The Gypsy Baron: great singing leads TOT's holiday offeringReview
The operetta has been around for quite a while, and is responsible for the shaping a lot of our musical entertainment as we know it. A short branch away from opera on the musical family tree, operetta requires the same high-level, learned singing as your standard opera repertoire, but places additional demands few operas require.
Including standards of the “classical” canon like Die Fledermaus, Orphée aux Enfers, and The Merry Widow, operetta occupies a key corner of the performing arts spectrum. Introducing elements like dancing (performed by the singing characters and not a separate “corps de ballet”) and spoken dialogue to the recit-aria-recit-ensemble-recit-finale formula, without operetta we would never have found our way through vaudeville to early musical theatre, which has brought us all the way to things like Rent, The Lion King, and even Come From Away and Hamilton.
The 12-piece orchestra and chorus led by Derek Bate were distinctly Viennese and crisp and clear.
Toronto is lucky to be home to a company that devotes itself to the art form the way Toronto Operetta Theatre (TOT) does. Theirs is a guaranteed ticket to find quality productions that, if on a limited budget, span all across the genre. From Gilbert & Sullivan Masterpieces, to gripping, soaring melodies of Spanish Zarzuelas, the staple of TOT’s season is always their holiday production.
Based on the Austrian and Hungarian traditions of going to the operetta on New Year’s Day, TOT’s General Director Guillermo Silva-Marin annually offers a classic of the repertoire with top-notch singers and instrumentalists at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts’s Jane Mallett Theatre.
Kalender’s dark mezzo was firing on full cylinders, as were her hammy performance chops.
This year it’s Johann Strauss II’s The Gypsy Baron (Ziegeunerbaron). Directed by Silva-Marin with Music Direction by Derek Bate, The Gypsy Baron tells a classic operetta-style tale of a prodigal son, mistaken and hidden identities, prophecies, treasure, and of course, wine.
Playing the eponymous role, tenor Michael Barrett strides the stage as Sándor Barinkay, who returns home to his late father’s land to find it usurped by a wealthy pig farmer. Despite an announcement at the beginning of the show, Barrett sounded in no way “under the weather” and sang the rangey role very well. Playing the destined love of Sandor’s life, Meghan Lindsay makes her TOT debut in the role of Saffi. Her rich, mature soprano filled the hall with ease and vigour.
Beste Kalender plays Saffi’s mother, Czipra. Kalender’s dark mezzo was firing on full cylinders, as were her hammy performance chops. She and Lindsay sounded thrilling together, although their characterizations and physicalities (and possibly a bit of design) often confused who was the matron and who was the daughter.
Daniela Agostino as Arsena, the would-be betrothed to Barinkay, was equal parts ingenue and bridezilla. She’s comfortable on stage and it’s great to see her growing over the last couple of years. Her chemistry with her secret lover (another common operetta trope) Ottokar, played charmingly by tenor Edward Larocque was a highlight of the night and helped retain the effervescence of the show.
Joshua Clemenger as the wealthy, usurping pig-farmer, Zsupán, sang with a light clear tenor, but seemed to struggle with finding his character and delivery of the somewhat stunted dialogue.
In another TOT debut, Karen Bojti is hilarious as Arsena’s governess; she sings with a full Verdian mezzo and mugs and takes with the best of them. Her romantic pairing in baritone Austin Larusson was an hilarious juxtaposition as well.
As the Count, tenor Cian Horrobin is a breath of fresh air who shows up at just the right time to invigorate the production.
The 12-piece orchestra and chorus led by Derek Bate were distinctly Viennese and crisp and clear, and brought the house down with the large ensemble numbers.
The Gypsy Baron closes on Sunday, January 5th, but TOT will be back with Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore (which may or may not feature yours truly) and the world premiere of Northern Light’s Dream by Michael Rose.