opera for April, I mentioned that from May 1 to 3 Opera 5 intended to present a pair of French operetta rarities in the form of Ba-ta-clan (1855) by Jacques Offenbach and L’Île du rêve (1898) by Reynaldo Hahn.  The performances were to inaugurate the new Alliance Française de Toronto Centre Culturel at 24 Spadina Road.  Unfortunately, the performance hall will not be ready in time, so Opera 5 has postponed the production until September.  Still on May 3 it will provide a preview of this unusual double bill at a party it is holding at Alliance Française at 8pm.  Teiya Kasahara and Adrian Kramer will sing accompanied by Maika’i Nash.

Bass Showcase: In its seventh and final opera of the 2013/14 season – and its last seven-opera season, for now – the COC is presenting Don Quichotte (1910) by Jules Massenet (1842-1912) for the first time.  The COC has staged only two of Massenet’s 28 extant operas – Manon in 1952 and Werther in 1981 and 1992.  Massenet wrote the opera with the great Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin in mind for the title role.  The work has since become a showcase role for a bass with Ferruccio Furlanetto, who will sing it in Toronto, as one of the opera’s premier proponents.  Quinn Kelsey, who won praise here in 2011 for his Rigoletto, will sing the aged knight’s trusty companion Sancho Panza and Anita Rachvelishvili will sing the role of Dulcinée, the lusty wench whom the knight imagines to be a fair damsel.  The colourfully whimsical production, set among gigantic books, comes from Seattle Opera and will be directed by Linda Brovsky, who directed it there.  COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts.

East of The Sun: May concludes with the world premiere of East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon, a new children’s opera commissioned by the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. Based on the Norwegian folktale, the 70-minute-long opera is composed by Norbert Palej to a libretto by K.T. Bryski and has public performances May 30 to June 1.  Palej, originally from Cracow, Poland, is currently an associate professor of composition at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music.  K.T. Bryski is a fantasy novelist living in Toronto, best known for her novel Hapax (2012).  

The folk tale was one of those collected by the Brothers Grimm of Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, who published their collections of Norwegian folk tales and fairy tales between 1841 and 1871.  English speakers will likely best know the story from its translation by Sir George Webbe Dasent who gave its title to his 1910 translation of tales by Asbjørnsen and Moe.  

The plot, a variation on Beauty and the Beast, concerns a young farm girl who saves her starving family by befriending a mysterious white bear, who promises to make her father rich if he gives him his daughter.  The girl knows the bear changes his form at night but it is too dark to see him.  One night she brings a candle and discovers that he is really a young prince condemned to take on animal form during the day.  Unfortunately, the girl’s lack of trust in him means he must now go to his wicked stepmother, the evil queen of the trolls who cursed him in the first place, and marry her daughter, a troll princess.  The young girl now must seek the palace of the queen of the trolls that lies “east of the sun and west of the moon” to rescue the prince.  CCOC artistic director Ann Cooper Gay will conduct a chamber orchestra and Joel Ivany, founder of Against the Grain Theatre, will direct.

 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.

365 Years In One Operatic Month

April has become the month in the year with the single highest concentration of opera presentations. The past few years Torontonians have been so spoiled that they have had examples from every period of opera available in April alone. And this April is no exception. What makes this April unusual is the unusual number of baroque operas and brand new works on offer.  Here, by year of first public performance, are this April’s offerings.

oa-persee1649: Giasone by Francesco Cavalli on April 4, 5 and 6. The Toronto Consort continues its successful series of concert productions of early operatic masterpieces with Giasone, which holds the record as the most popular opera of the 17th century. Of the 41 operas Cavalli (1602-76) wrote, 27 still survive. Written for the Carnival season in Venice, they are characterized by their irreverent take on classical subjects. Thus, this version of the story of Jason and Medea has a happy ending and is more concerned with Giasone’s lover Isifile’s attempts to woo him away from his wife Medea than it is with Medea’s vengeance on her husband. Laura Pudwell sings the title role with Vicki St. Pierre as Delfa, Kevin Skelton as Aegeus, Bud Roach as Demo and Consort members Michelle DeBoer as Medea, Katherine Hill as Isifile and John Pepper as Besso. Artistic Director David Fallis conducts a period orchestra including strings, recorders, theorbo, baroque harp, organ, harpsichord and viola da gamba.      

1682: Persée by Jean-Baptiste Lully from April 26 to May 3. Opera Atelier remounts Lully’s masterpiece for the second time. It was first seen in 2000, then again in 2004. Chris Enns, in his first haute-contre role sings Persée, Mireille Asselin is his beloved Andromède, Peggy Kriha Dye is Mérope, Olivier Laquerre sings both Céphée and Méduse, Carla Huhtanen is Cassiope and Vasil Garvanliev is Phinée. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Marshall Pynkoski directs. From May 23 to 25 the production travels to Versailles where it has not been staged since it inaugurated the Royal Opera House on May 16, 1770, during the wedding celebrations of the future King Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette.

1726: Alessandro by George Frideric Handel. On April 9, 10, 12 and 13, Isabel Bayrakdarian gives a recital with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra called “The Rival Queens” where she explores the rivalry between the two superstars of the age, Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni. Bayrakdarian will sing arias associated with the two sopranos from Handel’s Alessandro as well as arias from Giovanni Bononcini’s Astianatte (1727) and Johann Adolf Hasse’s Cajo Fabrizio (1732).

1745:  Hercules by George Frideric Handel from April 5 to 30. The COC’s first staging of Handel’s oratorio is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago directed by Peter Sellars. When Hercules first appeared, Handel was accused of writing an opera disguised as an oratorio, so it is not a great leap for the work to be presented as an opera. Sellars updates the mythological tale of Hercules and others returning home from war to the present. Eric Owens sings the title role, Alice Coote is Hercules’ jealous wife Dejanira, David Daniels is Hercules’ servant Lichas, Lucy Crowe is Hercules’ captive Iole and Richard Croft is Hercules’ son Hyllus. Baroque music expert Harry Bickett conducts.

onopera graphics1837: Roberto Devereux by Gaetano Donizetti from April 25 to May 21. In 2010 the COC gave us Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda in a production from Dallas Opera. This year it gives us another helping of what some call Donizetti’s “Three Queens” trilogy with the story of Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex (1565-1601), an ambitious favourite of Elizabeth’s who led a coup d’état against her. Giuseppe Filianoti sings the title role, Sondra Radvanovsky makes her role debut as Elisabetta, Russell Braun is the Duke of Nottingham and Allyson McHardy is the Duchess of Nottingham. Corrado Rovaris conducts and Stephen Lawless, as with Maria Stuarda, is again the stage director.

1853: Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi on April 26. Opera by Request presents Verdi’s classic about love and fate in concert with Paul Williamson as Manrico, Olga Tylman as Leonora, Wayne Line as the Count di Luna, Julia Clarke as Azucena and Domenico Sanfilippo as Ferrando. William Shookhoff conducts from the piano.

1855: Ba-ta-clan by Jacques Offenbach on May 1 to 3. Opera 5 presents a double bill of French rarities at Alliance Française, 24 Spadina Rd. The first is Ba-ta-clan, the one-act operetta set in China, that was Offenbach’s first major success. In this fanciful tale, two Chinese conspirators against the Chinese Emperor realize they are both French. Aria Umezawa and Jasmine Chen direct and Maika’i Nash conducts.  

1875: Carmen by Georges Bizet on April 17 and 19. Now in its ninth season, Opera Belcanto of York (rhcentre.ca) will present a fully staged production of Bizet’s opera at the Richmond Hill Centre about a seductive gypsy and the hapless soldier who falls in love with her. Nariné Ananikyan, soloist for the National Opera of Armenia, is Carmen, Gayané Mangassarian is Micaëla while Stanislas Vitort and James Ciantar alternate in the role of Don José.

1876: Siegfried by Richard Wagner on April 5. Opera by Request takes on the heroic task of presenting Wagner’s mythological opera in concert with Lenard Whiting as Siegfried, Oliver Dawson as Mime, Andrew Tees as Wotan, Margarete von Vaight as Brünnhilde and John Holland as Alberich. The tireless William Shookhoff conducts from the piano.

1893:Hänsel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck from April 25 to 27. Metro Youth Opera was founded by Kate Applin in 2010 to give Toronto’s young opera singers the chance to perform complete roles. The company’s fourth production is Humperdinck’s beloved fairy-tale opera first conducted by Richard Strauss. Kate Applin and Lyndsay Promane sing Gretel and her brother Hänsel, Kelsey Vicary and Peter Bass are their Mother and Father and Stephanie Trichew is the Witch. Director Alison Wong has relocated the setting to a dangerous urban world. Blair Salter is the music director. The opera is sung in German with English surtitles.

1898: L’Île du rêve by Reynaldo Hahn from May 1 to 3. This three-act opera is the second half of the double bill by Opera 5 above. This, the first opera of Hahn (1874-1947), a Venezuelan-born French composer best known for his songs, is subtitled an “idylle polynésienne” and is based on Pierre Loti’s account of his romantic liaison with a native woman in Tahiti in 1880.    

1921: Der Vetter aus Dingsda by Eduard Künneke on May 1 to 4. The final offering of the season from Toronto Operetta Theatre is the Canadian premiere of an operetta by the Berlin composer Eduard Künneke (1885-1953), who studied with Max Bruch and wrote four operas, 12 operettas and two musicals. The TOT is translating the title as The Cousin from Nowhere, but when the Ohio Light Opera presented it, it chose the title The Cousin from Batavia. Just as we say “whatshisname” when we can’t think of the name of a person, Germans say “Dingsda” when they can’t think of the name of a place. The action takes place in Holland where Julia has been waiting for the return of her beloved from his travel to Batavia, as the Dutch colony in Indonesia was known. A stranger appears who introduces himself as the nephew of Julia’s guardians, but Julia can’t tell whether he is or is not her beloved Roderich. The operetta is packed with one memorable tune after another, the most famous being the stranger’s song “Ich bin nur ein armer Wandergesell.” While some over here may not have heard of it, the operetta is so popular in Europe that there have been five new productions of it in Germany and Switzerland since 2012. In fact, when the Ohio Light Opera presented it in 2000, the demand for tickets was so strong the show was brought back in 2002. The TOT production features Lucia Cesaroni, Elizabeth Beeler, Christopher Mayell, Stefan Fehr and Keenan Viau. Jurgen Petrenko makes his TOT conducting debut and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.

1932: Pedro Malazarte by Camargo Guarneri on April 2 by University of Toronto Opera Division. Pedro Malazarte is the first presentation in a new initiative at the Opera Division called “Opera Rara.” The aim is to bring to light unfamiliar or unjustly neglected works from the past. In this case conducting student Rafael Luz from Brazil wanted to stage this one-act comic opera from his native country in what will be its North American premiere. Guarneri (1907-1993), whose parents burdened him with the first name “Mozart,” wrote two operas, the other being the one-act tragedy Um Homem Só (1960). His comic opera concerns the Brazilian folk hero Malazarte, who is hoping to have an affair with the fair Baiana. When her husband Alamão unexpectedly returns home, Malazarte manages a clever turnabout. Rafael Luz conducts and Amanda Smith directs at the Lula Lounge. Admission is free.     

2014: Etiquette by Monica Pearce / Regina by Elisha Denburg / Heather by Christopher Thornborrow on April 5. Essential Opera presents a triple bill of brand new operas. Etiquette, composed to a libretto by John Terauds, former music critic for the Toronto Star, looks at life through the eyes of Dorothy Parker, Emily Post and Nancy Astor. Regina, composed to a libretto by Maya Rabinovitch, tells the story of Regina Jonas, who in 1935 Berlin became the first woman to be ordained a rabbi. Heather, composed to a libretto by Julie Tepperman, explores the phenomenon of online bullying between girls and young women. This varied program is conducted by David Passmore with musical director Cheryl Duvall at the piano and a cast that includes Erin Bardua, Maureen Batt, Julia Morgan, Keith O’Brien and Jesse Clark. Visit the website to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign to support these premieres.  

2014: Europa and the White Bull by James Rolfe on April 25 and 26. Toronto Masque Theatre explores the myth of Zeus’ rape of the maiden Europa in a program called “The Myth of Europa: Desire, Transformation and Possession.” First it presents the cantata L’Europe by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737). Second is a new work Europa and the White Bull by composer James Rolfe to a libretto by Steven Heighton that looks at the darker themes of the story. The evening features soprano Suzie LeBlanc, actor Martin Julien, dancer Stéphanie Brochard with Larry Beckwith conducting the TMT Ensemble from the violin. Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière is the choreographer and stage director.

2014: L’Homme et le ciel by Adam Scime on April 11 only. FAWN Opera presents the world premiere of Scime’s electro-acoustic chamber opera in a workshop production. Ian Koiter’s libretto, based on text “The Shepherd of Hermas” from the second century concerns one man’s struggle to live righteously. The soloists are baritone Giovanni Spanu and sopranos Larissa Koniuk and Adanya Dunn. Patrick Murray conducts the Thin Edge New Music Collective and Amanda Smith directs.

2014: Tap: Ex Revolutions by Tapestry New Opera on April 4 and 5. “Tap:Ex” (short for Tapestry Explorations) is a new project by Tapestry to explore the relationship between physical and musical expression. The performance will involve singers Neema Bickersteth, Andrea Ludwig, Adrian Kramer and Andrew Love, choreographer Marie-Josée Chartier and director Michael Mori using music from Bach, Rachmaninov, Meredith Monk, Andrew Staniland and Ivan Barbotin. 

As usual, there is more than enough on offer in the 365 years encompassed by these listings to create your own opera festival.

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.


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