Holiday recap: forbiddens & traditions Adam Fisher (Eisenstein) and Lara Ciekiewicz (Rosalinde) in Die Fledermaus, Toronto Operetta Theatre, 2018. Photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios.

Holiday recap: forbiddens & traditions

Greg Finney Jenna Simeonov

It’s good to be back, readers. Not just back, but improved: for a short while, we handed the Schmopera reins over to our superb man behind the scenes, Andrej, who has given the site a makeover from the inside out - thanks for noticing!

The technical work gave us little choice except to take a luxurious bit of vacation from writing (no complaints); still, we were out and about, catching shows and saving our notes for the New Year.

Gregory Finney, our formidable Toronto contributor, caught the latest presentation by the fledgling Tongue In Cheek Productions, Verbotenlieder. Canada’s female operatic talent filled Lula Lounge to sing a ballsy selection of arias and duets traditionally reserved for the gentlemen; Finney calls it, “the kind of evening out I hope we see a lot more of in 2019.”

My hunch had been that all you needed for a great, hilarious Die Fledermaus was a stellar cast.

Finney writes, “[Verbotenlieder’s] neat musical ear-play was probably most present with the famed Pearl Fishers duet, sung by Jennifer Taverner and Beste Kalender and the Rodolfo/Marcello duet from La bohème, sung beautifully by soprano Vanessa Oude-Reimerink and mezzo-soprano Alexandra Beley.” Finney’s also highlighted Brittany Cann’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (“Dear Toronto, this is a voice to watch”), and Lauren Margison’s appropriation of tenor arias from Madama Butterfly and Turandot. Plus:

Natalya Gennadi sang Lensky’s Aria from Eugene Onegin, and if you missed it, I’m sorry for you,” says Finney. “I’d would say it was some of the best singing I heard this year, not just this night.”

Greg caught the verboten, and I saw the traditional: the Toronto Symphony Orchestra sounded particularly Canadian in its holiday run of Handel’s Messiah, which featured home-grown soloists Claire de Sévigné, Allyson McHardy, Andrew Haji, and Tyler Duncan. De Sévigné rang like a bell even at the briskest of tempi; McHardy gave an intimate, human sound; Haji was a breath of fresh air from his first “Comfort ye”; and Duncan was the jolt of caffeine that suited his bombastic “Why do the Nations so Furiously Rage Together?”

Clockwise from top left: Allyson McHardy, Claire de Sévigné, Tyler Duncan, and Andrew Haji perform Handel's Messiah with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Johannes Debus. Photos: Jag Gundu.

COC Music Director Johannes Debus took the podium. He brought operatic flair to this oratorio, and peppered it with surprises enough to keep Handel’s very, very familiar score sounding new. And the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was on point, earning bragging rights with collective coloratura and a stunning colour palette from start to finish. They do sound great under Interim Artistic Director & Conductor David Fallis.

Caitlin Wood’s Adele was a delightful surprise; almost understated in spoken dialogue, Wood exploded with personality - and thrilling ring - each time she sang.

More traditions - and more Canadians - were in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s production of Die Fledermaus. The star of the show was inarguably Lara Ciekiewicz’s Rosalinda, who gave a wow-worthy combination of womanly sound and agile fireworks. Adam Fisher was her smarmy husband, Gabriel Eisenstein; yet the friendly warmth in his sound gave us less of a loathsome liar and more of a bumbling idiot who makes poor decisions. Caitlin Wood’s Adele was a delightful surprise; almost understated in spoken dialogue, Wood exploded with personality - and thrilling ring - each time she sang. Elizabeth Beeler’s Orlofsky was vague and bland, her dialogue spoken with a thick Russian accent reminiscent of Alison Brie as Zoya the Destroya on GLOW. And Michael Robert-Broder was a sullen Dr. Falke, a slight and constant snarl in his sound.

Caitlin Wood (Adele) and Elizabeth Beeler (Orlofsky) in Die Fledermaus, Toronto Operetta Theatre, 2018. Photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios.

Toronto Operetta Theatre, for me, has always been a place to hear Canada’s excellent talent, if not a place for forward-thinking production value. My hunch had been that all you needed for a great, hilarious Die Fledermaus was a stellar cast. Yet even the top-notch performances by Ciekiewicz, Fisher, Wood, and Robert-Broder were dampened by missed comedic opportunities and some hokey English dialogue - a product of Ruth and Thomas Martin’s translation, plus additions made by stage director and TOT head Guillermo Silva-Marin. Though it’s par for the course in operetta, to have odd contemporary cultural reference in the dialogue, but I’d call this version overkill. I counted at least four Trump references, a Martha-Stewart-prison groaner, a dash of #MeToo, and a vaguely French, Tar-get-inspired pronunciation of “Value Vil-lage”.

So, like a microcosm of any healthy opera-going year, the last few weeks of 2018 were a mixed bag. There’s little wrong, though, with heading into a new year with good tunes in one’s head, and an acute anticipation of good things to come.

Readers, we always want to hear from you: if you know of a production or artist deserving of some spotlight, let us know. Get in touch at h[email protected], or shout-out at us via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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