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Volume 17 Issue 8 - May 2012

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Katie CrOSS

Katie CrOSS PhotograpHYMay offers opera lovers productions on both a large andsmall scale. The Tales of Hoffmann and the double-bill ofThe Florentine Tragedy and Gianni Schicchi continue atthe Canadian Opera Company and are joined in May by Handel’sSemele. Meanwhile, a new opera company also presents a Handelopera, but in a deliberately minimalist fashion, and Against theGrain Theatre moves its next production from the pub to a theatre.The Canadian Opera Company’s first-ever production of Handel’sSemele runs May 9 to 26. Like Handel’s Hercules (1745), seen earlierthis year ina staged concertperformanceby Tafelmusikdirected by OperaAtelier’s MarshallPynkoski, Semele(1744) was writtenas an oratorio.The audiencesof the day foundthat Semele wasso operatic in itsconception andexecution thatthey suspectedHandel waspresentingthem an opera(inappropriate forthe Lenten season)in the guiseof an oratorio.Consequently, it,like the Herculesthat followed,Beat by Beat | On OperaSemele, Alcina,Turn of the Screwchristopher hoileEssential Opera’s Erin Bardua and MaureenBatt. Right, Christopher Enns with RihabChaieb, Ileana Montalbetti (kneeling) and WallisGiunta in last season’s COC Ensemble Studioperformance of The Magic Flute. Fresh off hisrole as Nathanaël in The Tales of Hoffmann,Enns is Jupiter in the upcoming May 23 COCEnsemble Studio performance of Semele.was a failure and fell into neglect until the 20th century — neitherrevived until 1925. Since then, it has become one of Handel’s morefrequently-performed operas.Handel chose for his libretto one written by famed Englishplaywright William Congreve in 1707 for an opera by John Eccles.The story found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book III, is set at theTemple of Juno in Thebes, where King Cadmus is preparing forthe marriage of his daughter Semele to Prince Athamas. Semelehas been trying to postpone the marriage because she has a secretlover — none other than the god Jupiter himself who disguises himselfas a mortal. Spurred on by Juno, enraged that her husband is yetagain seeking pleasure elsewhere, Semele demands that Jupitershow himself to her in all his godlike splendour. Jupiter warns herof the consequences but she cannot be dissuaded and as a result isburned to ashes by the flames of his glory. The one positive outcome(which the COC production omits) is that Jupiter is able to rescue hisson from Semele’s womb, who will become Bacchus (Dionysus inGreek), god of wine, epiphany and tragedy.The COC production, designed and directed by Chinese artistZhang Huan, was first presented at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaiein Brussels in 2009 and then in Beijing in 2010, where it became thefirst major production of a baroque opera in China. Zhang providesan Eastern take on Western subject matter, but it is worth bearing inmind that the story of Semele and Dionysus is not originally a Greekstory. It is a myth that the Thracians assimilated when they wereresident in Asia Minor before finally settling in Greece. The name“Semele” itself comes from a proto-Indo-European root meaning“earth” and Dionysus is one of numerous gods in world mythologywho die and are resurrected and are related to primordial vegetationcults. James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890) is devoted to thissubject and finds parallels for Dionysus in Osiris in Ancient Egypt,Tammuz in Ancient Babylon and Krishna in Hinduism, amongmany others.What makes this production so unusual is that it features anactual 450-year-old Ming Dynasty ancestral temple on stage. Zhangsalvaged the temple from destruction after its owner was executedfor murdering his wife’s lover. As Zhang says in his Director’s Note,“This old temple is the chapel where Semele is to get married, theheaven where she creates love, the crematory where she is destroyed,and the holy land that she is reborn in.”At the podium is Rinaldo Alessandrini, who has recorded baroquerepertoire extensively with Concerto Italiano and is considered oneof the world’s leading specialists in baroque opera. The cast includesJane Archibald as Semele, Allyson McHardy as both Semele’s sisterIno and as Juno, William Burden as Jupiter, AnthonyRoth Costanzo as Athamas and Steven Hunes as bothCadmus and Somnus, god of sleep. On May 23, membersof the COC Ensemble Studio take over the roles ata special performance. For tickets or more information,visit www.coc.ca.Lovers of Handel’s operas should consider performancesof Alcina (1735) presented in concert by a newarrival on the opera scene, EssentialOpera, founded by sopranos ErinBardua and Maureen Batt. ThoughAlcina is one of Handel’s mostpopular operas, it has never beenstaged by the COC. Essential Operapresents the work accompanied byperiod instruments at the Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre on May 25 and aspart of the New Hamburg Live! festivalin New Hamburg, near Stratford,on May 31. The cast includesBardua and Batt as the sorceressesAlcina and Morgana; Vilma Vitolsas the knight Ruggiero entrappedby Alcina’s love-spells; and VickiSt. Pierre as both conductor and theheroine Bradamante, who disguisesherself as a knight, to rescue herbetrothed Ruggiero. Alcina is sung in Italian with English surtitles.For tickets and more information, see www.essentialopera.com.Switching to the 20th century, Against the Grain Theatre, knownfor its popular pub presentations of Puccini’s La Bohème, moves tothe 112-seat Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse on the U of T campus,for an intimate production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of theScrew (1954).This is only the second fully-staged production by AtG, whosegoal is to make opera a cozier, more relaxed experience. The showwill have sets by Camellia Koo and costumes by Erika Connor. AtGfounder Joel Ivany directs with Christopher Mokrzewski at thepiano. Miriam Khalil will sing the role of the troubled Governess,COC favourite Michael Barrett will be the mysterious Peter Quint,Megan Latham will be Mrs. Grose and Johane Ansell and SebastianGayowsky will be Flora and Miles, the two children who fall underQuint’s malign influence. For tickets and more information, visitagainstthegraintheatre.com.Editor’s Note: Information about this AtG production arrived toolate for our concert listings deadline: performances are May 24, 25,26 and 27, at 7:30pm.Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera andtheatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.MicHAel COOper14 thewholenote.com May 1 – June 7, 2012

Beat by Beat | Music TheatreRent Re-View anda House of MirthroBERt wALLAceRent, the iconic rockmusical that stormed thebastions of musical theatreduring the 1990s, returns toToronto in a new incarnationmid-month at the Panasonic theatre.This time ’round, it arrivesas a transfer from SheridanCollege where, last December, itexcited acclaim at the school’sOakville campus when it waspresented by Theatre Sheridanas a showcase for the graduatingclass of the advanced diplomaprogram in music theatre performance.Remounting thehigh-octane show for a limitedrun is a no-brainer for theatreimpresario, David Mirvish, whoconsiders Rent “this generation’s best musical about the struggleyoung people face in finding their way in the world. Having a newgeneration of talent from Sheridan College … is perfect casting.”The endorsement by Mirvish is more than just hype. For years,Theatre Sheridan’s Rent gets Panasonic run.Sheridan graduates have helped build Toronto’s music theatre community.Read the cast notes for any musical produced recently inthe GTA and you’ll find the bio of a Sheridan theatre grad. Andif you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to Jesus Christ, Superstar,currently running on Broadway, check out the résumé of ChilinaKennedy who plays Mary Magdalene; she, along with two others inthe cast, honed her skills at Sheridan. This is just one of the reasonsthat Jacob MacInnis, who plays the role of Tom Collins in Rent, waskeen to enter the program which, he says, is “tops in Canada.”Theatre Sheridan heralds the cast of Rent as “the stars of tomorrow”— a sobriquet justified by the school’s track record. The phrasealso could apply to Rent’scharacters, an eclectic mix oftwenty-something artists whoscramble to eke out careers inthe mean streets of New YorkCity. Written by JonathanLarson, who died unexpectedlybefore the show’s off-Broadwaypremiere in 1996 (and itsPulitzer Prize-winning success),the libretto is based onGiacomo Puccini’s La Bohème.AIDS replaces tuberculosis,the scourge of Puccini’s opera;Paris in the late 1800s is reconfiguredas New York’s AlphabetCity in the early 1990s; povertystill prevails; and love, lust andlassitude suffuse the characters’hopes with a paradoxical blend of energy and langour that lends “lavie bohème” an air of melancholic urgency.Despite the angst and terrible odds, love survives in Rent — threevarieties of it, no less. Roger, a jittery musician traumatized byCanadian Children’s Opera CompanyAnn Cooper Gay, Executive Artistic DirectorA new children's opera commemorating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812by Errol Gay and Michael Patrick AlbanoThursday & FridayJune 7 & 87:30pmSaturday & SundayJune 9 & 102:00pm & 7:30pmEnwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre231 Queens Quay W. - 416-973-4000 Adult; Senior Student & ChildProduced in association with:Photo: Michael CooperLaura’s Cow has been generouslysupported by Gretchen and Donald Ross.May 1 – June 7, 2012thewholenote.com 15

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