Monday, May 8, 2017

TOSCA – REVIEW OF COC REVIVAL OF PAUL CURRAN PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company wraps up its 2016-2017 season with the second revival of Paul Curran’s production of Tosca. It is a highly praiseworthy production that has stood the test of time very well.

The COC has assembled a first rate cast led by Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka in the title role with tenor Marcelo Puente as Cavaradossi and bass-baritone Markus Marquardt as Scarpia. The latter two are making their COC debus while Pieczonka sang in the 2008 revival of this production.

Much depends on the soprano who plays the lead role and handles the passionate, histrionic and highly dramatic Tosca. She is jealous, suspicious and loving in the first act. Her over-the-top jealousy and suspicions elicited some laughter. In the second act she is the diva who is forced to hear her lover being tortured as the malevolent Scarpia tries to seduce her. He wants her body in exchange for Cavaradossi’s life. In the third she is heroic as she celebrates the imminent release of Cavaradossi and their escape to freedom.
Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca and Markus Marquardt as Scarpia in Tosca. Photo: Michael Cooper
Her sumptuous voice is lyrical, passionate and dramatic as she goes through the various stages. “Vissi d’arte” is Tosca’s signature aria, a recollection of a life for art, beauty, faith and humanity wrecked by a malicious officer of the law. Even God has forsaken her. My one complaint is about her performance in the scene where she stabs Scarpia. After inflicting psychological torture on her and getting her to finally submit to his lechery, Tosca kills her tormentor. It is a moment of supreme triumph and horror. She taunts him as he is dying and when she sings “Die …die…die” I wanted to hear a scream filled with venom and triumph. Pieczonka was dramatic but fell short of the possibilities of the scene.

I wonder how effective it would be if, after her last expression of contempt and victory, “And before this man, all Rome trembled!” she spits on him?

Puente sang an impressive Cavaradossi. In his moment of triumph when he hears that Napoleon has conquered Rome, Puente belts out and holds “Vittoria” and sings joyously about freedom. In “E lucevan le stele,” his beautiful aria before his death, he remembers falling in love with Tosca, her embrace, her languorous caresses and her radiant beauty. He sings with so much pathos, longing and beauty that he brought the house down.
 
Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca and Marcelo Puente as Cavaradossi in Tosca. Photo: Michael Cooper
Marquardt is a business-like creep which increases his malice and lust by not being overdone. He is a man who knows his power and is free to treat and mistreat people at will. Marquardt succeeds in his portrayal vocally in his assured singing and as a character in his display of evil.

Curran and Set and Costume Designer Kevin Knight take a conservative approach to the opera. The church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in the opening scene is monumental with two large columns dominating the set. The columns are moved to the side opening the whole stage to the entry of a very sumptuously attired chorus that delivers a rousing end to Act I.

Scarpia’s office in Act II is elegantly furnished as becomes its powerful occupant. The     ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo where Cavaradossi is executed and from which Tosca jumps to her death are impressive and appropriate.

The COC Orchestra is conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson who has many virtues as a conductor in addition to doing a superb job. She is a woman (yes, they are still a rarity on the podium), she is Canadian and she is making her debut with the COC. What more do you want?

An overall outstanding production of one of the most popular operas.
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Tosca by Giacomo Puccini opened on April 30 and will be performed twelve times with some cast changes until May 20, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Friday, May 5, 2017

THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER – REVIEW OF TORONTO OPERETTA THEATRE PRODUCTION

James Karas

Oscar Straus and Leopold Jacobson recognized a good story when they saw one. The good story was Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man. Jacobson crafted the libretto, Straus composed the music and the result was the delightful operetta The Chocolate Soldier which opened in 1908 in Vienna.

Toronto Operetta Theatre’s General Director Guillermo Silva-Marin recognizes a good operetta, he produces it. Silva-Marin knows more about operetta than just about anyone south of Thunder Bay and he didn’t exactly stumble onto The Chocolate Soldier during the last eclipse of the moon but he has produced a highly enjoyable staging at the St. Lawrence Center for the Arts. For Torontonians operetta equals Silva-Marin.
 
 (in the middle) Jennifer Taverner as Nadina, and Cian Horrobin as Alexius, with TOT Ensemble. Photo: Gary Beechey
The chocolate soldier is Bummerli, a Swiss in the Serbian army of 1885 who breaks into the bedroom of the lovely and romantic Nadina, a Bulgarian. Serbia and Bulgaria are at war, you see, and Nadina is the daughter of Colonel Popoff, the leader of the Bulgarian army.

Bummerli is a “coward” and he asks for chocolates and you may guess correctly that despite appearances to the contrary, the Swiss “coward” and the Bulgarian beauty do not go to war.

But Nadina is engaged to be married to the heroic Alexius who just won an extarordunary victory by leading a cavalry charge against the Serbian canons. Keep it to yourself, but the reason he charged was because his horse ran away with him and he won because the Serbians had no ammunition.

Straus has provided some beautiful, surcharged romantic arias, some patriotic songs, a few arguments and misunderstandings, and a good dose of humour until all wrinkles are worked out and they live happily ever after. No, I will not tell you how it ends and no peeking at a summary of the plot.

What do you need for a successful production? A lovely Nadina, with a beautiful voice is indispensable. She should make you want to live in Bulgaria of yore. Soprano Jennifer Taverner does all of that. She starts by gushing about “My hero,” goes through her “Alexius the Heroic” phase of her life and…well, I can’t tell you the rest but you will be glad you saw and heard Ms Taverner in the role. 
Gregory Finney (Popoff) and Eugenia Dermentzis (Aurelia). Photo: Gary Beechey
Get an anti-heroic or perhaps heroic Bummerli and baritone Michael Nyby fills the bill. He has a well-honed voice and sings with apparent ease. He is manly enough to say that he is a coward and romantic enough to pretend that he is not.  

The heroic Alexius played by tenor Cian Horrobin as a strutting, papier-mâché fool was a bit overdone and failed to be funny. His voice reached for the high notes and succeeded but in this case, the question of whether the tenor will get the girl remained wide open.

Baritone Gregory Finney plays the comic martinet role of Col. Popoff. Finney is a naturally funny actor and he got most of the laughs of the performance. He and the production should have gotten more laughs but perhaps it was the type of audience that was difficult to engage during the performance that I saw.

The lusciously-voiced Eugenia Dermentzis sang the role of Aurelia, Nadina’s mother and the Mascha, the competitor for Alexius’s heart was sung by the sweetly-voiced Anna Caroline Macdonald.

Peter Tiefenbach conducted the handful of musicians that are listed as an orchestra. The amazing thing is not how few they are but how well they perform. The chorus is equally good.

A couple of observations about Silva-Marin’s directing. On some occasions characters spoke directly to the audience even when they were addressing another person on the stage. Some of the humour, as I said, misfired. But aside from that this is a commendable production of a fine operetta. Considering the resources on hand for TOT, their productions, it is worth repeating, are done with one hand tied behind their back. The point is not the obstacles but their persistence and success. They should be performing at the Winter Garden with a full orchestra and more productions and performances.
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The Chocolate Soldier by Oscar Straus (music), Leopold Jacobson and Rudolph Bernauer (original book and lyrics), adapted and arranged by Ronald Hanmer, played from April 26 to 30, 2017 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street EastTorontoOntario. Tel:  (416) 922-2912. www.torontooperetta.com

Thursday, April 27, 2017

LOUIS RIEL – REVIEW OF 2017 CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY PRODUCTION

James Karas

In 1966 composer Harry Somers with librettists Mavor Moore and Jacques Languirand undertook the task of writing an epic opera on Canadian themes in a country not accustomed to epic stories or even native operas for that matter. The result was Louis Riel which was first produced in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. There have been a few productions of the opera since then but it has not exactly joined the standard repertoire. The COC produced it in 1975 and let it collect dust for about 41 years. Canada’s 150th birthday seemed a good time to bring it back.

Louis Riel is a sprawling work in seventeen scenes spread over about a dozen locations and covering about sixteen years. The focus of the plot is the Metis leader who was seen as a prophet, a warrior against Satan, a gifted leader of Canada’s indigenous people, a lunatic, a religious fanatic and a traitor who was eventually executed as a criminal. The plot also deals with mendacious politicians like Sir John A. Macdonald, the Catholic Church, racist Canadians and the lot of Metis and First Nations Canadians.
 
(l-r, foreground) Russell Braun as Louis Riel, Michael Colvin as Thomas Scott and Charles Sy as Ambroise Lépine in Louis Riel, 2017. Photo: Michael Cooper
Somers’ music is in turn dissonant, dramatic, lyrical and intense. Much of the singing is declamatory, occasionally stentorian and at times very moving. The beautiful lullaby Kuyas sung by Riel’s wife Marguerite (Canadian soprano Simone Osborn) is poignantly expressive and gorgeously rendered.

The toughest role belongs to Riel and it is done superbly by baritone Russell Braun. He has to portray the complex Riel from the religious zealot who thinks he is called by God to do His work, to the teacher and family man who is tempted to abandon politics, to the firebrand leader and in the end the person accused of treason who must choose between the defense of insanity or justification for his actions. That is a daunting array of facets that require vocal strength and tone and Braun does it with assurance and panache.

Sir John A. (baritone James Westman) dressed in red tartan and Sir George-Étienne Cartier (tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure), in blue tartan, are almost comic as lying politicians. The Catholic Church is present through Bishop Taché (bass Alain Coulombe) and Baptiste Lépin (tenor Taras Chmil).

The opera is sung in English, French, Michif and Cree with surtitles in all four languages. I could not tell difference between Michif, the language of the Metis and Cree but the approach showed respect for both peoples.

There were moments when there was a great deal of dialogue moving quickly and it was difficult to follow the surtitles and watch the action on stage.          
 

(l-r) Peter Barrett as Col. Garnet Wolseley, James Westman as Sir John A. Macdonald, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure as Sir George-Étienne Cartier and Alain Coulombe as Bishop Taché . PHoto: Michael Cooper
Director Peter Hinton, Set Designer Michael Gianfranco and Costume Designer made no attempt at giving us a realistic representations of the events. The set consisted mostly three walls but at times the chorus was inserted in rows of seats at the rear. The scenes in Ottawa, the church and Riel’s house made appropriate changes to indicate the locale.

Johannes Debus conducted the COC Orchestra in an impressive performance of the largely unfamiliar twists and turns of Somers’ music.

Louis Riel is remarkable by just being there. It is a Canadian opera, about a major event in Canadian history, produced by Canadians with a Canadian cast. But this is only the third time that the COC has staged it. First in 1967, then in 1975 and now in 2017. Those are very long coffee breaks. Opera goers who are used to repeated viewings and therefore familiarity with Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and the rest do not get a chance to get to know this opera. The production was greeted with mostly polite applause. If the opera was better known, the applause would have been far more enthusiastic.

Can we get a reprise, a DVD, a broadcast on television, a new production in a few years? 

Let’s hope that we will get a more timely exposure to the opera than it took for the “revival” of Louis Riel. He was executed in 1885 for treason but in 2016 his portrait was placed in the legislature building in Winnipeg and he is recognized as the founder of the province of Manitoba!
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Louis Riel by Harry Somers with a libretto by Mavor Moore with Jacques Languirand opened on April 20 and will be performed seven times until May 13, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Monday, April 24, 2017

MEDEA – REVIEW OF OPERA ATELIER PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

Toronto’s remarkable Opera Atelier has scored another remarkable cultural event with its production of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Medea. The opera was first performed in 1693 and the dynamic duo of Marshall Pynkoski (director) and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg (choreographer) give us a production that captures the drama, choreographic splendour and colour of the piece with astonishing success.

Médée is a killer role for a soprano. (Pynkoski uses the English version of Medea for the title but employees the French names for the characters and I am following his example). Soprano Peggy Kriha Dye has all the equipment to tackle the role and come out on top. Médée has enough faces to make your head spin. She killed her father and her brother because she was in love with Jason and she helped him steal the Golden Fleece. She is angry because he is about to dump her for Princess Créuse. She is furious with King Creon because he is throwing her out of Corinth where she has taken refuge, she is also a sorceress who can call on the spirits of the underworld.
 
 Colin Ainsworth (Jason) and Mireille Asselin (Créuse). Photo by Bruce Zinger
All of these facets make vocal and acting demands on Ms Dye. She is in love, in hate, in vengeance, in rage, in lamentation and in killing her children. She gives a stunning performance.

Tenor Colin Ainsworth plays the perfidious Jason who is in love with Ceruse, pretends to still love Médée and becomes the target of her furor and lust for revenge. Ainsworth takes on the role with vocal and physical agility and tries hard to beat the odds as Jason but he does not stand a chance.

Soprano Mireille Asselin is the basically nice Créuse who is in love with Jason and must beg Médée to restore her father Creon’s reason after she has driven him to insanity. That is a very dramatic scene as is her own death from the poisonous gown provided by Médée. A fine performance all around.

Exceptional performances are turned in by bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus as the dictatorial Creon who gets a going mad scene and baritone Jesse Blumberg as Oronte, the man who is after Créuse.

Set Designer Gerard Gauci has created a number of backdrops and effects from the monumental to the idyllic to the fiery to indicate the underworld.

As expected in French opera of the period there is generous use of dancing and Ms Zingg has choreographed a number of sequences from the elegant dance of the spirits, to dances of warriors, demons and phantoms.
    
Peggy Kriha Dye (centre) and Stephen Hegedus (front), with Artists of Atelier Ballet. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Medea has a rich and highly varied score that deals with all the situations and moods mentioned above. The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra under David Fallis give a superb performance.

Medea has been quite popular with composers and there are more than fifty operas based on the myth. The most famous treatment is perhaps Luigi Cherubini’s Medea of 1797. The earliest treatment of the myth seems to be Cavalli’s Giasone of 1649 and the most recent appears to be Gavin Bryars’ Medea (1982).   

Opera Atelier is taking this production of Medea to Versailles to show them what Canadians can do. Too bad Canada is not funding more productions of baroque operas. At two a year by Opera Atelier it is pretty pathetic but don’t tell the French that. They probably think we have so many productions, we actually export them.    
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Medea  by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with libretto by Thomas Corneille opened on April 22 and will be performed until April 29, 2017 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.operaatelier.com

Saturday, April 1, 2017

LA TRAVIATA IN INSPIRED AND OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION LIVE FROM THE MET OPERA

By James Karas

The Metropolitan Opera has sent Willy Decker’s inspired production of La Traviata around the world live from the Met once again. Decker directed the opera for the Salzburg Festival in 2005 and it was shown in movie houses Live from the Met 2012. It is a production that rates the word masterpiece.

Decker almost reinvents the opera as he focuses on the characters in the tragedy which is performed on an almost bare stage with the most prominent feature being a huge clock. It is the perfect symbol for Violetta, the courtesan pursued by many but loved by none, who is under sentence of death to her illness and the clock is ticking towards her final demise.
 
Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera. 
When the curtain opens, we see an empty stage and during the overture Violetta (Sonya Yoncheva) stumbles towards a forbidding old man with gray hair wearing a black coat. He will appear a number of times throughout the performance. In the final scene we will see him as Dr. Grenvil (bass-baritone James Courtney), the sympathetic physician who attends on Violetta, but that is not his real role in this production.

He struck me as being Charon, not just the ferryman who took souls across the Styx in Greek mythology, but the being who takes the souls of people from their deathbed. The mysterious figure in Decker’s interpretation of the opera may be the personification of death but I prefer to see him as Charon who waits for Violetta’s time on earth to run out so he can take her soul.

There are many splendid touches by Decker that illuminate the opera. The guests at the party in the opening scene are all men. Even her friend Flora (mezzo soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb) is turned into a pants role. Violetta has no friends, only clients.

For the second act scene in the country, the five couches that are all the props on stage are covered with brightly colored fabric and Violetta and Alfredo wear housecoats that match the couch covers. This is domestic bliss. They are happy, playful and in love. Charon is nowhere to be seen and the clock that is ticking towards Violetta’s death is covered.

When Giorgio Germont appears and wrecks the couple’s happiness, the couch covers are removed and the clock is uncovered to continue its relentless pace.
 Michael Fabiano and Sonya Yoncheva in La Traviata. Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera. 
Yoncheva makes an astounding Violetta. She presents a tough exterior and knows that being a courtesan will not allow her the luxury of a conventional love relationship and she is equally aware that her death is imminent. But all of that goes by the board when Alfredo declares his love and proves his devotion to her. Yoncheva has a plush voice that evoked her character with splendor. The final scene where she knows she is about to die and Charon is right there to take her soul is extraordinarily moving. The clock disappears, Charon pulls back because he probably has her soul and she finds peace and almost apotheosis as we ache with sorrow at her fate.

Michael Fabiano as Alfredo makes a perfect match for her. He is tender, fragile, shy and the perhaps the type that would fall madly in love with a beautiful courtesan. This Alfredo is believable because a strong personality would more likely use Violetta as a paying satisfier of his ego and lust rather than desiring her as a wife. A clue to his character is given by an incident when he is with his father. When Alfredo resists his father’s imploring, the latter hits him across the face so hard that he knocks him to the floor.

Baritone Thomas Hampson has sung the role so many times that he can do it on automatic pilot. He does not. He is effective both in his vocal output and as the conniving father who is prepared to use emotional blackmail and violence, and as a sympathetic father and eventually friend to both Alfredo and Violetta.

Matthew Diamond directs the performance for live cinema with in measured camera shots that allow us to see the performance. He does not think La Traviata is a video game and it is a pleasure to watch a sensibly directed broadcast.    

Nicola Luisotti conducts The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in this defining production of the perennial favorite.
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La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on March 11 and there will be encore broadcasts on April 15, 17 and 19, 2017 at various Cineplex Cinemas. For more information visit www.cineplex.com/events

Monday, February 20, 2017

ROMÉO ET JULIETTE – REVIEW OF LIVE FROM THE MET PRODUCTION

By James Karas

The Metropolitan Opera is treating its world-wide audience in movie theatres with a new production of Roméo et Juliette directed by Bartlett Sher.

There are a number of things that did not fare well as they travelled from New York to us who sat in movie houses but the most important aspects of the production did. That is the singing from soprano Diana Damrau as Juliet and tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Romeo.

The silken-voiced Damrau makes an outstanding Juliet. She is vivacious, playful, deeply moving and sufficiently young-looking to be convincing. She is perfectly matched with tenor Vittorio Grigolo who displays the same physical attributes of youth and vivacity as her and has that marvelous voice that can scale the octaves with tonal beauty and assurance.
 
Mikhail Petrenko as Friar Laurence, Vittorio Grigolo as Roméo, and Diana Damrau as Juliette in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
In their duets and solo arias we see their ardour, their enthusiasm and, in the end, their tragedy with pleasure and tears.

They have fine help. The 29-year old Torontonian baritone Elliot Madore plays a firebrand Mercutio who delivers the Queen Mab aria, “Mab, la reine des mensonges.” He endows it with vigour, vivacity and marvelous touches.

Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko sang a sympathetic Friar Laurence and British mezzo-soprano Diana Montague made a splendid Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.

This is a new production for the Met directed by Sher who is a man of the theatre with considerable experience in staging operas. He sets the opera in the 18th century. The ruffles, three-cornered hats, wigs for the men of rank, elegant gowns for the women bespeak a high society of wealth and class. All designed by Catherine Zuber.

The set designed by Michael Yeargan features the exterior/interior of an impressive three-story palazzo with monumental columns, balconies and large windows. It serves as the background for the entire performance. Before Juliet visits Friar Lawrence, he appears on stage dragging a cart and he sets up his chapel on a raised part of the stage. For the final scene in the crypt some large stands are placed on the stage on one of which Romeo and Juliet will act out their final tragic scene.

There is nothing wrong with this. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London performs plays on the same background with necessary props being brought in. The issue was that we in the movie theatre could hardly see the background much of the time. Everything happens during the night in the opera, it seems, and the lighting for the broadcast is simply inadequate. The audience in Lincoln Center may have seen something different than the rest of us but one cannot be sure.
 
 Vittorio Grigolo as Roméo and Elliot Madore as Mercutio in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. 
Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
The main problem, as always it seems, in watching Live from the Met, is cinema director Gary Halvorson. Sher wants the production to be paced briskly and energetically. Good choice but with Halvorson changing camera shots as if he were playing a video game, brisk becomes frenetic and close-ups become embarrassing. If you do not want to see Grigolo’s larynx, close your eyes. Halvosron, sees nothing wrong with giving us a close-up of Damrau or Grigolo that covers the almost entire screen. The singing and the acting take place in context but that fact seems to have escaped Halvosron. He shows random and unbelievably numerous shots like a child with ADD. That is my rant about him for the day.

This production is new for the Met but it is in fact a La Scala production that was initially seen in Salzburg in 2008. A DVD of a live performance with Rolando Villazon as Romeo and Nino Machaidze as Juliet is available from Deutsche Grammophon. There is superlative singing and orchestral playing under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Seguin but the interesting point for this review is the handling of the recording by Brian Large. You can judge what a sensible director does with changing shots as compared to the unbearable treatment from Halvosron.  
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Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod will be broadcast again at various theatres on February 27 and March 1, 2017. For information about future broadcasts visit www.metopera.org/hdlive or www.cineplex.com

Saturday, February 18, 2017

DIE GOTTERDAMMERUNG – REVIEW OF CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY PRODUCTION

By James Karas

The second production offered by the Canadian Opera Company for its winter season is a revival of Tim Albery’s 2006 staging of Die Gotterdammerung.

The final scene of the opera as Wagner described it, can hardly be imagined let alone staged but the current production brings it home with outstanding splendour. In the closing moments, we hear (and imagine) Brünnhilde’s ecstatic leap into the fire, we see the immolation reflected in the faces of the chorus. The surging and spectacular music slowly recedes as does the fire and we see the Rhine flowing calmly, the Rhinemaidens regain the ring as the music becomes extraordinarily beautiful and sweet. When Conductor Johannes Debus lowered his baron for the final chord, the audience burst out into applause and a standing ovation.
 

 (l-r) Ain Anger as Hagen, Ileana Montalbetti as Gutrune, Andreas Schager as Siegfried and 
Martin Gantner as Gunther. Photo: Michael Cooper
In other words the star of the evening was the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Debus. They played Wagner’s incomparable score with all its grandeur, ecstatic beauty and serene splendor magnificently.

The singing was generally outstanding. Austrian tenor Andreas Schager sang a heroic and vocally and physically impressive Siegfried. American soprano Christine Goerke sang a powerful Brünnhilde. She is a relatively recent arrival to Wagnerian roles but she dominated the performance with her Nilssonesque stamina and dramatic expression. She soared over the orchestra in a singularly impressive performance.

On the baddy side (the characters not the performers), Estonian bass Ain Anger carried the laurel wreath for his portrayal of the nasty Hagen. Anger brought out the manipulative, power-hungry character of the villain with superb panache. German baritone Martin Gantner provided comparison and contrast as Hagen’s half-brother Gunther in a well-delineated characterization of the Gibichung. Gunther is inadequate, envious, devious but incapable of going for the jugular and under the thumb of Hagen. 

Tim Albery’s production falls squarely into the modern-dress, unheroic trend of Wagnerian productions. Otto Schenk’s production for the Metropolitan Opera, with its grandiose sets and traditional costumes held sway for over twenty years at the Metropolitan Opera to be replaced by the quirky Robert Lepage version. Many productions at Bayreuth have attracted very loud boos and I know people who refuse to go to the Festival because they consider the productions “Eurotrash.” Last year, one production of the Ring was set in a motel on Route 66 and it was all about oil around the world.
 
Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde. Photo: Michael Cooper 
Albery is somewhere in the middle. When the curtain opens we see cables running across the stage symbolizing The Ropes of Destiny spun by the none-too-exciting Norns. The next scene is the morning after the honeymoon night of Siegfried and Brünnhilde where our hero reveals that he had some performance anxiety during the night. The only prop is a bed and we will see it several times before the end of the opera. It is carried on stage even when Siegfried is assassinated. There are some lighting effects and hanging neon lights.  

The hall of the Gibichungs is furnished with Ikea furniture and in the later scene there is a huge boardroom table. Hagen and Gunter have a lot of staff (the whole Chorus, in fact) and they are all dressed in gray suits. When they are summoned to war-like behavior, they toss their jackets on the floor and jump on the large table.

Except for the scenes in the hall of the Gibichungs the back of the set is dark and the props are minimal. Siegfried wears a leather jacket over a T-shirt but he does dress up for his wedding. The women wear mostly gowns that do not draw attention to their attire.

The point here is that the costumes made very little difference after one noticed them. The music and the singing are so overwhelming that you are drawn into the drama completely and cease noticing or caring about the set or what anyone is wearing.

A great night at the opera.                     
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Die Gotterdammerung by Richard Wagner being performed seven times between February 2 and 25, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen St. West Toronto. www.coc.ca