Monday, November 30, 2009

Local Theatrical Pleasures...

... because I'm not in a state of mind to mention the disappointments.

Living right downtown is not always a pleasure, but it is when I’m in the mood for theatre. I’m in walking distance from several good ones, and one is so close, I could go into a tuck-and-roll outside my front door and find myself in a front row seat… almost.

The intention is always to see more local theatre. Some of it is good, some bad, but a live performance, with its communal audience experience, is a refreshing change from movies. Hart House Theatre, part of the University of Toronto, seems to be on upswing. After what felt like a few rough years I saw an excellent production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia last season, and a week ago I saw the opening night of another play led by the same director, Jeremy Hutton, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The concept was very well thought out. The setting was Victorian London, and the fairy world became a gypsy world. The rustics were enchanting and, carried along by the enthusiasm of the students on stage and the students in the audience, we laughed our heads off.

Some Chinese classical dance was a first for me, and it was very well executed, but it's not really my bag, as pretty as it was. However, another night in the stunning Canon Theatre was a treat. I remember, shortly after it was renovated to its former glory, and shortly before the very long run of Phantom of the Opera went in, it was briefly used to show movies. I saw Die Hard there when it first came out. This is just the start of the lobby... very opulent. I was an obedient audience member (as all should be) and didn't take any pictures inside the auditorium.

Her Face was shown at the Berkeley Theatre. This was an excellent night of theatre. The play is by Polly Stenham, who won great accolades in 2007 for writing it. She was only 19 at the time and it caused a sensation when it opened in London's West End. It's a very dark piece of family dysfunction, played in one act, and superbly so by this Canadian cast. Of course the first thought as you sit watching this is, what had this young playwright experienced in her life up to that point to be able to write about it and with such understanding.

The Canadian Opera Company's Diamond Anniversary concert had a hiccup of sorts the week before it took place, when the great tenor Ben Heppner cancelled due to illness. Instead, three singers took his place, and what singers! In the first half tenor Ramón Vargas sang “Ah! lève-toi, soleil” (Gounod's Roméo et Juliette) and “Nature immense” (Berlioz's La damnation de Faust) with the Pearl Fishers duet (Bizet) and Werther (Massenet) for encores; baritone Russell Braun sung the Mab aria from Roméo et Juliette and joined Vargas for the Pearl Fishers. The orchestra kicked things off with Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture and also played his Menuet des feux follets and the Hungarian March, both from La Damnation de Faust. In the second half it was all Wagner. The Prelude from Die Meistersinger, Siegfried's Rhine Journey, and his Death and Funeral March, with tenor John Treleaven singing not only the Death, but also Walter's Prize Song, and the Rome Narration (from Tannhäuser). Probably the highlight for me was Russell Braun singing “O du mein holder Abendstern” (Tannhäuser). What an artist. He had the audience enraptured, literally I believe. The entire concert was special for another reason than the 60th anniversary of the company. It was the first performance with its new music director, and that man, Johannes Debus, with his orchestra, exhibited great music making and a heart-warming chemistry with the musicians. Their encore was the act three prelude from Lohengrin. The evening was magical.

There was plenty of big opera: Bohème (I wept), A Midsummer Night's Dream (I laughed), Madama Butterfly (I sobbed), and the prettiest Così fan tutte (I sighed). Something I'd never seen the like of before in an opera house was the world premiere of Robert Lepage's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, a compliation of Stravinsky to wonderful puppetry-enhanced performances, from simple hand shadows, to Indonesian shadow puppets and Vietnamese water puppets. But there was also more intimate opera, in the form of The Shadow, a new one-act opera by Omar Daniel, presented by Tapestry. Seriously, the msuic didn't stay with me, but the entire experience did. Director Tom Diamond led a fine cast, with Peter McGillivray oustanding in the role of put-upon postman, who succumbs to his demon(s).

So there... a little round up. But, as it is with pomegranates, I need more. On another note... this place smells damned good. It's my favourite time of the year again and I made gingerbread dough tonight, so the combined scents of ginger, cinnamon and cloves is around me.


phil said...

Let me know when they have open auditions again for the lead in Springtime For Hitler.

I may head North to try out.

Protege said...

Ah, look at those pictures... There is nothing like the decor of theaters. The most stunning one I have ever seen is in Prague. I saw a performance of "Rusalka" there, I will never forget it.
We lived downtown when I was a child and I know what you mean, there is a lot of good and a lot of bad about it as well.;)
I can almost sense the spices you describe...

Audubon Ron said...

You read like an arts critic. Is that what you do for a living?

Also, love the new pic in your profile. Nice smile.

Blog Princess G said...

Phil: Heh heh... We had a Mel Brooks double bill on Saturday night. Good stuff. :)

Protege: What a wonderful memory to have. I'd like to visit Prague soon.

Ron: No it isn't what I do. I just have lots of half-formed opinions... and thank you!