Crossing:Wunderkind Matthew Aucoin’s Civil War Opera

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin


Photo: Gretien Helene. The actors are Rod Gilfry and Alexander Lewis.

Crossing, twenty-five year old Matthew Aucoin’s third opera, was commissioned by Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the US Civil War. Aucoin’s opera is part of the Civil War Project, a multiple year partnership between professional theatres and universities whose purpose is to produce art works and support historical research. Crossing marks the A.R.T.’s fourth undertaking related to the project. Included were a sci-fi musical about a Union soldier, a devised piece dealing with a fugitive slave created by and for the A.R.T. Institute, and a new play by Suzan-Lorie Parks featuring a slave who fought for the Confederacy.

The multi-talented Aucoin, who has already made a reputation for himself as a composer, lyricist, and conductor, based his opera on Walt Whitman’s poetry and experience ministering to wounded Union soldiers. However, the work is more imaginative than factual, the story both sequential and disjointed.


The Marriage of Figaro: Opera Lyra’s Near Perfect Operatic Event

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht


Wallis Giunta as Cherubino, John Brancy as Figaro. Photo Andrew Alexander.

Wagner’s vision of Opera was essentially the Gesamtkunstwerk, a dialogue of all the arts. There is no doubt that the public often perceives Opera as essentially a musical performance (instrumental and vocal) but I have always felt that a performance of “théâtre chanté” which is where Mozart found the purist expression of his dramatic genius, must include all elements of a staged production to do justice to the meanings imbedded in that wonderful music.

Take the overture to the Marriage of Figaro . Last night, it t burst upon us at a most furious clip, under the impeccable playing of the musicians and the magical direction of Kevin Mallon. It left me out of breath and perfectly in the mood to receive what was coming: a light hearted, deliciously playful outpouring of “théâtre comique”. I was not disappointed….for the most part. The voices were excellent expressions of that dramatic genius as they transformed their recitatives and their arias into truly theatrical moments of comic acting, Opera buffa met Opéra comique in one of the most enjoyable evenings I have spent at Opera Lyra in a long while.


The Marriage of Figaro: Stunning, clever production with wit and class

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska


Photo: Andrew Alexander

When The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart’s comic opera in four acts, premiered in Vienna at the Burgtheater on May 1, 1786, it was an instant success. Its lively overture and its brilliantly crafted arias, coupled with comical and lovable characters, thrilled the audience. The demand for encores became so numerous that even the emperor had to interfere in order to keep the performance at a reasonable length (he ruled that only parts written for a single voice could be repeated in any opera, although this edict may not have been enforced). The first reviewer wrote that the opera “contains so many beauties, and such a richness of thought as can proceed only from the born genius.”

Opera Lyra’s production of The Marriage of Figaro is not set in 18th-century Spain (as the original), but in turn of the 20th century England. This change in historical period is noticeable mostly in costumes, but as the libretto is suited to any era (with a few small tweaks), it does not hurt the production.

For the last three years, Opera Lyra has been finding its way with more or less success and we waited for 30 months to witness a performance as good and as exciting as La Bohème (September 2012). This time, the task was even harder because of the very characteristic plot in comedic opera (opera buffa) which centers on two groups of characters: a comic group of male and female personages and a pair (or more) of lovers, without much complexity in characters. (more…)

The Marriage of Figaro. This Opera Lyra Production Ranks High!

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: Barb Gray. John Brancy and Sacha Djihanian

It’s pretty obvious that Opera Lyra is making a pitch to the Downton Abbey fan club by attempting an early 20th Century take on The Marriage Of Figaro.

Halfway through the overture, we get a glimpse of servants being assembled in front of the stately English exterior of “Highclere Castle” and inspected by a dignified butler. The scene is a somewhat tiresome contrivance, and not really in synch with Mozart’s music. And, let’s face it — the the music is what counts in this production, and, happily, the playing of the overture already has us appreciating the silken elegance of the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s contribution to the evening under conductor Kevin Mallon.

So when it comes to honouring the Mozartian soundscape, the delights the production provides are manifest. For the most part, this is a beautifully sung Figaro, featuring some stellar work from the principals, and in particular a notably engaging performance on all fronts from Wallis Giunta in the trouser role of the lovelorn pageboy, Cherubino.


Opera Lyra’s bold, new expanded season for 2015-2016

News from Capital Critics Circle

General Director Jeep Jeffries and Interim Artistic Director Kevin Mallon proudly introduce Opera Lyra’s bold, new expanded season of classic and contemporary works for 2015-2016.

Opera Lyra’s 2015-2016 season includes two updated classic operas at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Southam Hall and two new partnerships to bring Ottawa additional contemporary and classic productions in smaller venues. In addition, Opera Lyra’s fall show for families and students tackles bullying through song and audience participation.  This new, enhanced season includes four subscription packages and all four operas can be seen for as little as $162.  The 2015-2106 season brochure, highlight video, calendar of special events and subscription and ticket information are online at operalyra.ca.


Tosca: A Captivating Performance

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Photo credit: Opera Lyra/Andrew Alexander

Photo credit: Opera Lyra/Andrew Alexander

Though Puccini’s Tosca,  an opera based on Victorien Sardou’s 1887 play, La Tosca,  was first performed at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 14 January 1900, it holds a timeless relevance. The opera lays bare themes of abuse of power, questions religious institution, and effectively explores the reaches human passion. Here, under the stage direction of Guy Montavon and with a powerful operatic trio at its helm, Tosca is highly dramatic, visually stunning, and a thoroughly beautiful showcase of this classic opera. It is playing at the NAC until September 13.

Tosca is set in Rome, against the turbulent political backdrop of the French Revolutionary Wars. Opera singer Tosca and her lover Mario Cavaradossi, an artist, are caught in the web of the cruel chief of secret police, Baron Scarpia. Driven by insatiable lust and want of power, Scarpia locks his sights on Tosca and begins a ruthless game of manipulation. (more…)

Tosca: Opera Lyra continues in the right direction

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo credit: Opera Lyra/Andrew Alexander

Photo credit: Opera Lyra/Andrew Alexander

One of my all-time favorite operas, Puccini’s Tosca, speaks to us, not only through some of Puccini’s most beautiful music and memorable arias, but also through the tale of tyranny and unrestrained lust in a turbulent time, which is so familiar to all generations. Based on Victorien Sardou’s dramatic play La Tosca, this timeless piece of art deals with the lowest and the highest aspects of human nature. Time-wise it takes less than two days – according to Sardou just between the afternoon of June17th and early morning of 18 June 1800. When the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome is threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, love, courage and political repression intertwine in 24 hours of harsh reality. The historical background coupled with the fact that the action is set in three still existing Roman locales – act one is set in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Valle, act two in the Palazzo Farnese, and act three in the Castel Sant’Angelo – bring this opera closer to reality than any other operatic work. Of course, the very contemporary construction of the story helps, as well. It has a movie-like flow: romantic introduction (Tosca’s entrance in the church in the moment when Mario Cavaradossi is helping a runaway political prisoner); thriller-like development (Tosca spots a knife and kills Baron Scarpia); and a tragic culmination (the betrayed promise of false execution and free passage out of Rome, which brings the death of two lovers). (more…)

Madama Butterfly: Soprano Shuying Li shines brightly in this very uneven production of Puccini’s opera.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

butterfly6MB and Pinkerton wedding night - photo by Sam GarciaPhoto Sam Garcia. Cio-Cio-San(Shuying Li)  and Pinkerton (Antoine Bélanger).

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, one of the three most popular operas in the Italian repertoire, was inspired by the true story of John Luther Long which Puccini discovered during a trip to London and which David Belasco turned into a play. The opera opened in Milan in 1904 where it was a resounding failure. However, after some changes, it successfully reopened three months later in Brescia, under the direction of maestro Arturo Toscanini. This story of a marriage between the American Navy lieutenant Benjamin Pinkerton based in Nagasaki and fifteen year Old Cio-Cio-San, foregrounds the romantic longings of the young girl caught in the grip of an underlying colonial relationship set up by Goro, the slippery marriage broker (tenor Joseph Hu)who had some good moments, and American naval lieutenant Pinkerton, seeking to spend his time with a local girl until he goes back to America to have a “real” marriage.


Madama Butterfly: Shuying Li succeeds wonderfully in her multi-layered role.

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Butterfly5hrowing flower petals - Phots by Sam Garcia

Photo Sam Garcia. Shuying li as Cio-cio-San. Arminé Kassabian as Suzuki.

Can anything be as touching as a very young, innocent, and, consequently, naïve love? Giacomo Puccini’s timeless classic “Madama Butterfly” explores this simple, but tragic fact of life. A young geisha, only 15, falls in love with an American Lieutenant and marries him in the hope of everlasting, true love. The lieutenant, B. F. Pinkerton, lusts for his young and enchanting bride, but has no intention of staying with her any longer than the duration of his mission in Nagasaki, Japan. The year is 1905, and very traditional Japanese society does not give any guarantees to a woman; she is someone’s wife just as long as he does not abandon her. That is exactly what Pinkerton, seemingly a selfish and unfeeling sailor intends to do. After going back home, he marries an American girl, but after coming back to Japan, realizes what he has done to Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly). Although he is guilt stricken, it does not help – his actions bring death to the woman who cannot see any escape from her situation other than an honourable suicide.


Carmen at the National Arts Centre: A Rousing Finale Makes the Evening Worth Every Minute.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht


Don José (David Pomeroy), Carmen (Alessandra Volpe)

Photo by Wayne Cuddington.

Carmen, based on Prosper Merimée’s novella has been slightly altered by the Meilhac and Halévy libretto but the essence of the melodrama remains. Given all the heart tugging material set in those “exotic” surroundings of Andalucia and the mountains of southern Spain, it is not hard to keep an audience interested during four acts. That is most certainly the case with this Opera Lyra production which, in spite of not being one of their most memorable performances, received a standing ovation when the curtain fell.


Past Reviews