Archive for February, 2013

Owen McCausland shines in the title role of La Clemenza di Tito

February 12, 2013

Seasonal flu prevented Michael Schade from performing the title role on February 9, 2013. The opportunity  presented itself  for a young tenor Owen McCausland. Hopefully for Mr. McCausland this will turn out to be one of those career milestones after which everything changes because we the audience had a chance to see that he is a tenor to keep an eye on. At the incredible age of 22 he assumes the role of a Roman emperor with a maturity, confidence and conviction extraordinary for a singer at such an early stage in his career and at that age. A native of Saint John, New Brunswick he emerges as a talented young singer, a multiple year winner of the New Brunswick Competitive Festival of Music. We will see him again this spring in Salome. He appeared in the previous season in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, understudied a role of Spalanzani in the Tales of Hoffman, and just this season in a small role of a young sailor this month in Tristan and Isolde. In 2011 he was one of the winners of the COC Ensemble Studio competition.

Owen McCausland (front) as Tito and Neil Craighead as Publio in the La clemenza di Tito, 2013.  Photo: Michael Cooper

Owen McCausland (front) as Tito and Neil Craighead as Publio in the La clemenza di Tito, 2013. Photo: Michael Cooper

The authorities I usually research on the subject of opera more or less agree that La Clemenza di Tito is not an opera even its author would be particularly proud of. Mozart wrote it in less than three weeks for the money he desperately needed. It was written for the coronation of Leopold II, King of Bavaria. Mozart wrote it at the time when he was busy writing the Magic Flute, recycling a libretto which was used before by many lesser known composers. The plot is improbable. At a time when for lot  minor transgressions people were thrown into cages with  lions, it seems a little dubious that for  plotting the assassination of a Roman emperor, the conspirators would be forgiven and get away with it with only  a few mildly resentful “tsk tsks” from the emperor.  Yet, this is exactly what happens. It is a digestible piece of a little over two hours with plenty of roles for female voices, including two “trouser roles”, some beautiful duets and orchestration bearing a distinct Mozart flavour.  It is also a nice little opera that fills the season’s repertoire and gives the young singers an opportunity to break their stage fright and gain some valuable confidence-building  experience, or as is the case of Owen McCausland a chance to rise and shine. This is exactly how it appears this season at the Canadian Opera Company.

This production of the Chicago Opera Theater, directed by Christopher Alden, uses a simple set that remains unchanged throughout, resembling the Capitol of any capital that has it, including  joggers, lobbyists, warts and all. Many humorous details are sprinkled through acting and stage movements that give a touch of lightness to this dramatic plot with a happy ending.

In “trouser roles” there were Isabel Leonard, a young American soprano as Sesto, and Wallis Giunta as Annio. Robert Gleadow in the role of Publio, and Mirelle Asselin as Servilia were other COC Ensemble studio members who took part in this opera with praiseworthy performance. It was the commendable team work of young singers and the 28-year-old conductor, Daniel Cohen, a protégé of Daniel Barenboim.

Worth mentioning are the lighting designer Gary Marder and set designer Andrew Cavanagh Holland, whose delicate attention and attunement contributed to the overall success that staging of this piece permits.


Erotic and Esoteric Tristan and Isolde

February 3, 2013

This season the Canadian Opera Company’s home in Toronto is the place for revival of the 2005 production of  “Tristan and Isolde”, originally staged at the Opera Bastille in Paris. The truth of the proverbial phrase, that less is more, has been proven in this production of “Tristan and Isolde”. The acting role of singers was almost eliminated. The purpose of the costumes was to attract no attention whatsoever. The key visual elements of the stage are work of a visual artist Mr. Bill Viola. They are films and images projected onto the large screen in the background depicting the movements of water and fire, light and air. The majestic currents of Wagner’s score in its breath-like rhythm took the central role and carried each of us in the audience to a private inner journey. 

Peter Sellars in his director’s notes provided a reading of this libretto from the perspective of an esoteric quest with purification, awakening and transformation corresponding to the three acts of the opera. In light of his director’s notes, and stimulated by the visual projections on the screen, I attuned to the different roles in this opera as different aspects of a human being rather than as a plot with different characters. From this perspective, the representations of the sexual, emotional and intellectual in a human being were depicted in their polarity by Tristan and Isolde, Brangäne and Kurwenal, and Marke and Melot. Under the command of conductor Johannes Debus, Wagner’s orchestral reflections on love and death filled the air with scintillation and splendour, pulsating sublime erotic waves. “Tristan and Isolde” felt like a sacred initiation.

It occurred to me that instead of a traditional wedding ceremony, perspective spouses should be asked to listen to “Tristan and Isolde” while sitting silently and looking each other in the eyes, holding each other’s hands for the duration of this opera. After such an experience their gut feeling would crystallize more clearly towards yes or no, giving them a lot better idea if they want each other in marriage.  The rate of divorce might drop significantly if a couple who wish to become married are required to perform such a marriage test ceremony.

We were privileged to hear Ben Heppner in his signature role as Tristan, Melanie Diener as Isolde, Alan Held as Kurwenal, Daveda Karanas as Brangäne, Adam Luther as Shepherd, Robert Gleadow as Steersman, Owen McCausland as a Young Sailor, and Ryan McKinny as Melot. My favourite was Franz-Josef Selig as King Marke. The experience of listening to his singing resembles what I imagine might feel like raking your fingers through the treasure chest of the finest jewelry of pearls, gold and precious stones. 

The theatre felt like a giant pod where we the spectators were seeds being immaculately fertilized by waves of heavenly sounds from the stage and the pit, and at the end released into the cold winter night to grow the light with which we were impregnated.