7 years ago

Volume 17 Issue 7 - April 2012

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Month of theSeldom

Month of theSeldom SeenchristOPher hOILEAs this column has frequently noted, April has developed intothe most opera-heavy month of the year. This year, becauseof an early Easter, many companies like Opera Kitchener andOpera York staged their season finales in March. Yet, even so, Aprilstill presents quite a heady concentration of opera. Opera Hamilton,for instance, presents Verdi’s Il Trovatore starring Richard MargisonApril 14, 17, 19 and 21. Toronto Operetta Theatre closes its seasonwith a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan tunes called Topsy-Turvydomfrom April 27 to 29 replacing the previously announced H.M.S.Pinafore. Opera Belcanto presents Puccini’s Tosca at the RichmondHill Centre for the Performing Arts on April 5 and 7. AndOpera by Request has two favourite operas in concert — Mozart’sThe Marriage of Figaro on April 20 and Don Pasquale onApril 25 — both at the College Street United Church.What is surprising this month is that the larger opera companiesare offering works seldom or never seen in Toronto. Even Operain Concert, which specializes in rarely-heard operas, outdoesitself this month with Die Freunde von Salamanka (The Friends ofSalamanca) by Franz Schubert (1797–1828), surely one of the mostobscure pieces they’ve ever presented. Schubert, who died at age 31,composed nine symphonies, innumerable chamber and piano piecesand over 600 Lieder, still managed to complete nine operas. DieFreunde von Salamanka was written in 1815, but, like many of hisoperas was not staged during his lifetime. It had to wait until 1928,the 100th anniversary of his death, for its premiere.Freunde is a comic opera in the form of a Singspiel (like TheMagic Flute) where spoken dialogue connects the arias. Threefriends — Alonso, Diego and Fidelio — all try to help the CountessOlivia to break off her engagement to the foolish Count Tormes,whom she has never met. Shannon Mercer sings Olivia, JamesMcLean is Alonso and Michael Ciufo is Diego. Kevin Mallon conductsthe Toronto Chamber Orchestra. The opera is sung in Germanwith surtitles in English. For tickets, see the role of Opera in Concert is regularly to fill in gaps inour operatic experience, this month the Canadian Opera Companytakes on a similar task. From April 10 to May 14 it presents TheTales of Hoffmann (1881) by Jacques Offenbach and from April 26to May 25 it presents the Canadian premiere of A Florentine Tragedy(1917) by Alexander Zemlinsky coupled with Puccini’s comic oneactopera Gianni Schicchi (1918). With Hoffmann, COC generaldirector Alexander Neef has clearly studied the production historyof the company, and has seen that certain aspects of the repertorywere neglected under his great predecessor Richard Bradshaw. Forexample, it was no secret that Bradshaw was not a fan of operetta.So when the COC performs Die Fledermaus beginning October 4this year, it will be the first operetta the company has staged sinceThe Merry Widow in 1987. Die Fledermaus was once one of thecompany’s most popular works. Its previous COC staging in 1986was the seventh since the COC was formed. Bradshaw also did notcare much for 19th-century French opera and programmed onlyBerlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, Bizet’s Carmen and Verdi’s Frenchversion of Don Carlos during his tenure as general director. In thecase of the upcoming Hoffmann, it will be the first time the COChas staged that work since 1988.It’s a strange fact that many successful operetta composers havefelt the compulsion to prove themselves by writing a full-scale opera.Arthur Sullivan was obsessed with his Victorian duty as composerand produced the noble failure Ivanhoe (1891). EvenFranz Lehár longed to see one of his works on thestage of the Vienna State Opera and was pleased whenthe company produced Giuditta in 1934. Though thework, unlike Ivanhoe, is still performed, the consensusat the time was that it was too grand to be an operettayet too light to be an opera. Jacques Offenbach(1819–80) then, is the only major operetta composer(he wrote over 100 of them!) to have achieved thegoal, with Hoffman, of also writing a grand opera.Offenbach died four months before the opera premieredwhich has meant that the work had been presented inwidely varying versions ever since.The most common scenario has three acts with aprologue and epilogue. In the Prologue, we meet theGerman writer E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822) himself,his muse who appears as his best friend Nicklausse, hisunobtainable love Stella and his nemesis CouncillorLindorf. In the three ensuing acts, Hoffmann recountsone of his great loves, each based on one of Hoffmann’s fantastictales (which would later influence those of Edgar Allen Poe amongmany others). In Act 1 Hoffmann falls in love with Olympia, who,unknown to him, is an automaton created by the mad scientistCoppélius. Act 2 focusses on Hoffmann’s second love, Antonia, whois doomed to die if she sings for too long. The evil Dr. Miracle,however, encourages Antonia to do just that in the guise of a cure.In Act 3, Hoffmann falls in love with the mysterious Giulietta, whois only seducing the writer under orders from the nefarious CaptainDapertutto, who wants her to steal his reflection.Offenbach intended that the four soprano roles be sung by thesame soprano and the four villains be sung by the same bassbaritone.While the second requirement has become standard, thefirst is considered a daunting tour de force. In the COC production,borrowed from De Vlaamse Opera, John Relyea will sing all fourvillains. The four sopranos, however, will be sung by separateartists — Ambur Braid as Stella, Andriana Churchman as Olympia,Erin Wall as Antonia and Keri Alkema as Giuletta. Russell Thomaswill sing Hoffmann and Lauren Segal will sing Nicklausse. OnMay 3 and 8, David Pomeroy substitutes for Thomas.The COC’s second spring offering breaks new ground. Not onlywill the Florentine/Schicchi double bill represent the first professionalproduction of a Zemlinsky opera in Canada, but it will also bethe first time these two works have been presented as a double bill inNorth America. (The Wuppertaler Musiktheater presented the samepairing in 2010.) When Neef announced the 2011/12 season last year,he said that this was a combination he had always wanted to stage.There are valid reasons to combine the two. While one is a tragedyand the other a comedy, both take place in Florence and both werewritten during the same period and premiered within two years ofeach other, thus affording many fascinating points of comparisonand contrast. Gianni Schicchi is one part of a triple bill by Puccinientitled Il trittico (The Triptych) that premiered at the MetropolitanOpera in New York in 1918. The triptych begins with the melodramaIl tabaro (The Cloak), continues with the sentimental story of SuorAngelica and concludes with Schicchi. The COC has never presentedIl trittico as Puccini intended and has instead combined each of theone-acters with other operas — Il tabaro with Pagliacci in 1975 andwith Cavalleria rusticana in 2001, Suor Angelica with Pagliacci in1991 and Schicchi with Pagliacci in 1996.Florentine composer Alexander Zemlinsky (1871–1942) was apupil of Anton Bruckner and teacher of Arnold Schoenberg who becameZemlinsky’s brother-in-law when he married Zemlinsky’s sister.Zemlinsky conducted the premiere of Schoenberg’s Erwartungin 1924. Zemlinsky was one of the many artists who fled CentralEurope with the rise of fascism and whose works, condemned bythe Nazis as “degenerate music,” have only been rediscovered inthe last two decades. In Europe Eine florentinische Tragödie isusually paired with another Zemlinsky one-acter, Der Zwerg (TheDwarf) from 1922. The two make a sensible double-bill since bothare based on lesser-known plays by Oscar Wilde. By coincidence, it12 April 1 – May 7, 2012

Opera Atelier: Armide.QUATUORBOZZINIMusic TORONTOPhoto BrUCe Zingerhappens that Isabel Bayrakdarian is singing the soprano roles in thisvery double-bill at the Liceu in Barcelona in April, leading one towonder if Alexander Neef has plans to stage Der Zwerg coupled withanother part of Il trittico.The new production will be directed by famed soprano-turneddirectorCatherine Malfitano. The conceit behind the productionis that the same palazzo, designed by Wilson Chin, will serve asthe site of the events in both operas — events in the 16th centuryfor Zemlinsky and in the 14th century for Puccini. In Zemlinsky’sopera, Bianca, the wife of the merchant Simone, is having an affairwith Guido Bardi. Given the title we know that it will not end happily.Malfitano links Zemlinsky’s opera to Puccini by having two ofits singers appear in the second opera. In the Zemlinsky, Alan Heldsings Simone, Gun-Brit Barkmin is Bianca and Michael König isGuido. In the second work, Held sings the title role while Barkminsings the minor role of Nella, the wife of Gherardo (sung by AdamLuther), cousin to the dying Buoso Donato, whom Schicchi isimpersonating. The primary female role is that of Lauretta (sung bySimone Osborne), who sings the most famous aria of the piece “Omio babbino caro.” The last time the COC presented the work anover-enthusiastic audience interrupted the short aria at least fivetimes, mistakenly thinking at every pause that it was over. If you arein doubt, just wait until the conductor, Andrew Davis, puts down hisbaton. Then you will know for sure that the lovely aria has ended.For tickets and more information, visit towards rarities of the Baroque, in 2012 only three citiesin the world will see a production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide(1686) — Toronto from April 14 to 21, Versailles from May 11 to13 and Cooperstown, New York (i.e. Glimmerglass Opera) fromJuly 21 to August 23. As one may have guessed, it is Opera Atelier’sproduction, first seen here in 2005, that has been invited by theother two opera houses.The topic of the love between the Christian knight Renauld andthe Muslim princess Armide against the backdrop of the Crusadeshas only become more reverent over time. Colin Ainsworth returnsto sing Renault, Peggy Kriha Dye is Armide and they join JoãoFernandes, Aaron Ferguson, Vasil Garvanliev, Carla Huhtanen andOlivier Laquerre, among others, and the full corps of the artistsof Atelier Ballet. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik BaroqueOrchestra and Chamber Choir, Marshall Pynkoski directs andJeannette Lajeunesse Zingg choreographs. Opera Atelier claimsthat the partnership with Glimmerglass has allowed it to add majordesign elements to make Armide “the most sumptuous productionin OA history.” That is quite a statement coming from a companyalready renowned for its sumptuous productions. For more information,visit in all, April again lives up to its reputation as Toronto’s mostexciting month for opera.Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera andtheatre. He can be contacted at 5at 8 pmCONTEMPORARY 1-800-708-6754order online at www.stlc.comMusic TORONTODinnerwithWine-tastingandSilent Auctionat Scaramouche RestaurantSunday May 6, 2012 - 6 pmin support of Music TORONTO.For 24 years, this special eveninghas been our only fundraising event.A special menu paired with wines, anda silent auction of items fun to fabulous.0 per person; charitable donationtax receipt for the maximum allowed416-214-1660Strictly limited to 100 people.April 1 – May 7, 13

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