Friday, August 30, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

Waiting for Godot is accepted as a game changer and a masterpiece of the modern theatre, which means there are people who adore it and those who snooze through it. The Stratford Festival’s production at the Tom Patterson Theatre is very good and everyone should have enjoyed it but unfortunately there were a few who did not return after the intermission or yawned a bit too much at the end.

Director Jennifer Tarver presents a sensitive and detailed reading that gives one a stunning impression of what they play may mean. Nothing happens in Waiting for Godot, they say, but we do get Beckett’s bleak view of civilization, if there is any. There is plenty of void and Beckett attempts the impossible task of capturing that void or the idea of that void.

The cast is very strong. Stephen Ouimette (Estragon) and Tom Rooney (Vladimir) play the two tramps. Rooney is a lean Vladimir in a bowler hat who is quite agile. Ouimette is more portly and scruffy as the cynical and tired Estragon.

Brian Dennehy is the tyrannical and psychotic Pozzo who wants to sell his slave Lucky. The slightly stooped, deep-voiced Dennehy exudes both menace and insanity. Pozzo and his slave are passing through from somewhere to somewhere (more likely, from nowhere to nowhere) while Vladimir and Estragon are waiting in the middle of nowhere for someone who is supposed to save them from something if he exists.

Randy Hughson plays the slave Lucky and even with only a few lines to speak he has a tough job. He is abused by Pozzo and he must strike poses, “dance” and cater to his owner’s psychotic whims. A very good performance by Hughson.

Waiting for Godot can be very funny but Tarver seems to have chosen a more sedate reading. There are a few laughs when the characters make some remarks but there is apparently no attempt by Tarver to emphasize or exploit the clownish part of the tramps. They satirize their own situation and their ridiculously extraordinary position where they cannot even commit suicide. There is more room for dark humour than Tarver chose to use. Creating more laughs may be used as a method to reduce yawning by hoi polloi but it also an appropriate approach to the play.

The theatre-in-the-round Tom Patterson is well suited for the play. Designer Teresa Przybylski places a curving road across the stage with the leafless tree and that is all the set that we need.

The meaning of the play and the world that it reflects are matters for scholars to debate. For the theatre goer, the impression of the world that Beckett paints is unforgettable and highly effective. When it comes to understanding a work of art, I like to go back to prima ballerina Pavlova who, after a great performance, was asked what “it meant.” Her reply is suitable in many situations. “If I could have said it, I wouldn’t have danced it.”

If you approach Waiting for Godot in that spirit and with that attitude you are less likely to find it difficult to comprehend and, on the contrary, you will wait for the next production so you can grasp a few more nuggets of gold. You may not be able to describe the experience but you will feel it in your bones which is much better.    

Waiting for Godot  by Samuel Beckett opened on June 27 and will run in repertory until September 20, 2013 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


*** (out of five)

Reviewed by James Karas
Enchanted April is a pleasant comedy about post-World War I women asserting their freedom and suffering some of the effects of the war. Director Jackie Maxwell gets out most of the laughs, even a couple of guffaws when the play veers shortly into farce.

Enchanted April is an adaptation by Matthew Barber of a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. We have four women who manage to escape from England to the sun and flowers of Italy by renting a small castle there in 1922. Lotte (Moya O’Connell) is the dreamy wife of Mellersh (Jeff Meadows), a solicitor. She convinces the strict and religious Rose (Tara Rosling) to go to Italy with her.

They find two more women to share the castle. Lady Caroline (Marla McLean) is beautiful, popular and an indirect victim of the war. Mrs. Graves (Donna Belleville) is a cantankerous old woman who, when asked for references, directs you to the President of the Royal Academy, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Governor of the Bank of England.

The four women go to the gorgeous seaside castle where they find an eccentric cook in Costanza (Sharry Flett) and Antony (Kevin McGarry), the owner of the castle.

The pleasant humour and laughter come easily. Lotte is excitable, innocent, likable and naïve. She points to a picture and asks Mrs. Graves if that is her mother to be told curtly and grandly that it is Queen Victoria. O’Connell’s excitement is infectious and enjoyable.

Rosling’s character is complementary and contrasting. Rose is more sophisticated and prettier, and her husband is hiding a big secret known as a mistress.

Lady Caroline also hides a secret behind her snobbish and standoffish attitude. McLean does a fine job in the role.

Some of the best lines of the play are reserved for Mrs. Graves who is old and used to her English ways. But we do see her humane side near the end.

Sharry Flett speaks only Italian but she gets quite a few laughs at the expense of Mrs. Graves. Unfortunately Flett can’t quite manage a decent Italian accent. By that I mean I wish she would not sound like a Canadian tourist trying to speak Italian.

McGarry as Antony is a hunk of a man with very good manners but a very bad accent. Jeff Meadows as Mellersh brings the house down by dropping the towel that is hiding his modesty when he runs out of the bath.

Enchanted April has two sets designed by William Schmuck: a dreary room with some tables and chairs in the first act. This is rainy, boring England. Then we get sunlit and flower-strewn Italy where all is just gorgeous and conjugal love blossoms and re-blossoms while illicit liaisons wither.

Men killed in the war is a constant theme of the play and when one saw a woman alone in those days, the first thought was that she must be a widow. But the guns of August are very far away from us and all we saw was a very pleasant comedy. Is this the sort of thing the Shaw Festival should be doing? Only if it fills the theatre, I suppose.

Enchanted April by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim continues in repertory until October 26, 2013 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas


That is the first bit of advice you should take to heart if you got to the Shaw Festival and see Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. It is produced in the small Studio Theatre and it is sold out but don’t hesitate to use bribery and corruption to get a ticket.

The recommendation to pay attention is given freely and generously for your own good. Arcadia is a brilliant, brainy, funny, stimulating and challenging play and by paying strict attention, you will increase your chances of getting most of the lines, references and ideas that it throws at you like darts. OK, look at it as mental gymnastics – it will make you smarter.   

Arcadia takes place in 1809-1812 and the present with alternating scenes between the two periods but all done on one set. The 19th century characters live in Sidley Park, a stately mansion in England, and deal with science and art; the encounter of classicism with romanticism; theories of the universe; theories about garden designs and a few other such light subjects. Stoppard has the genius to deal with such subjects and make them entertaining and funny.

The characters who live in the present are researching the 19th century occupants of Sidley Park including the possibility that Lord Byron stayed there and killed a minor poet named Ezra Chater (Andrew Bunker) in a duel after seducing his wife.

Stoppard provides a number of juicy characters and director Eda Homes takes advantage of them and gives us a fast-paced and extremely well done journey of wit and tantalizing ideas.

Thomasina Coverly (Kate Besworth) and Septimus Hodge (Gray Powell) dominate the 19th century scenes. She is a teenage genius who argues against the Newtonian view of the universe and he is her tutor who tries to keep up with her. It is not all intellectual pursuits – far from it. Septimus has seduced Chater’s wife (who hasn’t?) and there are sexual as well as intellectual liaisons.  

The synergies displayed by the actors, like the wit and cerebral pyrotechnics, are breathtaking. Besworth and Hodge drive the play with Nicole Underhay providing a sexy and splendid Lady Crooom.

The present-day characters are engaged in detective work as Bernard Nightingale (Patrick McManus) tries to piece together a story about Lord Byron. McManus is given free range by Stoppard and Holmes to emote to the point of deliriously delightful overacting as does to a lesser but equally enjoyable extent Diana Donnelly as Hannah Jarvis, a popular author.

Arcadia is a deliciously complex play and requires sustained attention by the actors and it stands Holmes in good stead that she is able to marshal the company into a marvelous ensemble providing theatre of the mind and the heart at its best. I was so wrapped up in the plot, the wit, the histrionic speed that I almost did not notice that most of the English accents were less than perfect.


That is my second piece of advice given once again freely and most generously and solely for the purpose of directing you to an exceptional theatrical experience. 


Arcadia by Tom Stoppard runs in repertory until September 7, 2013 at the Studio Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Friday, August 23, 2013


**** (out of 5)

Reviewed by James Karas

 At the end of the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is down on his knees. After a lifetime of being insulted, mocked, spurned and humiliated, he is completely destroyed. Portia, his prosecutor, bends down and helps him get up off his knees. It is a magnificent gesture of humanity in a play that seethes with inhumanity and anti-Semitism.
As she leaves the courtroom Portia reaches down and picks up Shylock’s yarmulke which was contemptuously snatched off his head and tossed on the floor by Gratiano.

That is how director Antoni Cimolino treats that climactic scene in the current production of the play at the Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario.  
Cimolino sets the play in Italy in the 1930’s when Mussolini was at the height of his powers. Fascist Blackshirts are in evidence but so is the veneer of a civilized society with fine cafes and stylish clothes. Beneath the veneer, however, lies a virulent anti-Semitism that is so engrained that the fine people of Venice do not have the slightest conception of their inhumanity.

Scott Wentworth makes a powerful Shylock. There is no doubt that his anger at the good Christians of Venice is a reaction to their treatment of him. Venetian society is so poisonous that even Jessica, his daughter has become anti-Semitic. When Shylock tries to kiss her she pulls away from him. But Wentworth’s Shylock has a sense of humour and he chuckles about the bigotry of the Venetians and the image of the Jew that they harbor. His chuckle is short lived as things turn from ugly to hideous. A memorable performance by Wentworth.
Michelle Giroux gives a fine performance as a statuesque, classy and very attractive Portia.

How do you deal with the noble, generous and upstanding citizens of Venice? Antonio (Tom McCamus) is prepared to give his life for his friend Bassanio (Tyrrell Crewes). The latter has lost his fortune and needs to borrow money to woo Portia. These people will spit in the face of a Jew out of inbred anti-Semitism. Cimolino treats all Antonio’s circle in a business-like fashion, neither excusing them nor trying to amplify their despicable side.

Launcelot Gobbo (Ron Pederson) and Old Gobbo (Victor Ertmanis) are supposed to provide some low humour but unfortunately they are simply not funny.
The production starts somewhat slowly and Cimolino resorts to the old Stratford tradition: have people run on and off the stage if things seem to move slowly. Thus in the opening scene, Antonio says one line before people start rushing on the stage and start setting up the café where he will meet his friends.  

Things get livelier when we go to Portia’s mansion and suitors come for her hand by way of choosing the right casket. Antoine Yarded as the Prince of Aragon does a whole comedy routine as he tries to decide on which casket to open.

The production does end with several brilliant strokes. As the newly married couples, Portia and Bassanio, Jessica (Sara Farb) and Lorenzo (Tyrone Savage), Nerissa (Sophia Walker) and Gratiano (Jonathan Goad) and the rest of the guests  presumably leave the stage, Portia and  Jessica remain behind. Portia takes out Shylock’s yarmulke and gives it to Jessica. It is a startling reminder to Jessica of what she is and a supreme act of humanity on the part of Portia.
The gesture is short-lived. As the lights dim, we hear sirens blaring in the distance. What we saw was merely a prelude to the holocaust that is about to engulf the world.
Those are the touches that raise the production to brilliant.

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare opened on August 15 and will run in repertory until October 18, 2013 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Lucy Peacock as Elora and Nigel Bennett as Julian in The Thrill. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

*** (out of 5)
Reviewed by James Karas

The Thrill, Judith Thompson’s new play, premiered at the Stratford Festival’s Studio Theatre. The Festival commissioned the play some years ago and the result is a creditable piece that got superb performances.

Thompson takes the issue of euthanasia head on. Does anyone have the right to end the life of a severely disabled person?  For some people the answer may be “it depends” and for others a categorical “never.”

Elora (Lucy Peacock) is a brilliant and highly successful lawyer who was born disabled. She is confined to a wheelchair and she fights for the rights of the disabled like a tigress.

Julian (Nigel Bennett) is a professor of bioethics who has written a book that suggests a utilitarian philosophy of life. There may be situations when death is preferable to life, he suggests. Julian has written a bestselling book on the subject and he has been exposed to some approval and a great deal of derision and hatred.

Elora considers Julian as worse than Satan and in fact assaults him during one of his lectures. But their violent disagreement seems to be skin-deep. They both agree that disabled people need care as opposed to institutionalization and unite to fight for greater funding. Elora does a much better job in pursuing the project but Julian appears to be in fundamental agreement with their aims.

The two become sexually attracted and fall in love as they pursue the political aim of providing better care for the disabled. The thrill of the title refers to Elora’s delight in arguing and having an orgasm after a lifetime of certainty that it will ever happen. 

There is a subplot involving Julian’s mother Hannah (Patricia Collins) who is descending into dementia and he decides to send her into an institution, “a gulag” in Elora’s description. Thomson finds humour in this relationship as she does throughout the play.

The most touching relationship is perhaps that between Elora and Francis (Robert Persichini), her caregiver. He is a gay, out-of-work actor who is humane, caring and self-assertive. He and Elora have a relationship of true love where he is not afraid to criticize her and never falters in his affection. A marvelous portrayal by Persichini.

The crux of the play is the convergence of the ways of thinking of Elora and Julian. When Elora’s health starts deteriorating and the tough lawyer realizes her dreadful future (feeding tubes, loss of speech and loss of faculties), she has second thoughts about euthanasia. Is there a point after which life is not worth living? She asks Julian to end her life.

The play presents its points of view with very broad brushes instead of nuanced arguments. Even though there are moments of emotion, the thrust of the play is cerebral. I was waiting for the climactic moment of emotional intensity and it never came. 

In his “lecture” about a utilitarian philosophy of life, Julian refers to the Latimer case. Robert Latimer is a Saskatchewan farmer whose daughter was suffering from severe form of cerebral palsy.  She was quadriplegic, had the mental capacity of a four-month old baby and had numerous seizures every day. She suffered a great deal of pain and was completely dependent on others for her care. She had undergone numerous surgical procedures and more were on the way. Her father decided to put an end to his daughter’s pain. He connected the exhaust pipe of his truck to the cab and his daughter died from the carbon monoxide.

I give only a few facts from the Latimer case but they illustrate the encounter with the incomprehensible horror of the situation. Even in the dry analysis of the Supreme Court, what Latimer faced, what he did and the 10-year jail sentence that he served leave you emotionally drained.

This is what The Thrill lacked - the ability to leave us emotionally drained. Even the love relationship between Elora and Julian seemed more contrived than real and the final resolution struck me as a copout.

Director Dean Gabourie has an excellent cast and nothing but praise goes to Peacock, Bennett, Persichini and Collins. Nor can one complain about the directing. The problem I think is with the play where Thompson fails to find the moment to floor the audience emotionally.


The Thrill by Judith Thompson opened on August 13 and will run until September 22, 2013 at the Studio Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. 1-800-567-1600


Sunday, August 18, 2013


From left: Bethany Jillard, Dion Johnstone, Graham Abbey. Photography by Don Dixon.

Reviewed by James Karas

The Stratford Festival has produced a dark and somber Othello at the Avon Theatre. Despite some shortcomings, this is an exceptionally intelligent reading of the play as directed by Chris Abraham.

Much of the success of the production rests on the conception and execution of the artistic team, namely Director Chris Abraham, Designer Julie Fox and Lighting Designer Michael Walton.

The action is played on a square, revolving and tilting platform. There are two panels at the back of the stage whose colour can be changed from red to darker hues. A scene change can be effected by revolving the platform and tilting it in a various directions. The result is fluidity and dramatic effectiveness.

On the acting side, the greatest weight usually falls on Othello with Iago close behind because he is the most interesting character. In this production, the best performance was given by Graham Abbey as the quintessentially evil Iago. Abbey is fast on his feet as well as in his wit as he abuses people while plotting the utter destruction of Othello. The lightness of touch with the murderous intent is portrayed brilliantly by Abbey.

Dion Johnstone as Othello displayed the emotional breadth of the character. He was under control in the opening scenes and acted like a capable officer. When he was taken over by insane jealousy he became raving mad. The problem with Johnstone was that he spoke in a modified Jamaican accent (perfectly acceptable) but he did not always enunciate with precision. We got Othello’s emotional turmoil but we should not be cheated of a single one of Shakespeare’s words. In this case, we were.       

Bethany Jillard makes a pretty, blonde Desdemona but she lacked the emotional depth that we expect in the final scenes. Desdemona is not a shallow woman who married the heroic Moor because of his exploits and amazing stories. She loves him for his mind as he loves her. Unfortunately Jillard gave us only the pretty Desdemona without the deep emotional upheaval that the character presents in the last scene.

Deborah Hay showed what an actor can do with a dramatic role in her portrayal of Emilia. Now there is a woman who can show rage and emotional turmoil as she lashes out at her husband and Othello.

Mike Shara has cornered the market for acting like a nice but dimwitted man. He plays Roderigo, an innocent dummy who is used by Iago and ends up bankrupt and dead. For some reason Abraham has Roderigo travel incognito from Venice to Cyprus (he emerges from a crate on arrival) and he wears a false beard presumably to conceal his identity. Shakespeare does not tell us anything about that and the production does not make the ruse clear at all.

In the opening scene of the play, Desdemona’s father Brabantio (Peter Hutt) is woken up by Roderigo and Iago in the middle of the night to be told that his daughter has run away with Othello. Brabantio appears at a “window,” an opening in the red panel at the back of the stage. We do not see that window again until the last scene when Othello strangles Desdemona. The same window is visible but now it is covered with what looks like a crest. Desdemona’s father is dead but he is still watching as his treacherous (in his view) daughter is brutally strangled. A small but wonderful connection between the first and last scenes of the play.

Othello by William Shakespeare opened on August 14 and will play in repertory until October 29, 2013 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


David Beazely & Fiona Reid. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Reviewed by James Karas

Joe Orton wrote Entertaining Mr. Sloane fifty years ago and that may be a good reason for Soulpepper’s revival of this play. It provoked considerable outrage then but now one wonders what the fuss was about.

Brendan Healy directs a fine cast but he is only partially successful in capturing the black humour and the psychotic atmosphere of the play. The production develops slowly and comes to full life only in the third act.

Mr. Sloane (David Beazely) of the title is a lodger with Kath (Fiona Reid) and her father Kemp (Michael Simpson). He is no ordinary lodger and Kath is not an ordinary landlady. Sloane is outwardly polite but there is violence under the veneer; he may have killed someone and we wait for the real person to erupt. Beazely with short-cropped blonde hair and a muscular body exudes the characteristics of the psychopath that Sloan is.

Fiona Reid can probably get a patent for her portrayal of the dim, perhaps slightly unhinged bimbos like Kath. She (Kath not Reid) has “a past” but wants to pretend to maintaining high moral standards while seducing Sloane. Reid is funny, pathetic, manipulative and nuts. A wonderful performance.

Ed (Stuart Hughes) is Kath’s brother and like the other characters in the play, he is quite a prize. He is aggressive, pretentious and ambitious, and probably a few bricks short of a full load. Kemp (Michael Simpson), their father is equally bizarre and he becomes the catalyst for the plot when Sloane kills him.

Orton created his own world in Entertaining Mr. Sloane. The psychotic characters, the incipient violence, the manipulations, the sexual interactions and the black humour are blended to produce a world that has come to be known, for lack of a better name, as Ortonesque.

The play is staged in the Michael Young Theatre as theatre-in-the-round. There are seats on all sides of the theatre with the stage in the middle. The set, designed by Yannik Larivée, represented a sitting room with an emphasis on red.               

The problem in the first two acts is that the play does not come to life, so to speak. There are some good lines of black humour and we sense the underlying violence of Sloane and the wacky side of Kath but we do not feel the play as a whole.

The whole thing jells in the final act when Sloane negotiates with Kath and Ed about his future. He has murdered their father and now needs to convince the two not to report the murder. But they both want him and reaching an agreement on the division of sexual favours can be very tricky.

The black humour, the violence and wacky world of Joe Orton come out and the production becomes thoroughly enjoyable.  


Entertaining Mr. Sloane by Joe Orton opened on July 17 and will run until August 24, 2013 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. 416 944-1740

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Raquel Duffy & Damien Atkins. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann 
Reviewed by James Karas

Tony Kushner subtitled Angels in America, his two-part drama, “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” It is a helpful handle for approaching Part I: Millennium Approaches and Part II: Perestroika. Soulpepper has approached the plays with commendable zeal and has achieved superior if flawed results.

The two parts last about six hours and even with two intermissions each, there are longueurs. Kushner sees American society in the 1980’s through the lens and frequently miasma of AIDS and he paints a putrescent portrait. The plays abound in black humour, political commentary, and numerous historical and literary references.

There are eight actors who take on a large number of roles and their performances are simply outstanding.

Much of the action is clearly hallucinatory. Some of the most memorable hallucinations are an Angel (Raquel Duffy) being lowered on the stage and AIDS sufferer Prior Walter (Damien Adams) having sex with her; Ethel Rosenberg (Nancy Palk) appearing to Roy Cohn (Diego Matamoros), one of the lawyers who prosecuted her for espionage. There are numerous such instances of  bizarre hallucinations.         

Homosexuality plays a central role in the plays and Kushner paints a horrific picture of homosexual relationships amid the rise of AIDS in the mid-1980s. Roy Cohn is one of the main characters in the drama. He is a corrupt, decayed lawyer, an influence peddler and one of the most odious people one could imagine. He has sex with men and is infected with AIDS but he denies that he is homosexual or that he has anything worse than liver cancer. Cohn bullies, screams, abuses people and presents the epitome of evil. 

Joe (Mike Ross), a young lawyer is one of Cohn’s protégés and the latter tries to convince him to join the Justice Department so he can influence the Bar Association which is trying to disbar him.

Joe is a decent man who wants to play by the rules but he is a Mormon whose wife has no sexual attraction for him and he is inexorably attracted to homosexual encounters in the park. He falls in love with Louis (Gregory Prest), a Jewish clerk. Louis is a liberal whereas Joe is a Reagan republican and the political as well the homoerotic battle is joined between the two lovers.

Joe’s wife Harper (Michelle Monteith) is a valium-popping, hallucinating lunatic who “travels” the world in her psychotic mind.      

Louis’s first lover is Prior but he (Louis) abandons him after Prior contracts AIDS. In Prior we see the horrific effects of the disease and much of the hallucinatory conduct. Prior thinks he is a prophet and Atkins manages to be very humorous and dramatic in the role.

Troy Adams as the nurse Belize delivers much of the black humour of the play and again we get a superb performance

The plays are a product of the Reagan administration and politics and especially political corruption in that era. Thus, we have the gay movement, national politics and hallucinatory experiences combined in an extraordinary mixture.

Despite the black humour, political commentary, hallucinations and the putrescent descriptions of the effects of AIDS, the plays do run out of steam at times. Kushner seems to be padding the plot and you wonder if two intermissions are necessary.

Albert Schultz does an exceptional job with a difficult plot that requires numerous scene changes. He eschews the temptation of having people run on and off the stage for the sake of creating hubbub. He maintains a steady hand on the steering wheel and the result is a well-done production of two plays that may well stand as a metaphor for America at the end of the last century.

Angels in America: Part I: Millennium Approaches and Part II: Perestroika by Tony Kushner continue until September 14, 2013 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Distillery District, Toronto, Ontario. 416 944-1740

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Melody Moore as Senta and Jay Hunter Morris as Erik in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2013 production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
Reviewed by James Karas

Francesca Zambello, the Artistic and General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival, delivers a thoughtful, thought-provoking and simply brilliant production of The Flying Dutchman for 2013 season of this American showcase near Cooperstown, New York.

The Glimmerglass Festival takes note of the 200th anniversary of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner by producing early works by both of them. Wagner gets the birthday cake for his 1843 opera whereas Verdi is honoured with King for a Day, equally unknown as Un Giorno di Regno.   

The Flying Dutchman, like most operas, can be and has been subjected to all kinds of treatments by different directors. The question was: what will Zambello and the Glimmerglass people bring to this work. The answer came quickly, during the overture before the curtain went up. They have a great deal to offer and they in fact deliver an outstanding production.

The first indicators come during the performance of the overture by The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra. Conductor John Keenan establishes control of the music and the orchestra and delivers a performance of sustained power and clarity. This feat is even more impressive because it is a relatively small orchestra.

When the curtain goes up, we hear the music of the violent storm but also see a woman tossing in bed. We realize that the storm and the rest of the plot are a dream sequence of Senta’s (Melody Moore). Senta is fascinated by the story of the doomed Dutchman who is condemned to sail the seas until he finds the love of a faithful woman. She wants to be that woman and she dreams of his arrival.

There is some precedent for this interpretation of the plot. In the 1978 production at Bayreuth directed by Harry Kupfer, The Flying Dutchman was presented as a figment of Senta’s imagination.

Zambello with Set Designer James Noone and Costume designer Eric Teague chooses a straightforward and very effective way of telling the story. The ship is indicated by some scaffolding and ropes that are used by the sailors. The same ropes act as the walls of Daland’s house.

The singing is first-rate starting with bass-baritone Ryan McKinny in the title role. The Dutchman is a deeply troubled man, a myth one should say, who is seeking something that can only be granted in a dream or an imaginary world. McKinny has the vocal power and coloration to make a convincing Dutchman and gives a sterling performance.

Melody Moore as Senta makes a perfect match for the Dutchman of her dreams. She is fascinated by his story while awake and we see her clutching his portrait and talking about her dreams of him. Moore has a dramatic voice that she uses to great effect.

Bass Peter Volpe is an excellent Daland. His Daland is a greedy busybody who is prepared to sell his daughter. We can credit the character with having some affection for his daughter and recognize Volpe’s singing and acting for the fine job that he does with this less than admirable personality.

Jay Hunter Morris sings the role of the hapless Erik who is a decent man and a very good tenor but still does not get the girl. A fine job by Morris.  

At the start of this production, we see silhouettes of women on the ropes of a ship in the background. We also see, as I said, Senta tossing in her bed. Near the end, Senta, strangles herself in the same bed with the ship’s ropes rather than throwing herself into the sea as called for in the libretto. 

We then see the same silhouette of her as in the opening scene together with the Dutchman rising above the waves. The Dutchman and Senta have found love through transfiguration.

An astounding production.

The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner opened on July 6 and will be performed twelve times until August 24, 2013 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Friday, August 9, 2013


Soprano Nadine Sierra and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in Stabat Mater. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Reviewed by James Karas
PASSIONS is the title of a double bill presented at the Glimmerglass Festival. It is in fact a triple bill consisting of Stabat Mater by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and two pieces by David Lang, The Little Match Girl Passion and When We Were Children. The Lang and Pergolesi pieces have some things in common but in the end they are completely different.

The Stabat Mater is, of course, a musical setting of the suffering of the Virgin Mary. The idea and the image of Mary standing by the cross of her crucified Son has enthralled hundreds of composers who have tried to give musical expression to her agony.

Director and Choreographer Jessica Lang has created a stage work from Pergolesi’s beautiful music. The vocal parts are taken by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and soprano Nadine Sierra. They are simply outstanding as they sing of the pain of the Virgin. The Latin of the hymn is very simple and the expression of pain and grief straightforward but Pergolesi raises the simple verses into something ethereal and extraordinary.

Lang has choreographed a moving ballet around the music and singing enhancing the vocal expression of Mary’s anguish. The eight dancers roll on the floor, undulate their torsos and provide an extravaganza of motion that is simply marvelous.

Set designer Marjorie Bradley Kellog has largely taken Christianity out of the most of Christian of settings. The action takes place in an inverted V on the stage and the most prominent feature of the set is a denuded tree trunk in a vertical position. Another trunk is lowered in horizontal position and there is an indication of a cross but the production eschews obvious references to Christianity. The two trunks take various positions as they are maneuvered but they never take the true form of a Christian cross or indicate the crucifixion directly.

Speranza Scapucci conducts The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra in a crisp and precise performance of the Baroque music. The production is a marvel of concision and imagination where a piece of sacred music is turned into a universal paean to suffering.

From Pergolesi we move to David Lang’s new composition, When We Were Children. The Glimmerglass Festival Children’s Chorus lines up across the stage and sings a choral piece based on 1 Corinthians 13:11. In the King James Version it reads:  When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. Lang uses many variations of St. Paul’s words for his piece.

The Little Match Girl Passion is more ambitious. The story is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s   The Little Match Girl and it is dramatic enough. A little girl is selling matches on the streets of New York on New Year’s Eve. No one is buying her matches and she starts lighting them one by one. They provide little warmth and she dies of cold and is transfigured.

There is a vocal ensemble of four (Julia Mintzer, James Michael Porter, Lisa Williamson and Christian Zaremba), all members of the of Glimmerglass’s Young Artists Program. Aside from some percussion accompaniment, the singing was done a capella. This is no doubt a matter of taste, but Lang’s music did nothing for me. It was repetitive, monotonous and unmoving. I hasten to add that Lang won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for The Little Match Girl Passion. As happens so often, there is no accounting for taste and I mean mine.

Passions  a double bill consisting of Stabat Mater by Giovanni Pergolesi and The Little Match Girl Passion and When We Were Children by David Lang opened on July 20 and will be performed eight times until August 20, 2013 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


David Pittsinger, Andriana Chuchman, Wynn Harmon, Clay Hilley, Wayne Hu, Nathan Gunn as Sir Lancelot and Noel Bouley. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Reviewed by James Karas

 ****   (out of five)

Camelot is one of the great products of the American theatre and the choice for this year’s Broadway musical at the Glimmerglass Festival. The choice is unassailable and the production worth the trip to upstate New York.

The musical had an almost disastrous opening in Toronto at the then new O’Keefe Centre in 1960 but it managed to find its way and become a major hit. With book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner (based on the novel The Once and Future King by T. W. White) and music by Frederick Loewe, Camelot has a marvelous plot containing pomp, circumstance, love, pageantry and an interest in power and justice. It is all based on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table but what really matters, of course, is that the beautiful Guenevere falls in love with the French knight Lancelot.  It ends tragically for all and the only thing that remains is the legend.

Camelot needs a superb King Arthur who for many of us must compete with the voice of Richard Burton, the original creator of the role. The answer for this production is bass-baritone David Pittsinger who wins the insidious comparison by making the role his own. He has a sonorous voice and when he sings “I wonder what the king is doing tonight” and explains the joys of his kingdom to Guinevere in “Camelot,” he is simply splendid. Pittsinger gives us a humane, sympathetic and marvelous King Arthur.

Canadian Andriana Cuchman makes a beautiful Guenevere. She is sassy and funny when necessary, moving and passionate when in love and a pleasure to see and hear. She goes from “The Lusty Month of May” to “I loved you once in silence” with perfect intonation.

Baritone Nathan Gunn has a marvelous voice and his Lancelot is duly heroic but I have a couple of complaints. Lancelot enters with a big paean to knightly virtue and (unintentionally) human arrogance with “C’est moi”. He needs to overwhelm the audience and here Gunn’s voice falls a bit short in size if not in quality. Glimmerglass, to its great credit, does not use microphones, but in this instance, I wish they had.

The second observation is that Director Robert Longbottom (or was it just a perverse reaction from the audience) found humor in “C’est moi” as Lancelot listed his achievements, including physical perfection. Humour takes away from the beautiful song. Other than that, Gunn made a Lancelot worthy of his self-description.

Wynn Harmon doubled as Merlin and Pellinore, two juicy roles for a character actor and he did well in both.

Jack Noseworthy is a thoroughly villainous Mordred who enjoys being nasty. When he sings about “The Seven Deadly Virtues” he does so with delicious conviction.

The sets by Kevin Depinet were suitable without being grandiose. We see the Castle of Camelot in the background during the outdoor scenes and the interior living quarters are modest. The costumes by Paul Tazewell, from the attire of the heroic knights to the beautiful gowns of the ladies at court, are splendid. 

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus under James Lowe performed heroically as becomes the tenor of the musical and all one can do is repeat that this is an outstanding production of a great musical.

Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner (Book and Lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (Music) opened on July13 and will be performed fourteen times until August 23, 2013 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or

Monday, August 5, 2013

KING FOR A DAY: Verdi's UN GIORNO DI REGNO at Glimmerglass Festival 2013

Patrick O'Halloran as Edoardo, Ginger Costa-Jackson as Marchesa and Jacqueline Echols as Giulietta in  Verdi's King for a Day. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

***   (out of five)

Reviewed by James Karas
Whether you call it Un Giorno di Regno or King for a Day, Giuseppe Verdi’s second opera and his first comedy is mostly unknown. That has not stopped the Glimmerglass Festival from mounting a spirited production for its 2013 season in the Alice Busch Opera Theatre on the shores of Otsego Lake in upstate New York..

The production takes advantage of the comic elements of the opera and in fact enhances them by using an English adaptation of Felice Romani’s creaky libretto by American writer Kelley Rourke. She has moved the opera to the 1950’s (with beehive hairdos and a young Elvis Presley as “The King”) and director Christian Rath treats it as the silly comedy that it is.

My full review of this production may be read here: