Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

You may recall Lady Bracknell’s admonition to Mr. Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest upon being told he has lost both his parents: ‘To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’

The Royal Opera House can hardly be accused of carelessness but it did lose the soprano and the tenor in one day of the performance of L’Elisir d’Amore.

Lady Bracknell further demanded that he ‘make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.’ The ROH did not have such luxury and in fact had to find a soprano on the day of the performance and a tenor between scenes.
 Photo of scene from L'Elisir d'Amore with different principals. Photo: Bill Cooper
During the day an email message advised that soprano Aleksandra Kurzak had withdrawn from singing the role of Adina due to illness and the role was to be taken by Jennifer Davis. At the end of the first scene after the performance began, we were informed that tenor Roberto Alagna could not finish it and that he would be replaced by tenor Ioan Hotea.

This production of Donizetti’s masterpiece of love, innocence and quackery was first directed by Laurent Pelly in 2006 and it has been revived numerous times since then. The current revival director is Daniel Dooner. Pelly set the opera in an agrarian Italian village in the 1950s. There are bales of hay, a tractor, a harvester and the ambience of a peaceful village. The men drive Vespas and the main concern is love and the promises of the quack Doctor Dulcamara.

We were not short changed at all by the replacement of Alagna by the Romanian tenor Hotea. Hotea may lack Alagna’s darker shades but he gave us a youthful and energetic Nemorino that was a  delight.  He has a marvelous, light voice in the style of Juan Diego Flores that showed beauty and agility. This Nemorino is pure innocence, love and vulnerability and deserves to get the girl.

Irish soprano Jennifer Davis as Adina wowed us with her tonal beauty and tenderness. Her Adina showed innocence and cunning and we enjoyed every note of Donizetti’s incomparable melodies.

Italian bass baritone Alex Esposito sang the role of the mountebank Doctor Dulcamara, a quack, a fast buck artist who is crooked but likable, sleazy but not evil. Esposito does it all with a glint in his eye and a sonorous voice in his larynx.
Nemorino’s competition for Adina is Sergeant Belcore, an arrogant martinet sung by Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka. No complaints about Plachetka’s vocal and acting performance but we are glad he does not get the girl. 

Donizetti provides a wealth of choral music and the Royal Opera Chorus is shown at its best. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under Bertrand de Billy is superb.
L’Elisir d’Amore is a delightful opera, a comedy that produces laughter even through surtitles. Pelly’s conception and its execution by an outstanding cast, orchestra and chorus makes for a wonderful evening at the opera.

You disagree with Lady Bracknell at your peril but on this occasion you may risk it. To lose…a soprano and a tenor…was neither tragic nor careless and it did not detract from the performance.
L’Elisir d’Amore by Gaetano Donizetti (music) and Felice Romani (libretto) played from  May 27 to June 22, 2017 on various dates with cast changes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, England.

Monday, June 5, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

HMS Pinafore is the Stratford Festival’s second musical offering this year and this one is done in the more intimate Avon Theatre.  Savoyards will tell you that there are few more delicious evenings at the theatre than a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. From the first line of the Chorus who “sail the ocean blue,” to the love madrigals, to Sir Joseph’s patter song “I am the monarch of the sea” to the joy and rapture and orb of love that bring serenity at the end, this is a work to be relished. The production is quite successful subject to some questionable choices by the director.

Sir Joseph, the First Lord of the Admiralty who never went to sea as played by Laurie Murdoch steals the show. He gets some of the most memorable tunes and comedy and Murdoch is splendid in the role.
 Members of the company in HMS Pinafore. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann. 
Steve Ross is funny as Captain Corcoran, the commander of HMS Pinafore. He is Middle Crust and wants his pretty daughter Josephine (Jennifer Rider-Shaw) to marry the Upper Crust Sir Joseph. She is in love with the Lower Crust sailor Ralph (Mark Uhre) and you got the whole plot. But do pay attention to Little Buttercup because Lisa Horner is very entertaining as a bumboat woman and she (the character not Lisa) may provide a solution to the class issue.     

Rider-Shaw has a beautiful voice that she uses to fine effect. She can rev her vocal chords to high gear with ease while maintaining control of the melody. Uhre’s Ralph sings movingly and forlornly as a stage lover and deserves to get Josephine no matter what his social niche.
Members of the company in HMS Pinafore. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann. 
There is a chorus of sailors and Sir Joseph’s sisters, cousins and aunts who sing the ensemble songs. The sailors can mop a deck and dance and sing something fierce.

Lezlie Wade takes care of the directorial details and Patrick Clark designed the costumes. Easy for the sailors and very beautiful for the ladies.      

Wade and Set Designer Douglas Paraschuk have the operetta open with a picture of the exterior of the stately Portsmouth Manor and give some frantic activity in the interior of the grand house. Parts of the set is removed and we see the quarter-deck of the ship. Quite impressive but the programme tells us that the manor-home is a naval hospital.

A naval hospital in World War I? What is the point of setting a silly love story with wonderful music and humour in a hospital during a war? I have no idea except to toss the notion of directorial attempt to give a personal twist to the production. It does not work but lucky for us HMS Pinafore is unsinkable.
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 HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan opened on May 31 and will run until October 21, 2017 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie St, Stratford, ON N5A 1X2.