Sunday, May 22, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

The Herd by Kenneth T. Williams is a coproduction by three theatre companies spanning much of Canada. The companies involved are the Citadel Theatre of Edmonton, the Tarragon Theatre of Toronto and the National Arts Centre – Indigenous Theatre of Ottawa. The big advantage of the cooperative production is that the play will be performed in three major cities for a start. More importantly however, it is a play by an indigenous playwright and the cast and almost entire creative team are indigenous and the play deals with indigenous issues. It is something that all Canadians should applaud.

The play deals with the lives of people of a First Nation relating ostensibly to the fate of a herd of bison. The background facts of the fate of the bison and life on a reservation for the indigenous people should be well-known. There were millions of bison across North America and they were systematically slaughtered to the verge of extinction. They are now surviving in national parks and as highly desirable meat in herds raised by private businesses. 

How people live on the reservation is, of course, far more germane. There is a lack of potable water, lack of jobs and lack of other amenities. The situation is deplorable to the core.

The play has five characters and the catalytical issue is the birth of two white bison calves. Are they mutants or are they the result of genetic engineering or are they the beginning of the revival of the bison population? There is a prophecy, we are told, that the bison will return in their former plentitude.   

                                                    The cast of The Herd 

These are the conflicting possibilities as we meet the people of the play. And they are a colourful group. The geneticist Dr. Vanessa Brokenhorn (Tai Amy Grauman) is a no-nonsense scientist who is trying to solve the puzzle of the birth of the twins through research. Her brother Michael “Baby Pete” Brokenhorn (Dylan Thomas-Bouchier) is the well-intentioned but rather ineffectual chief. He received some money from a settlement (I think it was from the death of his parents in car crash) and he is willing to spend it to get drinkable water for his people. They have had to boil their water for twenty years. He sees an opportunity to save the reserve from poverty by making the bison a lucrative business.

Coyote Jackson (Todd Houseman) is a clownish reporter-warrior-blogger running around with his cell phone on a selfie stick. One is not sure what to make of him. Is he a satiric figure, are we to take him seriously or is he just a clown?

Sheila Kennedy (Shyanne Duquette) is a decent woman who likes to play radio bingo, keeps in touch with the elders, and is one who recalls the prophecy.

Aislinn Kennedy (Cheyenne Scott) is a native, related to Sheila who arrives from Ireland as a representative of the European Union looking for business opportunities in the sale of bison. Scott speaks with a bizarre accent that (I think) is supposed to be Irish that needs more polish and consistency. The character is unconvincing and the idea that the EU is trying to grab bison from a Canadian First Nation is not supported in the play.

The play for all its virtues in bringing the life of a First Nation to the fore lacks focus and cohesion. Modern science trying to untangle a complex genetic issue that may be a rare mutation, or the survival of a cattle gene is taking us far. The idea of the fulfillment of a prophecy that would have nothing to do with science but everything with religion takes far in another direction. The commercial prospects of selling highly marketable bison meat to Europe goes in another uncharted route. Not to mention the other issues. In short, we need more focus and sounder development of the characters involved.

Director Tara Beagan may have chosen to keep a tighter grip on the characterization of the roles, especially of Coyote Jackson and Aislinn Kennedy. The play could gain from some editing to give it more focus. We do not expect it to have solutions but would  like it to hit us in the face with the problems faced by First Nations.

The play and the production will hopefully travel across Canada and act as a catalyst for our First Nations’ taking centre stage in Canada’s cultural life and making it unnecessary for that fact to be mentioned. It should be just a part of Canadian life.


The Herd by Kenneth T. Williams opened on May 11 and will continue until June 12, 2022, at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

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

Thursday, May 12, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

When Papageno, the naïve and loveable bird catcher, sees the pretty Papagena who is to become his wife, he exclaims a loud and gleeful WOW. That is what tenor Gordon Bintner does in the current production of The Magic Flute presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto. 

WOW is the most precise and laudable review one can give to a performance. There is a problem with using that word as the definitive and only description. No, not for the performers but for the critics who would join the unemployment line and the papers that may have to deal with blank  pages. Fortunately for reviewers and unfortunately for performers, WOW is rarely used as a definitive judgment of a production. Alas, the same applies to this production of Mozart’s sixteenth opera. It has some virtues but for some reason it simple fails to grab us.

This is a revival of the COC’s  2011 production of The Magic Flute which was originally directed by Diane Paulus. The same production was staged in 2017 and is currently revived by Anna Theodosakis.

Paulus presents the opera as a play-within-a-play. In a program note she states that “The entire play-within-a-play is presented in the open space of a nobleman’s garden, itself a place of enchantment and symbolic power during this historical period.” The story is enacted in an elaborate labyrinth of hedges on the grounds of the estate. It is a good idea and a fine place to enact a fairy tale.

Photo from 2017 revival. No current photos provided.
Set and costume designer Myung Hee Cho handles numerous scene changes from gardens, to mountains, to groves, to Temple of Wisdom astutely and economically with lighting changes and moveable hedges.

I should declare my view of the opera. It was first produced in 1791 in the Theatre auf der Wieden, outside of Vienna and its censors. The libretto was by Emanuel Schikaneder, a man of the popular theatre. He was interested in making money and not producing high art. The Magic Flute is a Singspiel, a play with songs or simply a popular musical. It may have some of Mozart’s best music and contains some highfalutin ideas about wisdom, goodness, bravery and some other virtues practiced by Masons. That sounds heavy-handed but it is not because the music and beautiful songs do not allow it to become anything but wonderful and there is hilarious comedy to carry you to the triumphal end.

Diane Paulus’s production does not fully succeed as such. When Papageno yells WOW at the sight of Papagena he gets a big laugh but Paulus does not take advantage of the many opportunities for comedy in the opera. Papageno’s attempt at suicide, should have the audience roaring with laughter. Here it produced a little more than polite enjoyment. No fault of Bintner who needed better direction to be hilarious.

The quality of the singing had some inevitable variations but it was overall very sound. Caroline Wettergreen gets high marks for surviving the tortuous Aria of the Queen of the Night. Yes, that’s the one that has a two-octave range and she expels those high Fs as if they were poisoned arrows. But go past that and look at her daughter Pamina’s reactions as the Queen demands that she kill her father and, far worse, the vile and malevolent curses that she spouts if she fails to do so. Wettergreen deserves to be judged with the power of her performance and not just the high notes. She is brilliant overall.

She contrasts beautifully with her estranged husband Sarastro sung by bass David Leigh.  

Dressed in gold, he is the epitome of wisdom and rectitude. He sings “O Isis und Osiris” and “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” with steady resonance and sonority and we enjoy every note of them.    

Our hero Tamino was in the hands and vocal chords of tenor Ilker Arcayűrek while the heroine Pamina is assigned Anna-Sophie Neher. They both have lovely voices and we share in their “suffering” as they are sorely tried as they progress through the hardships on their way to the Temple of Wisdom which I translate to be as a happy marriage and a happy life. 

The COC Orchestra and Chorus shone under the baton of Patrick Lange.

The problem was that on the day I saw it, the performance seemed to be weighed down and did not engage the audience. The curtain calls’ reactions ranged from polite to positive was with some nuggets of enthusiasm.  

As I said, Papageno’s WOW got one of the biggest laughs. How I wish I could have reviewed the entire production with that one word.


The Magic Flute by W. A. Mozart (music) and Emanuel Schikaneder (libretto) is being performed seven times from May 6 to 21, 2022 at the Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen St. West Toronto.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The pandemic has strangled most cultural events for more than two years and if we are not at the end of the tunnel, we are at least seeing some lights. One of those lights is the return of the Canadian Opera Company with a revival of its 2015 production of La Traviata. It was a superb production then and it is a superb production now. The audience greeted it with a standing ovation as recognition of its quality and perhaps gratitude for the return to normality however partial.

Arin Arbus’s production is intelligent, well-sung, vibrant, colourful and conservative in the best sense of the word. That means it is far cry from productions that bank on directorial flights of fancy like Willy Decker’s staging that featured a single set with a huge clock dominating the set but a traditional approach is something that we do not want to do without.  

In any production of this chestnut, our attention is always drawn to the lyric soprano singing to role of Violetta, the tragic heroine who finds love and death in breathtaking succession. This time the role is taken by Amina Edris, a relative newcomer that has sung in many regional opera houses and may well be ready to turn out to be a major star.

She makes her debut appearance with the COC and she displayed vocal beauty combined with sustained emotional pulse. There were several mispronounced words but her phrasing and gorgeous tone made for a marvelous performance.

Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo and Amina Edris as Violetta. Photo: Michael Cooper 

Matthew Polenzani is one of the major tenors who has sung the role of Alfredo Germont numerous times to great acclaim. The performance that I saw may not have been his best. He displayed his vocal splendour in arias like “Oh mio rimorso!” where he promises to wash away the infamy and disgrace of his conduct. He sings with vocal flourish and hits the high notes with unerring precision. In other places, however, I thought his heart was not in what he delivered. At 54, his voice may be getting darker or he may be past his prime.

Baritone Simone Piazzola has the juicy role of Giorgio Germont. He sings the marvelous “Di provenza il mar il suol” and and “Il suol chi dal cor ti cancello” with feeling and resonance and even though he is an authoritarian patriarch who is more interested in his daughter’s marriage than in his son’s happiness we do not despise him. He emerges as a sympathetic figure in the end when he realizes and repents his transgressions. Most of that occurs, I think, because of the power of those arias and, in this case, Piazzola’s splendid delivery of them.

Set Designer Riccardo Hernandez has created sets that are economical and very sound. The first act has a colorful dinner table in the middle with a curved wall at the back that is unadorned. There are what look like stacking chars at the back and a large mirror is the only adornment hanging on the side. The second set represents the country home of Violetta and Alfredo and it has two large panels of rural scenes and a piece of furniture. The party room at Flora’s house is brightly lit in red giving it a festive atmosphere. The final scene has a bed and the mirror of the first act has fallen down. Hernandez makes use of shadows that show people in relief and it is very effective.

The costumes by Cait O’Connor are gorgeous. Marcus Doshi’s lighting transforms the set from the bare wall of the first act, to the country house in the second and the big party at Flora’s place with amazing effectiveness.

It is worth emphasizing the excellence of Arbus’s conception and achievement which together with Johannes Debus’ conducting a brilliant performance by the COC Orchestra, brings a wonderful night at the opera.


La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi opened on April 23 and will be performed a total of seven times until May 20, 2022, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.

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