on_opera_opera_atelier_company_of_armideAs this column has frequently noted, April has developed into the most opera-heavy month of the year. This year, because of an early Easter, many companies like Opera Kitchener and Opera York staged their season finales in March. Yet, even so, April still presents quite a heady concentration of opera. Opera Hamilton, for instance, presents Verdi’s Il Trovatore starring Richard Margison April 14, 17, 19 and 21. Toronto Operetta Theatre closes its season with a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan tunes called Topsy-Turvydom from April 27 to 29 replacing the previously announced H.M.S. Pinafore. Opera Belcanto presents Puccini’s Tosca at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts on April 5 and 7. And Opera by Request has two favourite operas in concert — Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro on April 20 and Don Pasquale on April 25 — both at the College Street United Church.

What is surprising this month is that the larger opera companies are offering works seldom or never seen in Toronto. Even Opera in Concert, which specializes in rarely-heard operas, outdoes itself this month with Die Freunde von Salamanka (The Friends of Salamanca) by Franz Schubert (1797–1828), surely one of the most obscure pieces they’ve ever presented. Schubert, who died at age 31, composed nine symphonies, innumerable chamber and piano pieces and over 600 Lieder, still managed to complete nine operas. Die Freunde von Salamanka was written in 1815, but, like many of his operas was not staged during his lifetime. It had to wait until 1928, the 100th anniversary of his death, for its premiere.

Freunde is a comic opera in the form of a Singspiel (like The Magic Flute) where spoken dialogue connects the arias. Three friends — Alonso, Diego and Fidelio — all try to help the Countess Olivia to break off her engagement to the foolish Count Tormes, whom she has never met. Shannon Mercer sings Olivia, James McLean is Alonso and Michael Ciufo is Diego. Kevin Mallon conducts the Toronto Chamber Orchestra. The opera is sung in German with surtitles in English. For tickets, see www.stlc.com.

While the role of Opera in Concert is regularly to fill in gaps in our operatic experience, this month the Canadian Opera Company takes on a similar task. From April 10 to May 14 it presents The Tales of Hoffmann (1881) by Jacques Offenbach and from April 26 to May 25 it presents the Canadian premiere of A Florentine Tragedy (1917) by Alexander Zemlinsky coupled with Puccini’s comic one-act opera Gianni Schicchi (1918). With Hoffmann, COC general director Alexander Neef has clearly studied the production history of the company, and has seen that certain aspects of the repertory were neglected under his great predecessor Richard Bradshaw. For example, it was no secret that Bradshaw was not a fan of operetta. So when the COC performs Die Fledermaus beginning October 4 this year, it will be the first operetta the company has staged since The Merry Widow in 1987. Die Fledermaus was once one of the company’s most popular works. Its previous COC staging in 1986 was the seventh since the COC was formed. Bradshaw also did not care much for 19th-century French opera and programmed only Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, Bizet’s Carmen and Verdi’s French version of Don Carlos during his tenure as general director. In the case of the upcoming Hoffmann, it will be the first time the COC has staged that work since 1988.

It’s a strange fact that many successful operetta composers have felt the compulsion to prove themselves by writing a full-scale opera. Arthur Sullivan was obsessed with his Victorian duty as composer and produced the noble failure Ivanhoe (1891). Even Franz Lehár longed to see one of his works on the stage of the Vienna State Opera and was pleased when the company produced Giuditta in 1934. Though the work, unlike Ivanhoe, is still performed, the consensus at the time was that it was too grand to be an operetta yet too light to be an opera. Jacques Offenbach (1819–80) then, is the only major operetta composer (he wrote over 100 of them!) to have achieved the goal, with Hoffman, of also writing a grand opera. Offenbach died four months before the opera premiered which has meant that the work had been presented in widely varying versions ever since.

The most common scenario has three acts with a prologue and epilogue. In the Prologue, we meet the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822) himself, his muse who appears as his best friend Nicklausse, his unobtainable love Stella and his nemesis Councillor Lindorf. In the three ensuing acts, Hoffmann recounts one of his great loves, each based on one of Hoffmann’s fantastic tales (which would later influence those of Edgar Allen Poe among many others). In Act 1 Hoffmann falls in love with Olympia, who, unknown to him, is an automaton created by the mad scientist Coppélius. Act 2 focusses on Hoffmann’s second love, Antonia, who is doomed to die if she sings for too long. The evil Dr. Miracle, however, encourages Antonia to do just that in the guise of a cure. In Act 3, Hoffmann falls in love with the mysterious Giulietta, who is only seducing the writer under orders from the nefarious Captain Dapertutto, who wants her to steal his reflection.

Offenbach intended that the four soprano roles be sung by the same soprano and the four villains be sung by the same bass-baritone. While the second requirement has become standard, the first is considered a daunting tour de force. In the COC production, borrowed from De Vlaamse Opera, John Relyea will sing all four villains. The four sopranos, however, will be sung by separate artists — Ambur Braid as Stella, Andriana Churchman as Olympia, Erin Wall as Antonia and Keri Alkema as Giuletta. Russell Thomas will sing Hoffmann and Lauren Segal will sing Nicklausse. On May 3 and 8, David Pomeroy substitutes for Thomas.

The COC’s second spring offering breaks new ground. Not only will the Florentine/Schicchi double bill represent the first professional production of a Zemlinsky opera in Canada, but it will also be the first time these two works have been presented as a double bill in North America. (The Wuppertaler Musiktheater presented the same pairing in 2010.) When Neef announced the 2011/12 season last year, he said that this was a combination he had always wanted to stage. There are valid reasons to combine the two. While one is a tragedy and the other a comedy, both take place in Florence and both were written during the same period and premiered within two years of each other, thus affording many fascinating points of comparison and contrast. Gianni Schicchi is one part of a triple bill by Puccini entitled Il trittico (The Triptych) that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1918. The triptych begins with the melodrama Il tabaro (The Cloak), continues with the sentimental story of Suor Angelica and concludes with Schicchi. The COC has never presented Il trittico as Puccini intended and has instead combined each of the one-acters with other operas — Il tabaro with Pagliacci in 1975 and with Cavalleria rusticana in 2001, Suor Angelica with Pagliacci in 1991 and Schicchi with Pagliacci in 1996.

Florentine composer Alexander Zemlinsky (1871–1942) was a pupil of Anton Bruckner and teacher of Arnold Schoenberg who became Zemlinsky’s brother-in-law when he married Zemlinsky’s sister. Zemlinsky conducted the premiere of Schoenberg’s Erwartung in 1924. Zemlinsky was one of the many artists who fled Central Europe with the rise of fascism and whose works, condemned by the Nazis as “degenerate music,” have only been rediscovered in the last two decades. In Europe Eine florentinische Tragödie is usually paired with another Zemlinsky one-acter, Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) from 1922. The two make a sensible double-bill since both are based on lesser-known plays by Oscar Wilde. By coincidence, it happens that Isabel Bayrakdarian is singing the soprano roles in this very double-bill at the Liceu in Barcelona in April, leading one to wonder if Alexander Neef has plans to stage Der Zwerg coupled with another part of Il trittico.

The new production will be directed by famed soprano-turned-director Catherine Malfitano. The conceit behind the production is that the same palazzo, designed by Wilson Chin, will serve as the site of the events in both operas — events in the 16th century for Zemlinsky and in the 14th century for Puccini. In Zemlinsky’s opera, Bianca, the wife of the merchant Simone, is having an affair with Guido Bardi. Given the title we know that it will not end happily. Malfitano links Zemlinsky’s opera to Puccini by having two of its singers appear in the second opera. In the Zemlinsky, Alan Held sings Simone, Gun-Brit Barkmin is Bianca and Michael König is Guido. In the second work, Held sings the title role while Barkmin sings the minor role of Nella, the wife of Gherardo (sung by Adam Luther), cousin to the dying Buoso Donato, whom Schicchi is impersonating. The primary female role is that of Lauretta (sung by Simone Osborne), who sings the most famous aria of the piece “O mio babbino caro.” The last time the COC presented the work an over-enthusiastic audience interrupted the short aria at least five times, mistakenly thinking at every pause that it was over. If you are in doubt, just wait until the conductor, Andrew Davis, puts down his baton. Then you will know for sure that the lovely aria has ended. For tickets and more information, visit www.coc.ca.

Turning towards rarities of the Baroque, in 2012 only three cities in the world will see a production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide (1686) — Toronto from April 14 to 21, Versailles from May 11 to 13 and Cooperstown, New York (i.e. Glimmerglass Opera) from July 21 to August 23. As one may have guessed, it is Opera Atelier’s production, first seen here in 2005, that has been invited by the other two opera houses.

The topic of the love between the Christian knight Renauld and the Muslim princess Armide against the backdrop of the Crusades has only become more reverent over time. Colin Ainsworth returns to sing Renault, Peggy Kriha Dye is Armide and they join João Fernandes, Aaron Ferguson, Vasil Garvanliev, Carla Huhtanen and Olivier Laquerre, among others, and the full corps of the artists of Atelier Ballet. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, Marshall Pynkoski directs and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg choreographs. Opera Atelier claims that the partnership with Glimmerglass has allowed it to add major design elements to make Armide “the most sumptuous production in OA history.” That is quite a statement coming from a company already renowned for its sumptuous productions. For more information, visit www.operaatelier.com.

All in all, April again lives up to its reputation as Toronto’s most exciting month for opera.

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

In february, the winter season of the Canadian Opera Company ended. In April its spring season begins, as does Opera Atelier’s. In between, opera-lovers need not despair because Toronto also boasts a host of smaller companies offering unusual fare. (If there has been any downside to the COC’s move to the Four Season’s Centre, it has been the elimination of the separate opera productions that the COC Ensemble Studio used to produce in venues like the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre and the Enwave Theatre. The repertoire alternated between the baroque and the modern and gave Toronto audiences the chance to sample the wide range of chamber operas intended for more intimate spaces. While it is great experience for the COC Ensemble Studio members to take over roles in an opera in the Four Seasons Centre, they do miss out on the chance to be reviewed in their own productions and Toronto misses out on more varied operatic offerings.)

The various opera schools around Ontario help fill this gap. In December last year, the University of Toronto Faculty of Music’s Opera Division staged the Poulenc double bill of La Voix humaine (1959) and Les Mamelles de Tirésias (1947), and this January it presented a new opera about Toronto’s own larger-than-life mayor. From March 8 to 10 it returns to more conventional fare with Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Performances take place at the U of T’s MacMillan Theatre. See www.music.utoronto.ca/programs/opera.htm for more information.

On March 21 and 23, the Glenn Gould School Opera presents La Calisto (1651) by Francesco Cavalli (1602–76), which was a big hit when the COC Ensemble Studio presented it back in 1996. Cavalli wrote for the smaller forces necessitated by the smaller public opera houses of Venice where he worked. La Calisto premiered in a house seating only 400. Of his 41 operas, only 27 are extant and provide the key examples of mid-17th-century Venetian opera, which, unlike the later opera seria, took a decidedly satiric view of the amorous escapades of gods and mortals. Here, Jove and Mercury plot to deflower Calisto, a follower of Diana, while Pan tries to draw Diana away from her lover, Endymion. It is a thoroughly delightful work and will surely whet opera-goers’ desire for more Cavalli in future. Brent Krysa directs, Adam Burnette conducts and Michael Gianfrancesco designs the sets and costumes. Performances take place at Koerner Hall. See www.rcmusic.ca for details.

Venturing farther afield, Laurier Opera at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo is offering quite an innovative Canadian double bill. From March 2 to 4 it will present Gisela in Her Bathtub (1991) and City Workers in Love (1992), both composed by Vancouver-based Neil Weisensel to libretti by Michael Cavanagh, better known to the opera world as an opera director. The first one-act opera focuses on the bathing Gisela, who is reading a novel that suddenly comes to life around her. The second opera takes place on a typical Canadian construction site and exposes the foibles and fortunes of the city workers. Both works have been expanded and revised for this production. You can hear three excerpts from City Workers in Love on Weisensel’s website, www.neilmusic.com. Rob Herriot directs and Leslie De’Ath conducts a chamber ensemble. Performances take place at Theatre Auditorium on the WLU campus. See the WLU website for details.

While opera schools do their share in keeping the operatic offerings in Toronto and environs diverse, so do the various companies that present opera in concert. The most established of these, Opera in Concert, has provided this service since 1974. Coming up on March 4 is the Canadian premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s first opera Oberto (1839). The opera is a fictionalized account of the life of Cunizza da Romano (born c.1198), who appears in the Third Sphere of Dante’s Paradiso. Here in his first opera, Verdi is already exploring in Oberto and Leonora the dynamics of the father-daughter relationship that threads through all his work. Giles Tomkins sings Oberto, Joni Henson is Leonora, Michele Bogdanowicz is Cuniza and Romulo Delgado is Riccardo, Cuniza’s fiancé who seduces Leonora. Alison d’Amato is the music director and pianist and Robert Cooper prepares the Opera in Concert Chorus. Visit www.operainconcert.com for more.

31_Michelle_Minke_Headshot_1Meanwhile, Opera by Request celebrates its fifth anniversary on March 10 with a gala presentation of Verdi’s Don Carlo. For those who saw the COC’s production of Verdi’s French version of the Don Carlos story in 2007, this will be an easy way to compare it to Verdi’s later Italian version. OBR is unusual in that the cast comes together to choose the repertoire, not the company directorate. Yet, for this special celebration, OBR’s artistic director, pianist William Shookhoff, says he has departed from the mandate and has personally chosen the production and cast, which consists of “people who have contributed in a special way over the past five years.” He notes, “With the fifth anniversary comes the 50th production (not performance). And, by the time the fifth anniversary occurs, we will have engaged 150 singers, many of whom I did not know five years ago, and some of whom I only met through their colleagues who invited them to participate.” Paul Williams sings the title role, Michelle Minke is Elisabetta, Steven Henrikson is Rodrigo, Monica Zerbe is Eboli, Robert Milne is Philip and Larry Tozer is the Grand Inquisitor. The performance takes place at the College Street United Church. Visit www.operabyrequest.ca for more information.

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

This february has become a month for new opera. Toronto will see a world premiere of a Canadian work, the professional world premiere of another Canadian work and the Canadian premiere of an acclaimed 21st century opera. In the depths of winter we already see the new growth of spring. The world premiere is Obeah Opera by Nicole Brooks running February 16 to March 4. For more on that work, see Robert Wallace’s interview with Brooks in this issue.

18First to appear is the Canadian premiere of L’Amour de loin (Love from Afar or more accurately “The Far-Away Love”) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho at the Canadian Opera Company. Not only will this be the first time the COC has staged an opera by a Finnish composer, it will also mark the first time it has staged an opera by a female composer.

This opera that premiered in 2000 at the Salzburg Festival tells the story of a world-weary 12th century troubadour from France who carries on a long-distance love affair with a beautiful woman living in Tripoli, Lebanon, whom he called in Languedoc his “amor de lonh.” Although they never see or speak to each other, their feelings develop and grow through the efforts of an enigmatic Pilgrim, who carries messages of love and yearning between the two. Saariaho drew her inspiration for the work from the life and song texts of Jaufré Rudel (died c.1147), a French prince and troubadour who wrote of his obsessive love for an ideal, unattainable woman. This is the well-known theme known as “courtly love” that swept Europe during this period. The yearning expressed has a religious component, due to the rise of Mariolatry, that leads the poet to ask whether such a love is best preserved from afar.

Reviewing the opera in 2000, New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini wrote that Saariaho’s music “combines vivid orchestration, the subtle use of electronic instruments and imaginative, sometimes unearthly writing for chorus ... The vocal writing is by turns elegiac and conversational. Her harmonic language is tonally grounded, with frequent use of sustained low pedal tones, but not tonal. Bits of dissonance, piercing overtones and gently jarring electronic sound spike the undulant harmonies, but so subtly that the overall aural impression is of beguiling consonance … Her evocations of the troubadour songs, with medieval modal harmony and fragments of elegiac tunes, are marvelous.”

The new COC production is conducted by COC music director Johannes Debus and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, known for his work with Cirque du Soleil. It features an all-Canadian cast. Baritone Russell Braun is Jaufré Rudel, soprano Erin Wall is his beloved Clémence and mezzo Krisztina Szabó sings the role of the mysterious Pilgrim. Sung in the original French of Lebanese librettist Amin Maaloof, L’Amour de loin (which, unlike other companies, the COC insists on calling Love from Afar) runs for eight performances from February 2 to 22. For more, visit www.coc.ca.

Taptoo! is the opera receiving its professional world premiere, with music by John Beckwith and libretto by James Reaney. The opera written in 1995 was given its world premiere by Opera McGill in 1999 and was later staged by the University of Toronto Opera Division in 2003. Toronto Operetta Theatre is presenting its professional premiere as part of the national commemorations of the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The title refers to the last drum-and-bugle signal of the day that would later expand into what is now known as a military tattoo.

19bThe work was conceived as a prequel to Harry Somers’ opera Serinette which had had a highly successful premiere in 1990 at the Elora Festival. As Beckwith writes in Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer, to be published in February 2012, “Where Serinette was set in York and Sharon during the 1830s, the new piece deals with the founding of York by John Graves Simcoe in 1783 and covers a time period from the American War of Independence to just before the War of 1812.” Beckwith says that the opera features a number of Reaneyesque devices: “Cast members assume a variety of roles, changing age or gender rapidly, functioning solo for one scene and in the next, as part of a chorus; the orchestral players are sometimes required to join in the action.” In the TOT production, he says, a cast of 18 singers will cover 26 characters including historical figures, like Simcoe and Colonel “Mad Anthony” Wayne, and other imaginary ones like boy soldiers Ebenezer and Seth, the aboriginal Atahentsic, settlers and adventurers.

TOT lays claim to the work because Beckwith himself says he was inspired by ballad operas, the earliest examples of what would later become operetta. As Beckwith says, “Two period productions of early music theatre affected me around this time [of composing]. John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and Thomas Arne’s Love in a Village were the most-often-performed ballad operas of 18th century England … I saw Taptoo! as the modern equivalent of a ballad opera, in which scraps of familiar songs and dances would now and then drift into the musical score. I included about 20 such musical references — hymn tunes, popular sentimental or patriotic songs, dances, marches and, of course, historical military music.”

The TOT cast includes Michael Barrett as Seth, Robert Longo as Wayne, Todd Delaney as Simcoe, Allison Angelo as Atahentsic, with Mark Petracchi and Sarah Hicks as Mr. and Mrs. Harple, Eugenia Dermentzis as Mrs. Simcoe and boy sopranos Daniel Bedrossian and Teddy Perdikoulias. The composer’s son, Larry Beckwith, conducts and TOT general director Guillermo Silva-Marin directs. Taptoo! runs only February 24 to 26. For more information see www.torontooperetta.com.

Beckwith says of his collaborations with James Reaney, “Without articulating our objectives further, I believe we wanted to affect our audiences in two ways — to move them and to cheer them.” We must thank TOT for giving Taptoo! a chance to achieve these goals.

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

In toronto’s opera scene, the last month of the old year and the first of the new provide a mix of old and new themselves. There is the Toronto premiere of a work that is standard repertoire in many central European countries, an unconventional production of a warhorse and an unconventional production of a seldom seen work.

Back by popular demand: Against the Grain Theatre remounts its acclaimed production of Puccini’s La Bohème not in a theatre but in a pub, the Tranzac Club at 292 Brunswick Ave. to be precise, December 1 to 3. The opera is directed, adapted and translated into English by AtG co-founder Joel Ivany, a frequent assistant director of productions for the Canadian Opera Company.

Inspired by the success of the musical Rent, in which the late Jonathan Larson updated the story of Puccini’s opera to the artistic community of 1990s New York, Ivany and company thought, “Why not set the opera itself in the bohemian atmosphere of contemporary Toronto?” The Tranzac Club, a favourite of indie musicians, home to several arts groups and central meeting place during the Toronto Fringe Festival, seemed like the perfect location. There’s no proscenium to separate the audience from the performers; in fact, the soloists are scattered among the patrons during the performance. AtG follows in the success of pub opera performances in the UK. In 2011, OperaUpClose won the Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production over productions from the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera.

On his blog, Ivany heaps praise on the cast he has assembled: “We’ve got a fabulous cast lined up. Miriam Khalil, as Mimi, is a young soprano who recently made her debut at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in the UK. Our Rodolfo, Ryan Harper, is a former member of the Atelier Lyrique program at Opéra de Montréal and our Marcello, Justin Welsh, is a former member of the Ensemble Studio at the Canadian Opera Company. Our cast is rounded out by cabaret singer Lindsay Sutherland Boal as Musetta, current COC Ensemble member Neil Craighead as Colline, baritone Keith Lam as Schaunard and Gregory Finney as Benoît/Alcindoro.”

Christopher Mokrzewski, the pianist and music director, has been on the music staff for both the COC and Opera Atelier, for the latter as coach and répétiteur for La Clemenza di Tito. This season he will be giving a solo recital of Liszt and Messiaen as well as serving as accompanist for both classical and jazz vocal recitals.

For tickets and more information about Against the Grain, visit www.againstthegraintheatre.com.

26_againstthegrain-boheme_operaSeldom seen: The programming slot after Christmas to just beyond Epiphany has been filled for more than two decades by productions from Toronto Operetta Theatre. This year from December 28, 2011, to January 8, 2012, TOT presents its first-ever production of The Gypsy Princess (Die Csárdásfürstin) by Imre Kálmán (1882–1953). While the TOT has presented Kálmán’s Countess Maritza (1924) twice and even the rarity Gypsy Violins (1912) once, it has never staged the Csárdásfürstin (1915), which brought Kálmán his greatest success. According to the data gathered by Operabase, in the last three years there were 39 productions of Csárdásfürstin, 12 of them new, in 29 cites, in 11 countries including not just Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary — that one might expect — but also Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Macedonia, Norway, Poland and Slovakia.

The plot about an aristocratic family’s distress that their young heir is in love with a cabaret singer plays out much like a story by P.G. Wodehouse. The TOT production will feature Lara Ciekiewicz as the glamorous Sylvia Varescu, Elizabeth Beeler as Countess Stasi, Keith Klassen as Prince Edwin in love with Sylvia and Ian Simpson as Count Boni in love with Stasi. Derek Bate will conduct the TOT Orchestra and Guillermo Silva-Marin will direct. The production premieres under the honourary patronage of Hungarian ambassador His Excellency László Pordány. For tickets visit www.stlc.com.

27_hercules_hydra_-paintingHandel’s Hercules: From January 19 to 22, 2012, Tafelmusik will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Tafelmusik Baroque Choir with a “staged concert” version of Georg Frideric Handel’s Hercules. The piece will be staged by none other than Marshall Pynkoski, stage director for Opera Atelier. When I asked Pynkoski back in September what a “staged concert” would be, he answered that a lot would depend on what was and was not possible in Koerner Hall. What we could be sure of is that the soloists would be off book and interact as characters and that the Opera Atelier corps de ballet would be involved in the dances.

27_hercules_allysonmchardyThe question of Hercules’ genre has existed since the work premiered in 1745. Handel called it a “Musical Drama” and indeed its English-language libretto by Thomas Broughton is based on Sophocles’ tragedy The Women of Trachis. The work was first performed in a theatre, not a church, but as an oratorio without any stage action. Modern critics have since suggested that this confusion of genre led to its later neglect. Handel had the same experience with Semele (1744) which was also first presented as an oratorio, but since oratorios were supposed to take biblical stories as their subject matter, it was also rejected by the public and suffered similar obscurity until the 20th century. Now Semele has been fully embraced as an opera and will conclude the COC’s 2011–12 season.

The plot concerns the circumstances of Hercules’ death. When Hercules returns to his wife Dejanira after his 12 labours, he brings the captive Iole in tow. This arouses Dejanira’s jealousy and she seeks to retain Hercules’ love through a tunic imbued with the blood of Hercules’ enemy, the centaur Nessus, which supposedly can render the wearer faithful to the giver. In fact, the garment is Nessus’ revenge on his opponent since it causes unendurable pain that leads Hercules to ask his son to set him upon a funeral pyre.

For Tafelmusik, Sumner Thompson will sing the role of Hercules, Allyson McHardy will be Dejanira, with Nathalie Paulin as Iole, Colin Blazer as Hercules’ son Hyllus and Mireille Lebel as the herald Lichas. Jeanne Lamon will conduct. For tickets and more information, visit www.tafelmusik.org.

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

November offers those in Toronto and vicinity a chance to see the Canadian premiere of a new Scottish opera with a Canadian connection, and the revivals of seldom-seen American and Canadian operas. This is a further demonstration, if anyone needed one, of how vital such companies are in maintaining the diversity of Toronto’s opera scene.

18_opera_sloans_inside18_opera_sloans_outsideFirst to appear, on November 10, 11 and 12, is Pub Operas by Scottish composer Gareth Williams, to a libretto by Canadian David Brock. The two met in 2009 at Tapestry New Opera’s LibLab, Tapestry’s composer/librettist incubator, and the project grew out of that meeting. The opera premiered earlier this year in July, at Sloan’s Bar in Glasgow as part of the Merchant City Festival. The venue was no quirk because Pub Operas was written specifically to celebrate the history of Sloan’s, which is Glasgow’s oldest pub, having been founded in 1797. The libretto, about life’s cycle of love, marriage, birth and death, is based on letters sent in by the public for whom Sloan’s played a real role at key points in their lives.

For the performance, the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District will substitute for Sloan’s. The singers will be Xin Wang, Heather Jewson, James McLean and Benjamin Covey with Wayne Strongman leading a six-piece band. Sue Miner directs. For more information about the opera, visit www.tapestrynewopera.com; and for the history of Sloan’s visit www.sloansglasgow.com.

18_john_beckwith_photo_andre_leducAlso playing on November 11 and 12 will be the Toronto premiere of the 1989 opera Crazy to Kill by John Beckwith to a libretto by James Reaney. Toronto Masque Theatre will mount this production of “Canada’s first detective opera” at the Enwave Theatre starring singers Kimberly Barber, Doug McNaughton and Shannon Mercer and actors Brendan Wall and Ingrid Doucet. The work, scored for piano and percussion, wiill feature Greg Oh as pianist and conductor and Ed Reifel as percussionist. David Ferry will direct.

18_opera_puppets_218_opera_puppets_3The story for the libretto comes from the 1941 novel of the same title by Ann Cardwell (pseudonym of Jean Makins Pawley) that is still in print. It concerns Detective Fry who, with the help of “model patient” Agatha Lawson, investigates a series of murders at Elmhurst, a private mental asylum for the wealthy in Southwestern Ontario. Reaney has stated that it was reading this novel that inspired him to become a writer. The commission (from the Edward John Music Foundation and Billie Bridgman for the Guelph Spring Festival) limited the cast to three singers and two actors. To get around these constraints Reaney had the idea of giving Agatha the habit of making life-sized doll puppets, eighteen in all, who, manipulated by the performers, also portray characters at Elmhurst. After a workshop at Banff in 1988, the one-act opera premiered at the Guelph Spring Festival on May 11, 1989, with Jean Stilwell as Agatha, Paul Massel as Fry and Sharon Crowther as Mme Dupont, an Elmhurst patient. For more information visit www.torontomasquetheatre.com. Also note that the fall edition of Opera Canada includes an article adapted from a chapter from Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer by John Beckwith, to be published in 2012 that deals with the background of Crazy to Kill and other of his operas of the period.

On November 23 and 26, Opera by Request (OBR) and Ensemble TrypTych (ET) co-produce the first Canadian performance of The Saint of Bleecker Street by Gian Carlo Menotti. The 1954 opera had its Canadian premiere at the University of British Columbia in the 1980s, but as far as OBR artistic director William Shookhoff can determine, has not had a full performance in Canada since then. OBR and ET chose the opera in consultation with the performers to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the composer. OBR traditionally does one choral opera per season with the University of Toronto Scarborough Concert Choir, and as this is Menotti’s only choral opera it fit the bill. Besides, this seldom-heard opera provides something more out of the way than The Medium (1946) or The Consul (1950).

Bleecker Street, which won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, is set in New York City’s Little Italy, where a young woman named Anina manifests the stigmata and begins to see angels. A conflict develops between her atheist brother Michele, who thinks she needs medical attention, and the neighbourhood which regards her as a saint. Shookhoff says, “As with The Consul, there is a timelessness to it which resonates particularly with younger participants, as it does with all of us: the conflict between tradition and new surroundings; between faith and rationale; and the stigma of relationships which go against the norm.”

The work will be performed in concert with Shookhoff as pianist on November 23 at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus and on November 26 at Trinity Presbyterian York Mills. Deena Nicklefork will sing Anina and Avery Krisman will sing Michele with six other soloists rounding out the cast. For more visit www.operabyrequest.ca.

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

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