Friday, December 18, 2020

MADAMA BUTTERFLY – REVIEW OF GREEK NATIONAL OPERA PRODUCTION

By James Karas

This is a review of Madama Butterfly produced by the Greek National Opera and streamed around the world.

No, that is not a misprint. There is a Greek National Opera (GNO) that is alive and kicking. It has a stunning new home in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Athens, and it is has produced and telecast a redoubtable production of Madama Butterfly. More about Greek opera later.

Performances of Madama Butterfly started in October and a recording was made in November just before all events were cancelled due to Covid-19. To their great credit they have decided to stream the recorded performance and remind us of the existence of the Greek National Opera.

The production features Albanian Soprano Ermonela Jaho as Cio-Cio San (Madama Butterfly), the 15-year-old Japanese geisha who falls hopelessly in love with Lieut. Pinkerton of the United States Navy. She delivers a splendid Cio-Cio San. Not only does she sing with sterling vocal beauty but invests the role with emotional depth that is exhilarating and heart-breaking. We see the happy bride who is in love and will do anything to please her lover. In “Un bel di vedremo” she imagines Pinkerton’s return after having been abandoned three years before. There is longing, playfulness, beautifully imagined happiness, all done superbly by Jaho.

Ermonela Jaho as Madama Butterfly

The tragic end is yet to come when she realizes the extent of Pinkerton’s perfidy and she has to give up her son and then her life. A performance full of vocal beauty and pathos.

Italian tenor Gianluca Terranova played Pinkerton as an arrogant, self-centered, amoral, “ugly American” who “marries” a young girl to satisfy his lust. Butterfly is a temporary wife, and he can get rid of her on a month’s notice when he has a real wedding with an American girl. Terranova is fine as a swaggering scoundrel and his voice soars to the high notes of his braggadocio. Director Hugo de Ana has him dressed all too casually in an open shirt and slacks. It does not quite befit a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy who is most likely to wear a dress uniform.

Baritone Dionysios Sourbis as the American Consul Sharpless appears more nervous than sympathetic at the start, but he eventually sings and acts like a mensch when the extent of Butterfly’s tragedy strikes him in the face.

Mezzo-soprano Chrysanthi Spitadi deserves kudos for her performance as Butterfly’s faithful servant Suzuki. She sees and knows the truth and tries to help the besotted Butterfly. A completely sympathetic character done well by Spitadi.

Hugo de Ana gives us a classic, conservative production that has many fine details. For example, Butterfly has an icon, a rosary and wears blue jeans. She has renounced her entire cultural background to become an American wife and please Pinkerton. The final scene is done with deep pathos with Butterfly’s suicide handled with effectiveness and restraint.

De Ana goes overboard with some of his costumes for Butterfly’s visitors. Yamadori (Marios Sarntidis) and Bonzo (Yianni Yannisis) don huge, ridiculous wigs. The rest are mostly tasteful and there are some beautiful Japanese costumes.

The set is fairly Spartan but appropriate with skeletons of structures and backdrops indicating the port and appropriate lighting. There is judicious use of video projections especially during the interminable intermezzo.

Lukas Karytinos conducted the Orchestra of the GNO. Because of Covid-19, the size of the orchestra was reduced but it still sounded excellent. Unfortunately, there seems to be a problem with the hall’s acoustics. While the orchestra sounded fine, there was a difference in volume coming from the stage. The singers were never overwhelmed but there were times when it was difficult to hear them. When the main characters sang at full throttle, there was no issue. At other times there was.

Giorgos Koumendakis, the GNO’s Artistic Director, advises that more productions will be televised starting January 2021. That is an incredible step forward for Greek culture.

The Greek National Opera was formed in 1939 and it had its first production on October 25, 1940. In attendance were numerous notables including the Italian Ambassador to Greece, Emanuele Grazzi. He is the one that three days later, in the middle on the night of October 28, 1940 visited Dictator Ioannis Metaxas and delivered Italy’s ultimatum. By the morning, Greece had entered World War II. This production of Madama Butterfly marks the 80th anniversary of the 1940 opening.

There have been many productions since 1940 but very few have merited international attention. A young girl named Mary Kalogeropoulos sang on its stage during the war. She left Greece and went to Italy and became Maria Callas. There are many world-class singers and musicians, and all should be brought to Athens to make the world notice the GNO.

The GNO already has a large roster of in-house singers, dancers, musicians and behind-the-scenes personnel. It promises to telecast more productions to the world. We wait with anticipation and hope.  _______________

Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini is being streamed by the Greek National Opera. For more information go to:  https://www.nationalopera.gr/ or  https://tv.nationalopera.gr/

 

Monday, December 14, 2020

TOSCA – 1978 MET PRODUCTION STREAMING AND MUCH MORE

 Reviewed by James Karas 

Have you heard or seen Tosca recently? How many times? Have you heard Maria Callas in her 1953 recording?

New York’s Metropolitan Opera offered us another chance to see Tosca by streaming its 1978 production. It is part of its daily streaming of productions new and old during the pandemic. It is a redoubtable show by any standard, but you may wish to complain about the pre-digital age video. You should not.

Tosca requires three topnotch singers: a soprano, a tenor and a baritone. With some exaggeration one can state that almost every topnotch soprano, tenor and baritone has recorded Tosca, many more than once, but more about that later.

Maria Callas

The production streamed for us featured Shirley Verrett as Tosca, Luciano Pavarotti as Cavaradossi and Cornell MacNeil as Scarpia. That is star power. Verrett started as a mezzo but had the high notes to sing soprano roles and she does a stunning Tosca. She has a richly toned voice and dramatic talent, and her Tosca has grand emotional depth and strength. She is coy and jealous in the beginning but progresses into a woman who is deeply in love in the duet with Cavaradossi. Her “Vissi d’arte” is almost a prayer and we relish her murder of Scarpia as she glorifies in her stabbing and cries “Muori donato! Muori, Muori!”

Luciano Pavarotti, who dominated the tenor repertoire, made his Met debut in the role of the heroic Cavaradossi. He sings with ease and assurance and his splendid middle range is a delight while the high notes seem to come effortlessly. Much younger then, he is physically adroit and gives us a memorable Cavaradossi.

Cornell MacNeil was one of the foremost baritones of the era and interestingly was directed by another outstanding Scarpia – Tito Gobbi. Gobbi sang Scarpia in perhaps the greatest recording of Tosca, the one with Maria Callas in 1953. MacNeil as Scarpia is made to look like Gobbi did in the role especially in the 1964 production at Covent Garden. That production, with Maria Callas of course, was directed by Franco Zeffirelli part of it is available on YouTube.

Gobbi’s adept production is Zeffirellian in its approach. He wants us to see details of the church in the first act and the room in the Palazzo Farnese in the second act as well as a giving us a good impression of the Castel Sant’ Angelo in the third act.

Zeffirelli produced his version of Tosca at the Met in 1985 and it was revived numerous times for the next 25 years. It starred Hildegard Behrens, Placido Domingo and Cornell MacNeill. It is lavish, opulent, stunning, vocally and physically. Enough said. Just see it.

Zeffirelli’s unforgettable production was replaced by Luc Bondy’s staging in 2009 and it was roundly booed. In 2017 Bondy’s production was replaced by one directed by David McVicar. The latter avoided Bondy’s pitfalls and gave a traditional production laden with many fine details that made it look fresh. It was a success.

Opera listeners come in several categories. Normal people who see and listen to standard repertory productions. They come in various gradations of dedication to the art. In the other extreme are the opera buffs or aficionados. There dedication has no bounds – they are nuts – who want every recording of their favourite opera or singer and argue about her high notes, his wobbly low notes and everything in between.

If you see one production of, say, Tosca, you want to see a couple more, no? Yes. But which one do you choose? In 1978, a critic reviewed recordings of Tosca and listed a mere 24 complete recordings starting in 1920. That is a pittance, and most aficionados would have had no difficulty acquiring most of them. Digital recordings, videos and streaming arrive, and the number of recordings goes through the roof. It seems that there are more than 250 recordings of Tosca today. Trying hearing, seeing or buying most of them!

But mention Tosca and all afficionados will immediately point to the 1953 Callas, Gobbi and Giuseppe di Stefano recording. It is spectacular in every aspect and listening to the enhanced CD has the advantage of letting you imagine the action. As I said almost every soprano has recorded Tosca and you will not go wrong with Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi, Montserrat Caballe and many others. But like a Muslim going to Mecca, you cannot go though life by not hearing that recording.

There is no shortage of Tosca recordings available on DVDs and on YouTube. In 1976 Gianfranco de Bosio made a notable film with Raina Kabaivanska, Placido Domingo and Sherril Milnes in the main roles. It has the advantages of a movie without interfering with the music or the libretto We see the exteriors and interior of Sant’ Andrea Della Valle Church, get a view of the Palazzo Farnese as well as the Castel Sant’ Angelo. The great scenes are a bonus to the stunning performances of the young singers. A couple of hours well spent.

But things do not always work out. If you want to see the “big names” together in a production that stinks, see Tosca in the 2000 production at the Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma. The stage looks like something you find in a high school auditorium. It has no real orchestra pit and the musicians are encroaching on the playing area which is tiny. The set is pathetic, what you can see of it when the camera is not relentlessly zeroing in on the faces of the singers.

 It was the 100th anniversary of the opera and Franco Zeffirelli directed it. He did not have much to work with and crammed whatever he could on the tiny stage. Venezuelan soprano Ines Salazar as Tosca sang forcefully and well but she looked like she just stepped out of the shower and had no time to do her hair. Luciano Pavarotti sang Cavaradossi and wowed the audience. They gave him thunderous applause and Juan Pons was Scarpa. Fine singing but simply awful production values.

Covid-19 is making life hell but a few hours with Tosca, Maria Callas and a few others like her and life will seem a lot better.

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James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared first in the newspaper

Friday, February 14, 2020

HANSEL & GRETEL – REVIEW OF 2020 COC PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas
           
The Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel has so many virtues one feels downright churlish to mention some of its less admirable aspects. Alas, we must deal with both.

Richard Strauss by happenstance conducted the first production of the opera and he declared it a masterpiece without hesitation. That is about as good as a Good Opera Seal of Approval as you could get in 1893 and not too many people have taken issue with the quality of the work.

It is based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm which Humperdinck’s sister Adelheid Wette molded into a libretto and it was a hit from the start. With its wealth of gorgeous melodies and luscious music, the story of children in the forest with a Sandman, a Dew Fairy and a Witch with unique gastronomic tastes, it can hardly fail.
 Emily Fons as Hansel and Simone Osborne as Gretel. Photo: Michael Cooper
The singing is superb. Canadian soprano Simone Osborne (a regular with the COC since 2013) has a clarion voice and sings a gorgeous Gretel. American mezzo-soprano Emily Fons has a big and lusty voice and as Hansel makes a perfect partner for Osborne.

Hansel and Gretel are of course children and Osborne and Fons, though young, are not. Their costumes indicate their youth but that is not enough. They have mastered the movements, mannerisms and gestures of children to the point where we never doubt that they are children. Amazing performances.

Ontarian operatic veterans Kristina Szabo and Russell Braun handle the roles of the mother Gertrude and the father Peter with their usual assurance and exceptional singing.

The role of the Witch, usually sung by a mezzo-soprano, is given to Torontonian tenor Michael Colvin who approaches the meaty part with relish. He wears a very colourful, clownish costume and sings with nasty delight. Marvelous.

The young Canadian soprano Anna-Sophie Neher is cast as both The Sandman and The Dew Fairy and gets to sing some of the most beautiful arias of the work. She does superb work with her deliciously lyrical voice.

Johnannes Debus conducted the COC Orchestra and did more than justice to Humperdinck’s marvelous and superbly orchestrated score.

The production is directed by Joel Ivany with set and projection designs by S. Katy Tucker, costume designs by Ming Wong and lighting design by JAX Messenger.

They have set the opera unapologetically in an apartment building in Toronto occupied by people of the lower rungs of the economic ladder. We are treated to panoramic views of the city and the apartment building where we see through the windows of numerous units. Then we zero in on several apartments on two floors. Those apartments are the central but very changeable set of the production.

We are treated to extensive use of projections and a kaleidoscope of colours that are eye-catching and impressive. There is some indication of a forest in the midst of all this but it quickly disappears and we are kept so busy looking at everything else that we hardly notice the forest.
 
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s Hansel & Gretel. Photo: Michael Cooper
Then it gets murky and confusing. We know the fairy tale and we know the plot of Hansel and Gretel. Ivany has something happening in one or two apartments at most times and there are occasions when I have no idea what is happening there. Hansel and Gretel are dealing with the Witch below and someone in the upper apartment is drinking something that he took from the fridge and a woman in another apartment is doing something else. I try to ignore them but what in the world are they doing?

Hansel and Gretel’s first meeting with The Witch takes place in the corner of the stage and they stay there for a while. Why? The oven in which the children are to be roasted is a large wooden cabinet. We don’t need anything more graphic, thank you. But what is Peter doing coming on the stage, getting in the oven and shaking it? Who is the woman that comes in from the other side of the stage and speaks with The Witch and disappears? What did I miss?

Did I tell you about the cute dog in the upper apartment? And my companion noted that the children go and sleep in a strange man’s apartment. “Shouldn’t we be calling social services?” she asked.

All of this was unnecessary, annoying and confusing. It has the effect of making the post-performance conversation focus on the needless aspects instead of the main point which was a splendidly sung and otherwise wonderful production.
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Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck is being performed seven times between February 6 and 21, 2020 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Saturday, January 25, 2020

THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – REVIEW OF 2020 COC PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas
           
The Canadian Opera Company dispels Toronto’s winter blues with a delicious production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. There may have been the odd, minor glitch but this was a highly enjoyable and splendid production.

The opera has a vocal, musical and comic momentum that can be built on with sufficient changes of pace that can take and keep the audience entertained in the wonderful world of Seville of no particular era. There we find Dr. Bartolo, an old fool who wants to marry his lovely ward Rosina for her money and much more. There is Almaviva, a handsome count who is stricken by Rosina’s beauty and has fallen hopelessly in love with her. There is Basilio, a foolish and corrupt singing teacher and, of course, the incomparable, versatile, ever-inventive town barber and factotum Figaro.
 
Emily D’Angelo as Rosina, Joel Allison as Fiorello, Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva 
and Vito Priante as Figaro in of The Barber of Seville, 2020. Photo: Michael Cooper
Rossini provides some incredible music, arias and ensemble pieces integrated with comic scenes nonpareil. All you need is the musicians and cast to deliver. Let’s start with the highly alluring Rosina in the hands and vocal chords of mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo. A Toronto girl! We get to know her (and love her) when she introduces herself in her cavatina “Una voce poco fa.” With energy, panache and sumptuous singing D’Angelo’s Rosina tells us that she is in love with Lindoro and swears that she will have him. She has a thousand tricks up her sleeve and she will not be trifled with by nobody, no how. And the music lesson where she and Lindoro practice an aria is a scrumptious love scene.  Clear?

Lindoro is the Count Almaviva in disguise and Argentinian tenor Santiago Ballerini better be good to deserve a woman like Rosina. Ballerini rises to the occasion with a mellifluous midrange and well achieved high notes. At the beginning, we had a few worrisome moments when we thought we may not be able to hear him (we have to hear you even if you are singing pianissimo) but that concern was dissipated quickly and he turned in a fine performance.   

The ardent lovers have opposition to overcome but they also have a powerful ally and the most famous facilitator in opera, Figaro. Italian baritone Vito Priante as Figaro gets one of the most famous entrances with his “Largo al factotum,” a tongue twister of a cavatina that reflects the master schemer. He is far more than a mere factotum. Priante displays comic talent, vocal versatility and gives a superb performance.

Doctor Bartolo is the old geezer who wants the young beauty. He is a comic figure who brings the laughs and has some sonorous singing to do. Italian baritone Renato Girolami does both in a hugely creditable performance. He sang the role in the 2015 production of The Barber of which this is a revival.

His not-too-reliable partner is Basilio done exceptionally well by American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel. He is a reprehensible chap, a master slanderer and a treacherous friend and Cedel sings the role with vocal resonance and agility.

Canadian mezzo-soprano Simona Genga kicks butt in her performance as Rosina’s old maid servant Berta. It’s a small role but she has the beautiful aria that parodies love as a crazy mania in “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” (The old man seeks a wife). She did a wonderful job and the audience loved her.

The chorus was impressive and the COC Orchestra equally good. The conductor is Speranza Scappucci, a woman. Regretfully and shamefully, we are a long way from not noticing the gender of the conductor but at least there is some progress. 
Santiago Ballerini as Count Almaviva (right) in The Barber of Seville, 2020. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
The production is directed by Joan Font with set and costumes by Joan Guillén. The directing was excellent for the reasons stated above. But what was the woman sitting on the right side of the stage during the opening scene doing? She never really leaves the stage and she goes from a minor annoyance to being ignored but Font no doubt had something in mind when she put her on,

The costumes were mostly appropriate if not time sensitive. The military uniforms did the job, Rosina wore a nice white dress and the rest were of little concern. But what were those growths on the top of the heads of some of the servants? Are they tufts of hair or Italian sausages?

The set at the beginning shows a vaguely black background and a structure on one side. Change of lighting turns it into Rosina’s residence. Once we are inside her house, the music and singing carry us through and the set becomes of secondary interest.

The gripes are minor compared to the thoroughly enjoyable production that got a well-deserved standing ovation.
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The Barber of Seville by Giacomo Rossini with libretto by Cesare Sterbini is being performed eight times between January 19 and February 7, 2020 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

THE GYPSY BARON – REVIEW OF 2019 TORONTO OPERETTA THEATRE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

It’s the holiday season including the celebration of a new year, a new decade and a farewell to 2019. How about some light and civilized entertainment?

No, I did not mean that.

I mean something lively, indeed boisterous, civilized, with beautiful music, gorgeous melodies, a visit to another world and, of course, a happy ending. And something you may not have tried for long time. How about an operetta?

Toronto Operetta Theatre delivers a production of The Gypsy Baron by Johann Strauss II that meets all of the above criteria. There are some limitations to what TOT can do but more of that below. In short, this is an enjoyable production with some fine signing by the chorus, superior singing by the women in the key roles and mostly good stuff by the male singers. 
 The company of The Gypsy Baron. Photo: Gary Beechey
The operetta takes place in Hungary and Vienna sometime in the past – that is another world. Director and Designer Guillermo Silva-Main makes no effort to give us a precise date or century and we do not need it. (There is a number of historical events mentioned that will give you a more precise chronology, but get a life. This is operetta)

The plot involves Barinkay who is returning to claim his father’s estate. He meets Zsupan the crooked pig farmer who has helped himself to parts of his estate but has a pretty daughter named Arsena. Barinkay proposes to her but she rebuffs him because she has eyes only for Ottokar.

In the meantime, Arsena’s governess Mirabella finds her long-lost husband who happens to be the Royal Commissioner Carnero. Barinkay finds the beautiful gypsy girl Saffi who we think is the daughter of the lively, fortune-telling gypsy Czipra but keep an open mind. Complicated, no? Well, the men will go to war, come back heroes and Governor Homonay will drop in near the end to tie up all the plot strands and provide a happy ending for us all.

That is the plot of an operetta. I could not understand all the lyrics as the chorus was singing but they did a marvelous job. You want to hear military music, a waltz, polka, love duets and generally delightful music, Strauss never disappoints. Much of it is quite familiar even if you did not place it the other times that you heard it.

Derek Bate conducted the 12-piece orchestra lined up in front of the stage of the Jane Mallett Theatre. The limitation of the seating area and number of players of the orchestra are obvious. A decent pit and two or three dozen musicians would be preferable, of course. The real delight is how well they played and the marvelous music they gave us.

There is very little in the way of a set. A few chairs and settees, some flowers, are pretty much used for the scene in Vienna. A few platforms are all that you get in the first scenes. The costumes are from Malabar but they are more than adequate for the job. Those are the limitations that TOT has to live with.

The Gypsy Baron provides ample opportunities for comedy, dancing and fine singing. TOT does not have the wherewithal to do all of these things but it does have some excellent singers. Soprano Meghan Lindsay with her plush, mellifluous and simply lovely voice makes a splendid Saffi, the “gypsy” that Barinkay loves. She outsings everyone. 
Meghan Lindsay and Michael Barrett. Photo: Gary Beechey
Mezzo soprano Beste Kalender sings a Czipra that is full of voice and life and a delight to hear and watch. Soprano Daniela Agostino is a spunky and well-sung Arsena. Mezzo soprano Karen Bojti sang a spirited and matronly Mirabella, Arsena’s governess. 

The male singers were generally not as successful as the women. They had more limited ranges but were quite expressive. Tenor Joshua Clemenger did well singing the pig farmer Zsupan but he missed the opportunity for comic acting. Zsupan could be acted as a broadly comic character. Baritone Austin Larusson was properly wooden as the self-righteous and puritanical protector of morals, Royal Commissioner Carnero.

Tenor Michael Barrett as Barinkay has a big voice with a sturdy midrange but he did not display a huge a range. Edward Larocque as Ottokar has the same issue.
       
Guillermo Silver-Marin, the company’s General Director and the Stage Director of the production reminds us that TOT is the only professional operetta company in Canada. That’s bad enough but the fact that it is inadequately funded (to put it politely) is a disgrace.  
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The Gypsy Baron  by Johann Strauss II is being performed between December 28, 2019 and January 5, 2020 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 922-2912. www.torontooperetta.com

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

MADAMA BUTTERFLY - REVIEW OF 2019 REVIVAL AT THE MET

Reviewed by James Karas

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madama Butterfly premiered at the English National Opera in London in 2005 and at the Met in New York in 2006. It is still a going concern and is telecast Live in HD from the Met this season.

This is the fifth time I seen this production and I must admit that Minghella’s use of Bunraku puppetry has lost some of its appeal. The Bunraku puppets are not traditional dolls manipulated by strings but plastic devices that require a lot of puppeteers on the stage to manipulate them. The little boy in the opera, for example, requires three puppeteers to make it move around. Each handles a different part of its body and the effect is frequently interesting. The puppets are used for Cio-Cio San’s son and for her in a ballet sequence at the beginning of Act I, Scene 2.

The puppeteers are dressed in black and their faces are covered by veils. They give admirable evidence of their athleticisms and adeptness in handling the puppets.  There is a complex use of mirrors, birds in flight, stars in the sky and commotion.

This time however I wondered how much they added to the opera and if Puccini’s work needed such excessive gimmickry
 
Hui He as Cio-Cio-San and Paulo Szot as Sharpless. Photo: Richard Termine / Met Opera
Hui He does may not fit the physical description of a very young Japanese girl who falls in love with Pinkerton, a creep of an American sailor. But she has a beautiful voice that expresses Cio-Cio San’s deep emotions and we forget everything else. Her “Un bel di vedremo” where she imagines the arrival of her husband’s ship in the harbour of Nagasaki is full of passion, tenderness and heart-wrenching longing.   

Tenor Bruce Sledge sang the role of Pinkerton in the Live from the Met broadcast replacing the indisposed Andrea Carè, I am not sure if he is the ideal Pinkerton but as a last minute replacement he deserves gratitude rather than criticism.

Paulo Szot gives an exemplary performance as Sharpless, the American Consul. He is a pillar of decency and he expresses both vocally and physically his discomfort, disgust and sympathy. He is the messenger of Pinkerton’s betrayal and he knows that his news will kill Cio-Cio San. We see all of this in his sensitive facial expressions alone. Placido Domingo was scheduled to sing the role but the allegations of misconduct by numerous women have caused him to relinquish all further singing on the Met stage.

Mezzo soprano Elizabeth DeShong is a spunky, faithful and compassionate Suzuki. She has a big voice, a pleasant personality and a fine stage presence that make her a pleasure to watch.
  
Theses broadcasts need a Director for Live Cinema that people who go to the opera house are not burdened with. He is the person who decides what we see by controlling every long shot, close-up, angle and, most importantly, duration of each shot. 
Elizabeth DeShong as Suzuki.Photo: Richard Termine / Met Opera
Habib Azar was the man responsible for this broadcast. I tried hard, I really did, to ignore the travesty of his choices but could not. Near the end I tried to estimate how long he was able to keep his finger off his converter (or whatever he is using). I don’t think I saw too many if any, scenes where he did not click a change for five seconds. Some shots lasted much less than that. There are many instances that demand that we simply watch the scene and be able to see several people on stage at the same time for action and reaction. Not a chance. He just kept clicking like a child on a video game that just plays with the controls. He screwed up on several occasions including during the emotional climax of the opera when Cio-Cio San sings “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio!” as she is about to commit suicide. Good grief!

You may have to shut your eyes on occasion to listen to the splendid music played by the Met Orchestra conducted by Pier Giorgio Morandi, the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and the singers just to avoid the childish shot changes by Azar.
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Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini was shown Live in HD at select Cineplex theatres across Canada on November 9, 2019. Encores will be shown on January 25, 27, 29 & February 9, 2020. For more information go to: www.cineplex.com/events

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press  www.greekpress.ca

Saturday, November 9, 2019

DON GIOVANNI – REVIEW OF 2019 REVIVAL BY OPERA ATELIER

Reviewed by James Karas

Opera Atelier has revived its stunning 2004 production of Don Giovanni for its current season at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. It is a success story from every angle and it earns our (usual) bow to Marshall Pynkoski and Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg for their contribution to civilized life in Toronto.

Director Pynkoski and Choreographer Zingg have chosen to use a production style that bestows beauty and grace to the opera. They use a modified commedia dell’arte, stylized acting and ballet is used judiciously and splendidly.

In the opening scene when the Commendatore  (Gustav Andreassen) appears to defend his daughter against Don Giovanni (Douglas Williams) he is accompanied by a number of dancers who perform some acrobatic dance steps. Donna Anna (Meghan Lindsay) expresses her shock at the murder of her father by raising the back of her hand to her forehead in the stylized method of expression. This style is maintained throughout and it works by giving the opera a light touch. 
Olivier Laquerre, Douglas Williams, Mireille Asselin and Stephen Hegedus with 
Artists of Atelier Ballet and OA Chorus. Photo: Bruce Zinger 
Ms Zingg has choreographed a number of short ballet routines throughout that are attractive in themselves and at the same time give the production the lighter flavour that the modified commedia dell’arte aims for.

There are numerous fascinating points that Pynkoski adds to the production. For example, when the betrayed and abandoned Donna Elvira sings “Ah, chi mi dice mai” about wanting to kill the treacherous Don Giovanni and tear his heart out, she is brandishing a dagger and a crucifix. In other words she will mete out human punishment and divine retribution upon the traitor.

Don Giovanni breaks the resistance of the peasant girl Zerlina (Mireille Asselin) in the seduction duet of “Là ci darem la Mano” by giving her a pouch of money and she is pleased. When her angry bridegroom Masetto (Olivier Laquerre) accuses her of infidelity, her denial is upset by her dropping the coins in the pouch. Small details perhaps, that add up to a tremendous production.

The numerous small touches are accompanied by outstanding singing. The fascinating Donna Anna is sung by the gorgeously-voiced soprano Meghan Lindsay. Her stylized expression of shock and subsequent description of what happened in her room on that fateful night, cast doubt on her veracity. Don’t ask where her fiancé was and why is she putting him off for a year at the end? A splendidly sung and beautifully portrayed Donna Anna.

The fiancé, of course is Don Ottavio who gets some bad press sometimes, but tenor Colin Ainsworth in the roledeserves nothing but high praise. His rendition of “Il mio tesoro,” for example, is delivered with surpassing tenderness, passion, beauty and resolution. Ainsworth’s performance makes Donna Anna’s reason for rejecting Don Ottavio suspect. 
 Meghan Lindsay, Colin Ainsworth, Stephen Hegedus, Olivier Laquerre, Carla Huhtanen, 
Douglas Williams and Mireille Asselin. Photo: Bruce Zinger
If Donna Anna was ditched on the first night, Donna Elvira was abandoned on the third day and soprano Carla Huhtanen wants us to know about it with her passion and furor. Her passion tells her to forgive him but her mind tells her to flee her traitor as expressed marvelously in “Ah, fugi il traditor”   and “Mi tradì quell'alma ingrate” (that ungrateful soul betrayed me.) Dramatic, passionate and vocally fabulous.

Zerlina is the peasant girl we love. Pretty, lively, smart and able to handle her man, applies to her and soprano Mireille Asselin in the role. A lovely, light soprano with a beautiful lilt, perfect for the role and a delightful performance. It’s wonderful to see her handle the hulk Masetto who is a bit of an oaf that she turns into putty. Bass-Baritone Olivier Laquerre is perfect for the role vocally and physically.

The whole enterprise is led by Douglas Williams and Stephen Hegedus, the two bass-baritones who sing Don Giovanni and Leporello. Williams looks, acts and sings the great seducer with relish and vocal brilliance. Hegedus is just as adept in his role as his cohort but sly, ambitious and resentful. But in the end they are a team. I enjoyed their ability to act and react to each other even more than their individual prowess in their roles.

The Ed Mirvish Theatre does not really have an orchestra pit but that did not seem to bother David Fallis and the magnificent Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra who gave a marvelous performance.

Gerard Gauci’s set with its neo-classical exterior with the necessary balconies and entrances is effective and easily changeable.

I have made no secret of my enjoyment of this production and like a hungry Oliver Twist (for opera that is) I can only repeat I want more and so should you.

[Travel commitments and scheduling problems prevented me from attending an earlier performance].                                                 
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Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart, presented by Opera Atelier, opened on October 31 and runs until November 9, 2019 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto. www.operaatelier.com

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press