Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A night of Handel

Tonight I attended my second opera for the 2016-2017 season at the COC, Handel's Ariodante. I didn't know anything about the music or the production before attending and was happy to see an opera that is infrequently performed. As I have aged I have learned that I really love early 18th-century opera, especially operas that feature castrato voices. So it was nice to finally see and hear Ariodante on stage. 

However I found myself tonight wondering about how well 18th-century opera, music that focuses on the voice and performance with an emphasis on a baroque kind of artifice, translates to the modern stage and modern audiences. This production by director Richard Jones has been updated to mid-20th-century Scotland. The set which remained static throughout the three acts consisted of three rooms in the home of a mid-century Scotsman, including a stone kitchen, a great public room and a Ginevra's bedroom. Each room was delineated by design and style and a couple of doors suggested by handles that hinged on the floor. 

The overall feel was enhanced by costumes for the leads and a chorus that emphasized the simple life of a Northern Scottish village although at times the chorus reminded me of a group of extras from a CBC show on Atlantic Canada. There are long sections in Ariodante that are devoted to dances and the director choose to use some puppets to break up these sections. It seems these days every production wants to use puppets even if they don't always fit the piece. In each of the three acts puppets were used, more effectively in the first two and not as well in the last act, which was basically a repetition of the first. The only thing I loved about the final use of puppets was how the director had Ginevra pack up her things and leave the story after all the abuse hurled on her about her honour, which was a really nice up to date and modern touch. 

The singing was, well in the end, inconsistent and I found myself throughout feeling that Handel operas are difficult to stage because so much of the opera was written to showcase the stylistic flourishes so popular in his day. There was a beauty about these pieces, a beauty highlighted by the other-worldly sound of the voice of the castrato, that cannot be recreated by even the most talented female voice. The strongest voice was Jane Archibald's Ginevra. She had a beautiful powerful clear voice that helped create a lot of the mood in the pice. Alice Coote tried hard to recreate the beauty of Ariodante and at times especially her lament in Act Two her voice was actually quiet emotional, especially in her lower and middle registers, but she was unable to fill the flourishes in the upper range with the appropriate power to make them truly magical. There was good, solid singing from Ambur Braid as Dalinda, Owen McCausland as Lurcanio and James as the King but overall nothing really spectacular. I found Varduhi Abrahamyan's voice the weakest of the bunch and the performance more opera buffo than opera seria, but this is something I found disappointing in a lot of modern operas that directors go for a sitcom type laugh through buffoonery rather than building character. 

The staging throughout was at times awkward. I found myself cringing at how some of the singers sang, emoted and moved while on stage. At the same time the director had the chorus move around props and stage items and tried to have them represent the people of the island, but he missed an opportunity to really use them as a Greek chorus that could have underlined the point he was trying to make with each scene. The puppets, which were operated by the chorus, were again cute, but not really as effective as I thought they could have been. It would have been nice to have seen the chorus used in a more direct and effective manner to create tone and mood. 
In the end I am glad I was able to finally hear Ariodante but found myself wondering what it would have been like to have seen and heard it in its original eighteenth-century setting. I like the artifice that is part of the baroque stand and sing, the artifice of the castrato voice and the artifice of the period style. Maybe the problem is that eighteenth-century pieces do not lend themselves easily to modern interpretations or staging. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fall is Here

While yesterday was a bright, beautiful, sunny day we finally have fall temperatures meaning I have to change, reluctantly, from shorts to pants. Walking to the market I also had to don a coat and a scarf because of a biting breeze that cut to the bone. While I went to the market Mr.T was able to walk up to Bloor Street to pick up some buns and assorted groceries from Metro. 

After lunch we puttered around in the backyard and the front of the house cleaning up the endless amount of leaves that fall every year. We then swept the deck and prepared all the garden furniture for winter, wrapping everything in tarps. Mr.T wanted to test out his foot, so we went for a short walk down to the Loblaw's & Winner's on Portland street. On the way back he stopped for some Zimbawean street food at one of those container turned stores that line the Community Centre on Dundas Street. He had an English styled Zimbawa steak and onion pie that he really enjoyed. 

Later for dinner we walked up to Bloor Street for some AYCE sushi at Sakura. While the food at Sakura isn't spectacular I have always found that the trick with AYCE places is to stay away from the sushi and order grilled, baked or fried items as they are usually a better quality. Sadly, Mr.T over ordered too much sushi while I was on the phone with my Mom meaning he was left with a whole plate of really poor sushi that he had to eat. In the end while he ate too much bad sushi I really enjoyed all the grilled fish and tataki I had. Making our way home, Bloor Street was filled with the bridge and tunnel crowd (Saturday night suburbanites) that made us want to retreat to a quiet evening at home. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Transcendent Evening

Last night I attended my first performance of the 2016-2017 COC season. It was a new production of Norma that featured Sondra Radvanovsky. Coming away I found myself thrilled to attend what was one of those once in a lifetime chances to see a performance that will be remembered. Radvanovsky has a beautiful, clear, powerful voice and the ability to emote and move in a manner that always stayed true to the role. It is refreshing to see someone who not only has an incredible voice perfect for the role who also feels and projects the character for the audience. 

I have written before how the experience of opera can be transcendent when all the elements come together. I spend a lot of time looking at the direction and the visual elements probably because I believe in some auteur-type theory of opera, but when you hear someone like Radvanovsky in a role like Norma all my normal misgivings fade into the background. Her voice last night made up for all the design and staging issues that normally leave me a little confused. 

The opera opened with Norma holding a flame in a darkened temple with a large section of tree floating in the air above her. The floating tree, the libretto's mistletoe rose and descended a couple of times in the first act never really adding to the overall feel of the piece. Behind Norma was a massive wooden door, the entrance to the Druid temple, that rose, lowered, opened and closed throughout the piece showcasing what for me was the best part of the set, a group of trees in the back that reflected the mood of the opera as it developed. The trees and the lighting used to suggest mood were for me the strongest dramatic element and I think they could have replaced the entire set, suggesting the sacred grove so often mentioned in the libretto. 

The Druid temple itself which was brooding and dark was defined by massive columns decorated with rows of weapons and a couple of bull's heads. The set remained the same for the entire performance with only a rolling scaffold that the chorus wheeled in and out and that served no other purpose than to allow Oroveso or Norma to ascend and sing and then descend back to the performance. Staging like this I find distracting. Staging, like sets, costumes and overall design can set mood and tone and help create drama. When staging distracts from the action it serves to draw attention away from the libretto creating a visual element that becomes the focus rather than the story that is being told. Another staging device I found distracting was some sort of greeting with fingers and hands that was repeated by the Druids that just seemed silly adding nothing to the overall feel of the piece. 

The costumes throughout were not really Druid or Roman inspired, but it was nice to see how they were coloured to define character. There were also tattoos on some of the Druid warriors but with a peculiar mix of costumes nothing really made sense. Norma, who was a blond (how many blond Druids were there?) wore light coloured robes, I guess to make her stand out from the rest of the performers. Adalgisa was all in green. The only costume I felt fitted the period nature of the piece was Oroveso who wore a black priest like robe that descended to the floor. 

I liked most of what I saw but found myself re-staging some of it in my mind. Put it down to being a frustrated amateur, but I would have liked to see it paired down. Jettison the temple, the up and down door and the scaffold and replace it with the beautifully minimalist grove of trees. The director created real magic with the trees and they, not the temple, the floating tree or the scaffold added beauty especially with the mood lighting and the falling snow. Instead the temple could have been suggested with a more primitive and minimalist stone altar and more primitive Druid-inspired costumes made of leather and natural fabrics. In my mind's eye I came away wishing Norma was styled more in the manner of Boudica and less like a Medieval Lady Macbeth. But in the face of Radvanovsky's voice these are mere quibbles.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wonderful Witches

Rumble in my Bumble

After a grey weekend with grumbly bowels I decided this morning to head across town to my doctors. I was hoping that my symptoms would disappear or get a little better. I even made sweet potato muffins last night filled with pumpkin spice and pumpkin seeds because they are supposed to help clear one's body of worms and parasites. 

Although it is notoriously hard to get an appointment with my doctor I made my way there hoping to see the nurse. After waiting around I did see a nurse then a nurse practitioner who gave me a prescription to help me on my road to recovery. Here's hoping the grumbly bowels settle down so I can at least get away from a toilet and back into the world. 

Ghastly Ghoulies

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Socially Awkward

After a day of not being able to leave the house it was nice to make my way to Kensington Market this morning to pick up our dry goods and veggies for the week. While I was unsure about my bowels I made it there and back without an incident. Arriving home I then made some rum balls for Mr.H's 70 birthday party we were attending later in the afternoon. We made our way via the subway to his place meeting up with his partner and friends who were decorating the party room in his condo. We then made our way back to his condo to await his arrival surprising him with a birthday party. Sadly, Mr.T and I always find ourselves feeling out of place at such events and we made our excuses to leave early heading home. We stopped for a quick meal at Hero Burger on Bloor, before settling in for a quiet Saturday night at home. 

Modern Day Witching

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Bad Day

As the weather changes slowly from summer to fall my body sometimes reacts badly. This morning I woke with a really crampy belly forcing me to hang out at home all day so I could be close to a toilet. Sadly, when faced with a bad day like this you just have to ride it out hoping things will get better. The only good ting is that bad days make you appreciate the simpler things in life, like good health.