Thursday, May 15, 2014


Quinn Kelsey as Sancho Panza and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte in
a scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of Don Quichotte. Photo: Michael Cooper

Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company is winding up its 2013-2014 season on a triumphal note with a superb production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte. As with Roberto Devereux, it is the first time that the COC is producing this opera and again it is a borrowed staging, this time from the Seattle Opera. No issue with that; we are glad to have it. The singing is brilliant, the staging is imaginative and inspired and you will get an enjoyable evening at the opera.

Massenet composed Don Quichotte near the end of his life (he still had a few operas under his belt) and it premiered in 1910. At the time Massenet was infatuated with Lucy Arbell, the young mezzo who sang the role of Dulcinée and that fact adds poignancy to the opera and her portrayal.

The wreath for singing and acting in the production goes to bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quixote. The Italian bass just turned 65 but his singing as the old Knight Errant resonated with vocal splendour and emotional conviction. Don Quixote is the archetypal romantic; a dreamer seeking love, glory and justice in a world that is the creation of his imagination. Furlanetto exudes the irrational, humane and, in the end, noble side of Quixote who never gives up his dream. A marvelous performance.

Don Quixote is forever paired with the practical, unromantic, down-to-earth Sancho Panza sung by Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey. Panza is tired, hungry and thirsty, and he wants the comforts of life rather than the quest for chivalric glory. Kelsey gives a convincing portrait of the long-suffering and faithful servant.

Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili sings the role Dulcinée, the idealized woman of Quixote’s imagination who is far more realistic about life than her pursuer. Rachvelishvili has a luscious mid-range and her Dulcinée is delicious in a slatternly way. She is flighty but decent and in the end rejects Quixote with a humane touch.

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte and Anita Rachvelishvili as Dulcinée photo: Michael Cooper.

Don Quixote’s world is a product of his reading. The stories of knights errant fighting monstrous enemies, saving ladies in distress, in other words all the mythology of chivalry comes from books. Director Linda Brovsky and Set Designer have used this fact in the conception and design of the production. The set consists of huge books, inkwells and quills. Even Dulcinée’s balcony consists of the top of a tome. I would have preferred something that looked more like a balcony but no matter. The design is true to the spirit of Cervantes’s novel on which it is loosely based and the essential character of Don Quixote as a dreamer and seeker of the impossible dream.

The opera requires some expert Spanish dancing and the COC’s Anjelica Scannura, Raul Salcedo, Alex Black, Joe Perez and Akira Uchida provide some maneuvers that are graceful, acrobatic and simply delightful.

The compliments are, alas, marred by a singular example of miscasting. The libretto calls for and the whole world knows that Sancho Panza’s mode of transportation is an Equus africanus asinus, an animal created on the sixth day according to Genesis, the honourable and noble donkey.

In this production Senor Panza comes riding on (according to my assiduous research and unfailing ability to copy and paste) an animal that is “a hybrid, not a species, so it doesn't have its own scientific name. It is a cross between a donkey (Equus asinus) and a horse (Equus caballus). In scientific terms, it would be called Equus asinus x Equus caballus.” That is a mule. Not only does it not have its own scientific name, it did not come into the world on the sixth day and its conception must be considered shocking. We expect higher standards from the COC than to saddle us with a well-groomed mule when we are expecting an ass.

Don Quixote’s horse looked a bit nicer than we expect it to but if it bore any verisimilitude to what Cervantes provided his hero with, the Humane Society may have something to say about it.

Thank goodness there were no such issues with the COC Orchestra under the baton of Johannes Debus which performed exceptionally well.

Don Quichotte  by Jules Massenet (music), Henri Cain after Jacques Le Lorrain’s play Le Chevalier de la longue figure based on Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote  (libretto), opened on May 9 and will be performed a total of seven times until May 24, 2014 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario.

Monday, May 5, 2014


Elisabeth and Roberto Devereux (centre) - Photo: Michael Cooper

Reviewed by James Karas

Roberto Devereux was Gaetano Donizetti’s 57th opera and by no means his best. The Canadian Opera Company has staged it for the first time albeit in a production that it has borrowed from Dallas Opera. Opera lovers have no reason to delay seeing it.

Roberto Devereux is the Earl of Essex and Queen Elizabeth I and the Duchess of Nottingham are in love with him to the point of distraction. Well beyond distraction, I should say, because these women are prepared to do anything for this flamboyant hero and we are left to guess as to why in the world they would do that.

Director Stephen Lawless’s conception of Queen Elizabeth and Sondra Radvanovsky’s execution of the role define the production and save it from the risk of becoming mawkishly comic. Radvanovsky has an impressive, expressive and powerful voice and she exudes a commanding presence and authoritative personality even when she says that she will forgive the treacherous Essex and equates her throne with a tomb when he is executed. Her anger, jealousy and rage are spewed out with fierce energy and are a marvel to see and hear. She does have segments of “woe is me without Robert” but they are subsumed by her strong personality.

I would have preferred a lighter voice for Roberto Devereux than tenor Leonardo Capalbo’s. He sang mostly well but there were times when he sounded more declamatory than lyrical. With Queen Elizabeth he seems like a gold digger going for the throne, with the Duchess of Nottingham he appears like a rake and no matter what he says he does not garner any sympathy.

Baritone Russell Braun gave a consistently fine performance as the Duke of Nottingham. His fine resonant voice and acting delivered a Duke who was humane and noble towards his friend and properly outraged at his wife’s behaviour.

Roberto Devereux and the Duchess of Nottingham - Photo: Michael Cooper

The Duchess of Nottingham, (mezzo soprano Allyson McHardy), was forced to marry the Duke when her true love, Essex, was away and we have some sympathy for her. McHardy earns that sympathy for the Duchess through her luscious singing and convincing protestations of innocence – in fact she does not do anything improper with Essex except give him a scarf. Well, yes, it is a token of love.
Lawless and Set Designer Benoit Dugardyn place the action in an “Elizabethan” setting with tangents of their own. The set bears some resemblance to an Elizabethan theatre (it’s supposed to be The Globe) with two staircases on each side of the stage. There is a landing and a balcony across the back of the stage where spectators sit.  The set is fine for the scenes in the palace but becomes a bit awkward when we go the residence of the Duke of Nottingham and a bed is introduced under the staircases.

Costume Designer Ingeborg Bernerth has the main characters wear casual clothes which did not betray any time period or social class. The lords are more formally attired. We are saved the ruffles, capes and fluffy donuts around the midriff that the Elizabethan upper crust men wore. Elizabeth and the Duchess wear sensible gowns but the ladies of the chorus do have those hoops around their hips that make them look like round coffee tables with bodies on top.

Corrado Rovaris conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and struck the right note of romantic intensity and heroism that the lovers’ trio treads in a production that does credit to the opera and whets your appetite for more. As I said, this was Donizetti’s 57th opera and he had thirteen more under his belt, therefore wanting to see “more” is no small ambition.

Roberto Devereux  by Gaetano Donizetti (music), Salvadore Cammarano after Francoise Ancelot’s tragedy, Elisabeth d’Angleterre (libretto) opened on April 25 and will be performed a total of seven times until May 21, 2014 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


A scene from Mozart's "Così fan tutte."
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Reviewed by James Karas

Hot on the heels of Atom Egoyan’s production of Cosi fan Tutte for the Canadian Opera Company, Toronto audiences could see Mozart’s opera telecast Live in HD from the Met and compare notes.

Egoyan set the opera in a school run by Don Alfonso. Lesley Koenig’s approach for the Met is more traditional but thanks to superior singing and detailed directing the result is a delicious afternoon at the opera. Even Live in HD Director Gary Halvorson could not ruin despite his tireless attempts to do so.

Koenig leaves the opera in its 18th century setting in Naples and Set Designer Michel Yeargan emphasizes the blue sea stretching beyond the house. There are ships on the pier to take our heroes off to war. The garden, the louvered shutters and the interior are more functional than opulent. Fiordiligi and Dorabella may be living in comfort but there is no evidence of wealth. No wonder they are eager to get married and the prospect of wealthy husbands is very tempting.

Soprano Susanna Phillips was a marvellous Fiordiligi, the sister who will stand “like a fortress in ocean founded” against the advances of a rival lover. The acrobatic aria “Come soglio” puts the singer on a trampoline and she must negotiate high and low notes like a gymnast. Phillips sang with poise, control and vocal beauty.

Mezzo soprano Isabel Leonard as Dorabella was less resistant to the new lover’s advances but she gave in with gorgeous singing. Movie theatre audiences got a huge bonus in being able to see close-ups of the two lovely singers and enjoy the changing expressions on their faces. Koenig directed them as if they were appearing in a movie and they gave us nuanced expressions of happiness, surprise, shock and sadness.

A scene from Mozart's "Così fan tutte."
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

American tenor Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando and Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov as Guglielmo started as Neapolitan gentlemen and returned disguised as Albanians wearing Arab clothes.  The beards helped and their singing was excellent. When Pogossov sings “Il core vi dono” giving his heart to Dorabella in their beautiful duet all resistance melted and she forgot her fiancé. 

Ferrando’s turn comes to sweetly assault the ramparts of Fiordiligi’s resistance and when Polenzani tells her to turn her eye to him in pity, “Volgi a me pietoso,” the citadel falls.

Soprano Danielle de Niese makes a lively and enjoyable Despina. She has a smile that is a mile wide and, in addition to a lovely voice, she exudes energy, intelligence and cunning. She is partnered in her schemes by Maurizio Muraro as Don Alfonso and they both provide the humour and necessary laughter at the expense of the giddy lovers.

The real hero of the performance was conductor James Levine. He has been ill and his return to the podium to conduct from a specially-designed wheelchair was greeted with wild appreciation. Mozart’s score was performed with verve and provided sheer aural pleasure.

Gary Halvorson played with the buttons incessantly and ended up with the inevitable stupid shots and generally annoying angles and countless angle changes. When the embarrassed Fiordiligi and Dorabella were caught with bridal veils on by their returning fiancés and they had to remove them quickly, Halvorson decided to give us a shot of Despina. Just plain stupidity but life goes on.

Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte was transmitted Live in HD on April 26, 2014 at the Coliseum Scarborough Cinemas, Scarborough Town Centre, 300 Borough Drive, Scarborough, ON, M1P 4P5, (416) 290-5217 and other theatres across Canada.  For more information: