Magazine article Opera Canada

Toronto

Magazine article Opera Canada

Toronto

Article excerpt

With the recent death of General Director Richard Bradshaw darkening the atmosphere, the Canadian Opera Company nevertheless managed to open its second season in Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts with a comic opera of perennially spirit-lifting power, Le nozze di Figaro (Oct. 2-Nov. 2).

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Last performed by the company in 1993 with the mercurial Robin Phillips directing, Mozart's opera fell into the directorial hands this time of the debuting, Toronto-based Guillaume Bernardi, who reduced the intermissions to one, exercising minimal directorial imagination along the way and even less awareness of the subtlety with which servants had to express rebellion in the 18th century.

Baritone Russell Braun's Count Almaviva set the vocal standard of the youthful cast, with Robert Gleadow's Figaro, Ying Huang's Susanna (alternating with Isabel Bayrakdarian), Jessica Muirhead's Countess and Sandra Piques Eddy's Cherubino nicely supported at the comprimario level by Donato DiStefano's Bartolo, Megan Latham's Marcellina, Jonathan Green's Don Basilio and Lisa DiMaria's Barberina.

They were energetically paced by the conducting of Julia Jones, whose brisk tempi typified a production, framed by sketchy sets by Morris Ertman and dressed by Ann Curtis, more notable for spirit than elegance.

Like his opposite number in Figaro, the distinguished, Canadian-born British director John Caird managed to ignore the rules of etiquette in portraying an aristocratic tale in his direction of the COC's companion fall production of Verdi's Don Carlos (Oct. 12-Nov. 3) moving the action forwards from the court of Phillip II of Spain to that of Generalissimo Franco.

A co-production with the budget-conscious Welsh National Opera, this turned out to be a visually stripped down Don Carlos, praiseworthy for championing the original five-act French version but antithetical in effect to the self-consciously grand manner Verdi cultivated for Paris, with the meanest looking auto-da-fe scene this side of a Salem witch burning (Johan Engels designed the sets, Carl Friedrich Oberle, the costumes).

Richard Bradshaw had intended to conduct this production himself. In his place, and at comparatively short notice, the company engaged the Italian conductor Paolo Olmi, who in his company debut secured fine playing from the orchestra and superb work from Sandra Horst's chorus without always rising to the challenge of the score's grandest moments.

His strong cast was headed by the slightly stentorian, but nonetheless ringingly vibrant tenor Mikhail Agatonov in the title role and the vocally ravishing soprano Adrianne Pieczonka as Queen Elizabeth. Scott Hendricks was an impressive Posa, Mary Phillips and Nathalie Paulin less so as Eboli and Thibault. A pity the Norwegian bass-baritone Terje Stensvold's Phillip II so powerfully dominated the Armenian bass Ayk Martirossian's Grand Inquisitor in the opera's greatest vocal confrontation. As much as one admired Stensvold's singing, it wasn't an even contest between church and state.--William Littler

Opera in Concert's production of Donizetti's bel canto Anna Bolena (Oct. 28) was uncommonly good. Because the company primarily uses young singers, performances can be uneven. While not perfect, this was one of OinC's best concerts in recent memory.

Much is due to music director and pianist Nathalie Doucet Lalkens. …

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