Posts Tagged ‘Jane Archibald’

You can always blame it on the Russian

January 25, 2015

The Don Giovanni of the winter season 2015 at the COC is the same Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni seen at the open stage of Aix-en-Provence’s festival. This time it appears that the production of which I have seen a dress rehearsal came across somewhat different.

Keeping the same stage throughout was perhaps accommodation to the limitations of the open stage in Aix rather than an attempt at minimalism. It is a key characteristic of Tcherniakov’s take on Don Giovanni. It is a hall of an urban household with custom-made pillars of bookcases symmetrically on both sides of the main entrance. There are no-name dinnertable chairs and a large rectangular dinnertable. The floor is covered with a large carpet. At the centre above is a humongous chandelier that can be anywhere from the Thirties until the late Sixties. I would say that it is a post-WWII situation. It is the same location of the memorial service upon the Commendatore’s passing and his family home. Donna Elvira is a cousin of Donna Anna. Zerlina, who in the original libretto is a peasant bride in a passerby wedding, is actually a daughter of Donna Anna, from her first marriage.

Although apparently at home, none of them behaves at home in that space. Don Giovanni appears more at home at this place than any of the women whose home it actually is. All the women are as if they were in a public place or asylum, but not at home.

A lot has already been written about costumes and what sort of character and habits that costumes imply. From where I was watching the costumes were for the most part indistinct. Zerlina’s wedding gown is post-Nineties hip hop. Elvira’s allegedly subdued elegance is in fact reduced to a drab, anonymous, grey outfit most suitable for basement cleaning. The Don himself is mostly dressed in a casual summer attire of a downtown homeless man attending a lunch at an upscale charity. And likewise his hairdo. For some unknown reason he appears frequently barefoot. The singers are subjected to protracted periods of lying scattered on the carpet over the stage, and I was not able to decipher what Tcherniakov meant to say by that.

There are numerous occasions when the singers are lacking guidance in stage movements and stood idle on the scene, almost not inhabiting the role. The interactions were occasionally in the direction of explicit and somewhat distasteful groping on the aggressive side which did not enhance any meaning that would be consistent and integrated into a larger context. Furthermore, the lighting was in particular neglected.

Most praiseworthy in this Don Giovanni are the singers. My favourites are Jane Archibald and Michael Schade. Russell Brown as the Don will not be remembered for any of the Don’s memorable arias. Peter Mattei’s Don Giovanni of the 2002 Aix-en-Provence Festival still reigns supreme, if you ask me.

The stage rendition of the famous Leporelo’s Madamina is a sadly missed opportunity to breed in some fun in this Don. While Leporello is uttering into the void air the geographical tallies of his master’s getting laid in the spirit of sport, Donna Anna is standing idle in a non-responsive state.

When I saw the live stream from Aix-en-Provence thanks to a helpful link from Parterra Box, the utmost authority in opera blogosphere, the then Don was more of a pater familias and there were more scenes of sitting at the table, which dignified every character to some extent, as is suitable to a living room or study.

The contextual reading of Don Giovanni by Calixto Bieito is an example of an integrated vision where the mannerism, costume and conduct of the people belonging to the shady edges of the underworld result in a coherent and powerfully told story. Or the Don Giovanni by Martin Kusej, with each character distinct and developed, yet the whole narrative elevated to the sphere of universality.

Plenty of explanatory materials have already been written in anticipation of this Don Giovanni. I would recommend that those who are interested in following the rising star of Jane Archibald and enjoy the privilege of listening the Michael Shade should come and listen with the eyes shut. The orchestra played a rendition, here and there, to my ears accentuated in an enriching and energizing way. Worth listening to, but watching may disappoint you. If criticism outweighs the accolades you can always blame it on the Russian.

Ariadne auf Naxos

May 8, 2011

We Torontonians are truly blessed with the luxury of always having good singers. Not only good but world-class artists well-chosen for the roles. The performance of Ariadne auf Naxos given on May 3, 2011 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing  Arts by the Canadian Opera Company was a fireworks of singing. Three names are outstanding in the performance. Adriane Pieczonka as Ariadne fills the hall with a powerful and crisp pitch. A true Wagnerian soprano. Ms. Alice Coote, a renown British mezzo-soprano, developed the character of Composer with sincerity and an attention to detail which was well received by the captivated audience. In the role of Zerbinetta was Ms. Jane Archibald, another Toronto artist, a coloratura-soprano with a venerable technique confidently under her belt. I can only join the acclaim by which these artists are praised in the reviews already released and applaud again all of them.

Lauren Segal as Dryad, Richard Margison as Tenor/Bacchus, Alice Coote as The Composer and Teiya Kasahara as Echo

When Wagner was 50, Richard Strauss was born. It was a year after Tristan and Isolde premiered. The influence of Wagner is palpable. The plot line of this opera is somewhat unusual. It ambitiously combines commedia dell’arte characters of a theatre group and opera seria in the second act by telling the story of abandoned Ariadne drowning her sorrows on the desert island of Naxos after being dumped by Theseus, with whom she is desperately in love.

The coming into existence of this opera and its final shaping up as we know it is a curiosity in itself. It started with the intention to create a satire as a gift to Max Reinhardt, the stage director, who helped Strauss a great deal with the première of the Rosenkavalier. The ambitious idea was to stage a comedy of Molierè’s  Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Because this concept imposed a considerable length and full dramatic troupe involvement, it was substantially revised, and the proposition for Molierè’s piece was chalked out. The characters of commedia dell’arte  had to find the voice and business dominated in the second act by Ariadne wallowing in her despair, with their wit and an innate sense for  letting go and meeting the next day with joy and an open heart.

The intention to create satire had to be meditated upon, to arrive at some creative results.  The imitation of reality is not enough any more in the staging of an opera. It is in the second act that I found the scales of balance and harmony bending towards frivolous expressiveness, not quite directed to establish communication with Ariadne, but rather aimed at amusing the audience and poking at it.

The set for the second act presents Ariadne clothed in a simple garment, and  surroundings of musty, dreary neglect, which was stripped of any contextual clues and left the spectators alone to find a corresponding reference in their own life experiences, or to stick to reading the libretto.

The major objection I have is the unfinished work of the stage and set director, who chose not to dig deeper into this unusual plot and try to sense the corresponding vibrations in life. It felt as if we were watching an opera seria with a prelude of some backstage commotion. I feel that there is a uniting thread to be discovered and that it allows for plenty of directorial liberty.

Although Ariadne’s sorrows are shared by many it is hard to see oneself in her. She is stripped of any features that individualize this character of myth and legend.

I would recommend the director and stage personnel of this production see the Stuttgart Ring to get some inspiration as to a possible reading of a libretto arising from myth and legend. I have not had an opportunity to see any other stage production of Ariadne auf Naxos, but I am sure that this piece will be recognized as gracious material for the exploration of director creativity in a similar way we see effervescent activity worldwide around Wagner’s Ring.