Operatic diversity makes for interesting program
Toronto is getting ready for the new opera house, scheduled to open in 2006; this is obvious. Every Wagnerian production appears to be a grand rehearsal for the future. Wagner’s Ring Cycle is one of the most demanding and difficult opera works to interpret and perform and will largely have been put into existence as – hopefully - a legacy to be emulated by others, by the time the opening comes around. The building project and ongoing fundraising seems to be moving along well to meet all projected targets. And we, the opera patrons, can hardly wait.
We know that many complaints we might have about current productions might be invalid in a new house, such as the tender voice of a tenor who cannot outperform a full orchestra, as happened in La Bohème, yet he was hired because he had no such problems in houses with a better acoustic than our current Hummingbird Centre.
This fact alone makes some critiques somewhat unnecessary and perhaps even unfair, as unfair as Mr. Littler’s (Toronto Star) comments about the development of a strong vibrato by Frances Ginzer in the current Siegfried production. Having to hover on the ground to sing her role of Bruennhilde just awakened by Siegfried for an unnaturally long time is reason enough to have a bit of a vibrato. Most singers cannot muster the required volume to overcome the strength of a large orchestra standing up. But that was not the part that irked a few of us: The reason for the long hovering lay in the fact that our hero sounded just fine, but did look nothing like a Nordic dragon slayer, but more like the part of a southern peasant. For that same reason the two lovers could not stand together declaring their everlasting undying love for each other, but had to be positioned at opposite ends of the stage, something that did not help the story line a lot, but can be explained away with psychological rhetoric. Luckily this was the only "problem" with the otherwise brilliantly creative production.
Famed critic Paula Citron found the performance of this duet riveting.
(I heard of a Lohengrin performance at the Met in New York were a similar discrepancy in looks caused the audience to boo. Here in Toronto we are much more polite. We simply withhold ourselves for the obligatory 3 curtains and do not stand while applauding, other than for those who rudely cannot wait to leave before even one curtain call is over. But none of this happened; we applauded lengthily and enthusiastically, even the ones that had wanted to leave early.)
Thus it becomes evident again that critics have nothing but a different point of view as to what something should look like or sound like.
What is important is what we are left with when we go home. This reviewer was in awe about the immense creativity of the entire team effort. The production design of Micheal Levine set the dimensions for this drama to be metaphysical in nature, heavy in its symbolism and philosophically interpretable in different ways, according to the viewers understanding of cultural doctrines. Thus everyone saw something a little different in the set design, in the costumes, in the stark black and white colouring, brought to life only by the fierce red glow of fire now and then, as the story demanded. The lighting effects by David Finn perfectly accentuated the story, adding vibrancy and dimensions, causing the plain white pyjama-like costumes to be the only possible choice.
(all photos courtesy of COC)
The set caused gasps and applause from the audience every time the curtain rose. The first scene: A universe in disarray, a chaos in the making, or perhaps about to be dissolved, depending on the perception of the various characters, held together by a mighty (oak) tree of life, grounded by strong roots in the vastness of the universe. Siegfried’s (Christian Franz) playground and Mime’s (Robert Kuenzli) backyard has space to be filled with adventures for the fearless Siegfried.
In the second act this universe of chaotic components overshadows the underground cave Fafner (Phillip Ens) the dragon lives in and where he protects his treasure, rising as 6 people like puppets on a string off the ground by means of invisible wires before he sinks struck by Siegfried’s sword.
And in the end an empty plateau, red lit weaving hands as flames, Wotan the Wanderer (Peteris Eglitis) is about to loose his power and all associations with his past forever and drags his huge frame disillusioned across the endless plain of his now purposeless existence… and what is left is a mortal love between Siegfried and Bruennhilde, so ordained by Wotan as desirable, justified by the abdication of godly powers. Thus ends this glorious story like all other mythological tales designed to explain our existence.
The orchestra under the baton of Maestro Richard Bradshaw let us forget that this was not even a full set of instruments, as instructed by Wagner.
The images of this production follow us home and are alive in the imagination for several days to come. The rich sounds of all singers remain distinctly in our memories, rise now and then in a few bars of a favourite aria. And again the imagery remains powerfully imbedded in our minds, still after 10 days.
In contrast to this black and white drama the lush production of La Bohème with its colourful traditional set and costumes is undemanding on the audience and simply entertaining, more like an operetta than an opera, and so are the performers, a much smaller variety in body and in voice, nor are there any gargantuan egos thriving for immortal solutions. Here the earthly delights have found their much shallower waters. The emotional range is closer to home, easier to understand and does not need to be symbolically enhanced and interpreted. This is straightforward life and death with all the ordinary trimmings, delightfully presented by two Turkish tenors alternating in the part of Mimi’s (Elena Kelessidi) lover Rodolfo (Bülent Külekci and Bülent Bezdüz). The strongly flavoured European cast, interspersed with juicy Canadian talents, sometimes from the COC’s ensemble/studio cast pool, affords younger performers a great chance to shine in a delicious production.
In my memory the characters danced like sugarplums for days after the premiere in my head. The familiar music reverberated during the morning shower and even at breakfast for quite a while.
Going to the opera is becoming more and more interesting in Toronto. Interested parties better secure their tickets for an outstanding next season early. Start by going to www.coc.ca.
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