Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company’s choices for its second production for 2015-2016 can best be described as bold, innovative and commendable. It is advertised as Pyramus and Thisbe, a world premiere of a Canadian opera by Barbara Monk Feldman but there is more than that.

The first piece of the programme, which lasts only an hour and twenty minutes, is Lamento d’Arianna, a scene for solo soprano and orchestra and the only surviving fragment from Claudio Monteverdi’s second opera L’Arianna. Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo sings the role of Ariadne, the Cretan princess who showed Theseus how to kill the dreaded Minotaur and find his way out of the Labyrinth. Theseus promised to marry her but on his way back to Athens he abandoned her on the island of Naxos.
Phillip Addis as Tancredi and Krisztina Szabó as Clorinda. Photo: Michael Cooper
Szabo as the betrayed and grief-stricken Ariadne sings of her love for Theseus, her anger and her desolate state. She is alone on an empty stage with only a chair to sit on. The music and the singing are elegiac, plaintive and heart-wrenching with bursts of anger when she curses her betrayer. A beautifully rendered piece.

The second part of the programme is Il combattimento di Tancrdi e Clorinda, a piece for three voices from another Monteverdi opera. The three voices are Szabo as Clorinda, baritone Phillip Addis as Tancredi and tenor Owen McCausland as Testo. Il combattimento has a plot. The Christian knight Tancredi does battle on the walls of Jerusalem with an infidel. He wounds the infidel who reveals that she is in fact his beloved, Clorinda – an infidel. She asks to be baptized before she dies on a note of Christian forgiveness.

Testo gives us a blow-by-blow description of the battle but the narrative rarely matches what the two warriors are doing. No problem. We are there to listen to the singing and not watch a brawl.

(l-r) Owen McCausland as the Narrator, Krisztina Szabó as Thisbe and Phillip Addis as Pyramus. Photo: Michael Cooper
The last work and I suppose the pièce de resistance of the evening is Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe. Although the lovers are called Pyramus (Addis) and Thisbe (Szabo) we are quickly disabused of any notion that this is a retelling of Ovid’s tale of the tragic lovers or Shakespeare’s hilarious take on them in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.     

Monk Feldman treats the lovers’ story as a tone poem sung in a slow, deliberate, often dream-like fashion. In addition to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Monk Feldman uses William Faulkner’s The Long Summer, St. John of Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus. The opera is sung mostly in English but there are sections in German and Latin.

The slow and deliberate pace used almost throughout the opera eventually becomes ponderous. Banal phrases seem to take a very long time to sing. There are some beautiful passages for the singers and the chorus but not enough to keep one from looking at his watch.

Director Christopher Alden takes a minimalist approach to the three pieces and that is commendable. Ariadne’s lament does not need any movement and the last thing we want is a swashbuckling scene between Tancredi and Clorinda. Pyramus and Thisbe as a tone poem for the stage is not entirely satisfactory.
Pyramus and Thisbe  by Barbara Monk Feldman opened October 20 and will be performed a total of seven times until November 7, 2015 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Reviewed by James Karas

Opera Atelier is celebrating its 30th Anniversary Season with a revival of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide. And why not? Co-Artistic Directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg know a good thing when they see it.

The last production of Armide in 2012 went to the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York. The current revival is travelling to the Royal Opera House at the Palace of Versailles in November.   
Colin Ainsworth (Renaud) and Peggy Kriha Dye (Armide). Photo by Bruce Zinger
Armide premiered in Paris in 1686 and it has characters with magical powers, demons, a visit to the Underworld and a Water Nymph. And that is an incomplete list. We have Renaud, a Christian virgin knight versus Armide, a Muslim, virgin warrior. She is a sexual magnet who is immune to attraction (except to Renaud) and Renaud who is just as immune except when influenced by magic. You get the idea.

Armide is opera as well as ballet and the problem is how to get everything on stage and have a successful production. You need magic. This production is a masterly exercise in operatic and balletic magic by Pynkoski and Lajeunesse Zingg. The style is, we assume, high baroque and Lajeunesse Zingg as choreographer inserts graceful dance routines that blend with the action. Did I say it is magical?

Soprano Peggy Kriha Dye is Armide, the virgin princess who has walloped the Christians during the First Crusade but has not captured Renaud, the greatest knight whom she hates and loves. Today we would call her conflicted but don’t tell Lully that. Kriha Dye gives us a well-crafted portrait of the tragic princess.

Tenor Colin Ainsworth is the perfect Baroque opera hero and with his beautifully toned voice, the ultimate heroic knight. Armide’s magic magnetism makes him fall in love with her but his knights manage to break the spell with their own brand of magic.

The company of Armide. Photo by Bruce Zinger
The cast gave noteworthy performances. Carla Huhtanen and Meghan Lindsay were elegant and vocally beautiful as Armide’s companions. Baritone Daniel Belcher sang Hatred and guarded the Underworld with verve and panache. Bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus did a fine job as Hidraot, Armide’s uncle who recommends marriage for her.      

The set by Gerard Gauci, the lighting by Bonnie Beecher and the costumes by Dora Rust d’Eye show fine eyes for colour, elegance and variety. The opera may be set in medieval Damascus but we see the splendours of Versailles on stage from the gorgeous gowns to the graceful dancers of the Atelier Ballet.
David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performing to its usually high standards Lully’s score on original instruments.          

If you feel you are impervious to opera the way Renaud and Armide thought they were impervious to love go and see this production and you will find yourself begging for more.

Armide  by Jean-Baptiste Lully with libretto by Philippe Quinault based on Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered opened on October 22  and be performed six times until October 31, 2015 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Reviewed by James Karas

During the overture to the current production of La Traviata by the Canadian Opera Company, we see a woman putting on a fancy gown before the guests arrive for a fancy party. The guests enter the semicircular room with a large table in the middle. Director Arin Arbus and Lighting Designer Marcus Doshy let us see the guests but they also emphasize their shadows against the back wall. Are they more shadows than real people?

The woman putting on the gorgeous gown is the courtesan Violetta and is she simply, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, preparing a face to meet the faces that she will meet? Is she also a shadow until she falls in love and for a brief interlude in her life becomes a human being? We will see the shadows of people again but let’s examine the rest of production first. 

Robert Gleadow as Dr. Grenvil and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta. Photo: Michael Cooper
La Traviata requires a soprano with considerable vocal and emotional range, a tenor who can be convincingly passionate and a baritone of gravitas and vocal resonance.

The Canadian Opera Company has scored a home run with Russian SOPRANO Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta. She establishes dominance quickly and her expressive voice goes from the flirtatious to the passionate and finally to a heart-breaking scene. The flirtatious shadow has become a woman of passion, generosity and nobility.

Baritone Quinn Kelsey sings the role of Giorgio Germont, the father who must convince Violetta to leave his son. His daughter’s engagement will be called off if her fiancée finds out Violetta’s former profession. The role requires vocal splendour, conviction and emotional strength to convince a woman to abandon her true lover. Kelsey has it all.

Kelsey sings “Di Provenza il mar il suol,” one of the most famous and familiar arias in the repertoire. The father appeals to his son’s loyalty to native land, home, family and his sense of honour. Kelsey captures the emotional appeal and resonant beauty of the area with splendour.
Quinn Kelsey as Germont and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta. Photo: Michael Cooper
Tenor Charles Castronovo was good but not entirely successful as Alfredo Germont, Violetta’s lover. His voice may be fine but he did not find the emotional wavelength that we expect of a man deeply in love. 

The overall production is excellent and highly interesting. As I said, the first scene at the party in Violetta’s apartment featured an unadorned background where the silhouettes of the guests were projected. The set for Violetta’s and Alfredo’s country house consisted of two painted panels and a settee. For the final scene, we return to Violetta’s barren apartment where Verdi finds a way to release pathos, beauty, defiance, love and emotion of surpassing splendour.

Unlike Prufrock, Violetta and Alfredo have found love, they have heard the mermaids sing to them, they have ceased being mere shadows of human beings and amid the sorrow, guilt and pain of the final scene, Violetta cries out a defiant “gioia” with her last breath.  

The COC Orchestra is conducted by Marco Guidarini. 

This new COC production is co-produced with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera.

Go see it!

La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi opened on October 8 and will be performed a total of eleven times until November 6, 2015 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.