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Volume 20 Issue 7 - April 2015

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GUILLAUME BONNAUDBeat by Beat | On OperaEarnest RevivalCHRISTOPHER HOILEIn previous years April has been the month in the year with thesingle highest concentration of opera presentations. This year thatis not the case. The change may be because Easter falls betweenApril 3 and April 5 pushing some presentations into March anddelaying others. Or it may simply be that opera companies havetried to spread their offerings out more evenly over March throughMay. Even so, the Canadian Opera Company, Opera Atelier andToronto Operetta Theatre all have productions this month, with TOToffering a rare revival and Opera Atelier a 19th-century revision of an18th-century masterpiece.COC’s Barber: The first opera to arrive will be the COC’snew production ofRossini’s The Barberof Seville playing 13performances fromApril 17 through May 22.This is a co-productionwith Houston GrandOpera, Opéra Nationalde Bordeaux and OperaAustralia directed bythe group known asby its Catalan nameof Els Comediants. Ifthe name of the groupsounds vaguely familiarit is because the groupwas responsible for thestaging of Rossini’s LaCenerentola in 2012, aproduction most peopleremember for its inclusion of stylized mice as onlookers. This will bethe 11th time the COC has presented Barber, the last time in 2008directed by Michael Patrick Albano. The production by Els Comediantsdebuted in Houston in October 2011, later to be seen in Bordeaux inSeptember 2012.The opera is based on the first of three plays by Pierre-AugustinCaron de Beaumarchais (1732-99) featuring the barber Figaro as acentral character. An eternal confusion for operagoers is that the mostfamous setting of Beaumarchais’ second Figaro play, Le Mariage deFigaro (1784), was set first by Mozart in 1786, while the most famousversion of the first play in the series, Le Barbier de Séville (1775) wasset second by Rossini in 1816. (The third Figaro play, La Mère coupable(1797) did not become an opera until Darius Milhaud set it in1966 and John Corigliano used it as subplot in his The Ghosts ofVersailles in 1991.)Based in Barcelona, Els Comediants, made up of director Joan Font,set and costume designer Joan Guillén and lighting designer AlbertFaura, have created a Cubist-inspired set, painted in Day-Glo colours,that plays with scale and proportion. Xevi Dorca, who worked withEls Comediants on La Cenerentola, also choreographs Barber. Onthe podium will be Scotsman Rory Macdonald, last seen here as theconductor of Carmen in 2010Singing the title role is Canadian Joshua Hopkins, chosen by OperaNews as one of 25 artists poised to become a major force in the nextdecade. For most performances, American tenor Alek Shrader is theyoung Count Almaviva, with Romanian tenor Bogdan Mihai takingover on May 9, 19 and 21. Almaviva’s beloved Rosina is sung in mostperformances by Italian soprano Serena Malfi with American CeceliaHall taking over on May 7, 9, 19, 21 and 22. Bartolo, Rosina’s jealousguardian is sung by Renato Girolami for most performances withRussian bass Nikolay Didenko taking over on May 9, 19 and 21. DonBasilio, Rosina’s music teacher in league with Bartolo, is sung for mostThe Barber of Seville, Opera National de Bordeaux 2012 production.performances by Canadian Robert Gleadow with Turkish bass BurakBilgili taking over May 9, 19 and 21.May 15 will be the date of the Ensemble Studio performance of theopera with tickets priced at only and .Atelier’s Orfeo: The second major production of the month is OperaAtelier’s second ever foray into 19th-century opera after its highlysuccessful production of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz (1821)in 2012. This is the version by Hector Berlioz (1803-69) of ChristophWillibald Gluck’s Orfeo et Euridice (1762). Gluck himself wrote twoversions of Orfeo. The original of 1762 was written to an Italian librettoand was the first of Gluck’s operas that proposed to simplify the operaseria, then in vogue, by stripping away the complexities of music andplot that had gradually accrued to it. Gluck’s goals were a return toclarity of music and of storytelling. Twelve years later, in 1774, Gluckrevised the opera to a French libretto, now called Orphée et Eurydice,to suit the tastes of the French public. This involved changing the roleof Orphée from a castrato in the Italian version to a high male tenor,or haute-contre, in the French version. It also necessitated expandingthe ballet sequences.Because of Opera Atelier, Toronto audienceshave had the privilege of seeingboth versions: the Italian version in 1997and the French version in 2007. Now OAwill put Torontonians in a very specialclass by giving us the Berlioz version of1859. When the Paris Opera consideredreviving Orphée et Eurydice in 1859 itwas noted that the role of Orphée wastoo high for an haute-contre. What hadhappened, as period instrument enthusiastswill know, is that concert pitch hadgradually risen over the previous 75years.The reason for this “pitch inflation”was the rise of independent orchestralmusic (as opposed to accompanyingorchestral music) where instrumentalistsfelt that a higher pitch gave works a morebrilliant sound.When Giacomo Meyerbeer suggested that French contralto PaulineViardot (1821-1910), a composer in her own right, should sing Orphée,Berlioz agreed to revise the score with Viardot’s voice in mind. Hewas France’s greatest expert in Gluck, whose works he had championedsince 1825. In 1856 he wrote: “There are two supreme gods inthe art of music: Beethoven and Gluck.” In his revision Berlioz usedthe key scheme of the Italian version but most of the music of theFrench version, returning to the Italian version only when he thoughtit superior in terms of music or drama. This new version proved tobe a major success and became the principal version played in operahouses until the advent of the early music revival of the 1970s.Although Berlioz’s Orphée is based on 18th-century music, his 1859revision marks the furthest into the 19th century that Tafelmusikor Opera Atelier have travelled. The production will star Canadianmezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel as Orphée and feature OA favouritePeggy Kriha Dye as Eurydice and Meghan Lindsay as Amour. DavidFallis will conduct and Marshall Pynkoski direct. The opera playsApril 9, 11, 12, 14, 17 and 18.TOT’s Earnest: The third major production of the month is therevival by Toronto Operetta Theatre of Earnest, the Importance ofBeing by Victor Davies to a libretto by Eugene Benson. The operettawas a TOT commission and first performed in February 2008. NowTOT gives the work that rarity among new Canadian operas – a secondproduction. Davies is perhaps most famous for his popular MennonitePiano Concerto (1975) and his oratorio Revelation (1996). His bestknown opera is Transit of Venus (2007) based on the play by MaureenHunter. He is currently writing an opera The Ecstasy of Rita Joe,based on the play by George Ryga of the same name.Benson, among his prodigious scholarly and creative work, haswritten, among others, the librettos to Héloise and Abélard (1973) byCharles Wilson, commissioned by the Canadian Opera Company tomark its 25th anniversary, and to The Summoning of Everyman (1973)26 | April 1 - May 7, 2015

BRUCE ZINGEROpera Atelier’s Orpheus and Eurydice - Peggy Kriha Dye,Colin Ainsworth and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg.revived by Toronto’s Opera in Concert in 2004. 2012 saw the premiereof The Auction: A Folk Opera, for which he wrote the libretto set tomusic by John Burge. Benson, who believes, as does operetta expertRichard Traubner, that the differences between various types of musictheatre are overstated, sees no difficulty in writing an “operetta”for the 21st century. As he says, “After all, Shakespeare’s plays haveinspired successful works in all genres. Why not Wilde’s?”The work’s premiere received very positive notices. Writing in theGlobe and Mail, Ken Winters called the piece “..first rate… It left itsaudience … both startled and delighted. ... It is good entertainment ofconsiderable charm … quite a lively, exhilarating affair.” You can listento excerpts of the operetta in the opera section of Davies’ ownwebsite mezzo Jean Stilwell heads the cast as the indomitableLady Bracknell. Michelle Garlough will sing her daughterGwendolen, Cameron McPhail will be Jack Worthing, ThomasMacleay will be Algernon Moncreif and Charlotte Knight will beCecily. Other cast members include Gregory Finney as ReverendChasuble, Roz McArthur as Miss Prism and Sean Curran as Lane.Davies has written a new scene especially for Stilwell in a scorefilled with lively tangos, marches, waltzes and ballads. LarryBeckwith conducts and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs. Earnest,The Importance of Being runs April 29 and May 1, 2 and 3.Small company diversity: Productions from smallercompanies lend diversity to the month. On April 16 and 18 OperaBelcanto of York performs Puccini’s La Bohème at the RichmondHill Centre for the Performing Arts. Stanislas Vitort is Rodolfoand Gayané Mangassarian is Mimi. David Varjabed conducts theOBC Orchestra and Chorus and Edward Franko directs.On April 18, Opera by Request presents Francis Poulenc’sDialogues des Carmélites (1957) in concert at the CollegeSt. United Church. Caroline Dery sings Blanche de la Force,Maude Paradis the Prioress and Lindsay McIntyre SisterConstance. William Shookhoff is the music director and pianist.From April 24 to 26, Metro Youth Opera presents Berlioz’Béatrice et Bénédict (1862) at Daniels Spectrum. Simone McIntosh andAsitha Tennekoon play the warring couple while Lindsay McIntyreand Janaka Welihinda sing their friends Héro and Claudio. NatashaFransblow is the music director and Alison Wong the stage director.This April may not be quite as superabundant in opera as Aprilspast, but even with these six varied operas on offer Torontonians arespoiled for choice.Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera andtheatre. He can be contacted at Importance of Beingby Victor Davies & Eugene Bensonbased on Oscar Wilde’s master comedy!Larry Beckwith, ConductorGuillermo Silva-Marin, Stage DirectorJean StilwellisLady BracknellCharlotte Knight, Michelle Garlough,Thomas Macleay, Cameron McPhail,Rosalind McArthur, Gregory FinneyApril 29, May 1 & 2 (8 pm)May 3 (2 pm)www.torontooperetta.comGuillermo Silva-Marin, General DirectorPhoto: Cylla von Tiedemann416-366-7723 |1-800-708-6754 | April 1 - May 7, 2015 | 27

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