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Volume 18 Issue 4 - December 2012

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Kira Perovheads

Kira Perovheads throughout the entire length of the work. The film can be justifiedon the grounds of Wagner’s goal of creating a Gesamtkunstwerkor “total work of art” in the theatre that would combine the variousartistic disciplines. Wagner’s own view of the role of the visualarts in opera was rather conventional as can be seen in sketches ofthe first production of the Ring Cycle, where stagehands push theRhinemaidens mounted on trolleys back and forth behind paintedwaves. Sellars’ notion is that Viola’s film will serve not just as the setbut will provide an ongoing visual commentary on the action as a parallelto Wagner’s concept of the orchestra as chorus.Using extreme slow motion, Viola’s video uses actors to portraythe metaphorical action behind Wagner’s story. He views the firstact as an extended ritual of purification for the two lovers, while onstage the two charactersmaintain a strainedstance of indifferenceto each other. As onecan see from the exampleson the COC website,Viola makes muchuse of fire and waterimagery. Viola’s videohas accompanied concertperformances ofVideo still by Bill Viola, fromOpéra national de Paris’ productionof Tristan und Isolde, 2005.Tristan in Los Angelesin 2004 and in NewYork, Los Angeles andRotterdam in 2007. Onlyat the Bastille Opera inParis — and now recreated for the COC — has the video been used forstaged performances.Ben Heppner, who sang Tristan for the premiere of Sellars’ productionin 2005, sings the role January 29, February 2, 14, 17 and 20, withGerman tenor Burkhard Fritz of the Staatsoper Berlin taking over onFebruary 8 and 23. German soprano Melanie Diener sings Isolde onthe same dates as Heppner with American Margaret Jane Wray takingover opposite Fritz. Franz-Josef Selig sings King Marke, to whomIsolde is engaged. Daveda Karanas is Isolde’s maid Brangäne, whomisguidedly concocts a love potion for her mistress, and Alan Heldsings Kurwenal, Tristan’s loyal servant. At the podium is the worldrenownedCzech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, who has recorded widelyfor Chandos, Harmonia Mundi and Deutsche Grammophon amongother labels.In his program note for the original production, Sellars describedthe love duet in Tristan by saying, “We hear the celestial voice ofcompassion expounding Buddha’s four noble truths to mortals.”Given the influence of Buddhism on Wagner via the philosophyof Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), this statement is not as farfetchedas it might at first appear. Sellars aims to present Tristan asan exploration of spirituality, rather than sex as past directors havedone. Whatever the result, the chance to see Tristan und Isolde inToronto after such a long absence and to see Sellars’ work in our ownFour Seasons Centre will start the new year on an aesthetic high.Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre.He can be contacted at by Beat | Music TheatrePanto REDUXROBERT WALLACEJust in time for the holidays, theNorth American premiere of TheWizard of Oz settles into the EdMirvish Theatre for an open-endedrun on December 20th, replete withDorothy, Toto and the cast of charactersknown the world over. An adaptationof the 1939 film that won AcademyAwards for both Judy Garland and“Over the Rainbow” (the song byHarold Arlen that became the singer’ssignature), the musical isthe brainchild of Andrew LloydWebber, the celebrated producer/composer(The Phantomof the Opera, Sunset Boulevard)who opened the show at the LondonPalladium, which he owns and operates,in March 2011. The Toronto production,presented under the auspices of MirvishProductions, uses the same creative teamto duplicate the staging that won accoladesfor Robert Jones, the production’sdesigner whose collaboration with writer/director Jeremy Sams transformed the fantasyworld of L. Frank Baum’s 1901 novelinto a visual feast as distinctive as theone Victor Fleming committed to celluloid.Considering that the film’s specialeffects, to say nothing of the performancesof its cast, have accrued mythicstatus while scaling the heights ofcinematic and cultural history eversince, this is no minor achievement.It probably was inevitable thatBaum’s much-loved fable wouldfind life in the theatre, but its successwas by no means assured.This helps to explain why LloydWebber hedged his bets whenhe undertook the London production.Banking on the kudosgarnered by Jones and Samsfor their revival of The Soundof Music at the Palladiumin 2006, he gave them fulllicense to create a new visionof Oz; in addition, he suppliedthem with new material — primarily,songs he himself wrote to augmentArlen’s score.Although the original songs arememorable, their lyrics by YipHarburg illustrate that the movieis not a musical but, rather, astory with music — too fine a pointto belabour here, but one thatfilm historians emphasize, andLloyd Webber shares. On recordas considering the film scoreunder-written, he invited TimRice, his first (and best?) collab-Danielle Wade.32 December 1 – February 7, 2013

orator (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita), to write the lyrics for his newmelodies. Rice accepted, thus ending a long-standing separation fromhis erstwhile partner while completing the new material which, inthe tradition of contemporary musicals, is more character-driven thanplot-inspired. This becomes evident quickly in the production whenDorothy sings “Nobody Understands Me,” a Rice/Webber number, inScene One. “Over the Rainbow,” her first song in the film, must waittill Scene Two.Caroline McGinn, theatre critic at London’s Time Out, opines thatWebber and Rice are “right to add [the] extra material” for “the newmusic is tense and atmospheric, albeit a tad cruel and campy.” In TheGuardian, Michael Billington concurs, suggesting that the additionsare “perfectly acceptable” and citing, in particular, Dorothy’s “plaintive”opening song and the “pounding intensity” of the “Red ShoesBlues,” a new number for the Wicked Witch of the West. Nevertheless,he suggests that the additional material, in its pursuit of a nebulous“full-blown musical” form, disrupts “the delicate balance” betweenfantasy and music that the film attains, ultimately making “anessentially simple fable about the importance of individual worthseem overblown.”At its core, The Wizard of Oz is about heart — or, more accurately,its absence. While the Tin Man can openly lament his physical emptiness,other characters must reveal their heartlessness in less literalways — unless, of course, they are downright wicked. The unmaskingof the Wizard near the conclusion of the piece brings to full poignancyBaum’s parable of dashed hopes and thwarted desire in whichDorothy’s quest for a return route to Kansas stands in for her searchfor love and acceptance, always out of reach. What better way to fulfillher longing, and that of all the Dorothys of the world, than to makeher dreams come true?Surely, this, as well as clever marketing, influenced Lloyd Webber’sdecision to cast the role of Dorothy through a national auditionmasked as a television show. In the UK, over 10,000 women competedfor the part which, in the end, was decided by the public throughphone-in votes on Over the Rainbow, a BBC One musical renditionof reality TV. Building an audience for the stage production in whatamounted to a long-running television commercial, Lloyd Webberrepeated the formula that worked so successfully for The Sound ofMusic for which, to win the coveted role of Maria, neophyte actorsauditioned on BBC TV’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?Although the premise of these shows is obviously commercial, thedreams that fuel their participants’ ambitions — and the support oftheir fans — are more real than Dorothy’s. Winning the competitionequals getting a job. Appearing on a popular television showsecures exposure and opportunity. When Elicia Mackenzie won therole of Maria in the CBC’s version of How Do You Solve in 2008, shelaunched a career that otherwise might have eluded her. “I will neverforget the feeling of that moment when they called my name!” sheacknowledges. And nor should she.In Toronto’s Wizard, Danielle Wade plays Dorothy Gale after winningthe part through an audition process identical to the onetaped by the BBC. Here, CBC-TV cooperated with David Mirvishand his co-producers to create a reality show also called Over theRainbow — adding further lustre to the template that Webber can marketas a success. Joining Wade, a 20-year-old student at the Universityof Windsor, is an all-Canadian cast of veteran performers certain tomake her onstage experience real — at least for her. Cedric Smith, aGemini-winning film and theatre performer, stars as the Wizard. LisaHorner, featured regularly at both the Shaw and Stratford Festivals,plays the Wicked Witch. Actor and choreographer Mike Jackson takeson the Tin Man. A Dora Award winner for his play High Life, LeeMacDougall plays the Lion. Jamie McKnight, one of the CanadianTenors, breathes life into the Scarecrow. And Robin Evan Willis, wellknownfor many Shaw Festival productions, plays Glinda.And heart? Does the show have heart? Well, dear reader, that is foryou to decide. With certainty, I promise that the production will havespectacle. Discussing the Palladium show, Billington notes that, “Notsince 19th century Drury Lane melodramas can London have seenanything quite like it.” With the same design team at work in Toronto,local audiences can anticipate a similar experience. “The Kansascyclone that whisks Dorothy into a dreamworld is evoked throughvorticist projections (the work of Jon Driscoll) that betoken chaos inthe cosmos. The yellow brick road is on a tilted revolve from insidewhich poppyfields and a labyrinthine forest emerge. The Emerald Cityis full of steeply inclined walls suggesting a drunkard’s vision of theChrysler Building lobby. And the Wicked Witch of the West inhabitsa rotating dungeon that might be a Piranesi nightmare.” Not exactlysuitable for young children? Well, neither is the movie.Snow White: If you’re looking for “family fare” of a less scary sort,albeit with less innovative staging, check out Snow White, a presentationby Ross Petty Productions that opened at the Elgin theatre onNovember 23 and runs through early January. The latest in a seriesof shows presented by this unique company every Christmas, SnowWhite follows the conventions of British pantomime that the LondonPalladium was built to present in the early 20th century. Almostalways, pantomime is based on traditional children’s stories, especiallyfairy tales (Cinderella, Aladdin, Peter Pan etc.), performed atChristmas for family audiences. Interestingly, although The Wizardof Oz figures rarely as the subject of pantomime, Ross Petty used ithere only last year to create his annual Elgin panto in which a skateboardingDorothy was deposited in a place called Oz where, as JohnBemrose put it in the National Post, “a gyrating gesticulating crewof outback yokels, whom the Wicked Witch of the West dismisses,not too unjustly, as a bunch of ethnic stereotypes” are quickly recognizedas Aussies. (It’s worth noting in this context that in last year’sPetty pantomime production of Oz at the Elgin, Dorothy was playedby Elicia Mackenzie, and that, by falling in love with the Tin Man,performed by Yvan Pedneault, a formidable talent that Mirvish introducedto local audiences in We Will Rock You, she helped him findhis heart.)British pantomime (or “panto” as it is affectionately termed “overthere”), has been popular since the mid-19th century, its use of song,dance, buffoonery, slapstick, crossdressing, in-jokes, topical referencesand audience participation appealing to people of all ages. Indeed,courtesy Mirvish ProductionsDecember 1 – February 7, 2013 33

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