History has been slow to recognize the merits of La demenza di Tito, beginning with Empress Maria Luisa at the Prague premiere in 1791 describing Mozart's opera as "una porcheria tedesca" ("German hogswash") and continuing through to the early 20th century with Edward J. Dent's classic study of Mozart's operas declaring that "for the stage of today, it can only be considered as a museum piece."
In one sense Toronto's Opera Atelier did treat this formally constructed opera seria as a museum piece, climaxing the company's 25th anniversary season in April with what co-Artistic Director Marshall Pynkoski described, from the stage of the Elgin Theatre, as its first-ever period staging in North America.
But as a director, Pynkoski himself--together with conductor David Fallis and the period-instrument players of Tafelmusik, choreographer and co-Artistic Director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and her fellow members of the Atelier Ballet, and set and costume designer Gerard Gauci--imbued the opera with such animation, dramatic tension and at times even humor that Professor Dent's characterization of the libretto as "a pompous and frigid drama of Roman history" simply did not ring true.
The production further benefitted from one of the uniformly strongest casts Opera Atelier has thus far assembled, headed by the almost too robust-sounding Titus of Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer, the ferociously tigerish Vitellia of Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman and the mellifluous Sesto of that remarkable male soprano Michael Maniacci.
Together with mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel's Annio, soprano Mireille Asselin's Servilia and baritone Curtis Sullivan's Publio), these able young singers may have pushed at times at the boundaries of opera seria style (just as did Pynkoski and Zingg at the boundaries of late 18th-century stage physicality), but the gains to dramatic impact were palpable.--William Littler
Rossini's La cenerentola traditionally ends with a finale of celebration and reconciliation, capped by Angelina's famous rondo, "Non piu mesta," strikingly sung by American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong in the Canadian Opera Company production staged in April at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre. But in this staging--a co-production of Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu and Grand Theatre de Geneve--there is an extra scene, lasting mere seconds, showing Angelina (Cinderella) alone in servant's clothes, back in her kitchen, surrounded by commiserating rodents, as if all that came before, including her rescue by Don Ramiro (the prince) from the clutches of her stepfather and stepsisters, were nothing more than a dream.
An interesting, albeit revisionist, non-Rossinian touch to a production generally sympathetic to the subtle alternation of light and shadow emanating from the 25-year-old composer's score and notable for its bold use of Mediterranean colors (designs by Joan Guillen) and cartoon characterizations (direction by Joan Font), with a half-dozen dancer-mice humorously functioning as a (silent) Greek chorus.
Produced by the Spanish artists collective Els Comediants, the Toronto version of this production was fortunate in having in DeShong a heroine who sang (without register breaks) for character rather than simple vocal display and a Don Ramiro with the remarkable agility and unforced tone of the debuting Lawrence Brownlee.
Brett Polegato revealed a comic gift as Dandini, obviously unexploited in such previous COC roles as Don Giovanni and Eugene Onegin, with American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (Alidoro), Italian bass Donato Di Stefano (Don Magnifico) and two members of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble, soprano Ileana Montalbetti (Clorinda) and mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb (Tisbe), ably rounding out the cast.
Making a company debut, young Italian conductor Leonardo Vordoni led his orchestra with an idiomatic sense of style. …