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May, 2004 - Nr. 5


The Editor
Meiner Mutter
Vorsicht Satire!
Rachel Seilern
Zurich Connection
A World of Contrast
Dear Mom
KW & Beyond
The Ritchie Boys
Hansa Club's 40th
Anniversary Celebration
Unter dem Motto
Concordia Choir Concert
A lose-lose Ending?
At the CKWR Studio
Toronto has the Sound
Youth Culture
Dick reports...
Sybille reports
Ham Se det jehört?
Health Newsletter
German Heavyweights
Tafelmusik in Parry Sound
Harbourfront Centre Events
Nature's Perfect Gems
Support for Shaw Festival
MoMA in Berlin
Brothers Grimm Movie
Lessons from Dresden
Frauenkirche nears Completion
Lufthansa News
"Radio Goethe"
Rudolf Stussi Exhibition
Biography - A Game
Snow Sport Show
Schumi Continues Sweep
Germany against Canada
Travel 'Smart'
Building Bridges
Most Contented Germans
Population Dwindling

Canadian Opera
A World of Contrast

by Amanda Tower

   I’m hooked. When my neighbour invited me to attend performances of both Rigoletto and Die Walküre, on consecutive nights, I was thrilled. The offer was intended as a birthday gift, and I could think of no better way to celebrate my passing into the obscurity of …well, of age, than by spending a total of seven-and-a-half hours luxuriating in nineteenth century operatic splendour. Then came the catch: perhaps I could write a little review for the newspaper? A review. What do I know about opera? I’ve seen a couple, the last one being Atom Egoyan’s Salome in 1996, which I admittedly saw more for its Egoyan cachet than for its operatic virtues. I can hum the first few bars of a couple of arias, although don’t ask me which ones. But ask me to distinguish between intermezzo and portamento, and I am at a loss. On top of that, Norse mythology has never been my forte. Would the editor not prefer it if I reviewed a nice dance piece?

I needn’t have worried. Neither performance required an afficionado’s appreciation of the intricacies of bel canto to floor its audience. We saw Rigoletto on the 7th and Die Walküre on the 8th, and a more instructive, varied and immensely enjoyable two evenings of entertainment I have yet to spend. Rigoletto was a lavish display of Italianate splendour. American soprano Laura Claycomb was exquisite as Gilda, daughter of the hunchback jester Rigoletto. Sweetly innocent, she sung with an aching tenderness and subtle strength of conviction that had me quite literally sitting on the edge of my seat. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything more enchanting than her performance of "Caro nome" in Act I. Claycomb met the alarming vocal demands of the role without sacrificing an ounce of character. Despite respiratory illness Alan Opie gave a strong performance in the title role, and portrayed the hunchbacked jester with a convincing mix of lasciviousness, anger, and loving tenderness for his daughter. If his vocal performance suffered as a result of his illness, I certainly was not aware of it. His characterization of the scheming clown was convincing and complex. In contrast, Giuseppe Gipali appeared to me to fall a bit flat as the womanizing Duke of Mantua. He sang with enormous strength, but sheer power did not make up for static characterization. Buffy Baggot, who in addition to singing the role of Maddalena also appeared as Grimerde in Die Walküre, was at once buoyant and raunchy, and an utter delight. I was particularly impressed with Michael Yeargan’s inspired set. The strong verticals and sharply receding perspectives looked as though they had been painted by De Chirico, and melded beautifully with the stylized period costumes. The production’s strength relied on individual performances, rather than on overall direction, which in Adrian Osmond’s hands was a bit over-blocked and lacked spontaneity. In contrast, Julian Kovatchev conducted the company’s orchestra with a vigour and charisma that left this audience member wishing the music wouldn’t stop.

Nordic myth is making a comeback. In the wake of the enormous popularity of the film adaptations of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Canadian Opera Company has taken on the challenge of presenting Wagner’s four part opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen in its entirety, a feat never before undertaken by any Canadian company. Having chosen to begin with the second instalment of the Cycle, Die Walküre, the COC has guaranteed itself an enthusiastic Wagner audience for the years to come. Michael Levine’s much anticipated set was stark and unforgiving, in keeping with the opera’s themes of greed, loss and destruction. The set resembled a bombed-out theatre, with catwalks and stage lights collapsing onto a torn-up stage. Wotan, king of the gods, attempts to remedy the apocalyptic tragedy he has brought about through his greed for world domination by bringing together the siblings Siegelinde (Adrianne Pieczonka) and Siegmund (Clifton Forbis). Their incestuous love will eventually produce the hero Siegfried. Peteris Eglitis was convincing as Wotan who, despite his love for his daughter Brünnhilde, cannot allow her disobedience to go unpunished. Frances Ginzer was positively opulent as Brünnhilde, Wotan’s favourite daughter, who earns her father’s wrath by siding with the siblings and escorting Sieglinde to safety. The tension between Ginzer and Eglitis was palpable in Act III, the latter in particular giving a touching portrayal of a doting father torn between honour and grief. Confronted with mezzo-soprano Judit Németh, whose portrayal of Fricka, guardian of marriage vows, was powerful if less than substantial, one could well picture Wotan as a henpecked husband. Forbis was powerful, if a trifle static, in his performance, while linguist-lawyer-bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka wilted a bit as Hunding. Pieczonka, on the other hand, exuded sweetness and ravaged, ragged innocence with every note. The production was confirmation that Atom Egoyan’s directorial prowess is not restricted to films. Stark yet sophisticated, Egoyan and Levine, in concert with lighting designer David Finn created a powerful study in light and shadow. The opening of Act III was particularly striking, with bodies wrapped in shrouds heaped on the ground and hanging from the catwalks, or being carried by the Valkyries.

Verdi and Wagner may have been born in the same year (1813), but there similarities between these two artists end. What a great birthday present. If I can herald in every new year with this kind of entertainment, I will never grow old.


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