Opera

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

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

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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.

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

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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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.

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Carmen by Opera Lyra: an uneven production where fervour and moments of brilliant singing are paved with pitfalls.

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

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Alessandra Volpe (Carmen), Alain Coulombe (Zuniga). Photo by: Opera Lyra/Sam Garcia

Opera is getting more and more popular in Ottawa. The tickets for the latest Opera Lyra production, Bizet’s Carmen, are selling like hot cakes. I even saw a few women wearing a flower in their hair as an homage to the famous title character. This is well-deserved support, given the organization’s brilliant previous season, which gave rise to the operatic art in Ottawa. Opera Lyra is definitely heading in the right direction. Of course, as the old saying, per aspera ad astra, points out, the road to success is always paved with pitfalls.  Unfortunately “Carmen” proved to be that stumbling block on the road for Opera Lyra. Carmen is one of the most popular operas ever; the one sung and listened to by generations of opera lovers and non-lovers alike. Its attraction lies in its musicality, energy, and the nature of the main character – Carmen.

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Ottawa Fringe 2013. La Voix humaine

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

La Voix humaine, libretto by Jean Cocteau, musique by Francis Poulenc

This is a serious opera performance with the beautiful soprano voice of Rachel Krehm (elle) accompanied by pianist Patrick Hansen playing Poulenc’s music. A breath of fresh air in the festival. The set is the woman’s room. Photos of her lover and herself are projected on the backdrop and there are surtitles in English so it is easy to follow. Based on Cocteau’s play, this is a a devastating phone conversation where we only see the woman, and hear her voice on our end but her answers and reactions make the conversation and the image of the man on the other end, very clear. He is in the process of leaving her but she is so much in love that she at first can’t believe it and then as the tragedy sinks in, she keeps taking all the blame as his erratic, often angry reactions show he feels slightly guilty but turns that guilt against her. AS she is trying to reassure him that she is fine and he must not feel upset, she is slowly committing suicide, by drinking water laced with pills. In this magnificent one act performance, the portrait of the absent, self-centred male is just as strong as the portrait of the woman who is slowly falling apart in front of us, while sustaining a voice that tries to avoid tragic tones so that her lover will not hear what is really happening in the room. A very difficult role for a singer and actress/singer Mme Krehm did it beautifully. Her pianist added a level of concert performance that put this on the stage of the NAC ! Certainly not normal fringe fare. This is live performance at its artistic best.

Musical director Maika’I Nash

Stage director Aria Umezawa

A production of Opera 5 , Toronto

Ottawa Fringe 2013. La Voix Humaine by Jean Cocteau, music by Francis Poulenc

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

La voix humaine (Human Voice), a one-act opera for one character, with a libretto by Jean Cocteau set to music by Francis Poulenc is misleadingly simple story. A woman abandoned by her lover cannot imagine living on without him, so she talks to him over the telephone (in this case cellphone) an hour before committing suicide. 

Seems like a simple narrative, but is it indeed so? In this work, Cocteau explores human feelings and needs versus realities of love, relationships and communication. The only tools to convey ideas are voice and facial expressions.  It takes an excellent singer and a gifted actress to revive the desperation and agony of a woman in the last hour of her life. Luckily for the audience, it is Rachel Krehm who is trusted with this extremely demanding role. 

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