Monday, April 16, 2018

Opera in Toronto

I hear more and more about really interesting and creative opera production in Toronto, who are blessed with not one, but two excellent opera companies: the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier, who specialize in early music. The latter are currently offering Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria by Monteverdi, which is sold out. For the end of April and extending into May, the Canadian Opera Company is putting on a revival of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables which is a collection of shorter works by Stravinsky between 1911 and 1919, the second half consisting of his short opera The Nightingale. The Globe and Mail reports and it sounds absolutely fascinating:
The evening is full of novelty. The players of the orchestra are moved up onstage, and the orchestra pit is filled to the brim with water. Carl Fillion’s set extends over the pit, bringing a sense of excited claustrophobia to the first few rows of seats. We’re regaled with stories of rabbits, cats and foxes, all narrated by singers downstage while six acrobat/puppeteers play with light and bodies in brilliant puppet choreography by Martin Genest.
The first half, in which we hear every story except the titular fable of the Nightingale, is charged with the responsibility of introducing us to this production’s world. Our eyes and ears learn the delineation between narration and action, and our fascination is split between watching the puppets and the puppeteers themselves, their technique fully visible and a performance of its own
For the premiere a similar reversal involved putting the singers in the pit while their roles were sung and danced onstage. But filling the pit with water sounds like a brilliant idea. Here is a photo from the production showing the effect:

I would have liked to have heard more about the short items in the first half, but apart from mentioning that one of them is The Fox, there is no information. Presumably they are referring to Renard, the one act opera-ballet composed in 1916. These early, brief opera/ballets by Stravinsky were all very innovative in both musical and dramatic terms and it is wonderful to see them in production because they have been rather neglected over the years. The origin of Renard was a commission from Winnaretta Singer, Princesse Edmond de Polignac, who asked Stravinsky to write a piece that could be played in her salon. You get a taste of the wonderfully weird kind of theater this is from this performance by the Ensemble Intercontemporain (sorry, the subtitles are in Italian):

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