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Volume 9 Issue 7 - April 2004

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Getting Ready for the

Getting Ready for the Ring By Wayne Gooding scheduled for performance WAGNER'S Def Ring des Nibe- in the new opera house. lungen begins with a low rumbling Along with COC General E-flat chord played for four bars by Director Richard Bradeight double basses, which are then shaw, who will conduct all joined by three bassoonS'-f,er anoth- the operas, Levine is the er 12 bars. Next, a Fre.~~hom. common link as designer. sounds the Nature leitmotif, the first Otherwise, the COC has of the many descriptive or associa- taken a bold creative move tive themes Wagner uses to weave in assigning the operas to the musical fabric of the Ring. Each four different directors: of the banery of eight horns pro- Levine (Das Rheingold), gressively takes up the theme, call- Atom Egoyan (Die ing the rest of the orchestra to life in Walkure), Fram,:ois Girard a rich and complex piece of instru- (Siegfried) and Tim Albery mental legerdemain that places the (Gotterdiimmerung). Part audience, when the curtain finally of Levine's challenge is to rises on the opening scene afterabout realize everybody's vision in a co- of other productions, although he 136 bars, in the underwater realm herent stage world. confesses he did "just peek" at part of the River Rhine. IT, S TAKING considerably m:Jre than of the 1976 Bayreuth production diln theatrical terms, this opening seven days to create this world. Le- rected by Patrice Chereau and deaf Das Rheingold, the first of the vine started work in earnest in May signed by Richard Peduzzi and four Ring operas, is daring and daunt- 2003 , and had handed in his designs Jacques Schmidt. This centenary ing. There is the particular question for Die Walkure by early last fall. production was squarely placed in of how you represent the underwa- By that time, he had also started work the 19th century, and was atone level ter scene convincingly, of course, on Siegfril;d, which he was sched- about the effects of the Industrial ~~; ~;0~~:. ~ep~;:~:~uir~~!~: uled to complete this February. Af- !e~~~to~b~;:~ ~:u~;;~n~: tral Sec'u·on of Das Rhez'ngold de- ter that, he had set aside another three c th . . th d . . months of work on Gotterdiim- ,ore e curtam nses on e pro ucp1cts the creation of the world, one ·d t th thr c tions, in part because the COC's The Canadian Opera Company's "Rbig Cycle" team. L-R: Atom Egoyan (director, "Die Walkiire"), Francois Girard (director, "Siegfried'?, Tim Albery (director, "Gotterdiimmerung'J, Richard Bradshaw (Conductor and COC General Director), Michael Levine (director, "Das Rheingold" am/ Production Designer). tan and the fanilly of ruling Gods? "If you evade the question, 'What is Vallialla?' you're missing something central," says Levine. "It's not an idea, it's a physical space. To a certain extent, it's the biggest question of Das Rheingold. Is it a palace? A house? A prison? What kind of look would you give it if you were Wotan? The characters themselves help determine the landscape." Such detailed questions are legion in a work as vast the Ring. In addition, . . merung, an ye ano er ee ,or k til 2006 that will evolve over four evenmgs · D Rh . Id hi h h h t fi Ring is a wor in progress un . there are myriad issues surrounding . 1 . d as emgo , w c e as o m- d and will come to a catac ysilllc en . h b D b 2005 . d . But he has established a time perio . the special effects Wagper called for, in a spectacular show of .fire and }s J:. ecem er. rl m goo tJm~ for the production that starts in relawater (or so Wagner intended). thor e co,mpanyls pe ormances O tion to the 19th century but will also of Das Rheingold to the fmal con­ from the underwater opening scene d , th e compete eye es. For any company pro ucmg e Le . , . t th Id "time travel" as the compete 1 eye 1 e flagration at the end of Gotterdiim- · . 'd vme s own entry m o e wor Rmg, the first problem 1s to dec1 e fth R' b h h . d unfolds. "This won't be a slavishly merung. 1n between, amongst other . Id ·11 I k lik d o e mg egan w en e rrnmerse Ii f th 9th " what. th1~ wor w1_. oo e an himself in the politics and history of rea · stic view o e 1 century, . things, there be dragons, magic fire, how 1t will evolve visually and dra- th . d d th 1 1850 he says. "I.want to start from some- a rainbow bridge to the heavens, matically. For the first production in e peno aroun e ear Y s' thing that is more like an image .of Valkyries riding through the skies B th . 1876 W , d . when Wagner wrote the texts for the h th 19th b I th d d h d d th . . aybreu dmth . , tJ~gner s es1gn-t operas (the music would not be com- w at e century was a out. t wi ea eroes rape across err ers ase err crea on on curren was an age of empire building, and horses and a number of other creakn I d f . t N d' 1 pleted for another two decades). It th . 1 . 1 th th th h II b . owe ge o an

OPERA ON DVD by Phil Ehrensaft Walklire und Fledermaus OPPOSITE POLES OF German-language opera grace Toronto stages this month. The human condition is dramatized with relentless Schopenhauerian seriousness in Richard Wagner's Die Walkure. Our poor species is satirized with relentless good humor in the ultimate Viennese operetta, Johann Strauss Il's Die Flede rl71£lus. Universal has two very different reference-quality box sets of Wagner's Ring Cycle: a 1989-90 Metropolitan Opera traditionalist production, under James Levine's baton and Otto Schenk's stage direction, and a 1979- 80 modernist Bayreuther Festspiele Cycle conducted by Pierre Boulez and staged by Patrice Chereau. Brian Large, ·a master opera video director, handles the cameras in both productions. Each of the four Ring episodes can also be purchased individually. The new 1989 Ring production celebrated the centenary of the Met's first production of the cycle in grand style. As the world's wealthiest performing arts company, the Met pursued Wagner's intentions in ways that even the composer could not pull off at Bayreuth. The huge scale, and parallel good taste, of the Met Ring's staging draws audiences right into Wagner's mythic world. Parallel to Sol ti's pioneer Ring recording, price was no object in engaging singers that Levine consid- . ered the best in the world. A select list of this Ring's cast includes: Hildegard Behrens, Siegfried Jerusalem, Christa Ludwig, Kurt Moll, James Morris, and Jessye Norman Then there's the Met's orchestra, which Levine. transformed from a competen\ pit ensemble into the jewel of Carnegie Hall. The Boulez-Chereau Ring leapt into new ways of performing standard repertoire. First performances provoked fistfights in the audience, a reliable sign that somebody's on to something good.. Their Ring stands apart from both the romantic realism of traditionalist Rings arid the abstract symbolism that Wieland Wagner introduced at Bayreuth in 1951. Cherau'~ staging is realism transferred to the industrializing Europe of Wagner's time. Boulez takes wide interpretive latitude, replacing thick romanticism with limpid orchestral textures . . Given Boulez' key role in contemporary composition, we are definitely not in the gimmicky realm of performing Mozart in black leather motorcycle jackets rather than creating new music. Boulez and Chereau comment on the meanings of Wagner's mythic operas for our own industrial era. Their comments do resonate: some ofmy musically conservative colleagues find that the Boulez-Chereau Ring speaks to them like no other. That being said, there is an unequaled majesty in the Met's romanticism, even with outlandish costumes that are continual fodder for cartoonists. Vocally, the Met's cast is several cuts above the 1980 Bayreuth production. The best index of this majesty is the amount of German spoken by the audience during a Met Ring cycle. Germans fly across the Atlantic to get Der Echter Wagner. The bottom line: start with the Mel's Ring on Universal's Deutsche Gramophone label. If you're a Wagnerite, you will eventually want the Boulez-Chereau Ring on Universal 's Philips label. AFTER ALL THAT DEADLY serious Wagner, I suggest indulging in the Royal Opera's delightful 1984 Flederl71£lus production, now available as a Kultur DVD. That's what I'm doing now after reviewing three audio and two video Ring cycles. I'm no fan of Strauss waltzes, which are right and proper for skating rinks. However, the marriage of Strauss' music to text by Offenbach's librettists, Meilhac and Halevy, is letter perfect. It takes as much talent, maybe more, to be consistently funny as it does to be tragic. The scenery on Covent Garden's large stage is appropriately palatial. Above all, there's superb singing by Kiri Te Kanawa as Rosalinde and Hermann Prey as Eisenstein. Placido Domingo, just beginning his career as a conductor, is not above singing from the podium to draw laughs. All in all, a witty, delightful performance of Vienna's wittiest and most delightful operetta. • Music THEATRE SPOTLIGHT by Sarah B. Hood Openings Galore for April A CAD IAN INCURSION This is the busiest month on the Toronto music theatre scene in years! One of the biggest openings is the world premiere of Pelagie, A Musical Dml71£l by Allen Cole and Vincent de Tourdonnet, a co-production between CanStage, the National Arts Ceqtre and the Atlantic Theatre Festival that runs from April 5 to May 1 at.the St. . Lawrence Centre. The show uses 17 performers and a band of seven to dramatize the acclaimed novel Pelagie-la-Charette by Antonine Maillet, about the fictional Acadian heroine Pelagie and her lover, real-life Acadian hero Joseph Beausoleil. Its creators had rnany discussions about how to use the wonderful body of Acadian music in the production, says de Tourdonnet. "It made sense for us to say that Allen's score would be a unique idiom for this show, but . when a character plays a fiddle or when there's a wedding on stage, they will play traditional Acadian music," he explains. "The show could be said to have a kind of magic realism; the story has the shape of a people's history, with the magic, mythical dimension that comes from that," he adds. Meanwhile at its Berkeley Street site, CanStage presents a second musical, The wst 5 Years, from April 22 to May 19. Written by Jason Robert Brown, the show - about a five-year relationship - won the 2001 NY Drama Desk Award for Music and Lyrics. It stars Tyley Ross (Sweeney Todd, Tommy) and Blythe Wilson (Stratford's Threepenny Opera). MUSIC HALL MEMORIES "Brecht says: If you want to learn how to write a play, just see Karl Valentin," says Peter Froehlich. If you've never heard of Valentin, you probably haven't spent much time in Germany, where the memory of the multitalented Bavarian music hall performer is very much alive. Froehlich 's new play Simpl explores Valentin's doggedly apolitical career through the years leading up to the Third Reich. John Millard supplies a musical score that reflects the preca baret tradition known as Volkssiinger. "We try and get the flavour of the kitsch music of the Viflcent de Tourdonnet beer halls, and then it begins to take on the tones of the very strident, militaristic - and quite appalling, in some cases - music of the Third Reich," Froehlich elaborates. Simpl runs from l'\pril 27 to May 30 at Tarragon Theatre. (Like CanStage, Tarragon is also presenting a dou- . ble-bill of theatre with music. Mieko Ouchi's The Red Priest, about an aristocrat who bets that his young wife can learn to play the violin from composer Antonio Vivaldi in only six weeks - runs in the Extra Space from March 30 to May 2.) TRACY'S IN TOWN Mirvish Productions has announced the Canadian cast of the Broadway smash Hairspray, which begins performances on April 8 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, before a May 5 gala opening. Heroine Tracy Tumblad. will be played by 22-year-old Vanessa Olivarez, the popular, pink-haired finalist on American Idol; her mother Edna will be portrayed by Vancouver's Jay Brazeau. Also among the principal cast are Tom Rooney, Michael Torontow, Susan Henley, Tara Macri, Fran Jaye, Matthew Morgan, Paul McQuillan, Jennifer Stewart, Kevin Meaney and Charlotte Moore. Tickets are available for an initial run to September 26, 2004. IN A WEILLMOOD ... Once again, Theatre fran~ais de Toronto's artistic director Guy Mignault has crafted a musical review to answer the c;ompany's pan-Francophone mandate. With Autour du Kurt CONTINUES NEXT PAGE APRIL 1 - MAY 7 2004 WWW. THEWHOLENOTE .CO,\ 29

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