Monday, February 6, 2023

FALL ON YOUR KNEES – REVIEW OF CANADIAN STAGE ET. AL. PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

Fall on Your Knees is a 6-hour theatre epic, played in two parts at the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto. The first part is titled Family Tree and it covers the period from the early 1900s to the 1960s. This is a review of Part 1 which centres on the lives and experiences of the Piper family from the time James Piper falls in love and marries the 13-year old Materia Mahmoud to the time when they become grandparents. The family saga continues in Part 2 with recollections and revelations from the past.

We witness the good, the bad and the ugly parts of the lives of the extended family over many decades. There are moments of happiness and humour; there are fights, assaults, and murderous attacks. We get to see them all in mostly realistic theatre that holds its own for much of the time but also strolls through the lives of the characters with some strain on our attention span.

For a start, we are in Cape Breton and we meet James Piper (Tim Campbell), a strapping young man, a piano tuner, who meets Materia Mahmoud (Cara Rebecca) and they fall in love. Mr. Mahmoud, (Antoine Yared), her father, a Lebanese immigrant, holds the old-world morality, disapproves of the relationship and ties up Piper and gives him a few hammer blows. James and Materia get married and they are deliciously happy. For a short while. Their relationship turns ugly. Details withheld.

They have three daughters, Kathleen (Samantha Hill), Frances (Deborah Hay) and Mercedes (Jenny L. Wright). There are some moments of happiness but most of their lives are punctured with misery and distress.  Kathleen has a promising singing career and she goes to New York to study to become an opera singer. She returns home pregnant with tragic consequences. Frances is the family clown and Hay takes advantage of every opportunity to create comic scenes. Frances becomes a hooker. 

Tim Campbell and Cara Rebecca. Photo: Dahlia Katz

James goes off to fight in The Great War, is invalided and discharged. Eventually he supplements his work as a piano tuner by engaging in bootlegging. He also drinks to excess. Mercedes stays home to look after his needs and endures his perennial dictatorial conduct. Though he shows affection and has some positive traits, Piper has a violent streak in him and he strikes his wife and daughters brutally with the expected consequences. He dotes on Kathleen with suggestions of incestuous attraction to her, hates Frances and loves Mercedes.

The is an intentionally sketchy description of the plot involving the central characters. The play has a much larger canvas with the Mahmoud family at the beginning, Frances’s experience in a Catholic school run by nuns, the bar where Frances sells herself and the story of their “sister” Lilly (Eva Foote) and the Piper’s Jewish neighbour Mrs. Luvovitz (a funny Diane Flacks who also acts as a nun), and a number of other characters.

We meander through the lives of the characters and there are flashes of violence that are shocking in their brutality. When James Piper strikes, as he mistakenly hits one daughter, he loosens a tooth. Other assaults are more targeted and lethal. But there are issues with the development of the plot. The chronology of events is sometimes opaque and I was not always certain about the identity of some of the characters. 

Frances’ descent into the lowlife is graphically illustrated and we have our breath taken away when Materia attends to the delivery of Kathleen’s child(ren) when she returns from New York impregnated by an unknown man.

The acting is superb from Campbell’s hulking Piper displaying decency with an undercurrent of brutality and perhaps incestuous interest in his daughter. Deborah Hay gets the juicy role of Frances and she gets kudos for making the most of it among the unfunny roles played by the other actors. Flacks’ Mrs. Luvovits is a decent woman with some humour that again becomes noticeable.   

The play has a rich assortment of music with a band on stage playing. It is a good diversion and perhaps appropriate considering James Piper’s trade.

The set by Camelia Koo features black cables around the playing area and rising to the top of the stage. The scene changes from the Mahmoud residence to the Piper house, to New York, to school, to the sleazy bar where Frances works with speed and a minimum of props being used. 

The adaptation of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s popular novel took 8 years and it has involved some significant persons in Canadian theatre and generous amounts of money. Alisa Palmer and Hannah Moscovitch adapted the novel for the stage. The two are also credited as co-creators as well as writer (Moscovitch) and director (Palmer). There are seventeen other people listed  as members of the creative team. Five theatre companies are credited for the production, namely the National Arts Centre, Vita Brevis Arts, Canadian Stage, Neptune Theatre, Halifax and the Grand Theatre, London, Ont.

The production will travel to Hamilton, London, Halifax and other theatres across Canada.

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Fall on Your Knees, Part 1 by Alisa Palmer and Hannah Moscovitch, adapted from the novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald ran until February 5, 2023, at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. www.canadianstage.com

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appears in the newspaper.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

PRESSURE – REVIEW OF SUPERB PLAY ABOUT D-DAY AT ROYAL ALEX

Reviewed by James Karas 

Can you write a good play about a weather forecast? Would you see play about a weather forecast when you know very well what the weather was like on the date for which a forecast was necessary? The answer is a resounding Yes.

The play is Pressure by David Haig and it is now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto. You should see it for many good reasons the most essential being that you will enjoy it thoroughly.

Let’s begin. It is 1:00 p.m. on Friday, June 2, 1944 and the weatherman is Dr James Stagg (Kevin Doyle) who must forecast accurately what the weather conditions will be on Monday, Morning June 5. General Eisenhower (Malcolm Sinclair) informs him of the enormity of the reason. He informs Stagg that 7000 vessels, 160,000 ground troops, 200,000 naval personnel, 15 hospital ships, 8000 doctors and 4 airborne divisions are about to embark on the biggest amphibious landing in history. Everything is ready and the only thing that can stop the expedition is the weather. Stagg has to predict it accurately or the landing could prove to be a disaster.

We are in the opening scene of the play. Haig builds up suspense, provides humour and human conflict and personal problems to keep the plot moving and fascinating and entertaining us.

Foreground L-R: Philip Cairns, Malcolm Sinclair, Kevin Doyle. 
Background L-R: Stuart Milligan, Laura Rogers, James Sheldon. 
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Colonel Irving Krick (Philip Cairns) is the expert American meteorologist who knows the historic weather for June 5th and believes that the same conditions will prevail on June 5, 1944. Stagg, a meticulous scientist, looks at the evidence carefully and disagrees with Krick. The American and British forces’ brass, General “Tooey” Spaatz (Stuart Milligan) and Air Chief Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory (David Sibley), in their smart uniforms, must choose whom to support. But the decision lies solely with Eisenhower. He is gruff and humane and the play does nothing to denigrate his status.

The lovely Lieutenant Kay Summersby (Laura Rogers) is Eisenhower’s chauffeur and private secretary and Haig presents them as close to each other without suggesting a more intimate relationship. Summersby does not want the war to end because that will finish her relationship with the general. She is a decent human being and perhaps the most attractive character in the play.     

Eisenhower is ready to order the landing to begin on Monday, June 5. Stagg cannot be certain because as he makes it clear, long-term forecasts are informed guesses and twenty-four hours are considered long term.  

The personal relationship between Eisenhower and Kay Summersby is in the end tragic for her. But we see her humanity in what is happening to Stagg. His wife is in hospital having a difficult delivery and her survival is up in the air. He wants to go and see her but the armed guards well not let him. Security, you know. Kay makes arrangements through Eisenhower and she goes and sees his wife.

Malcolm Sinclair as General Eisenhower and Kevin
 Doyle as Dr. James Stagg. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The acting is outstanding.  Doyle as Stagg starts as a dour, unsmiling professional but develops into a decent human being, knowledgeable and sympathetic. Sinclair’s Eisenhower is commanding and demanding but deeply aware of his responsibility and as such he is also humane. Cairns as Krick is arrogant, a bit silly and one may say typically American. A fine cast overall.

The set by Colin Richmond consists of an unprepossessing large room with huge maps of the Atlantic from Newfoundland to the French coast. Wind currents are shown on it and there is a constant flow of information about changing conditions. Not all of it is comprehensible to mere mortals but we always know what is happening and whether the prevailing conditions or the forecast are favourable for an amphibious landing on a massive scale.

The world knows that Stagg’s conclusion about weather conditions were favourable for the landing June 6th and not on the 5th as planned so meticulously. Eisenhower took Stagg’s advice over that of that of the American Krick. The landing was successful.

Haig does justice to the persons planning the Normandy landing and Pressure, directed by John Dove and Josh Roche is a wonderful, suspenseful, humorous and humane play that is a joy to see.

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Pressure by David Haig continues until March 5, 2023, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont. www.mirvish.com

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appears in the newspaper.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO – REVIEW OF 2023 CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has chosen to revive its 2016 production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro that was directed by Claus Guth for its 2023 opener. No one doubts Guth’s intelligence and brilliance as an opera director and even a cursory view of his career reveals a man who has directed many productions at the top tier of opera houses. 

The current revival was marvelously sung but it has so many incomprehensible, annoying and pretentious angles that they almost succeeded in wrecking one of the best comic operas in the repertoire. Mozart and the singers fought back fiercely and the evening went well despite Guth’s ideas and intentions whatever they might be.

Let’s look at the positive aspects of the production that make it worth seeing and received enthusiastic approval from the audience. In no particular order, I heap praise on soprano Lauren Fagan on her mainstage debut at the COC. As Countess Almaviva, she sang with beauty and passion in spite of being mauled by Cherubim (stay tuned) during her singing. She sang “Dove Sono” with a gorgeous vibrato teeming with emotion.

Soprano Andrea Carroll as Susanna, Figaro’s spunky fiancĂ©e and the Countess’s maid showed vocal talent and comic ability as she tried to survive the Count’s and Cherubino’s lust. As with almost everyone else in the cast, she had to act with the serious if not deadly constraints put upon her by Guth. 

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of
The Marriage of Figaro, 2023, photo: Michael Cooper

Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni as Figaro was dressed almost identically with the aristocratic Count Almaviva sung by bass-baritone Gordon Bintner. They sang with lively sonority. Pisaroni has a lot of comic parts to do but he had to settle for the few opportunities allowed him by the director. Bintner sounded authoritarian in voice and manner until he was brought to the marvelous scene of grace where he asked his wife to pardon him for his unfounded suspicions and misconduct.

The hormone-driven Cherubino can be hilarious but in this production, he was amusing and vocally highly adept. He is permanently sexually aroused and Guth allows him to paw and maul the Countess, Susanna and Barbarina (Mireille Asselin) to the point of almost simulated coitus. I am not exaggerating. We see him on top of the Countess and Suzanna.

Toronto veteran bass Robert Pomakov’s Dr. Bartolo was right on the mark with his singing and comic business and with Megan Latham’s Marcellina they made the perfect pair.

Guth’s helpful comments from the 2011 staging of this production are noteworthy. He stated that in Figaro “Mozart not only allows all kinds of intense human passions but also portrays how they can get out of control and escalate to extremes.”  He further pointed out that he wanted “to follow the characters into their darkest psychological depths.” We may have enjoyed the production a lot better if he kept in mind that this is a comic opera that does indeed deal with love, manipulation, jealousy, mistaken identity and in the end resolution and a happy ending.

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of
The Marriage of Figaro, 2023, photo: Michael Cooper

Let’s take Guth’s invented, silent character, Cherubim (Uli Kirsch). He is dressed the same way as Cherubino except for the angel’s wings on his back. He appears at the beginning of the opera when he jumps on the stage through a window and what appears at first as a curiosity becomes increasingly more annoying as he drops in with frightful regularity ad nauseum. I have no idea what he is supposed to do or represent. He jumps on the Count’s shoulders, interferes with what people are doing and never fails to be a nuisance that should have been kept in Guth’s imagination instead of being foisted on us. He is invisible to the rest of the cast and I wish he would have done us the same favour.

When it comes to human passion, Cherubino and the Count are believers and practitioners of sexual assault as they grab women in Trumpesque fashion to the point where abuse is the mildest term one can use. The Count garbs his distraught wife so forcefully that she slaps him. None of the extent of sexual abuse shown by Guth exists in the opera. This may be descending into the psychological depth of the characters but all you are doing is removing the comedy of the opera. In short, the singers deliver solid singing. For the rest they have millstones around their necks and with or without a Cherubim they manage to erase the fun of The Marriage of Figaro and as for the darkest psychological depths, I will take a pass.

The set  by Christian Schmidt consists of a large stairwell with an open space at the bottom. That is supposed to be Figaro and Susanna’s bedroom and he usually measures a place for their bed, There is no measuring in this production except for a ridiculous gesture by Figaro. In the later part of the opera the stairs are removed and the action takes place in a bare space with  grey walls and no furniture at all.

The costumes by Schmidt are all aggressively modern black and white. The cast could pass for puritans. 

The music by is deliciously played by the COC Orchestra conducted by Harry Bicket.

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The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opened on January 27 and will be performed a total of eight times until February 18, 2023, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appears in the newspaper.


Sunday, January 29, 2023

FIFTEEN DOGS - REVIEW OF CROW’S THEATRE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

Fifteen Dogs is a play by Marie Farsi based on the novel of  the same name by Andre Alexis. In the novel Alexis takes a flight of the imagination where the gods Apollo and Hermes decide to give dogs human attributes and bet on whether any of them can live and die happily unlike the rest of us mortals.

Farsi’s play indeed has fifteen dogs of various breeds and characteristics who are granted human traits including speech of sorts and the ability to understand love and people to some extent. The play also features gods, muses and people. All these characters are played by six actors who have their work cut out for them. They have to change costumes, be people and dogs in quick and varied order.

Here are some examples of the number of roles that the actors have to tackle. Laura Condlin plays Max, Bella, Rosie, Clare, Nira, Clotho, Old Woman, and Narrator. All of the actors narrate part of the play because most scenes would not make much sense without Alexis’s text.

Peter Fernandes plays Lydia, Athena, Benjy, Atropos and Narrator. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff plays Ronaldinho, Prince, Miguel, Bobbie, Zeus and Narrator.  Tom Rooney, one of the best in the cast, gets off lightly with the number of roles – Manjoun, Randy and Narrator but plays one of the most significant parts.

Tyrone Savage has four roles and one of them is a major part: Atticus, Apollo, Driver and Narrator Mirabella Sundar Singh plays Agatha, Frick, Frack, Dougie, Hermes, Lachesis and Narrator.

The cast of Fifteen Dogs. Photo: Dahlia Katz 

That adds up to a crowd of 33 characters made up of dogs, mortals and immortals. The actors are people who pretend to be dogs who pretend to be people or at least have many awful and some decent  human tendencies. The actors as dogs bark, howl, roll over and usually speak pidgin English and we need to believe that the canines are “human” in accordance with the transformation or transfiguration meted on them by the gods of Olympus.

That is a big and complicated  crowd to be handled by six actors and I had difficulty following all the changes and permutations of the plot. My real problem was watching actors pretend to be dogs that pretend to be people. The novel asks us to imagine dogs acting like us – murderous, cruel, ambitious, decent, loveable and needy. I could not make the leap from that to a whole play dominated by the conduct of dogs with human characteristics at that.     

The play does cover a lot of human ground as some of the dogs become attuned to people and our behaviour. Love, hatred, fidelity, treachery, kindness, cruelty, hatred, power, submission are all there and if you can overlook many things you can take the play as a staged myth with mostly modern overtones which may take away from the mythical context.

The play takes place in Toronto and we have specific places like High Park, names of streets in the west end of the city and a pleasantly familiar setting. The Greek gods and the rest of the characters wear mostly a hodgepodge of modern costumes (some differ and Zeus is the exception) and we meet Hermes and Apollo in a Toronto bar.

Marie Farsi adapted Alexis’ novel for the stage and directed the play. The movements and quick changes in scene and characters looks nightmarish but Farsi handled the whole thing adeptly.

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Fifteen Dogs by Marie Farsi adopted from the novel by Andre Alexis continues until February 12, 2023, in Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crownest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1. http://crowstheatre.com/

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared initially in the newspaper.

Monday, January 23, 2023

MARTYR – REVIEW OF AKI STUDIO PRODUCTION OF MAYENBURG’S PLAY

Reviewed by James Karas

Martyr is an outstanding and tantalizing play that receives a riveting production by ARC. It is jaw-dropping theatre at its best and and something that you should see.

A few words about the plot without providing any spoilers. Benjamin Sinclair is a troubled and obnoxious teenager. His behaviour may be excused as growing pains but he soon reveals that he is a deeply religious youth who displays a thorough knowledge of the Old and New Testaments. Deeply religious is a polite way of saying that he is an extremist, a fanatic and other even less flattering words.  

He has a moral code that is based strictly on the Bible and he has specific references for all his convictions. A few examples may suffice. He considers that swimming with girls in the school’s swimming pool where some of their flesh is visible, is a mortal sin and against what the Father that sent him wants.

His mother is divorced and and has a relationship with a man, therefore she is an adulteress and is living in sin. Biblical reference provided.  She will be judged and thrown in the burning fires of an eternal hell. Women are inferior beings. Homosexuals are an abomination and must be killed as instructed by the bible. He wants to die for Christ and all churches should be destroyed as instructed by the gospels.

Love for and obedience of Christ take precedence over everything including love, even respect for parents. We are on earth as warriors for Christ and killing disbelievers without mercy is laudable.

Nabil Traboulsi and Deborah Drakeford.Photographer: Sam Moffatt

The apogee of these views is reached when Benjamin decides to kill his teacher Erica because she is, perhaps, Jewish. He instructs his friend George on how to kill her. I repeat, all is done strictly in accordance with scripture that he quotes.

The plot is developed through deftly constructed confrontations among the characters. Clashes between Benjamin and his distraught mother, a divorcee near the end of her rope. The clashes with the science teacher Erica White who is the voice of reason and the counterweight to Benjamin’s religious fanaticism. Her relationship with husband Marcus Dixon (Richard Lee) provides an interesting sidelight.

His fellow students Lydia (Charlotte Dennis) and George (Adriano Reis) provide interesting insights into Benjamin’s character and convictions. Lydia is the temptress who offers carnal pleasure; George has one leg shorter than another, is promised a miraculous correction of his problem and becomes Benjamin’s disciple and undertakes to murder Erica.

Dexter Menrath (Ryan Hollyman), a Pentecostal vicar, sees a kindred spirit in Benjamin and wants to recruit him to the pursuit of evangelical preaching but is rebuffed by Benjamin.  

The play is performed on a raised platform in the small AKI Studio. The actors sit at opposite sides of the playing area when not on stage and the audience is on the other two sides. This is intimate, engrossing and riveting theatre.

Nabil Traboulsi plays Benjamin, the troubled youth who becomes a religious martyr or a religious fanatic, depending on your proclivities. It is a tough and demanding role but Traboulsi handles it with extraordinary acting ability. Memorizing swaths of lines from the Bible is an added bonus for the audience and an achievement for him. I thought I was getting a crash course on biblical references in a wide range of issues.

Aviva Armour-Ostroff. Photographer: Sam Moffatt

Aviva Armour-Ostroff plays Erica White, Benjamin’s teacher, who tries to deal with a boy whose literal belief in the bible could make a martyr of any rational being. (You will have to decide who the martyr of the title is for yourself). Erica in Armour-Ostroff’s hands is intelligent, well-spoken and rational but she does not stand a chance against the irrational fulminations of Benjamin. A stunning performance.

Ryan Allen as Willy Belford the headmaster of the school presents a wishy-washy, stupid academic who tries to please everyone and succeeds in looking more incompetent every time he opens his mouth. An excellent job by Allen.

Deborah Drakeford as Benjamin’s mother Ingrid is a woman driven to distraction by her son. She is looking for a solution to her son’s conduct and blames the others for not finding one. Kudos to Drakeford for an amazing performance.

Ryan Hollyman plays Dexter Menrath, the Pentecostal vicar who thinks he has found a kindred spirit in Benjamin who can go out and practice his considerable talents as a preacher. He offers sanctimonious cliches and prayer as becomes his calling and Hollyman gives a fine performance in the role.

Director Rob Kempson does an admirable job in maintaining a brisk pace and staging a play on an empty platform with spectators on both sides.   

Marius von Mayenburg is a prolific German playwright with some 17 plays to his credit. Martyr premiered in Berlin in 2012 and was produced in London, England in 2015. This production by ARC is its Canadian premiere.

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Martyr by Marius von Mayenburg, translated by Maja Zade, in a production by ARC continues until January 29, 2023, at the Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St E. Toronto, ON M5A 2B7. www.arcstage.com

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Cluture of The Greek Press

Friday, January 20, 2023

FEDORA – REVIEW OF 2023 LIVE FROM THE MET TRANSMISSION

Reviewed by James Karas 

Umberto Giordano’s opera Fedora is probably unfamiliar to most of us. Even the Metropolitan Opera had side-stepped it for 25 years as had most opera companies. But it has gained some life in the last couple of decades and the Met has made up for its disregard  by producing and transmitting a lavish and star-studded production to ome 70 countries around the world.

Lack of enthusiasm in producing the opera is not exactly unjustified. Fedora was performed a mere 35 times before this production. It is a potboiler, as they say, that merits the monikers: melodrama, detective fiction, incredulous and even less less flattering descriptions. It is saved by some beautiful music and opportunities for singers that make it worth seeing. 

A few words about the plot. The Russian Princess Fedora, rich and beautiful (sung by the beautiful Sonya Yoncheva), is about to marry Count Vladimir who unfortunately is killed before he can make his entrance. (Director David McVicar does manage to show us the bloodied Vladimir in the throes of death, as an extra for us). His death is tragic and Fedora swears (“Gloria dell amia vita”) on the holy cross from her mother to avenge him and pledges her youth to eternal chastity, her heart to eternal mourning and asks the Virgin Mary and all the saints for assistance. You get the idea. 

Piotr Beczala and Sonya Yoncheva
Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera 
That scene is in St. Peterburg around 1880. Next scene: a posh salon in Paris. Detective Fedora is looking for evidence that aristocrat Loris Ipanoff did the dastardly deed. We cannot believe that to be true because he is handsome and in the hands of the superb tenor  Piotr Beczala is not that type. We find relief when Fedora, all oaths to the contrary, by the  end of the second act falls in love with Loris (who has cleared his name) and Yoncheva and Beczala hit some fabulous arching phrases that they hold up to heaven as they declare their love. Protestations by Fedora to the contrary go to, well, wherever such pledges and oaths go when discarded.

The third act takes place in Fedora’s villa in Switzerland where we are treated to a gorgeous vista of the Alps from a  balcony. The villa is magnificent and Loris and Fedora are happy, the servants are happy and we are happy for them all.  But it will not last because someone denounced Loris as the murderer and that causes his exile, the death of his brother and the death of his mother. I cannot disclose who the woman who did that was, but a vial of poison in the cross that her mother gave her becomes handy.

Lucas Meacham and Rosa Feola (foreground).
Photo:Ken Howard/Met Opera 
Even a great opera director like David McVicar cannot save us from the melodrama and detective fiction of the story which at times make the opera look like a caricature of the genre. Yoncheva and Beczala are in top form and the creaky, melodramatic plot is subsumed by their great singing. Soprano Rosa Feola as Olga and baritone Lucas Meacham as the diplomat De Siriex add a lighter touch and even a bit of humour to the opera. Kudos to both for their singing and providing a few much-needed laughs.

Charles Edwards’ magnificent sets are a great diversion and a joy to watch with Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes being a bonus.         

Marco Armiliato conducted the Met Opera Orchestra and, I must confess, in the end I enjoyed the production for the right reasons and set aside the other reflections. See the reprise and make up your own  mind about which is what.

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Fedora by Umberto Giordano was shown Live in HD at select Cineplex theatres across Canada on January 14, 2023 and can be seen again on February 4, 2023. For more information go to: www.cineplex.com/events

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared in the newspaper.

Friday, December 30, 2022

DIE FLEDERMAUS – REVIEW OF 2022 TORONTO OPERETTA THEATRE PRODUCTION

Reviewed by James Karas

The energetic and only-one-of-its-kind-in-Canada Toronto Operetta Theatre is never far from one of the best operettas ever composed – Die Fledermaus. This year marks its 6th production of Johann Strauss’s masterpiece since the founding of the company is 1985.

The current offering is a reprise of previous productions directed by the inimitable  Guillermo Silva-Marin and conducted by Derek Bate and it has many features that make it worthwhile seeing- if you can get a ticket. Most people know what Die Fledermaus is all about but a few facts may refresh your memory. We are in the house of the well-off Viennese businessman Gabriel Eisenstein (Keith Klassen). He has to spend a few nights in jail but he also wants to go to a grand costume party thrown by the wealthy Prince Orlofsky (Gregory Finney). His lovely wife Rosalinda (Kirsten Leblanc) wants to go to the party and so does their maid Adele (Andrea Nunez).

Eisenstein’s friend Falke (Colin MacKay) goes to the party but, as The Bat, he has a score to settle with Gabriel. Add Alfred (Scott Rumble), an Italian tenor in lust with Rosalinda who is taken to prison as if he were Gabriel and you have a fine mess to unravel. 

Andrea Nunez as Adele and Gregory Finney as Orlofsky
Photo: Gary Beechey

Silva-Marin shamelessly tinkers with the plot for laughs. When Alfred recollects singing to Rosalinda wonderful love arias it was done in Mississauga. Throw in presidents who go to jail and mention Mara-a-Lago and you get the laughs. Strauss’s effervescent music does the rest.

There is some fine singing especially by Nunez as the maid. She has a lovely bell-like voice and fine stage presence. LeBlanc has a big, brilliant voice but its size works against her because she tends to overwhelm the other singers in her duets and trios. She needs to reduce her volume and let the other singers be heard.

Finney sings melodiously as Orlofsky and has a sense of humour. Silva-Marin steals the show in the final scene in the operetta which takes place in the jail. As Frosch the Jailer he holds the mistakenly imprisoned tenor, Alfred. The latter gives Frosch singing lessons with the primary advice being to hold a dime between his “cheeks” while singing. Silva-Marin still has a few high notes left in him and he can provoke much laughter.

Klassen as Gabriel was not at his best in the performance that I saw. His voice appeared small and he was out-sung by his colleagues. The rest of the cast is mostly competent with some variations in quality.

Scott Rumble as Alfred and Kirsten LeBlanc as Rosalinda
Photo: Gaer Beechey

The chorus sang beautifully but when called upon to do a few steps of a waltz, which they did,  by shifting their weight from one foot to the next. They should have been taught how to do a couple of one-two-three spins that looked as if they were waltzing.    

Conductor Derek Bate has only nine musicians and slightly more choir singers but he brings energy to the effervescent music and beauty to the ensemble singing.

Silva-Marin and the TOT work with at least one hand tied behind their back. The Jane Mallett Theatre has little to recommend it except that it is there. It has no orchestra pit and the musicians are simply lined up in front of the stage. The sets are almost non-existent and the costumes are decent but nothing special.

It is all a matter of funding and unfortunately the only operetta company in the country survives by what it can get from donors and whatever grants come from the three levels of government. It is a sad situation. They deserve solid funding for more first-rate singers, designers, artistic staff and a bigger orchestra and chorus and more productions.    

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Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss is performed three times on  December 28, 30 and 31 2022 at the Jane Mallett, Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. www.torontooperetta.com