8 years ago

Volume 6 Issue 4 - December 2000/January 2001

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Cover story: A very

Cover story: A very merry widow -- Barbara Hannigan at TQT by David Perlman I have a memory of the Con-. corde, dating back to my te~nage years in Johannesburg on the South African highveld, where the supersonic jetliner did' its final high-altitude takeoff arid landing testigg, prior to . going into commercial service in the late sixties. Day after day we'd hear it - a roar culminating in a whip-like crack of sound flashing by our classroom ,window. But seeing it was another matter. If you looked where your ears were telling you to look, you saw nothing. But if you learned to look ahead of the noise, you'd be rewarded by ~he spectacular sight of something never seen before, riding an eerie silence, half a sky ahead of all the roar. So too with our homegrown great artists -- if you wait for the roar of approbation, you miss the thrill of seeing them on the ascent! All this to say, take in Barbara Hannigan's Hanna Glavari in Toronto Operetta Theatre's Merry Widow this holiday season! It's stretching things a bit to describe Hannigan as a star of the future, I'll admit. After all, she recently made her Lincoln Centre debut in the opera Writing to Vermeer by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen and British film-maker Peter Greenaway, after creating the role (Vermeer's model and muse Saskia de Vries) for the world premier production at the Netherlands Opera in Decem- · ber 1999. And she returns to. the Netherlands Opera for another premiere in Sept 2001--\ Aleksandr Knaifel' s "Alice in Woilderland" directed by Pierre Audi and conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich. But the TOT Merry Widow is one of those periodic homecomings that allow a home audience, and the artist herself, to measure growth and change. And Toronto is home for Barbara Hannigan. Born in Halifax, she came to Toronto at age 17, staying with an aunt, in order to do grade 13 at the Etobicoke School of Arts, as preparation for goillg on to the Faculty of Music at U of T. It was in that year at Etobicoke that she first met Professor Mary Morrison, her teacher at U. ofT. and still; she says, her , mentor. Professor Morrison, who has been at the Faculty for 22 years, has a distinguished roster of students (Tracy Dahl, Nancy Argenta, Adrianne Pieczonka among them) but she has words of high praise for Hannigan. "She has a fabulous ear, flair for languages, mus.icality, presence, she can sight-read anything, and she has perspective -- a sense of process and the ability to move through things one at a time. Finishing her under- , graduate work here, establishing a base, then going to Holland were smart moves-­ she is as comfortable now in a contemporary idiorri as she is with Bach. She is a special person and I hope that comes through loud and clear." Barbara is also very clear about the importance. of working in Europe in her development as a performer. "It's not the old story about having to be recognized elsewhere before people will acknowledge you at hc;mie. It's no different for performers in Holland. You learn different things in different places, and come home better." One thing she points out as enjoyable about being a Y.Oung singer in Holland is the leeway· that audiences give you. "They expect you to take time to grqw. I did my first Mahler Four there, and that's what they came for -- to hear how I would handle my first Mahler Four, with a sense that the first offers different things from the next." Another thing she points to is the matter of the size of halls. "Alot of those · beautiful European halls are small, and built for smaller 50 Wholenote DECEMBER 1, 2000 - JANUARY 31, 2001 orchestras. Players play with stage, of being able purely to less vibrato, singers have more entertain. I find roles are really room to develop finesse. In the interesting." smaller halls you have a chance Silva in turn speaks to learn for exai,nple when the · enthusiastically of her work voice is not supposed to be · last year in Shivaree: "even louder, but part of the texture." with the score in her hand, on The George Weston is a stage, that Opera in Concert good hall, she says "but many rendering was at times more of the large North American dramatic and fully in character· centres are not. Whether they than the original fully staged admit it or not there is all kinds version." of 'enhanced sound' miking going on." Guillermo Silva-Marin (Bill Silva to the people who work with him) is Artistic Director of Toronto Operetta Theatre and its sister company Opera In Concert. But he's also spending a lot of time in· Montreal these days. On the day I talk to him for this story, that's 'where he is, desperately hunting for RCMP uniforms for an Opera McGill productiori of Elixir of Love. "Maybe Radio Canada will have them. I've got Bo students to costume and we· open on the 24th!" But tearing himself away from red tunic troµbles to come to the phone, he pronounces himself very pleased with his cast for the upcoming Widow. It's the first time he will be working with Barbara Hannigan, whom he describes as "extraordinary," in a fully staged production. "She's sung auditions for me before, and I wanted her for our production of Alcina, but she wasn't able to. And she was extraordinary last year in the Opera in Concert production of Beckwith's Shiveiree with John Tessier. Now that she's doing so well in Europe ... we're lucky. But Merry Widow is a fantastic soprano role, espe- The youthfulness of the leads is fundamental to Silva's vision of this production of Widow. "It's the same as casting a Rex Harrison-type older Higgins in My Fair Lady. It leaves less room for romance. There'& no reason he shouldn't be young and arrogant! A younger Higgins adds a real dramatic spark." With the Merry Widow, he argues, we have little information as to her marriage, other than that the man died soon after the marriage. So if Hanna Glavari married at eighteen or twenty (and even that would be late gby the standards of the time), and even if the marriage lasted four or five years, she" d only be. 25. "We're used to thinking of the . role. in the hands of a Schwarzkopf or Sutherland at the cusp of their career ... but here we have the great voice, in someone who can act, much earlier in her career .... " (The whole cast, Bill feels, has the ability to rise to the theatrical challenge. Fred Love, as the dashing Danilo, is better known here for music _ theatre but is classically trained. Gregory Cross is "a fantastic actor with a great operatic voice.") cially for someone as inter- Toronto Operetta Theatre's ested in theatre and movement holiday operetta formula has as she is." · been good for them over their Barbara Hannigan says fifteen years, and the Jane much the same thing. "When Mallett has been a great venue Bill called and said he wanted for them. "It's a proven period to cast the Widow yo.ung, I and a great house!" says Bill. leapt at it, He knows I have But because they usually sell dance training and move well out, they were tempted this on stage. Besides 1 love the year to go a larger venue. "It's music and the period. And I only 500 seats -- you get the -love the relief of a role on Continued

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