Thursday, May 31, 2012


Robin Evan Willis as Diana Lake, Michael Ball as Monsieur Maingot and Ben Sanders as Alan Howard in French Without Tears. Photo by Emily Cooper
  Reviewed by James Karas

French Without Tears is an entertaining play by Terence Rattigan that premiered in London in 1936. Last year was the centenary of Rattigan’s birth (1911-1977) and a number of his plays were produced in England to mark the event. The Shaw Festival is tipping its hat, albeit belatedly, with this production that is now playing at the Royal George Theatre.

Director Kate Lynch has assembled a good cast and gives a light and entertaining account of the play that gets most of the laughs. For the non-bilingual some of the jokes that are based on mangled translations and abuse of the French language fall flat and some of the private-school English of the students goes by us occasionally without making its mark, but no real harm is done to the production.

Five young, upper-crust Englishmen are learning French in a villa located in a seaside town on the east coast of France sometime in the 1930’s. That is a pretty civilized milieu for wit and romance and some politics, if you will.

We have a rather crotchety tutor in Monsieur Maingot (Michael Ball) who insists that the students speak only French. The bearded Ball looks gruff and menacing in an amusing way and does a very good job in the role. But he is only a sideline.

We are more interested in the Honourable Alan Howard (Ben Sanders), the son of a diplomat who is learning French in order to follow in his father’s footsteps. But his real interest is in writing. There is also Kit Neilan (Wade Bogert-O’Brien), a clean-cut, intelligent young Englishman on the verge of manhood.

We also have a new arrival, a somewhat less polished version of the above-two gentlemen, in the person of Lieutenant Commander Rogers of the Royal Navy (Martin Happer).

They are inert ingredients, of course, until you add Diana (Robin Evan Willis) to the mixture and stir.

She is a beautiful blonde who causes immediate and violent commotion and turmoil in male hormones. Less politely, men have the hots for her. Diana is no mere bystander to these effects; she is a sex magnet who collects lovers as if they were souvenirs in a gift shop. She has Kit under her belt and goes after the Commander and then pursues and conquers the slightly aloof Alan. In what can only be described as a completely natural result (at least in the theatre), the men end up fighting over her.

There are branches to the boys-meet-blonde plot including the presence of an attractive but sensible young lady named Jacqueline, the daughter of Monsieur Maingot (played by Julie Martell), Diana’s rather dim brother Billy (Kenneth Lake) and Brian (Craig Pike), another student.

The plot gets a bit muddled around the middle. There is only so much mileage that you can get from the conniving Diana’s hopping from lover to lover. Rattigan throws in preparations for a costume ball where we get Monsieur Maingot decked out in a Scottish kilt and Kit clad in a Greek kilt, the fustanella, with the inevitable jokes about it.

It is a well-disciplined production. The accents are acceptable if not always clear. The actors deserve commendation from the gruff Commander of Happer to the blustering lover of Bogart-O’Brien. Evan Willis looks and acts the part of the siren and they all provide a pleasant theatrical experience.

The play does have a punch line around the much-anticipated arrival of Lord Heybrook (Dylan Rumsey). Diana’s lovers want to pass her to the newcomer and let themselves off the hook. Unfortunately, Lynch is a bit careless in outfitting his lordship and the joke almost falls flat.

French Without Tears by Terence Rattigan opened on May 25 and will run in repertory until September 15, 2012 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas

Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw Festival’s Artistic Director, can claim another coup in the production of Githa Sowerby’s A Man and Some Women which opened at the Court House Theatre. The play premiered in 1914 and was not produced again until 1996. This is its first production in Canada.

A Man and Some Women is a somewhat melodramatic piece that paints an utterly bleak picture of segments of British society before World War I. There is a social structure that weighs crushingly on this middle-class family that is financially voracious, emotionally sterile and shackled to a moral universe like a chain gang.

The man of the title is Richard Shannon (Graeme Somerville), a decent person and a prominent scientist who is living with his wife Hilda (Jenny L. Wright), a cold, mean, and greedy woman who would try the patience of Job. Richard is supporting his two sisters, a couple of old maids (that is the right expression) who have no skills and, as it turns out, no money. Rose (Kate Hennig) is a mean-spirited gossip with a sharp nose that can cut through concrete. Her sister Elizabeth (Sharry Flett) is decent but ineffectual in the emotional penitentiary that goes for the Shannon house.

The catalyst for the plot is Jessica (Marla McLean), an attractive cousin who is “in love” with Richard. The quotation marks are necessary because love in this house is not Platonic, it is downright antiseptic.

The play opens on a note of desperation and the tone is maintained throughout except for a few unintended laughs. Somerville gives a very dramatic performance as Richard, a man on the verge of exploding. His wife’s demands are insatiable and he pretends that his sisters are contributing something towards their upkeep just to keep his wife’s venomous mouth shut. Ostensibly what he needs is more money but we know that that is only a superficial need.

Wright, her back straight, her face almost expressionless except for cold contempt, presents a frightful idea of a woman whose emotional sterility is complete and whose sole desire is for more money. A terrific performance.    

Hennig’s Rose is a dried up woman who is as evil as she is useless. Flett’s Elizabeth is equally dried up but she is at least decent.

McLean’s Jessica is the breath of fresh air. She is self-supporting, attractive, decent and able to take a moral stand. She and Richard declare their love for each other but the moral and social universe that they occupy is so stultifying that it prevents them from being able to break away from it.

Alisa Palmer has directed a highly effective production of this melodramatic play and it is worth seeing for that alone, not to mention the fact of the play’s provenance.

Githa Sowerby (1876-1970) was a British writer who was practically unheard of in Canada until Jackie Maxwell, produced Rutherford and Son in 2004. In 2008 Maxwell gave Sowerby’s The Stepmother its North American premiere in an outstanding production at the Court House Theatre. What theatre company (and audience, for that matter) can claim to have three Sowerby plays under its belt? None, I venture to guess.

A Man And Some Women by Githa Sowerby opened on May 24 and will run in repertory until September 22, 2012 at the Court House Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas

Noel Coward called his 1939 play Present Laughter “a light comedy” and indeed it is and it is a very good choice for the opening of the Shaw Festival’s 51st season. It is by no means a pitch perfect production but its virtues outweigh its shortcomings to make for a very pleasant evening at the theatre.

Present Laughter is centered on the trials and tribulations of Garry Essendine, a highly successful theatre actor in 1930’s London. He has amusing domestic staff and is beset by women and other admirers. All of them bounce off or act as foils for Essendine’s overacting, exuberance and sheer theatricality. One never knows when he is a character in a play or the “real” Essendine because the distinction probably does not exist.

A good Essendine is an essential requirement for any production and the Shaw Festival has one in Steven Sutcliffe. He is effusive, agile, self-obsessed and thoroughly theatrical in his acting. He manages a good accent and I think captures the character and provides a lot of fun.

Essendine’s domestic staff is good for a few laughs. Mary Haney plays his clear-eyed and efficient secretary Monica who does not pull any punches. She is delivers the laughs assigned to her but Haney’s flat-toned voice and hurried delivery in the opening scene did not help.

Corrine Koslo is decked out like an extra-terrestrial as the housekeeper Miss Erikson and she gets the laughs assigned to her as does the valet Fred in the hands of James Pendarves.

The main fun is provided by the women satellites that pursue Essendine and end up in his guest room. Daphne Stillington is a youthful admirer who ends up in his apartment by forgetting her latch key. Julia Course is not quite as alluring as one would wish for Essendine’s head to be turned and director David Schurmann adding the cheap trick of her blowing her nose like a foghorn does not help.

Claire Julien is Essendine’s classy, separated, wife, a woman who has wit, intelligence and cunning. Julien does a superb job in the role. The plotting and serially unfaithful Joanna Lypiatt is played well by Moya O’Connell.

The mad playwright Roland Maule is a character that is open to almost any shenanigan that the director can dream up. He is in for the laughs – the character, not the director. In this production Schurmann has Jonathan Tan in the role as a slight, acrobatic man who can almost go into flight.

Patrick McManus and Gray Powell play Hugo Lypiatt (the jilted husband of Joanna) and Morris, the jilter. I am not sure if they were even trying to speak with a variation of an English accent but the roles are small enough for that to be ignored and form a part of the less than pitch perfect performances.

The set designed by William Schmuck is very good but the painting of a monkey can be dispensed with. The view of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is very good in placing Essendine’s apartment in a definite location. There are productions that simply forget to provide a window.

Director David Schurmann does a very good job for most of the production but there is some choppy timing, especially at the beginning where the actors seemed to be rushing through their lines or not waiting for the laughter to subside before continuing. Much of that will no doubt be corrected but one wonders why it was not caught in the previews.

The addition of bits of songs by Cole Porter added nothing to the production. But all of the complaints deduct only one star out of five from this unbeatable light comedy.

Present Laughter by Noel Coward opened on May 23 and will run in repertory until October 28, 2012 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Maria Vacratsis, Michael Hanrahan, Oliver Dennis and Brenda Robins
Reviewed by James Karas
In 1970, British playwright David Storey’s play Home opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London. It starred John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson and it was a theatrical event of the highest order. One should abstain from phrases like “they don’t make them like they used to” but we never had Prohibition in Canada so I will mutter the phrase sotto voce.

Soulpepper Theatre Company has revived the play for Toronto audiences and it is now playing at the Young Centre in Toronto. The play may have had other productions in Toronto but the only one that has come to my attention is one in 1974 at the New Theatre which seems to have disappeared many moons ago.

I hasten to add that if they don’t make them like they used to, Soulpepper proves that it can do a damn good job and to hell with comparisons.

Home is an extraordinary play that develops slowly and somewhat mysteriously and delivers a big punch line. Knowing the punch line does not affect the high quality of the work or the enjoyment of this marvelous production but it does add an edge to your sense of wonder as you are walking out of the theatre.

The set consists of a white metal table and two chairs in what may be a park or a garden. There is a brick wall at the back and we see the blue sky with some clouds. We see two well-dressed gentlemen chatting. They met recently and they talk in a staccato dialogue with frequent changes of subject, some non-sequitors and a considerable amount of humour.

Jack (Oliver Dennis), carrying a smart walking stick and wearing a suit with a vest, chats amiably about a wide range of topics with wit and indeed some erudition. He discloses that he wanted to be a priest at one time but could not make up his mind about being Catholic or Anglican.

Harry (Michael Hanrahan) is dressed just as smartly and is very finicky about his appearance. He removes signs of fluff from his clothes as well as from Jack’s. He is equally adept at the conversation with Jack and discloses that he wanted to be a dancer at one time.

Dennis and Hanrahan give superb performances. They capture the essence of their characters and interact with finesses and precision. Much of the success of the production rests on the perfect timing of the two actors in a dialogue that appears simple.

The men leave the stage and two women appear. They are Kathleen (Brenda Robins) and Marjorie (Maria Vacratsis). They are the antithesis of the two men. Their appearance, dress and manners are low class and quite slovenly. Kathleen screeches when she tries to laugh at things that do not appear to be very amusing. Like the men, they talk about a variety of things and make observations but always from a lower class point of view and manner. Similar comments and praise are due to the women for their individually superlative acting and for their interacting

Alfred (Andre Sills) is the fifth character in the play and he has a relatively short, mostly walk-on appearance but he lets the cat out of the bag in case some people in the audience have not clued in about where we are.

Albert Schultz gets five stars for his meticulous directing.

David Storey’s star has faded for some time now and his plays have been ignored for far too long. Give full marks to Schultz and Soulpepper for giving us a subtle, well-tuned, perfectly paced and simply outstanding production.

Home by David Storey opened on May 17 and will continue until June 20, 2012 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Gun-Bri Barkmin, Michael Kőnig and Alan Held in A Florentine Tragedy. Photo: Michael Cooper
Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company is rounding off its 2011-2012 season with en eclectic selection of two one-acters, (A Florentine Tragedy and Gianni Schicchi) and Handel’s Semele.

If you have never seen Alexander Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy, don’t go into catatonic hysteria. This production marks the Canadian premiere of the opera which was first seen in Stuttgart in 1917. Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi was last produced by the COC in 1996 and is more familiar fare.

The productions boast star-power in conductor Sir Andrew Davis and in Director Catherine Malfitano. Davis is a local hero as the former conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Malfitano, who built a considerable reputation as a soprano in her youth, is sharpening her skills as a director.

A Florentine Tragedy is an interesting work based on a play by Oscar Wilde. The merchant Simone (Alan Held) finds his beautiful wife Bianca (Gun-Brit Barkmin) at his home with Prince Guido (Michael Kőnig) in circumstances that may indicate marital infidelity. Now if Simone were a real Italian, his only choices in the circumstances would have been to shoot the lover or shoot the lover and his wife. Instead, this being an opera by an Austrian of interesting descent, Simone turns the whole thing into an opportunity for a commercial transaction. It may be that the market for infidelity by Italians in one-act operas has been cornered by Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci and if you are expecting passion and heart-wrenching scenes, you are in the wrong place.

The opera and the production are dominated by Simone in the hands of American bass-baritone Held. He has a big, well-shaped voice and with his shaved head projects some power and menace. Zemlinsky provides scant scope for vocal pyrotechnics by the lover Guido and Bianca. They sing mostly in recitative mode and there is not much opportunity to display their ardour and vocal prowess. Credit to Barkmin for looking sexy in a slinky dress and a question mark about what the hell she is doing with Guido. As such, the performance belongs to Held.

Set Designer Wilson Chin has decided that the prosperous Simone lives in the corner of a palatial room with falling plaster and bad furniture. The lighting designed by David Martin Jacques is dubious at best. Characters go in and out of the dark and the stage is never fully lit. Is Simone unable to pay his electricity bill?

Malfitano’s directing is competent subject to poor choices in lighting and set design. She does not take full advantage of the stage but some of the problem is with the opera as well.

With Gianni Schicchi we are on familiar ground: a large greedy family gathers around the deathbed of a relative and they all want to make sure they get their share of his estate. They quickly find out that in his will he leaves everything to a monastery. Bring in the scheming but lower class Mr. Schicchi and see if can fix things.

Alan Held leads the large and boisterous cast in the main role. He is a delightful crook who can take the place of a dying man and change a will. Superb acting and singing. Everyone has heard “O mio babbino caro.” It is sung by Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta who saves the day by convincing her father to go ahead, let us say, with the necessary amendments to the will. Soprano Simone Osborne delivered a very good performance and as the young lover and singer of the best-known aria of the opera she was received vey enthusiastically by the audience.

Tenor René Barbera is Lauretta’s lover and he shows vocal and physical agility. The cousins and nephews and assorted relatives that make up the large cast generate considerable energy and humour.

I do have issues with the set. Malfitano sets the opera in present day Florence and that is fair enough. Set Designer Wilson Chin thinks that the dying Donati lives in room where the stairwell is protected by make-shift boards and his furniture is piled up ready for the dumpster. This man is wealthy; show it.

Near the end of the opera we are treated to a panoramic view of Florence on a sunlit day. Give it to us from the beginning. It is a beautiful sight.

Malfitano again fails to make use of the stage and is hampered by the set. When the relative as re reading the will they are on top of each other in the corner around a small table. More fluidity is needed.

Both operas are worth seeing for different reasons but there are some avoidable errors that would have raised the productions to a much better night at the opera.

A Florentine Tragedy by Alexander Zemlinsky and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini opened on April 26 and will be performed eight times until May 25, 2012 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: 416-363-6671.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Patricia Fagan, Derek Boyes, Gregory Prest, Nancy Palk, Mike Ross & Eric Peterson

Reviewed by James Karas

Two of the characters in Kaufman and Hart’s wonderful comedy You Can’t Take It With You make firecrackers in the basement. They are amateurs and their firecrackers are very unreliable. Sometimes they work and sometimes they do not.

The firecrackers serve as a good metaphor for the current production of the play by Soulpepper at the Young Centre in Toronto. Some of the lines of the play come off hilariously, others sputter or simply fall flat. In the end you are left wishing that director Joseph Ziegler could have mustered a more cohesive production where all the lines went off like well built firecrackers.

You Can’t Take It is a classic play of the American depression. It premiered in 1936 and it is a feel-good play. It presents a large family of loveable eccentrics in their house in New York, somewhere near Columbia University.

Martin Vanderhof (Eric Peterson) is the paterfamilias who decided to stop working thirty-five years ago and he has relaxed and enjoyed life ever since pursuing hobbies like collecting snakes and attending commencements at Columbia University. Peterson plays Vanderhof as an overly spry and active old man. He gets a few laughs but I think Martin is the centre of gravity and wisdom of the play and he should not be overplayed for cheap laughs.

Martin’s daughter Penny (Nancy Palk) is a free spirit who was a painter but turned to playwriting eight years ago when a typewriter was delivered to her house by mistake. Palk underplays Penny but is quite good. Her husband Paul (Derek Boyes) is making firecrackers in the basement with his friend Mr. De Pinna (Michael Simpson) who came to the house some years ago and just stayed. Boyes’s Paul is a decent man while De Pinna is a bit of a fool who poses as a discus thrower for Penny’s painting talents.

One of the main sources of laughter in the play is a Mr. Kolenkhov, a Russian dance teacher. He is an effusive type with a thick accent and he can be hilarious. Diego Matamoros was miscast in the role. It is not too much to expect the actor playing the role to be able to do a semi-decent Russian accent. Matamoros could do nothing of the sort and he should have taken another part in the play.

There is a love story between Alice, one of Penny’s daughters and Tony (Gregory Prest), the handsome son of Mr. Kirby (John Jarvis), Alice’s rich employer and his snooty wife, Mrs. Kirby (Brenda Robins). The two families are worlds apart and the two worlds meet on the wrong night and the result is hilarity. Robins strikes the right note of snobbery and the word-game during the families’ get-together is done well.

Krystin Pellerin as Alice is beautiful and an attractive character but I did not feel the surprise and shock in her reaction when Tony and his parents arrive for dinner on the wrong night and find the pandemonium that passes for the Vanderhof house.

Sabryn Rock as Reba was a dud but Andre Sills as Donald went off perfectly. The Duchess Olga (Maria Vacratsis) and Gay Wellington (Raquel Duffy) the drunken actress got all the laughs assigned to them.

The set designed by Christina Poddubiuk was a very ordinary living room despite being occupied by snakes, outrageous people and activities such as ballet lessons, painting, and a drunken actress. It did not capture any of the outrageousness or eccentricity of the family.

This was reflected in the overall impression of the production. There were flashes of humour and the play fought its way out of the placid approach adopted by Ziegler.

Kaufman and Hart seem to have gone out of style and the last time I saw this play was at the Shaw Festival in 1998. That is a very long coffee break and Soulpepper deserves full credit for this revival even if it is not entirely successful.

You Can’t Take It With You by George Kaufman and Moss Hart opened on April 26 and will continue until June 13, 2012 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas

Near the end of Euripides’s The Trojan Women the body of Astyanax, Hector’s young boy, is given to Hecuba for burial. The little boy has been murdered by the Greeks and his body is placed on his father’s spear to be adorned with some ornaments before burial. When the soldiers pick up the spear with the body, the audience in Hamaskayin Theatre gave a gasp and there was hardly a dry eye left in the house. It was the highlight of a fine production of the play by the Greek Community of Toronto’s Nefeli Theatre.

The Trojan Women was first produced in 415 B.C. and it is the ultimate requiem for victims of war, especially women and children. It tells the story of the fate of the women of the royal house of Troy after the Greeks sacked and destroyed that city. With all the men killed or gone, the women are herded together to be divided among the victorious Greeks as trophies. Division is made by the throw of dice.

Nancy Athan-Mylonas, Nefeli’s Artistic Director, has adapted the play by cutting out swaths of it, but in the end capturing the spirit of the work with the judicious use of music and dancing and highly convincing performances by some of the principals.

The Trojan Women is a static play that consists of the expression of grief, loss, anger and despair as the women face the ultimate in loss and humiliation. The choral odes are adjuncts to those sentiments but the play as written is difficult to produce. Athan-Mylonas has succeeded marvelously by modifying the play and unifying what she kept into a compelling representation of Greek Tragedy.

Hecuba, the widow of King Priam, is the central character of the play. Maria Hadjis does a superb job in the role. She walks with a cane and gives the impression of a woman who carries her own humiliation and the griefs of her children and her city on her shoulders.

Stella Mastrogiannakou plays the demented Cassandra who has been chosen by Agamemnon as his concubine. Mastrogiannakou presents an unhinged woman who is left with nothing but a horrible future. A well done performance.

The woman who has arguably the worst fate of all is Andromache, the young wife of the Trojan hero Hector. She too will be the trophy of a Greek warrior but she must also endure the murder of her son Astyanax. She provides a heart-wrenching performance.

Helen of Troy also makes an appearance. She is a Trojan woman by way of adultery and her husband Menelaos comes to claim her. Unlike the other woman she is bejeweled and dressed in a beautiful turquoise gown. Her former beauty is somewhat faded but her wits have not. She attempts to justify her behavior by blaming everyone else. Irene Bithas-Georgiadis who is usually type-cast in comic roles shows that she can act in serious parts as well as she dances circles around the hapless Menelaos, played well by Fotios Papadopoulos.

The Greek messenger Talthybios is played at stentorian volume that is quite appropriate for the role by Dimitris Kobiliris.

The production makes some effort to be bilingual and Athan-Mylonas has added English excerpts written by Production Manager Lydia Soldeville-Tombros for three narrators. They also take on the roles of Chorus Leaders. They are Donna Poulidis, Amy Bougiouklis and Anastasia Zanettoullis.

Athan-Mylonas makes effective use of several dozen children who rush onto the stage through the smoke in the opening scene. They are in a burning city and running away from flames and smoke.

The Chorus of Trojan woman is perhaps the most effective part of the production. They sing, dance and recite lines in a structured and moving fashion. They are dressed in black and wear kerchiefs with headbands suggesting a Middle Eastern setting. The music is well-chosen and the choral chants resonate beautifully. You can wisely ignore the final song.

Nefeli has been around for 21 years and one would have thought that Ancient Greek drama is their natural bailiwick. In fact this is only the second time that they have ventured into tragedy but they have done a Lysistrata.

Their success goes beyond all expectation despite the inherent difficulty of the genre and especially this play. There is little enough Greek drama being produced. This production has the advantage of introducing dozens of youngsters to Ancient Greek drama as well as reminding a lot of adults of its existence.


The Trojan Women by Euripides, adapted by Nancy Athan-Mylonas, was performed three times on April 28 and 29, 2012 at the Hamaskayin Theatre, Armenian Youth Centre, 50 Hallcrwon Place, Toronto. Ontario. or Telephone (416) 425-2485

Friday, May 4, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas

When the ardent lover tries to convince the woman of his pursuit to succumb to his entreaties, he points out that they do not have all the time in the world. He tells her that “at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” That is in Andrew Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress.

Director Willy Decker seems to have taken that point well in his inspired and brilliant interpretation of La Traviata that was shown world-wide in movie theatres on April 14, 2012, live from The Metropolitan Opera on New York.

With a minimal of judicious touches to the libretto, Decker has produced an almost new work from the familiar opera and a production that will leave you gasping with emotion and admiration.

Decker and his Set and Costume Designer Wolfgang Gussmann used a large clock, five ordinary couches and some sheets of cloth. Those are all the props on a starkly bare semi-circular set with a bench.

The opening scene of La Traviata is a party scene in a (usually) lavish setting. In this production Violetta (Natalie Dessay) staggers onto the empty stage. There is a large clock and an unidentified, white-haired man in a trench coat. We will see him a number of times and realize that he is in fact Fate, the Fate that stalks Violetta.

The party starts with a rousing drinking song, the famous “Libiamo,” an expression of the care-free life devoted to pleasure. Not so for Alfredo (Matthew Polenzani), Violetta’s new lover; he is not laughing or even smiling when he sings that aria. There may be gaiety on the surface but the real atmosphere is utter somberness.

Decker has an inspired idea for the second act where Violetta and Alfredo have moved to the country and discover that they are broke. In this production, he makes a small change in the scene by having Violetta present while Alfredo sings of his blissful new life. This is done while the maid is in Paris selling off things to pay for the bills. The only difference in the set between the opening party scene and the house in the country is some colourful material to cover the couches.

The scene from the house in the country glides seamlessly into the masked ball and the masked ball turns into Violetta’s apartment in the final scene where she will die. There are countless examples of brilliant directing by Decker but one of the most effective was the scene change from the masked ball to Violetta’s apartment. Fate appears in the ballroom and slowly pushes out the party guests until Violetta is left alone. Without moving any furniture or doing anything, Violetta is in her apartment.

The final scene is heart-wrenching as Violetta fights against approaching death with hope and desire to live. In the end the last person that she embraces is Fate and then collapses to her death.

These are just a few examples of the numerous and meticulous details introduced by Decker in this production that amazes you at every turn.

The star of the show is Dessay who delivers an unforgettable Violetta. She sings with deep emotion and acts with a depth and feeling rarely seen in opera. Decker’s insistence on the passage of time and the inevitable encounter with Fate is greatly helped by Dessay. The youthful hue no longer sits on Dessay’s skin like the morning dew as it does not on Violetta’s. Dessay delivers a sense of fear and desperation at the knowledge that time is passing. Near the end, when the clock is removed because it no longer matters, a young Violetta is carried on the stage by the Parisian revelers. Dessay may not have all her high notes intact but in this production that adds rather than subtracts from her characterization.

Matthew Polenzani sang and to some extent acted as Alfredo. Polenzani has a fine voice but his acting can only be described as adequate. He probably suffers much in comparison to Dessay’s dominance in the lead role.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky has the juicy role of Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father who has to tell Violetta that she is no good for his son and to his son that he should dump the courtesan. He needs to plead and be noble and Hvorostovsky has no problem garnering the resonance for “Di Provenza il mar” and the scenes with Violetta.

Fabio Luisi conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at a deliberate pace as the chariot of time led us inexorably to the end of a great production of an opera.

La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on April 14, 2012 at the Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre Cinema, 22 Lebovic Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, (416) 752-4494 and other theatres.