Friday, May 4, 2018


James Karas

Let’s get back to the good old days and I don’t mean the 1990s. I mean the really good old days before the Trojan War when men were kings (and idiots), women were goddesses and goddesses could help you get a date.

We all remember with nostalgia Paris, Prince of Troy, who was promised the most beautiful woman in the world by the goddess Venus. He judged her more beautiful than Minerva and Juno (and boy, they were ticked off) and his prize was none other than Helen, the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. I need hardly repeat that she was the most gorgeous woman in the world.
 Beste Kalender as Helen. Photo Gilberto Prioste
So the story begins in Jacques Offenbach’s burlesque of the ancient Greek myth in La Belle Hélène which Toronto Operetta Theatre offers for three performances in an English version by Geoffrey Dunn.

TOT General Director as Stage Director, Lighting Designer and Set Designer has to deal with (not to mention cast) half a dozen kings, two Princes, a High Priest, a few lesser mortals and of course the Beautiful Helen.

He starts on a high note with mezzo soprano Beste Kalender as Helen. She delivers a beautifully sung, energetic and delightful Helen who can blame her husband for entering her bedroom and finding her with another man and get away with it. Kalender gives an outstanding performance.

We agree with her attitude towards Menelaus because he is a comic doofus in the hands of Gregory Finney. With a foolish husband like that, no wonder she gives in to Paris. Finney is funny and gives a commendable performance.
 Beste Kalender, Gregory Finney, Adam Fisher and Matthew Zadow. Photo: Gilberto Prioste
Paris is not funny but he is the romantic seducer who persuades Helen to eventually go on a boat ride with him. Tenor Adam Fisher is a hunk and a bit of a hulk (he pretends to be a shepherd) with a good midrange.

David Boan’s Achilles is lumbering oaf and don’t bother looking for Brad Pitt. Offenbach treats some of the other major characters with a straight face but with that many, there is no time for all of them. The business at hand as all of us know is to get away with Helen so the real fun can begin. I mean the Trojan War.  

The Orchestra with a mere nine musicians under Peter Tiefenbach does its level best and the TOT Chorus of eleven singers has to enlist eight soloists for the job. They do well but there are limitations in every aspect of the production.

I can never write about TOT without commending their work in keeping the candle of operetta lit for Toronto audiences. As usual, a deep bow is due to Silva-Main for not giving up against what appear almost insurmountable odds. Their next production will be Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss opening on December 28, 2018 for five performances.

With only three performances, it became impossible to review the production before it closed. Mea culpa. 

The Beautiful Helen (La Belle Hélène  by Jacques Offenbach was performed three times on April 27, 28 and 29, 2018 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts,  27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 922-2912.

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