Monday, October 30, 2017

L'elisir D'amore at the COC

We went to hear the COC”s production of L’elisir D’amore Sunday afternoon (Nov. 29, 2017) at the Four Seasons Centre. If it didn’t surpass my expectations, it certainly lived up to them.

It is a very conventional production despite the band pavillion and Red Ensign flags. Resetting the time frame and location of operas sometimes lead to peculiar anachronisms. When Adina reads to the town's people, who Dulcamara refers to as “rustici”, they implore her to continue because they are enjoying the story and they are illiterate. In this production she’s the librarian and, as is made clear in the staging, everybody, including Nemorino, can read. Makes you wonder.

It is also a very silly opera but I knew that going in. I’d forgotten that Adina, described in the program as “bookish and confident”, is also revealed to be a manipulative minx which makes Nemorino’s entrancement with her and eventual capitulation hard to stomach. But so much for the plot.

The young principals are all Canadians, former members of the COC Ensemble and seem headed for international careers (Gordon Bintner is already at Oper Frankfurt. Whether the company took a chance casting them rather then established international stars is a question for the box office but the audience enjoyed the show and laughed at the comic bits in the staging and the jokes in the surtitles.

Simone Osborne was a convincing Adina in voice and a surprisingly adept comic actress. I  believe we’ve seen her in four disparate roles and she’s never disappointed. She evidently sang MicaĆ«la in the COC’s Carmen which seems an odd choice for a Lyric Soubrette. The role is better suited to a Lyric Soprano and I don’t hear her voice going that way.

Simone Osborne as Adina

Andrew Haji was an amusing Nemorino, Ice Cream Man. Some would credit him with the best singing of the night. He possesses a beautiful Lyric Tenor voice and his rendition of Una Furtiva was just lovely, even touching. Someone of his girth would, however, never be cast as a romantic lead in straight theatre. He’s a young guy and if he’s going to remedy the problem he’d better get on it. Knees don’t last forever.

Gordon Bintner was a very funny Belcore. Who’d have thought such a fine singer would have a gift for physical comedy? He can act with his eyebrows and even his legs and feet.

Andrew Shore sang and acted a really good Dulcamara. I suspect they left in some of the routine cuts to give him more opportunities. The duet he and Adina sing, which he’s supposed written, of a dottering senator with his eye on a young rustica was amusing. I checked his bio and he’s had a wonderful career singing mostly buffo roles but also some very serious ones at English National, The Met and Bayreuth.

Lauren Eberwein, a current Ensemble member sang Gianetta and was charming in her moment with the Women’s Chorus as she reveals her knowledge of Nemorino’s good fortune.

There are a couple of more performance before this one closes and, if you like comic opera and really good singing, this is a show for you.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Arabella at the COC

We went to see the COC’s production Arabella at the Four Seasons Centre last Sunday afternoon (Oct. 22, 2017). The COC sends an email containing details of the performance and warnings to subscribers and I was especially glad to have had it on this occasion since it was the afternoon of the Waterfront Marathon.

Some people will find the story of this opera either silly or offensive. Count Waldner has gambled away the family fortune and he and his wife are auctioning off their beautiful eldest daughter, with her full knowledge, to wealthy suitors. While she ends up marrying the “man of her dreams”, her younger sister is set to marry a man who doesn’t love her and has just slept with her believing her to be Arabella!  

It is all too easy to criticize social norms of the past as we see often in contemporary media. Lacking historical and social context it can be difficult to understand attitudes and relationships of 90 years ago in a foreign country. Moreover, the libretto and opera date from 1929 and the opera is set in about 1860 so the librettist is satirizing Viennese society some 70 years earlier.

This opera, with a libretto by Strauss’s long-time collaborator von Hoffmannstal, is a play set to music rather than an opera in the conventional sense of a suite of pieces which outline a story, held together by recitative or other similar singing. This is the form of much German opera from Wagner onward. Some audiences, unfamiliar with this kind of opera, are put off by the dearth of stand-alone arias and ensembles.

Strauss operas, beginning with Rosenkavalier (1911), share a musical vocabulary with which I am familiar but I’d never heard Arabella. 

Erin Wall (Arabella) and Tomasz Konieczny (Mandryka)

I was entranced by the first act whose music is glorious and the next two acts were as good. Strauss wrote masterfully for voices, especially female voices, and was a brilliant orchestrator.

Unfortunately, the orchestra frequently covered the singers who became part of the musical texture rather than above it as one would expect. Whether the fault lies with Strauss or conductor Patrick Lange is difficult to know. The orchestral playing was excellent, as usual.

The singers were also very fine. Adelaide, sung by Gundula Hintz and John Fanning, a wonderful Count Waldner sang convincingly and were entertaining actors as well. Jane Archibald as Zdenka and Erin Wall in the title role were exceptional. Michael Brandenburg, as Matteo, has a sturdy, dependable tenor voice and provided appropriately melodramatic acting.

Tomasz Konieczny sang Mandryka, the romantic baritone role. He’s had a long career singing bass and bass-baritone roles, so this one is outside of his usual fach. He sang the numerous high F#s with authority but his highest notes are uncovered and a little shouty, unlike the rest of his voice.

There’s but one performance of this run left on Sat. October 28. The production has few faults and we’re not likely to see this piece presented again in these part for a long time. If you like Rosenkavalier, you’ll certainly like Arabella.