Tag Archives: opera

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience

My mother was very fond of Gilbert and Sullivan.  She and I went together to the Stratford Festival a few times, to see Iolanthe, and I think Pirates of Penzance.  The next year I thought I was giving her an extra treat by getting tickets to Hamlet.  (Later that season I also got to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, in repertory with the same cast.)  But on the way home, she confessed with embarrassment that she hadn’t enjoyed the Shakespearean tragedy as much, and for the next Mother’s Day could we please go to another Gilbert and Sullivan operetta?   For her, it seemed that watching Shakespeare was a virtuous duty, and watching Gilbert and Sullivan was such a guilty pleasure that she didn’t deserve it, even as a gift.  That seemed odd to me, even for a former high school English teacher, because I already had the idea that theatre should be fun, just like books and movies and other ways of telling stories.

A similar confusion of duty and pleasure lies at the heart of Patience, the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta running until Sunday night (Jun 11) at Capitol Theatre in Fort Edmonton Park.  Patience, a naive and earnest milkmaid, has so little experience of love (“only for a great-aunt” she says, when asked by one of the chorus of lovesick ladies) that from observing the pining chorus and hearing that love is unselfish, she comes up with the idea that if it’s joyful and pleasurable it isn’t true love.  Therefore, it is more virtuous for her to marry a man she detests.

This odd interpretation leads to various nearly-implausible repercussions for all the characters’ romantic aspirations, but of course this being a Gilbert and Sullivan work, almost everyone ends up happily paired at the end.

There are many other ways this production, directed by Robert Herriot and conducted by Kathleen Lohrenz Gable, is an admirable example of what Gilbert and Sullivan were known for.  There is a large chorus of ladies and of Dragoon Guards, and lots of romantic happy endings.  There are long verses of rapid rhyming iambic feet as clever as rap lyrics, there are ridiculous characters with preposterous motivations, and there are opportunities to show off some very impressive voices.  

Of particular note are the singing of Patience (possibly Charlotte Stewart-Juby, soprano, in the performance I saw), and the comedic portrayals of Meghan Goguen (mezzo-soprano) as Lady Jane and Justin Kautz (baritone, better known locally as one of the principals in Toy Guns Dance Theatre) as Reginald Bunthorpe.   Timothy Carter (tenor) was also delightful as Archibald Grosvenor.

patience 2

Justin Kautz as Reginald Bunthorpe, garlanded by two of the lovesick maidens.

 

The chorus of “twenty lovelorn maidens” – actually about fifteen, which probably didn’t distract anyone else except me – was delightfully costumed in faux-Hellenic draperies in a pastel rainbow of shades, striking a series of expressive aesthetic poses in attempts to emulate and attract flamboyant poet/poseur Reginald.  I giggled a lot during this show, starting with the maidens’ first entrance.  Later in the play the robes and art-book poses are repeated in an even funnier way.  Good use was made of the various entrances to the auditorium, which helped make the proscenium-stage space more intimate.  Musical accompaniment was provided by one pianist, Kerry Agnew.

Opera Nuova’s festival of opera and musical theatre continues over the next two weeks with performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, and the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel as well as some other concerts and master classes.   Performances occur in various venues around the city and with a range of prices, allowing more audience members to attend.

Die Fledermaus – a very fun opera!

The Edmonton Opera is currently performing Die Fledermaus, the light comedy written by Johann Strauss Jr.  The music is very waltzy with catchy almost-familiar tunes, as you might expect.  The story is silly, the characters are clever, funny, and not too complex, and the sets and costumes are delightful.  In this production, all the singing and spoken dialogue is in English.  The song lyrics are displayed on the supertitles the same way they are for operas in other languages.  All of this makes it a very accessible opera experience.

I was fortunate to be offered a chance to attend a dress rehearsal with members of the media and with a lot of school children.   The children sitting near me seemed to love it, laughing at the physical comedy, cheering at the curtain call, and even making “rock on” signs with their fingers.  There was a lot of snickering when one character sang that she hoped the party would be gay.

The part that had me slapping my thighs and laughing til I had to take my glasses off, though, was something that probably went over the heads of some of the younger attendees at least in part.  See, apparently there’s a tradition that one particular monologue gets enhanced for local audiences from the Strauss book.    In this production, it was written by local playwright Stewart Lemoine, and if I hadn’t known that ahead of time from the press release I think I would have guessed.  It was exactly the same kind of topical humour that makes me laugh at the Varscona Theatre, and I had to fumble with my media package in the dark to see who was performing because it seemed so much like Jeff Haslam lines.  (It wasn’t Jeff Haslam; it was Julien Arnold, another local actor.)

The story is full of complications and cheerful deceits.  It has all the elements of a successful farce – a chambermaid with social and theatrical aspirations (Jacqueline Woodley, whom I saw as Miliça in Svadba last year), a marriage with both partners restless (Gordon Gietz and Betty Waynne Allison), an incompetent lawyer (Aaron Ferguson), a bed to hide under, and lots of doorways to pop in and out of.  It also has lots of music, about equally mixed between catchy singable waltz rhythms and what I think of as classic opera solos without significant rhythm, rhyme, or repetition.  The plot is full of broad dramatic irony and sarcasm.  Count Orlofsky (Gerald Thompson) was a counter-tenor with an astonishing vocal range and spot-on comic timing.

There are two more performances, Tuesday and Thursday evenings this week.  Tickets are available on line, and parking at the Jubilee Auditorium garage is free.

Scene from first act of Die Fledermaus

Scene from first act of Die Fledermaus

Die Fledermaus curtain call

Die Fledermaus curtain call

Choris members stroll towards the stage at intermission before party scene.

Choris members stroll towards the stage at intermission before party scene.

Contemporary opera: Svadba – Wedding

Last year I enjoyed Edmonton Opera’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, my first opera ever.  This winter I decided to try out a contemporary opera, Svadba – Wedding, by composer Ana Sokolović, produced by Toronto’s Queen of Puddings Music Theatre and part of Edmonton Opera’s ATB Canadian Series.

Svadba is Serbian for wedding, and the opera is sung in Serbian (with English surtitles of course).  It is performed almost completely a capella (with some percussive sound effects done on stage), with a cast of only six singers, four sopranos and two mezzo-sopranos.  The show didn’t really seem to have conventional linear storyline, but was rather a series of songs sung by a bride and her group of female friends throughout the night before her wedding and as she finishes preparing in the morning.  In one of the songs the bride, Milica, seemed to be saying that she wanted to marry Ilija but her mother was giving her to Jovan, but I’m not sure I understood that right since the later wistfulness and farewells could have just easily been a sort of farewell to unencumbered life with friends.

The close harmonies and impeccable timing of the singing were impressive.  I don’t know enough about music to tell why they worked so well, but Mark Morris’ review from the Journal explains some.  I was surprised before the show to see that there was a conductor, because I had never really thought about whether a conductor in a fully orchestrated opera would be directing the singers as well as the instrumental musicians.

The costumes were all black and red: flouncy short dresses, corset-inspired tops, and leather in a combination with both folkloric and modern allusions.  There was a lot of magenta-toned lighting making the reds harsher, and some effective dramatic use of other colours in a couple of songs.  Good use was made of interesting props enhancing the mood and imagery.

There are two more shows, Friday and Saturday night at C103 (the space on Gateway Boulevard formerly known as Catalyst Theatre), and probably not many tickets left.  My own operagoing experience was marred somewhat by an inconsiderate fellow patron who chose to occupy two seats until the last minute before the show, but I gather from the conversation that I couldn’t help overhearing that she’s gone back to Toronto now so you shouldn’t have that problem.

January playbill

I’d noticed before that sometimes food businesses with a holiday rush sometimes close for vacation in January – bakeries, restaurants, vendors at Strathcona Farmers’ Market.  But I’d never noticed before this year that theatres and performance spaces might also be dark at the start of the year.  It seems a little counterintuitive that there isn’t much to watch between Christmas and New Years, when people with academic schedules might have time off and be done their pre-Christmas to-do lists, but it does make sense for performers to take a break after New Year’s, when it’s cold and dark and the viewing public might be feeling frugal or unsociable.

Both Rapid Fire Theatre and Die-Nasty were dark between Christmas and New Year’s, but then jumped right back in to their weekly entertainments.  Rapid Fire is now filling up Ziedler Hall for many of their Friday-night and Saturday-night shows, so fans should buy tickets on line or line up early.

Other companies have been in rehearsal, meaning that several shows are opening this week.  The new Canadian opera Svadba, in Serbian with English subtitles, is playing at C103, the space formerly known as Catalyst Theatre.  Azimuth Theatre previews Free-man on the land at the Roxy starting Tuesday (tickets here).  A Clown Double Bill opens Tuesday at The TACOS Space in that awkward bit of neighbourhood that nobody can decide whether to call Ritchie, CPR Irvine, or “you know, behind Wunderbar, there” (tickets through Tix on the Square). Westbury Theatre, Transalta Arts Barns, welcomes the musical Legally Blonde starting Wednesday.

Deep Freeze Festival wraps up (see what I did there) today, Ice on Whyte sparkles in a couple of weeks, and ForkFest fills up January.  So if you’ve been hibernating the last couple of weeks, it’s  time to bundle up and check out what’s happening in Edmonton entertainment.

A different kind of show

The last time I was at the Jube (Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, concert hall by campus) was for City and Colour. Last night, I went there to see my very first opera, Beethoven’s Fidelio.

The story is about a woman who disguises herself as a man to successfully rescue her political-prisoner husband, somehow accidentally getting herself engaged to the jailer’s daughter along the way, but in a bigger picture it’s about love and hope vs. forces of tyranny.

The costumes and sets of this production were vaguely modern-ish, with the prison workers all wearing black cargo pants (I wondered whether the soprano heroine got to wear cargo pants for many roles). Near the end, when the evil prison-governor was denounced and arrested, the soldier who escorted him away was actually wearing a UN-blue beret.

I did not listen to enough of it ahead of time to recognise the tunes, except the overture, and I didn’t really feel like most of the songs were the kinds of melodies that would stick in my head. I was sitting in the front row, so I had to move my head a bit from the singers to see the surtitles. Also, there was a lot where three or four people were each singing a different line at the same time, and it wasn’t entirely obvious from the surtitles who was singing which line. (I think that the next generation of surtitles needs to have sort of cartoon speech bubbles.)

Anyway, at the end, after the arrest of the evil prison governor, the chorus of prisoners is freed and the chorus of their families wanders across the stage trying to find their family members, and they are all slowly reunited. Only … only I noticed right away that in the crowd of young and middle-aged women and maybe about four children, there was one man in a cap, making his way to the side of the stage near me, finding a prisoner who looked to be about the same age, then embracing fiercely. All the rest of them were clearly nuclear families – one woman, or one woman and an older child, to each prisoner, and there was this couple along with the rest of them. I burst into tears. My seatmate, whom I’d told it was my first opera, probably thought I was just happy about the happy ending or the beautiful music, and I didn’t disillusion her.

It cost about three times as much as going to see Joel Plaskett Emergency last week – only I took a taxi home from that show and used my bus pass to get home from this one, so that evened it out somewhat. The rest of the audience was mostly over 40 and mostly dressed up, but not entirely either. I could see doing that again — especially if there are more operas with admirable female characters.