Tuesday, April 30, 2013


 Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo: Michael Cooper
Reviewed by James Karas
A disturbed young girl who is molested by her brother; a blustering nobleman on the verge of losing everything and molests his sister; a heroic lord; a buffoonish lord who is willing to marry the disturbed girl. The forced marriage to save a family’s honour and the young lady going mad for not being allowed to marry the man she loves and the enemy of her family, all sound familiar. Lucia di Lammermoor, no?  But the rest – where did that come from?

The Canadian Opera Company has found a production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor that is a brilliant and disturbing interpretation of the work; a psychodrama, a dream sequence, an original and stunning approach to a very familiar work. Take whatever view you wish, this is a Lucia like you have never seen before.

We all know that Lucia opens on the grounds of a castle where Normanno (Adam Luther) and his men are chasing an intruder. They are joined by Enrico (Brian Mulligan) who explains that he is on the verge of losing everything unless his sister Lucia (Anna Christy) marries Arturo (Nathaniel Peake).

When the curtain goes up at the Four Seasons Centre, we see a young girl sleeping in a child’s bed and there is a man seated at a desk nearby. The girl wakes up startled. We see Normanno and the chorus through the windows of the room looking for the intruder.

What is director David Alden up to? He re-imagines Lucia as a psychological drama; he recreates some of the characters into people most of us never thought belonged to this opera and in the end gives us a production that many people may find disturbing but in the end is simply stunning and thrilling opera.

 Lucia and Enrico - Photo: Chris Hutcheson

Christy as Lucia is a frightened young girl and the entire action may well be a dream or a nightmare that she is having. She is or imagines being in love with Edgardo (Stephen Costello), her brother’s archenemy. The two meet but their expression of love is awkward and child-like. It smacks of puppy love imagined by the emotionally disturbed Lucia. Far more realistic and terrifying is her relationship with her brother Enrico. He clearly lusts for her and molests her. This is more realistic because Lucia has experienced it as opposed to her love for Enrico which may be an escapist figment of her immature imagination.

She is forced to marry Arturo, an egotistical dandy and an ass, whom she murders on their first night. What follows is the famous Mad Scene and again we see the mind of a brilliant director at work. Forget the grand staircase or other dramatic entrances seen in other productions. Only Enrico and Lucia’s companion Alisa (Sasha Djihanian) are on the stage when she enters. She is soon left alone; she does not need the guests until the choral part makes them essential. Lucia goes through the scene and the curtain in the castle’s stage behind her opens and we see Arturo’s blood-soaked body. That is a coup de théâtre, if there ever was one!

Alden has created countless details to present a convincing account of his interpretation. From Lucia playing with dolls, to her brother playing with toys, to her remaining seated after she is supposed to have died (hence the suggestion of a nightmare), to the positioning of characters on the stage, this is a production that is meticulously planned and executed.

The singing is splendid. Christy’s voice sounded childlike in the opening scene and there were moments when I thought it would crack. I quickly realized that it was intentional – she sang like a disturbed child that on occasion walked on her knees. That voice is dropped and by the time she gets to the Mad Scene she unleashes powerful and dramatic singing.

Costello has a wonderful tenor voice and he leaps across octaves as Edgardo. He is heroic vocally and physically and in the end when he is about to die, very moving. A true heroic tenor.

Oren Gradus, at the other end of the vocal range made an impressive Raimondo. He sang with affecting resonance as the Chaplain who represents duty and obedience.

Baritone Brian Mulligan made a truly loathsome Enrico, the selfish and self-righteous nobleman who is prepared to force his sister into a marriage to a disgusting person. He had a rocky start but eventually settled into a fine vocal rendering.

This production was originally created for the English National Opera in 2008. I saw it on what may be considered a bad night. Christy was recovering from bronchitis, bass  Clive Bayley lost his voice in mid-performance and had to be replaced by a singer who sang from the side of the stage while Bayley mouthed the words and took care of the physical action. The production was sung in English which make me pay attention to the unsingable translation instead of the interpretation. I found that performance bold and innovative but did not enjoy it. 

None of the above applied to the COC production and the opera was sung in its original Italian.

Lucia came back to life, so to speak, in the 1950’s when Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland showed what can be done with bel canto operas. Alden now shows that there is more to Lucia than great opportunities for sopranos, together with its outstanding arias and ensemble pieces and of course a Mad Scene and an unforgettable sextet. They are all there but there is also a psychodrama that will simply take your breath away.

Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti opened on April 17 and will be performed nine times until May 24, 2013 on various dates at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Friday, April 26, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

Pape, van der Walt, Ziesak, Serra, Scharinger,
Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir Georg Solti
Directed by Johannes Schaaf
Decca, 2 DVDs.

This DVD is from a recording of a performance of The Magic Flute in 1991 at the Salzburg Festival. It has a young cast that performs mostly well but the main drawing card is no doubt Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. The video has some inadequacies and it will not be your first choice of The Magic Flute on DVD but it is decidedly worth seeing.

The singing is uneven if of generally very high quality. Tenor Deon van der Walt is a light-voiced, lyrical and expressive Tamino. However, his hair is pulled back in a pony-tail, his makeup is of uncertain quality and he wears a gown giving him a rather unprincely appearance. His singing saves him.

Soprano Ruth Ziesak as his love Pamina, is comely and affecting. She sings her beautiful aria “Ach, ich fühl’s es ist verschwunden” where she expresses her fear about losing Tamino beautifully and movingly.

A young René Pape sings the heavy role of Sarastro. Pape’s voice sounded a bit light for the role and his youthful appearance did not help. He is in fact six years younger than van der Walt who as Tamino is about to marry Sarastro’s daughter Pamina. Add to that a costume that consisted of skullcap a white jacket and a yellow skirt that made him resemble a Hollywood image of a coolie. He is not responsible for his costume and he does evince paternal love in his great aria “In diesen heil’gen Hallen.”

Bass-baritone Anton Scharinger has the juicy role of Papageno the bird-catcher. He sings well and seems to have the ability to do some comedy but Director Johannes Schaaf simply does not capitalize on it. The scene with the old hag should get a couple of good laughs and so should the hanging section. He barely got a few giggles even before (I assume) a largely German-speaking audience.

The effect that Director Schaaf and Stage and Costume Designers Rolf and Marrianne Glittenberg wanted to produce is not always clear. This may be partially the fault of TV Director Brian Large. Because the production was recorded for the small screen, we get mostly close-ups of the singers and see nothing but darkness in the background. The trees and hedge or the obelisks and some statuary that make up various sets, do not help.

In the opening scene, we see a huge snake towering over Tamino with almost nothing visible in the background. The snake is lowered below stage through a trapdoor and the opportunity for a good laugh when Papageno sees the monster that he killed, is lost.

In Act II, Tamino and Papageno appear wrapped up like mummies. Simple hoods would have done quite nicely. When the Queen of the Night sings “Der Hölle Rache” there is some kind of moving scenery behind her that is difficult to discern.

Soprano Luciana Serra was a show-stealing Queen of the Night. There was some awkward staging with her but she belted her two arias with verve and precision. She has a rich, mellifluous voice that can release notes like missiles.

Solti paces the Vienna Philharmonic deliberately and precisely in a performance that is or was worth the price of admission. When Papageno sings “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” Solti puts his baton down and plays the glockenspiel. Scharinger joins him in the pit in an unusual and memorable scene.

The “shortcomings” no doubt reflect recording for another medium and more than twenty years ago. As I said this should not be your only recording of The Magic Flute but it should be one of them.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Jason Priestley, Cara Ricketts and Nigel Shawn Williams in RACE. Photo by David Hou.
Reviewed by James Karas

Canadian Stage has brought David Mamet’s Race for its premiere production in Toronto at the Bluma Appel Theatre. As its title states, the play is about racism in America, perhaps the single most destructive force in that country. The play is supposed to examine the subject afresh in a searing fashion but we get little more that some talking heads parading familiar views.

The plot and structure of the play which opened in New York in 2009 are pretty straightforward. Charles Strickland (Matthew Edison), a rich white man, is charged with raping a young, black woman. He has difficulty finding a lawyer who will take his case but there are two legal stars in town who will take him on, reluctantly. Jack Lawson (Jason Priestly), a white lawyer and the aptly named Henry Brown (Nigel Shawn Williams), a black man, will represent him.

Our credulity is strained quickly. A wealthy man cannot find a lawyer for a sensational case? All he has to do is wave his cheque book and the lineup will start forming.

Lawson and Brown have a young and pretty black woman lawyer named Susan (Cara Ricketts) who lied on her job application. She stated that she had gone to Venice on a trip to Italy while she had in fact only visited Rome! Now that is pretty serious stuff. Lawson had investigated her before hiring her and that is what he had come up with.

We are faced with a seriously artificial and credulity-straining situation and the arguments about racism and relationships among the three lawyers will revolve around the revelations about the alleged rapist’s actions and the police investigation.

In the opening scene the duty of a lawyer representing person charged with a crime is set out fairly accurately. The lawyer assumes that his client is not guilty and within well-established rules puts forth the best arguments on his behalf. Whether the lawyer believes his client’s guilt or innocence is irrelevant. The lawyer is an advocate; not a judge.

Lawson, Brown and Susan forget those fundamental principles fairly quickly and seem to worry about the guilt or innocence of their client. At one point Lawson even asks Charles “did you do it?” A second-rate lawyer would never ask that question, let alone a star defender. Whether the accused did it or not is irrelevant. The question is: can the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If it can, the accused is convicted; if it cannot, he walks away.

One of Mamet’s points in the play is that if a white man were charged with rape fifty years ago, he would have been found not guilty. Same facts today and he is convicted. The evidence has not changed but the calendar, according to Mamet, has changed. Are we to take this as a leap forward in American justice, that white rapists are being finally convicted of heinous crimes that they would have gotten away with half a century ago? I doubt it.

Edison is not particularly convincing as the wealthy, white man who is a potential or falsely accused rapist. He is rather bland and more of a convenient tool for the arguments of the play than a real person.

Priestly must be a big drawing card for Canadian Stage. He does a decent job of presenting Mamet’s arguments but falls short of generating any legal, political or social sparks.

Brown is not a particularly taxing role for Williams and the same applies to Ricketts. Saying that an actor makes a role look easy may be taken as a compliment to the actor if not necessarily to the author.

Daniel Brooks directs the pay as strictly instructed by Mamet’s direction to follow the script closely. Every author has the right to jealously protect his work but Mamet’s attempts go beyond that into a display of sheer arrogance. The script contains a laughable Talkback Restriction which forbids any discussion of the play until two hours after the performance. It imposes a $25.00 penalty as reasonable compensation for the actual damage which David Mamet will suffer from a violation of the Talkback Restriction. This may well be said tongue-in-cheek but I doubt it. The clause is clearly drafted by a lawyer and a touch of humility on the part of Mamet may be more a propos than the legal mumbo-jumbo of the Restriction. The tired arguments presented by the play are forgotten even before the two-hour limitation period expires and there is little danger of any burning desire for “discussion of any type related to the Play.”

Race by David Mamet will run from April 7 to May 5, 2013 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. www.canadianstage.com

Friday, April 19, 2013


Maev Beaty & Mike Ross   Photo by Cylla von TiedemannLa Ronde
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Reviewed by James Karas

Please hold your semen. We will get to the headline shortly.
This is a review of La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler as adapted for Soulpepper by Jason Sherman.

“Do you know what a vulva is?”

“Sure. My father used to drive one.”

That is the level of humour provided by Sherman and if you like that sort of thing, there are quite a few such hysterical, sidesplitting lines in the play. So much for the humour.

And now for the SEX. Soulpepper gives some warning of the content of the adaptation. The season brochure states “sexual Content” and the Playbill warns that “This performance of La Ronde contains explicit sexual content, nudity …” etc. That is a gross understatement.  

Just wait. We will get to Brenda’s “c” lesson shortly.

Schnitzler’s play, subtitled Ten Dialogues has ten characters and they have interconnected sexual encounters. He starts with a Whore and a Solider. Then the Soldier has an encounter with the Parlour Maid, the Parlour Maid with the Young Gentleman and so on in a kind of merry-go-round. Hence the title of the play.

Sherman is somewhat faithful to the original structure and maintains the number of characters. From then on, Schnitzler takes a hike.

The plot is moved to present day Toronto and we go from cheap hotels, to a Rosedale Mansion, to a Biology Lab at a university, an office etc. We also go to a suburban house for Brenda Robins’ lesson because the educational session must be done by candlelight and we need a power failure for that. That happens more readily out in the country.

Sex begins within a minute of the lights going up. All ten characters walk on stage, Sonja (Leah Doz), a beautiful woman, undresses completely and is joined on a cot by Charlie (Stuart Hughes) and the copulation begins. The other characters finish their speeches and Sonja and Charlie finished what they were doing and the story begins to unfold.

The next scene is in a Rosedale Mansion where Charlie who is a soldier begs forgiveness from Hannibelle (Miranda Edwards), a black maid, for not bringing the money. He dropped it in the hotel room where he copulated with Sonja, she founded it and stuffed it up her vagina.

The encounter between Charlie and Hannibelle is a bit bizarre. We learn that she is from the Congo and Charlie loves her. As the two talk, menacing solders in blue berets lurk by. They grab Hannibelle and rape her. I suppose that is a dream sequence or a traumatic experience recalled by Hannibelle because the soldiers appear again and the only one that notices them is Hannibelle.  We realize that Hannibelle was brutally raped by UN peacekeepers.

The rape was filmed and uploaded on YouTube because in the next scene we will see Nicholas (Adrian Morningstar) a young student, masturbating in front of his laptop and subsequently attempting to seduce the maid. I am not sure if that is another dream sequence but it is a grotesque scene. He is getting text messages throughout and we will soon find out why.

He goes to Isobel (Maev Beaty), a professor of biology, who is waiting for his semen so she can inseminate herself. Nicholas has moral qualms about it because he was watching a rape scene when he produced the precious liquid. The professor produces fresh semen manually (or was it orally) from him and goes home to her sterile husband Teddy (Mike Ross).

Teddy leaves Isobel and hooks up with Zoe (Grace Lynn Kung) and they are joined by Lucas (Brandon McGibbon). Lucas wins Zoe but things are not working out between the two so they go for sex therapy to Eve played by Brenda Robins.

Eve diagnoses the couple’s problem as sexual and she knows a lot about sex. She decides to provide Lucas with hands–on instructions on how to please a woman. She gives a detailed, blow by blow lesson in cunnilingus to him while he is on his knees, head between Eve’s legs, following precise instructions. Thank God for the power failure. The whole procedure is done by candlelight and Robins, McGibbon and the audience are spared most of the visual fright of the lesson and rely on a narrative description.

Eve tries to franchise her know-how to Robert (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and ends up giving him a lesson in sadomasochistic sex. Robert’s fate is the climax (yes, I have to use that word) of the play where ejaculation, strangulation and redemption meet.

Some of the actors are spared from appearing completely nude and coming almost in direct contact with the genitals of their momentary partner. Most of them are not given such indulgence although all the men are able to ejaculate with lightning speed. Trying to see how Director Alan Dilworth avoided direct genital contact between the actors provided some of the interest in the play.

One could say that after all the humping, pumping, heavy breathing and ejaculating, Sherman has tried to mount a critique or perhaps a commentary on current sexual mores. The rape victim of peacekeepers, the oriental girl thrown on the street, the Russian girl brought to Canada on false pretenses of a job and then thrown into prostitution, the abuse of power, the sick side of sex are all subjects for great drama.  None of that came out because the play has no people in it.

The actors, to their credit, did yeoman work, in parts that are more embarrassing than challenging.

I recall William Faulkner’s eloquent Nobel Prize Speech. He said that young writers must teach themselves “the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”  The writer who does not do that, he concluded, “writes not of love but of lust …not of the heart but of the glands.”

Sherman in his adaptation does not write of love, he does not even write of lust, or even of good glandular sex. He writes merely of mechanical copulation that is empty and meaningless. 


La Ronde  by  Arthur Schnitzler, adapted by Jason Sherman opened on April 4 and will continue until May 4, 2013 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 3C4. www.soulpepper.ca  416 866-8666.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Stuart Hughes & Mike Ross. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Reviewed by James Karas

For its second production for 2013, Soulpepper offers Sam Shepard’s True West. The play moves on several levels from seething sibling rivalry to a debunking of the American dream. The production, directed by Nancy Palk is reasonably successful but there are some things that simply did not work.

Brothers Lee (Stuart Hughes) and Austin (Mike Ross) find themselves in their mother’s house in Southern California. They have not seen each other for some time and with their mother away in Alaska, the stage is set for a psychological and physical confrontation between the two.

Austin is an Ivy League-educated screenplay writer. He is reserved and civilized, one would say, as he anxiously proceeds with his work. He wants to show a script to Saul (Ari Cohen), a Hollywood producer.

Lee is the opposite. He is a petty thief who lives in the desert and immediately starts casing the houses in the neighborhood for burglaries. He is a loud and uncouth drunkard.

Lee does have a literary imagination of sorts and his wild and improbable story about people chasing each other across the plains of Texas captures the imagination of Saul. Lee trumps his brother by getting a contract for his wild idea and Saul asks Austin to turn that idea into a script.

The transformation of the brothers continues as details about the story are developed and we learn about the fate of their father. The final result is an eruption of murderous violence.

Ross and Hughes do well in their characterization of the very different men that they represent and in presenting the transformation of each to the extent that the brothers take on the persona of the other. Were they the same all along and did the veneer of education cover up Austin’s real character?  One may well ask.

What was missing from the production was the humour. Lee has a raw, violent humour and Hughes did not do a very good job in making us roar with laughter.

Patricia Hamilton appears as the mother near the end of the play. Is the part badly written, or was she just delivering her lines a bit too matter-of-factly?

Director Nancy Palk pays attention to all the details of the play from the background sound of the coyotes and crickets to the actors’ reactions. The only complaint is, again, about the humour not coming out as well as it could have.

Ari Cohen does a good job as the producer who represents the shallowness of American mass culture – give them any garbage or perhaps only garbage and they will eat it up.

The set is an ordinary suburban kitchen. Lee brings a hefty number of toasters in one of his nightly tours of the neighborhood and he decides to make toast using his entire haul. How he manages to connect all of those toasters must be filed under willing suspension of disbelief.


True West by Sam Shepard opened on April 3 and will run until May 4, 2013 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Distillery District, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 944-1740

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Reviewed James Karas
The Greek Community of Toronto’s Nefeli Theatre has taken a significant step forward by producing Fotinos, a patriotic drama by Aristotelis Valaoritis at the Music Hall Theatre.

Director and Choreographer Nancy Athan-Mylonas has assembled a huge cast ranging from youngsters who should have been in bed during the evening performance and mature adults. The whole thing looked like a logistical nightmare but she with the help of many others no doubt brought it off through with flying colours.

Fotinos is based on an unfinished epic poem by Valaoritis (1824-1879) about a revolt by the peasants of the Ionian island of Lefkada against their Venetian overlords in 1357.  The play has domestic and national plot lines. Fotinos of the title (Christos Manikas) is a seventyish farmer who was a revolutionary in his youth. His daughter Thodoula (Anastasia Zanettoulis) is courted by and then engaged to Lambros (Vasili Manikas).

Lambros is the son Floros (Demetre Anastasiou) and Maro (Maria Mattheou), a woman who proves that women’s lib existed in the 14th century in Lefkada. Fotinos’s son Mitros (Dimitri Manikas will play an important role in the national plotline of the play.

The domestic plot is about the engagement and preparation for the marriage of Lambros and the lovely Thodoula. Intertwined with that is the mistreatment of the Greeks by the Venetian grandees consisting of Tzortzis Gratianos (Dimitris Koboliris), his brother Nikolakis (Yianni Bakas) and the treacherous priest Markos (Kostas Bakas).

The two lovers, Thodoula’s friends and the powerful Maro provide some humour amid the horrendous treatment meted out by the Venetians and the ultimate tragic consequences of the Greeks’ thirst for freedom.

Athan-Mylonas adds her own brand of entertainment by way of singing and dancing – there is a happy event happening. She has people using both aisles of the theatre as they make their way noisily towards the stage. Young girls in pretty costumes and adults fill the stage and they dance merrily. It is quite a scene.

Christos Manikas has a powerful voice and he can be very dramatic indeed. He is a patriarch and a patriot who wants peace but he will not be allowed to enjoy his old age. An incident with a slingshot in defense of his property results in a sadistic scene where Tzortzis orders that Fotinos’ hand be crushed with a board. Manikas brings out all the horror of the incident and does an outstanding job in the role.

Koboliris and Yianni Bakas are overbearing and sadistic as the Venetian bosses with Kosta Bakas giving a superb performance as a sleazy priest who is willing to betray everyone.

Vasili Manikas and Zanettoulis are quite pleasant as the eager lover and the shy, virginal maiden with Anastasiou getting high marks as the blustering Floros who has no chance of winning against his wife Maro.

Dimitri Manikas as the son of the powerful Fotinos has his loyalty and courage questioned but in the end he pays the ultimate price for the revolt. In a melodramatic scene that would be hard to surpass, he is found hanging in the church as his sister and Lambros are about to enter to be married.

Valaoritis wrote in a difficult dialect that would tax the talent of seasoned actors. The cast of Fotinos was sometimes bested by the unfamiliar words of the play. They spoke too quickly on occasion and did not always enunciate.

Nefeli is amateur theatre at its best. It involves a large cast with numerous people working behind the scenes. They performed before an enthusiastic audience for whom the themes of family, love, marriage, religion and patriotism resonate.

The Music Hall on the Danforth was a wise choice. At 1200 seats, it could not be filled for all three performances but at least it is in the heart of the Greek community.            

The final judgment was rendered by the audience who gave the performance an enthusiastic ovation.

Fotinos by Aristotelis Valaoritis was performed three times on April 6 and 7, 2013 at The Music Hall, 147 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. www.theatre-nefeli.com or www.greekcommunity.org  Telephone (416) 425-2485

Monday, April 8, 2013


Ambur Braid as The Queen of the Night and Laura Albino as Pamina. Photo Bruce Zinger

Reviewed by James Karas

Opera Atelier espouses truth in advertising: The Magic Flute, they tell us, is a Singspiel in Two Acts. You can call it a play with songs, a musical comedy, even an operetta but hardly an opera in the traditional sense. Call it what you will, this is Opera Atelier’s fourth production of the work in the last 22 years.

Marshall Pynkoski, the Co-artistic Director of Opera Atelier produces The Magic Flute as a musical comedy, sung in English, with colourful sets and costumes to delight everyone. After all, the original production in 1791 was in plain German at the popular Theater auf der Wieden by its librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, a man of the commercial theatre.

My full review of this production may be read here:

The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder opened on April 6 and will be performed six times until April 13, 2013 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.operaatelier.com

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

Alvarez, Romano, Sgura, Nioradze
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma, Yuri Temirkanov. Directed by Lorenzo Mariani
C Major, Unitel Classica. Blu-ray and DVD. 

Il Trovatore makes such high demands on the singers and is so theatrically difficult that there may be no production that will please everyone. Using the bicentenary of Verdi’s birth as an incentive, Unitel Classica is issuing 26 of his operas on Blu-ray and DVD in high definition and surround sound. Tutto Verdi with all the trimmings. This is their contribution to the growing number of recordings of the opera.

They have chosen to record a 2010 production at the Teatro Regio di Parma conducted by Yuri Temirkanov and staged by Lorenzo Mariani.  The principal roles are taken by Marcelo Alvarez (Manrico), Teresa Romano (Leonora), Claudio Sgura (Count of Luna) and Mzia Nioradze (Azucena).

Argentinian tenor Alvarez makes a fine Manrico. He may not perform vocal acrobatics but he hits his notes and holds on to them when necessary with finesse. He is physically big and takes the heroic postures of a lover in distress.

Italian baritone Sgura is in even greater distress as the Count who must live with unrequited love. Sgura has a rich voice that resonated impressively in passion and in fury. A command performance.

Soprano Teresa Romano may not be the ideal Leonora but she gave a stirring performance as a woman who dies for love. Her voice is reasonably full and passionate but simply does not soar to the heights that we want Leonora to reach. Dressed in a white gown, she had a good stage presence.

The gypsy Azucena is given enough notes to steal the show but mezzo-soprano Mzia Nioradze barely kept what was legally hers. She gave us some dramatic moments and good singing but she did not go beyond that.

Stage Director Lorenzo Mariani and Set and Costume Designer William Orlandi give an idiosyncratic production that goes from the interesting to the head-scratching. There are some rocks strewn on the stage, which may have a place in an exterior scene, but what are they doing indoors? Stage props are kept to a minimum. There is a statue of a white horse, a huge bed with column-size candles and little else. The libretto calls for eight different locations and any realistic  attempt at set changes would be almost impossible. Call the solution in this production minimalist and decidedly not realistic.

There is very little by way of a backdrop and most of the time we see nothing but darkness behind the singers. A large moon is shown during some scenes but the bare stage floor against that type of background make it seem as if the opera takes place atop a cliff. A few steps in the wrong direction and you could fall into some canyon. As I said, it is quite tough to establish any kind of locale except for the wing of the palace that Mariani and Orlandi turn into a bedroom.

The opera takes place at night and Orlandi provides blue lighting almost throughout. Video Director Tiziano Mancini does a reasonable job in his choice of shots except for the fact that most of the time the camera is poised just above the performers. It is like watching the opera from the balcony as opposed to the orchestra seats.

Yuri Temirkanov conducted the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma and the sound from the pit was clear and stirring. The chorus was excellent.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Jonathon Young, Alon Nashman, Christian Laurin, Yanna McIntosh and Laura Condlln in THIS. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Reviewed by James Karas

What can you say about the production of a play that left you completely cold? Not much, I guess.

This is a play by Melissa James Gibson that is now playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto.   Matthew Jocelyn directs the production by Canadian Stage. It lasts about an hour and forty minutes and I confess that I got virtually nothing out of it.

Since about two and a half thousand years ago, when Aeschylus added a second actor and subordinated the chorus to the drama, playwrights and directors have been trying constantly to push the boundaries of the theatre. Quite right. 

Gibson and Jocelyn may be trying the same feat for Toronto audiences, even if not on an Aeschylean magnitude, but the result is not as felicitous.

We have five characters who are on stage or seated in the audience most of the time even when they are not part of the action. The auditorium lights are not dimmed and the set is kept to a few items. Nothing particularly unusual in any of this.

Jane (Laura Condlin) is a single mother and a poet. Marrell (Yanna McIntosh) is an African-American married to Tom (Jonathan Young). They have friends named Alan (Alon Nashman) and Jean-Pierre (Christian Laurin), a French doctor.

The play opens with an annoying game where four of the characters think up a story in the absence of the other player and the other player, Jane in this case, is supposed to guess what the story is. She may only ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”.

The setup is that the players will answer yes if the question ends in a consonant; no if the question ends in a vowel and maybe if it ends in y. The game may have psychological interest or revelation but I found it extremely annoying.

There are flashes of dialogue and humour as the play progresses but neither the plot nor the characters engaged me. The poetic language and the subtleties of the play may not be apparent on a first view. It is possible and my impressions are admittedly based on seeing only one performance.

The Berkeley Street Theatre has been restored to its original state. The back of the stage was the bare brick wall and windows facing Berkeley Street. It served as the backdrop for This.

I got nothing out of the whole thing. You may find it utterly fascinating. 

This  by Melissa James Gibson continues until April 13, 2013 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.canadianstage.com