Monday, May 21, 2018

Anna Bolena at the COC

Yesterday afternoon (May 20, 2018) we went to see Anna Bolena performed by the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

We included this opera in our package with some trepidation. As I wrote then, we weren’t very impressed with Diva Sondra Radvanovsky in Roberto Devereux and went to see Norma with the second cast to avoid hearing her again. 

Anna Bolena, however, was an opera I was anxious to see. I was a COC chorister in 1984 when Dame Joan Sutherland sang the leading role with James Morris as her Enrico and Judith Forst as Giovanna Seymour. It was a stellar cast and a memorable production. I wondered how much my memory of those performances would affect my perception of this one.

Very little, it turns out. I didn’t even remember the chorus numbers (which I had obviously memorized) although much of Anna’s music came back to me as La Radvanovsky sang it. Her voice and interpretation were so different from Sutherland’s that my remembrance of those long ago performances mattered not at all.

Sondra Radvanovsky

The Sondra Radvanovsky we heard four years ago seems to have been a different singer than the one we heard yesterday. Maybe she has since spent some time with her teacher. Maybe she was just having a bad day then.

Anna Bolena is a long and dramatic sing in the midst of a very long opera. But Radvanovsky had it well in hand. Some of her singing in the opening scene was a little under pitch especially when she wasn’t singing full out but all of this disappeared once she was properly warmed up. The coloratura was crisp and clear. Her highest notes really are almost unbelievably loud and beautiful. She’s also a very fine actor which just adds to the overall effect. The Mad Scene was very effective and full of touching details.

American Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn played and sang a wonderful Enrico. As a singer he is absolutely rock solid, fearless even. He has the bright placement of a baritone on top and the buzz of a real bass on his lower notes. He’s also a really good actor, which is critical in portraying this despicable character. He even brought that to the curtain call, gesturing to the audience to continue applauding him.

Keri Alkema, as Giovanna, matched Radvanovsky and Van Horn well in their respective duets. She’s not the actor that either of them is and seemed a little wooden compared to them on stage. She has a big, beautiful voice but has a rather wider vibrato than is ideal for in this music as it sometimes obscured the clarity of the fast moving coloratura passages.

Bruce Sledge, who has, in common with the other principals, a long, successful international career, is also not as convincing an actor as Radvanovsky or Van Horn but sang Percy’s high and demanding music nearly flawlessly.

Allyson McHardy, who sang with Radvanovsky in the aforementioned Roberto Devereux four years ago, sang the page Smeton. This role, really a contralto one, provides a really contrast to the two leading ladies who, in this performance, switched-off the high part in this duet. She portrayed convincingly a very young and foolish young man and sang his music, which has little of the pyrotechniques of the other two women’s music, very well.

Jonathan Johnson sang and acted capably as Enrico’s minion, Hervey.

It was great to see and hear my U of T Opera Division classmate Thomas Goerz as Rochefort, Anna’s brother. He sang this part very nicely and acted notably especially after being tortured in the penultimate scene.

The set is interesting, a kind of semi-cirular rotunda with two galleries high above the stage. The sections on the stage are on wheels and, by pushing them about, one is able to give a variety of looks. The costumes are colourful, period appropriate and effective.

Conductor Corrado Rovaris held the whole performance together, keeping the orchestra with the singers who sometimes need some flexibility in Bel Canto operas like this one. The chorus and orchestra were impeccable as usual. The women’s chorus in the second act, sung from galleries high above the stage, was especially beautiful.

The direction was generally adequate aside from a couple of notably cringe-worthy moments: One when Percy, for no understandable reason, throws Anna on her bed and apparently sets about raping her, mercifully interupted by Smeton, and, later, a tug-of-war between Anna and Enrico with their daughter, Elizabeth, as the rope.

Including Elizabeth, as a character in this opera is, I suppose, dramatically interesting. But Donizetti’s librettist didn’t and seems implausible that a child of three would have been present in such scenes. Incidentally, the yawning extra who played Elizabeth looked to be about 10 years old.

In any event, there a couple of performances of this show left on May 24 and 26.

If you’re interested in Bel Canto opera this production is as good as any you are likely to see anywhere in the world and you won’t have to brave Pearson Airport to see it. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bernstein at the HPO: Guest Column

I attended the final concert of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra ’17-’18 season on Saturday May 12th. Upon entering the hall I was excited to see the First Ontario Concert Hall stage completely filled with chairs and stands, promising a big sound. 

The program of XXth and XXIst century music was in no way avant-garde nor challenging (not like the delightful surprise of an Elliot Carter encore from Conrad Tao on April 19th!) 

The opening piece, Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, includes the famous Hoedown. Using American folk tunes, Aaron Copland followed exactly the pre-existing Agnes De Mille choreography and omitted one section from the ballet when compiling the concert version into the form of a symphony. It is a Pops concert staple.

The centre piece of the evening was the world premiere of Ronald Royer’s Dances with Percussion for timpani, drum set and orchestra, commissioned by Ernest and Laura Porthouse and dedicated to long-time HPO timpanist Jean Norman Iadeluca to celebrate his 70th birthday. Porthouse and Iadeluca have played together for years, including 560 duo performances! Contemporary music is always an attraction for me, and I frequently wish any new piece would be played twice, to really hear it. 

This work was interesting, especially the melodic solo timpani passages, something rarely featured. Based as it is on dances, from the Baroque to the Afro-Cuban, and with clear sections, it is very approachable. The two soloists are virtuosic players; having them at the front of the stage displayed some of the technical aspects of their playing, such as Iadeluca using both feet to tune the timpani. Other things didn’t work as well, for example the nearly-inaudible bodhrán. Overall, I enjoyed it, as the composer never fell into gimmicks but respected the musicianship of both the soloists and the orchestra.

I have heard some of the Arturo Márquez Danzón series before; it is based on Mexican dances and quite approachable; the composer doesn’t stray very far from his vernacular inspiration. The No.2 has become very popular, with Gustavo Dudamel taking it on international tours; it is also featured in the web series Mozart in the Jungle.

As for the Bernstein, it is a perennial favourite for orchestras looking to bring a Pops audience in and perhaps  have them listen to more demanding repertoire. The Symphonic Dances really show that West Side Story is as much a ballet as a musical. Orchestrated by Ramin and Kostal, who had worked on the film version, they use all the capabilities of a full complement of symphonic players. I expect we’ll hear this piece a lot this year, it being the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein.

Expanded to 73 players, the orchestra’s playing was impressive and every bit as high-quality as the smaller versions have been. Lance Ouellette was concertmaster and had just enough solo passages to display his solid playing. Les Allt provided the beautiful first flute lines and Andrew Cho shone at first clarinet. The brass sections were also impressive. The strings created both expansive phrasing and energetic rhythmical playing 
under Gemma New’s usual crystal-clear and warm conducting. It seemed obvious the orchestra was in a celebratory mood!

All that dancy music had some people bopping around in their seats, which unfortunately meant that whole rows of the concert hall were vibrating, quite an annoyance.

This was an evening of light symphonic music, excellently played but no revelation. I would enjoy concerts that would feature perhaps one of these pieces in a program of deeper works. Next season’s line-up seems very interesting, as long as the HPO management doesn’t spring unannounced surprises on the audience, perhaps well-meant but very disruptive (like the pop singer at the aforementioned April 19th concert).

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Nightingale and Other Short Tales at the COC

When I returned home from yesterday afternoon’s (May 12) performance of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables I was asked what I thought. I said I needed to think about it. I’ve done that and I have learned a valuable lesson from Robert Lepage et al.

At the outset, I knew pretty much what I was going to see and hear. The show is iconic. The water in the pit, the puppets and the rest of the gimmicks have been documented in videos and elsewhere. The “other fables” are not operatic pieces: never were and were never intended to be.

I have my prejudices, though. When I go to the opera I expect to see… opera. I don’t like it when directors reset operatic pieces in the wrong period or otherwise play with conventions. Opera directors and other opera professionals are steeped in these pieces. They know them inside-out and have seen them numerous times. They're looking to do something different than they've seen before. Subscribers only see them, even the pot-boilers, once ever few years so don't need to revisit them differently. Moreover, most resettings don't serve the story, they don't add anything to the audiences' comprehension of the drama. Sometimes, as we saw recently in the COC's Abduction, they only serve the director's personal agenda.

And an opera performance isn’t a concert. I know the difference. I attend concerts, orchestral, choral and otherwise.

The musicians are on stage in this show, behind the singers, acrobats and puppeteers. The music of the first half is nine Russian Period Stravinsky pieces only one of which, The Fox, is explicitly dramatic. They are scored for various chamber groups. So it’s essentially a concert with costumed singers standing in front of a varying group of instrumentalists, supplemented by audio visuals.

The Nightingale is an actual one act opera in three scenes. The device here is that most of the singers carry an avatar, a small puppet representing themselves. From my vantage point at the front of the Fourth Ring, however beautiful those puppets are up close, they were two small for me to see clearly. I have no doubt those sitting in the front of the orchestra had a much different experience.

As I’ve come to expect in COC productions the playing, singing and acting were exemplary. There’s a huge orchestra for The Nightingale whose orchestration ranges from full-blown to very very sparse in the manner of Stravinsky’s then contemporaries Debussy and Mahler. I especially enjoyed the women of the chorus singing the Four Russian Peasant Songs with horn quartet, some of them with their feet dangling off the front of the stage in the water. Among the solo singers Owen McCausland who sang in the quartet of men in The Fox and returned as the Fisherman in The Nightingale was outstanding, as was artist-in-residence Jane Archibald as the Nightingale herself. But really, all the singing was first-rate. We also got to see and hear clarinetist Juan Olivares, in costume, play the 3 Pieces for Solo Clarinet. 

At what conclusion have I arrived? Crabby David was all negative because the first half of the show isn’t an opera. It’s a concert. But is it? There is other stuff going on all the time. Performers do a shadow show illustrating some of the stories. Acrobats move and dance with shadow puppets behind a back-lit screen. They are real, live performers aided only by the lighting. This is theatrical. It’s not opera but it’s theatre and opera, too, is supposed to be theatre.

If it had been a concert, just a concert, would I have enjoyed the music? Certainly! Excellent performances of pieces I’m unlikely to hear otherwise? What’s not to like?

So once I let go of my prejudices and just judged this unique theatrical experience for what it was, I discovered I don’t have a problem with The Nightingale and Other Short Tales. The first half is varied, interesting and engaging. Some of what was presented in that water-filled orchestra pit in the second half was not gimmicky but beautiful, entrancing and, sometimes, frighteningly chilling. The presentation is a collection of theatrical effects which enhance the music and acting, thanks to the genius of Robert Lepage.

There are three more performances, one this very afternoon (May 13/2018) and yesterday’s performance was far from sold out. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ligetti, Bartòk and Dvořák at the HPO.

To make a connection between a concert of Eastern European orchestral music and Hamilton’s Black community’s history is a tenuous, but not impossible undertaking, as we learned last night at a concert of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Maestro James Sommerville, the HPO’s former music director, returned to conduct the orchestra in music of Ligeti, Bartók and Dvořák. He had a highly successful tenure here and was greeting enthusiastically by the HPO audience.

James Sommerville

As we arrived in the lobby of the Great Hall we could hear the Stewart Memorial Church Choir singing spirituals in the Mezzanine. This was a surprise but not entirely unexpected as we'd been warned of something similar in a piece in the Hamilton Spectator.

The orchestra opened with György Ligeti’s Concert Românesc. This piece was written in 1951 but not premièred until 20 years later due to Romanian government suppression. It is in four short movements and very approachable. This is early Ligeti, the folk influenced composer. The music is more akin to Bartók's than Ligeti’s later music written after working in the electronic music studio in Cologne alongside Stockhausen. That sort of Ligeti music is familiar to most people because Stanley Kubrick used some of it (Atmospheres, Lux Aeterna) in the 1968 film  2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a delightful and engaging performance. Concert Master Stephen Sitarski played the solos enthusiastically and I thought, several times, that he would rise from his seat and dance while playing them.

This was followed by a performance of the Bartók Third Piano Concerto played by American pianist, violinist, composer, and former child prodigy Conrad Tao. It is a really beautiful piece and much more accessible than his Concerto for Orchestra or Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste which we heard earlier this season. It is framed in the conventional three movements and draws on the folk elements that are so prevalent in his much earlier works. Tao is a jaw-droppingly accomplished player and his rendition of this concerto The orchestra responded with an appropriately inspired accompaniment which included some glorious string choir sounds and He was dressed in black jeans, a black t-shirt and black jacket, which he removed and placed on the floor while he played his encore, Caténaires, an insanely wild and complex work by Elliot Carter. 

Conrad Tao

The second half was originally billed as the Dvořák 9th Symphony, From the New World  but, alas, that wasn’t exactly to be. Jamie Sommerville, who had already spoken at the beginning of the concert, went on at some length about Dvořák’s interest in Afro-American and Indigenous music and Hamilton’s role as a terminus of the Underground Railway.

He then introduced Charmaine Robinson, a.k.a. Queen Cee who sang an amplified a cappella and sotto voce rendition of Go Down Moses (Let my people go). This song has no connection to Dvořák or the symphony. 

The orchestra then played the first movement of the symphony. At its conclusion, Queen Cee returned to sing, with the strings of the orchestra, Goin’ Home, a song the words of which were composed to a melody from the second movement of the symphony in 1922.

The orchestra then played the concluding three movements of the symphony. It’s a favourite of Sommerville's, not surprising since it has prominent horn-led themes in the first and last movements and his other job is Principal Horn in the Boston Symphony. The New World Symphony seemed markedly old-fashioned after the first half and the performance lacked its energy and intensity. The slow movement, however, featured a splendid rendition of the above-mentioned melody by English hornist Elizabeth Eccleston.

This concert was billed (and sold) as a program of Eastern European orchestral pieces. We avoid pops concerts. The two songs weren’t mentioned in the subscription materials on which I base my choices.

Moreover, whatever credibility the orchestra’s leadership believes it gains by associating itself with local cultural organizations, such performances could be given, as the choir's was, in the lobby prior to the orchestra's performance. It would then not interfere with the flow of a major symphonic work.
On Saturday, May 12, Gemma New returns to conduct a Bernstein tribute concert featuring music by Copland, Royer, Maraquez and Bernstein's own Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Another Conversation with Gemma New

I spoke with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Music Director, Gemma New about the Intimate and Interactive concert which was to be presented that evening (April 5), planning concerts and the HPO’s 2018-19 season.

HPO Music Director Gemma New

DF: How did you choose the music for tonight’s concert?

GN: I look at many different factors like a jigsaw puzzle. Shaker Loops (John Adams) is a piece I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve seen in performed in other places and I’ve seen how powerful it is. Throughout my life I’ve seen a ton of concerts and heard lots of music and I think, that was great and I want to bring this piece to Hamilton. And you have always to think, every city is different, has different needs, what sort of music the audience is going to be drawn to and appreciate. 

First off we’re playing String Sinfonietta by Vivian Fung. Then Claude Vivier’s Zipangu. Both of those pieces are inspired by Balinese Gamelan music. The two halves of the concert come together in the fact that music inspires or creates an opportunity for the listener to transcend spiritually.

DF: I can see there are peculiar challenges here where you have an established audience of concert goers and you wish to interest a younger audience too. So you have two kinds of audiences.

GN: At least. Everyone reacts to music differently. You have to have an informed opinion of what you think is going to work. I sit in the audience a lot getting ideas. Shaker Loops was the beginning of this concert.

DF: How many concerts in the upcoming season?

GN: The same as this year. There are nine mainstage concerts and we have two Interactive and Immersive concerts in March and May, We have two family concerts, and then we have the Literary Recital series and the Gallery Series.

In November we have the Remembrance Day concert. We like to alternate it between a more classical concert and the next year we do a more pops related. This year we’re doing music of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Scott Joplin. The Bach-Elgar Choir will be doing some favourite tunes, remembering WW I and the Golden Era of Jazz that came right after it. We’ve got a great singer, Doug Labrecque, who has performed with many major orchestras in the U.S. He’s really phenomenal and he’s funny and his voice is so strong and beautiful and he knows this repertoire inside out. I am so pleased we were able to get him here.

In the Holiday Concert we’re going to do Abigail Richardson-Shulte’s The Hockey Sweater (with Roch Carrier narrating) and we will also have the HPO Youth Orchestra on-stage performing with the full HPO.

We have a Tribute to the Beatles: With Love. It’s going to be close to Valentine’s Day. Darcy Heppner is the conductor and he’s bringing some special guests along. The concert last time sold out weeks before so we were anxious to bring him back.

DF: Do you have themes for other concerts?

I try to have a unified idea. Our community is diverse and I would like that, if you don’t know a lot about music or if you know a ton about music, you can relate to the program in some way. I like to combine the theme and the styles of music and the pacing of the program. All three of those things must work well. 

The first two programs are about passion and drama in music. We have Beethoven and Mozart and Gluck and Elgar. They wanted drama and stories and this personal energy to come through in the music. So we’ve got the Leonora Overture #3 (Beethoven), the Elgar Cello Concerto (Cameron Crozman plays), and Brahm’s Symphony #1. 

And then the next program is GluckThe Furies from Orpheus ed Euridice which is a scene from the opera in which the Furies say,” No, you shall not come into the underworld.” and he’s (Orpheus) playing and singing this most beautiful tune and finally they listen. Beethoven was inspired by this to write the slow movement of his Fourth Piano Concerto and we have André Laplante playing it. Straight after then we have Antinomie by Jacques Hétu which I don’t know very well but our guest conductor Jacques Lacombe has specifically chosen it to fit in this program and he has a special relationship with Hétu and his music. And then Mozart Jupiter Symphony, #41.

DF: Thanks so much!

This interview was edited for length and continuity.

Here are the listings for the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Mainstage 2018-19 season. 

October 20, 2018
Beethoven & Mozart
Jacques Lacombe, Conductor
Andre Laplante, Piano
Gluck: Dance of the Furies from Orphée et Euridice
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4
Hétu: Antinomie
Mozart: Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter)

November 10, 2018
From Broadway to Tin Pan Alley
Gemma New, Conductor
Doug LaBrecque, Vocalist
Bach Elgar Choir, Guest Artist
Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Band, Guest Artist

December 15, 2018
Home for the Holidays: The Hockey Sweater
Gemma New, Conductor
Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Guest Artist
Roch Carrier, Narrator
Holiday Favourites

January 19, 2019
Glorious Bach
Ivars Taurins, Conductor
Stephen Sitarski, Violin
Lance Ouellette, Violin

Selections by J.S. Bach including Concerto for Violin, Orchestral Suite No. 3, and music from The Well-Tempered Clavier.

February 16, 2019
From The Beatles, With Love
Darcy Hepner, Conductor
Experience your favourite Beatles songs arranged for live orchestra in collaboration with Hamilton artists.

March 16, 2019
Debussy & Holst’s The Planets
Gemma New, Conductor
McMaster University Choir, Guest Artist
Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Debussy: Nocturnes
Holst: The Planets

April 27, 2019
Ravel & Stravinsky
Nathan Brock, Conductor
Stephen Sitarski, Violin
Rossini: The Barber of Seville Overture
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor
Ravel: Tombeau de Couperin
Stravinsky: Jeux de Cartes

May 11, 2019
Mahler’s Fifth 
Conductor: Gemma New
Vivier: Orion
Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Beethoven and Ehnes at the HPO

We went last night (March 17, 2018) to hear the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra play to a full house at First Ontario Centre aka the Great Hall at Hamilton Place. I didn’t look over the program or read Leonard’s piece in the Spec before the concert which was called Beethoven & James Ehnes. Perhaps a Leonora Overture, then the Beethoven Violin Concerto? Some substantial Beethoven symphony in the second half. A lot of Beethoven in one program but some people can’t get enough Beethoven; Ludwig van Beethoven. (Try the last four words in Sean Connery’s voice.)

So we got a program and I sat and I began to read. I was mistaken, seriously mistaken. I should have known that Gemma New wouldn’t have programmed the unimaginative concert that I had expected. First would come a Christos Hatzis curtain raiser, Zeitgeist. Then Ehnes would play the  Samuel Barber Violin Concerto. Finally, I got one right: Beethoven’s Third Symphony, The Eroica ie. "heroic symphony" would close the concert.

We began, as usual with Conductor Gemma New and Executive Director Diana Weir’s welcome and acknowledgements, Gemma in her conducting togs and Diana in appropriate green. The composer, Hatzis I mean, the others being long dead, would also speak and introduce his piece which he did mostly rephrasing things that he’d already written in the program.

Zeitgeist, written almost 20 years ago is, according to Hatzis, a musical commentary on Postmodernism. The work is written for string orchestra and references numerous musical styles, some more obviously than others. It featured solo duet passages played capably by Stephen Sitarski and Elizabeth Loewen Andrews. It begins with a convincing imitation of an 18th century French Overture and drifts from that into various avatars of Academic New Music. At times I was more interested in watching New’s extraordinarily clear conducting of the complex key signatures than the music. The piece was interesting, nonetheless, and deserved another listening, perhaps at the beginning of the second half as is done in some New Music series.

The Barber Violin Concert came up next. The première dates from 1941 and  was conducted by Toscanini, no less. It is fully blown neo-Romantic in style, a tour de force for the violinist and a very beautiful work. It is also featured on James Ehnes’s Grammy winning CD along with the Korngold and Walton concertos.

James Ehnes and Strad.

It really was a wonderful performance. I have heard several very fine violinists play solo concertos over the last couple of seasons, at the HPO and with the Brott orchestra, but Ehnes’s performance seemed the most mature. The orchestra rose to the occasion and played exquisitely. Clarinetist Dominic Desautels and oboist Graham Mackenzie both had substantial solos and played them adroitly. Mackenzie’s, at the opening of the second movement, was especially lovely.

Ehnes then played, as an encore, a little J.S. Bach from the solo violin sonatas.
It was fascinating to watch all the violinists, and New, watch him.

The concert concluded with Beethoven. It’s hard to explain to listeners without much experience of “classical music” just how revolutionary this piece was and how different it must have sounded to a contemporary audience at its première, from the international style music which they had heard before. It was long, for the time. Beethoven’s first two symphonies clock in at about 30 minutes. The Eroica takes 45 minutes or more depending on the tempos. It is also complex, as Beethoven’s music often is, constructed not so much of themes and melodies, as the motifs that make them up.

The orchestra, under conductor New, gave a rousing performance to end a very entertaining evening. The horns (David Quackenbush, Neil Spaulding and Mikhailo Babiak) played the trio in the scherzo with gusto. Flutist Leslie Newman stood out playing the short, thought spectacular solo in the finale which must surely be in the flute orchestral auditions excerpts book.

The audience went home, surely satisfied. More people must be reading my recounts than I thought since no one in the big crowd applauded between the movements...

The orchestra is back April 19th under James Sommerville with another diverse and imaginative program. Conrad Tao plays the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 3. They open with Ligeti’s Concert Românesc and finish with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 From the New World.

It would be great if the orchestra could sell out this concert too. I encourage, implore, concert goers and potential concert goers, especially young people, to get out and support Hamilton's wonderful professional orchestra.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Half of an Abduction

I did something yesterday afternoon that I've never done before. I left a COC performance at the interval.

In this production, the company has responded to a question to which no one wants an answer: How do you make a Mozart singspiel boring?

Simple. Make the speaking as long as the singing. Make the play as long as the music. Turn a comedy into a pedantic exposition of the stage director's agenda.

I noted the performance time of the COC's Abduction from the Seraglio in the reminder email they sent. Three and a quarter hours. Seemed at little long. I've since checked: the Met production runs two hours, six minutes.

I'm not going to get into Wajdi Mouawad's rationale for his re-writing of the dialogue which is detailed elsewhere.

This performance opened with a long spoken scene introducing the characters and explaining the premise i.e. that the story would be told through flashbacks.

Then we got the overture. Pretty well every musical number was preceeded or  followed by a substantial amount of German dialogue.

Mouawad also turns the humourous characters (Blonde, Pedrillo and Osmin) into serious ones robbing the show of its comic relief.

Jane Archibald surrounded by little girls and the undead.
Photo credit: The Globe and Mail, Bertrand Stofleth.

As is usually the case with the COC, this production features first rate solo singers, fine chorus singing and brilliant orchestral playing. Unlike some other re-imagined shows (like Ballo in Maschera) the great musical interpretation didn't make up for the production's missteps which are too great.

The best singing I heard came from bass Garan Juric as Osmin. He's a good actor with an excellent bass voice. I'd love to hear his Sarastro.

Resident artist Jane Archibald was a capable Konstanze. She has thrilling high notes and convincing coloratura. It was, however, a little disconcerting to hear her voice disappear as she sang the descending lines in her showpiece aria, Marten Aller Arten.

Claire de Sévigné, on the other hand, matched Juric note for note in the comical low bit of their duet. She also pinned the high Es in her aria. De Sévigné is an impressive actress as well, a definite advantage for a coloratura soubrette. Maybe this is picky, but she's also a brunette. The character is called "Blondie."

Mauro Peter, as Belmonte, seemed uncomfortable at the outset but sang the numerous high G#s and As easily in his arias and certainly looks the part. I'd have liked to hear his spectacular aria, Ich baue ganz, but it was in the second half for which we didn't stay.

Owen Causland played a convincing Pedrillo and more than held his own in the trio with Osmin and Belmonte.

Raphael Weinstock portrayed Bassa Selim and Belmonte's father as well as this tedious script would allow.

I've since looked at the reviews of this production's première in Lyon and they are scathing. With such a warning, what was the administration of the COC thinking?

I am reminded of Monty Python whose last album was titled Contractual Obligation. Except that that album is funny. This production isn't.