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Volume 18 Issue 9 - June/July/August 2013

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  • Festival
  • August
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formed to bring Canadian

formed to bring Canadian music to people who might otherwise havelittle opportunity to hear it and to work to close the distance betweenaudiences and opera singers through performances in intimatespaces. It focuses on operatic repertoire that deals with contemporaryissues. At Stratford’s Revel Caffè it will perform two programs. Thefirst will include scenes from the operas Rosa by James Rolfe, Slipby Juliet Palmer and Cake by Monica Pearce. The second programfeatures excerpts from Little Miss All Canadian by Lemit Beecher,The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G. by Aaron Gervais andTrahisons liquides (in French) by Stacey Brown. The performers aresoprano Larissa Koniuk, mezzo Michelle Simmons, baritone GeoffreySirett and tenor Will Reid with music director Wesley Shen at thepiano, Katherine Watson on flute and Leslie Ting on violin. MichaelMori is the stage director. Outside Stratford, The Bicycle Opera Projectwill make stops in Toronto, Hamilton, Elora, Fergus, Kitchener,Waterloo, Bayfield and London.To the northeast of Toronto the Westben Arts Festival (westben.ca) in Campbellford is mounting a fully staged production of Bizet’sCarmen on July 5, 6 and 7. The UBC Opera Ensemble is directed byNancy Hermiston, and Leslie Dala conducts the Westben FestivalOrchestra. On July 21 Richard Margison and John Fanning, withaccompanist Brian Finley, offer “Sunday Afternoon at the Opera,” acelebration of Wagner and Verdi in honour of the composers’ bicentenaries.On July 25, 26, 27 and 28 well-known singers VirginiaHatfield, Brett Polegato and James Levesque take a break from opera toexplore musicals from The Wizard of Oz to Les Misérables.If you’re looking for major rarities and would rather stay in Canada,simply head to Quebec. The Montreal Baroque Festival (montrealbaroque.com)runs June 21 to 24. In concordance with this year’stheme “Nouveaux Mondes,” on June 21 Ensemble Caprice and AtelierLyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal present the Canadian premiere ofVivaldi’s opera Motezuma [sic] from 1733. The opera focuses on the lasthours of the Aztec king Moctezuma II (died 1520) as he languishes incaptivity under the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. This beingan opera, librettist Girolamo Alvise Giusti had no trouble in inventinga love story involving Fernando’s (i.e. Hernán’s) brother Ramiro andMo(c)tezuma’s daughter Teutile. The score, thought lost, was discoveredin 2002 in Berlin, though part of Act 1 and most of Act 3 aremissing. Various baroque music experts have created reconstructionsof the missing portions, the first concert performance since the 18thcentury occurring in 2005 in a version by Federico Maria Sardelli. Forthe MBF, Ensemble Caprice’s conductor Matthias Maute has createdhis own reconstruction.Besides this, La Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal will present aconcert called “L’Opéra de Frédérick II” on June 24 which will explorethe type of opera that the Prussian king encouraged to flower at courtafter his ascension in 1740. Fans of ballet should also note that LesJardins Chorégraphiques and Les Boréades de Montréal have teamedup to present a famous ballet more often recorded than seen — LesÉlémens of 1737 by Jean-Féry Rebel (1666–1747), which depicts noless than the creation of the world out of chaos. The performancetakes place June 24.Not far from Montreal is the site of the Festival de Lanaudière(lanaudiere.org). The highlight of the festival is a concert performanceof Wagner’s Lohengrin (1850) on August 11 with Yannick Nézet-Séguinconducting the Orchestre Métropolitain and Choeur de l’OrchestreMétropolitain de Montreal. Brandon Jovanovich sings the title role,Heidi Melton is Elsa, Andrew Foster-Williams is Telramund andrenowned soprano Deborah Voigt makes her role debut as Ortrud.Since 2013 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Verdi, thefestival is offering a starry “Gala Verdi” on August 3 with Jean-MarieZeitouni conducting the Orchestre du Festival et du Choeur St-Laurent.Soprano Marjorie Owens, mezzo Jamie Barton, tenor Russell Thomasand baritone Quinn Kelsey are the soloists. The concert will featurearias, duets, ensembles, choruses and overtures from 13 of Verdi’soperas from Nabucco to Falstaff.Enjoy the summer!Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera andtheatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.Beat by Beat | Music TheatreNew, AgainRobert Wallaceold is new again,” wrote Peter Allen, theAustralian songwriter and performer, in one of his memorablehits of the 1980s. As if to prove the point still holds,“Everythinga spate of high-profile musicals sweeps the GTA and beyond thissummer, all but one more than 30 years old. Already attracting crowdsat the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Guys and Dolls,“a musical fable of Broadway” based on stories and characters createdby Damon Runyon during the 30s, originated as a 1950 adaptation byJo Swerling and Abe Burrows, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.The most-produced American musical in history, the show has wonnearly every possible award and stillscores accolades. Given its strong productionat the Shaw, “odds are that [it] willThe Light in the Piazza.become the biggest box-office hit in theFestival’s history,” writes J. Kelly Nestruckin The Globe and Mail. It’s a safe bet thatthe Festival indubitably is banking upon.By now, the plot of Guys and Dolls iswell known — at least, to the demographicthat appreciates the stylized depiction ofDepression-era Broadway that Runyoncreates for his motley collection of gangsters,gamblers, chorines and molls. SkyMasterson, a high-roller (played by KyleBlair in the current production) makes abet with Nathan Detroit (Shawn Wright),a shady entrepreneur who’s organizinga craps game for his cronies, thathe can woo a pious missionary from theSalvation Army — Sarah Brown (playedby Elodie Gillett) — and fly her off to Havana. While the sinner andsaintly flirt, fight and fall in love, Nathan and his frustrated fiancéeof 14 years, Adelaide (Jenny L Wright), a performer at the Hot Boxburlesque, conduct a parallel romance that leads to the same destination— the altar, a common site for happy endings in frivolities like this.To chronicle their progress from craps to the church, Loesser providesone of the greatest scores ever written for a popular entertainment — aroster of songs that defines the term “classic” and sets the standard forAmerican musical comedy.A riskier gamble is the Shaw Festival’s other musical offering thisseason — The Light in the Piazza, book by Craig Lucas, score and lyricsby Adam Geuttel, which opens in late July. One of the few musicalswritten in the 21st century to receive a major Canadian productionthis summer, Piazza also evolves from a literary source—a short storyset in the 1950s when anxieties about romance and repression ranrampant, a circumstance not incidental to the show’s subject.Originally a short story written by Elizabeth Spencer in 1960, TheLight in the Piazza follows Margaret Johnson, a wealthy matronfrom the southern U.S. (played by Patti Jamison) as she chaperonesher daughter Clara (Jacqueline Thair) on a summer trip to Florence.There, a love affair between Clara and Fabrizio, a young Italian man(Jeff Irving), forces Margaret to face the fact that her future is overshadowedby the past. While still a small girl, Clara suffered aconcussion that stunted her mental and emotional growth. Now abeautiful young woman, she retains the innocence of a child, whichbecomes more than usually troubling after she announces her intentionto marry her Italian paramour. Watching Clara’s love blossom,Margaret grapples with her responsibility to her daughter and thegirl’s fiancé. Should she acquiesce to love and celebrate the youngcouple’s marriage, or should she intervene to stop it?Writing about The Light in the Piazza, Jackie Maxwell, artistic28 | June 7 – September 7, 2013 thewholenote.comemily cooper

acheal mccaigdirector of the Shaw Festival, suggests that “actors and singers adorebeing in an Adam Guettel musical as they have to push themselves tothe limit musically and emotionally.” I asked Paul Sportelli, musicaldirector of the show, if he agreed. “Actors do love singing Guettel,”he replied. “He knows how to write for the voice and his compositionsare tremendously powerful, so singing actors like to be a partof bringing that kind of composition to life.” Sportelli also suggeststhat “as much as one can analyze and admire [Guettel’s] composition,there is something in it that is powerful and emotional andtranscendent ... that can’t be fully explained ... ” One reviewer of theoriginal Broadway production (2005) made a similar point, observingthat “the songs complicate rather than simplify thecharacters,” which led himMa-Anne Dionisio asGrizabella in Cats.to reflect that “the musical isconventionally thought of asthe lightest and most disposableof theatrical genres, butThe Light in the Piazza is onevery level more profoundthan [many dramas].”Piazza is one of the fewbilingual Broadway musicalsto succeed with an audience,many of its characters beingfluent only in Italian. Thebilingual book and lyrics makethe piece more difficult torehearse than other musicals,Sportelli notes, adding that“the dialect requirements (Englishwith an Italian accent, English witha North Carolina accent), alongwith the complexity of the score”require extra rehearsal time.Mounting the production in theclose confines of the Festival’sCourt House Theatre alsopresents challenges. Using anorchestration that Guettel wrotefor piano, harp, double bass,cello and violin rather than a fullorchestra, Sportelli and the play’sdirector, Jay Turvey, hope to turn theliabilities of the space to their advantage.Music directorPaul Sportelli.“It’s the orchestration I used when I did Piazza at the Arena Stage inWashington DC in 2010,” Sportelli explains, “and it is very effective:lush while achieving a more intimate ‘chamber’ feel. The five playerswill be on stage at the back and will be visible.”Another show that uses reduced orchestration to meet the demandsof a smaller house opens in early June for a two-month run atToronto’s Panasonic Theatre. Like Guys and Dolls and The Light in thePiazza, it also stems from a literary source, but one less time-specific.Written in the late 1970s, Cats qualifies as both a cultural phenomenonand a large-scale musical, a fact that often overshadows itsconsiderable artistic achievements. Based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’sBook of Practical Cats (1939), the show premiered in London in 1981as a high-concept suite for dancers, with music composed by AndrewLloyd Weber and Trevor Nunn (its director) and choreography byGillian Lynne. The following year, the same creative team opened Catson Broadway under the guidance of Cameron MacIntosh, its producer,where, as in the West End, the show garnered instant acclaim and setattendance records. Besides running for 21 years in London and 18years on Broadway, Cats has since been translated into 22 languagesand played around the world. The seven Tony Awards it won in 1983represent only a few of the many honours it has accumulated duringits travels.The first of the so-called mega-musicals, Cats cost five milliondollars to produce on Broadway in 1983, a figure that established anew benchmark for large-scale musical theatre. Given its unusualsubject and eclectic score, this cost is remarkable. Much has beenwritten about the initial production, primarily because the castrehearsed without a book, plot or structure — a situation that regularlyled to confusion. Inasmuch as the performers all play cats, they wererequired to learn a complex physical vocabulary to execute Lynne’sstylized choreography which, while much copied, has never beensurpassed. Although the show is sung-through, the music intermittentlyaccompanies spoken text, though never dialogue. Musical formsinclude an overture that incorporates a fugue for three voices, powerballads, rock solos and chorale recitative as well as novelty numbersthat highlight the attributes of the various cats that gather for theJellicle Ball — an annual event in this feline fantasy that providesthe show’s inciting premise. Meeting in a junkyard (the musical’sonly set), the phalanx of 22 cats waits for the moment whenOld Deuteronomy, a revered elder, will choose the most deservingcelebrant to ascend with him to heaven. Defying expectations, heeventually names Grizabella, a shabby old cat shunned by the others,whose signature song “Memory,” introduced at the end of Act One,provides the musical motif that repeats throughout the show to lend ita melancholic tone as indelible as the song’s soaring melody.The small stage of the Panasonic Theatre is a far cry from the wideproscenium and lofty fly gallery of the Elgin Theatre where Catsreceived its all-Canadian premiere in 1985. The brain-child of MarleneSmith who, along with Tina Vanderheyden, raised over three milliondollars to finance the show (unheard of at that time), Cats gaveToronto’s commercial theatre a long overdue kick-start. The productionran for two years before touring the country and returning fora second sold-out run at Massey Hall in 1987. Responsible, in largemeasure, for the restoration and refurbishment of the Elgin Theatre,its success had even more important consequences. As Mel Atkeywrites in his book Broadway North, the production proved “thatthere was an audience for musicals in Toronto, the talent to perform(if not yet to write and direct) them and money to be made. When thesuggestion of bringing in Les Misérables and Phantom of the Operacropped up, it was feeding time at the zoo.”thewholenote.com June 7 – September 7, 2013 | 29

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