Posts Tagged ‘Michael Schade’

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.

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The Magic Flute, Disney-style

February 3, 2011

Isabel Bayrakdarian as Pamina and Michael Schade as Tamino

On February 1, 2011, I watched a production of the Canadian Opera Company’s  Magic Flute.  Mozart completed this opera shortly before he died at the age of 35. It has been 18 years since the last mainstage Canadian Opera Company performance of the Magic Flute, and 6 years since the last performance by the COC’s Ensemble Studio. 

The combination of comic and dramatic elements along the story-line, which reaches into the spiritual and metaphysical realm, presents a challenge in the staging of this opera. Which side will prevail, what aspect of the story will take a central part depends on the layer of the story followed by the production team.

The focus of this Magic Flute is on the comic and fairy-tale sides. It is tailored for light enjoyment and visual amusement, and is well suited for the younger audience.  Esoteric elements were inevitably neglected since the main thrust was to please the senses and produce an enchanting effect, which was successfully accomplished. It brings only warm and fuzzy feelings and occasional laughs. This production will not be remembered for anything groundbreaking or revolutionary. 

The design of Tamino’s and Pamina’s costumes draws inspiration from Disney’s  fairy-tale images. Pamina wears a pink dress with matching pink shoes as  we see in animated fairy-tale movies. Tamino is dressed in white with a blue overcoat, both in neon-bright colours.

The second act would look even better had it been staged as a show on ice. The trials in Sarastro’s temple were a parade of glitter and pixie dust. If the artistic advice of Jeff Koons was sought, he would not allow the final scene of the second act to go ahead without the image of the legendary castle of Ludwig the Second, the last King of Bavaria, being projected in the background with a rainbow over it. Understandably the Disney copyright obstacles would impede such a project and hence this Magic Flute comes out deprived of its last coating of sugar.   

The director’s notes (Diane Paulus) for this production instruct us that this is a play-within-a-play in the first act, which is set in the period when the Magic Flute was first performed. The second act takes place in a labyrinthine garden where the spectators and performers from Act One go through the actual experience of trial and transformation.

The conductor Johannes Debus usually brings out the crispness and edge from the orchestra. This time it was not the case and I missed it. This opera commands resoluteness, but the mellow floating sound with the peaks clipped out may be a purposeful choice consistent with this particular staging.  

The Russian baritone, Rodion Pogossov, as Papageno acted his role with a charming lightness and enthusiasm. Isabel Bayrakdarian as Pamina was equal to her reputation. Aline Kutan as The Queen of the Night projected her icy, spiky F’s right underneath my skin, resulting in the experience of large patches of goosebumps.  Recitatives were on occasion sluggish and lacking in vigour.   

Betty Waynne Allison, Wallis Giunta and Lauren Segal, the three ladies-in-waiting, representing voices from another sphere, were vocally exceptional. A smashing visual point was made with their outfits resembling the fashion of a not so spiritual secret society on the rise – the bikers.      

The spiritual transformation, growth out of deceptive appearance, liberation from fear and pursuit of truth, love and justice is what this opera is about. The fairy tale and comedy elements are merely ancillary embellishments. I have yet to see the Magic Flute in which Tamino, Pamina, Papageno and Papagena are but different sides of one personality. The only production that managed to tie together this complicated libretto was Ingmar Bergman’s filming of this opera. It is available on DVD and any Magic Flute lover should see it to taste the difference.