The Big Sick

I don’t usually see movies when they’re brand new.  But I feel daring and all caught up because I’ve just seen The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani’s auto-biographical comedy. It’s a film that came out back in January.

It feels even fresher because I’d just seen Nanjiani on Saturday Night Live last week, one of the funniest monologues I can recall.  The monologue references the reception of the film, what he read online.

He quotes one person’s comment:

“I watched the whole movie, I just don’t like race-mixing”.

(pause)

Yeah.

First of all, nobody good ever uses the phrase “race—mixing”.  Even if someone said “I’m pro-race-mixing” I’d be like “why are you talking like that?! Are you an undercover KKK Dragon?”

The other thing. Why do you watch the whole movie? Were you hoping for a twist at the end? Did you think I was going to rip off a mask, “haha, it’s Chris Pine. I’m a white person.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to hear this kind of comedy. I love This Hour Has 22 Minutes and of course SNL for their political edge. Whereas CNN is like a bad dream (will someone please wake me up?), comedy is now taking over from the news networks, giving us glimpses of the truth.

Nanjiani is such a breath of fresh air, especially on US television. We’re spoiled by the comedic genius of Sean Majumdar and Russell Peters in Canada.  Nanjiani is perhaps similar, even though he’s a complete original, as we saw on SNL:

…which brings me to my problem with most racism.  Here’s my problem with most racism. It’s the inaccuracy.  That’s what bugs me.  I’m like “DO THE RESEARCH! PUT IN THE WORK! You will see the benefits!”

I’ll give you an example. If someone yells at me “Go back to India,” I’d be like “that guy’s an idiot”.  But if someone was like “Go back to Pakistan: which was part of India until 1947, and is now home to the world’s oldest salt mine,” I’d be like “that guy seems to know what he’s talking about… I’ll pack my bags.”

Just because you’re racist doesn’t mean you have to be ignorant.    An informed racist is a better racist!

Now after that ridiculously digressive and self-indulgent preamble (which wouldn’t have been necessary if youtube had the monologue; maybe next month?):  let me caution you!  The Big Sick is nothing like that.  It’s not a series of comedy routines, it’s a serious film.  YES Nanjiani does portray a stand-up comedian.  But by now, after our encounters with Robin Williams’ life, it should be clear: comedy can be a desperate and unhappy profession.

We see the most unbelievable bad set from the comedian that Nanjiani presents for us in a comedy club, as he goes up onstage while coping with the emotions in his life.  His girl-friend Emily is sick, on the verge of dying.  His family meanwhile want him to marry a Pakistani Muslim girl, not a white American.

This is no to get into the right mood to go onstage.

It should be no surprise that The Big Sick was produced by Judd Apatow, that daring purveyor of difficult comedy.  What do I mean by “difficult comedy”? I’m thinking of films that are really pushing the envelope of what might be considered funny, films that some would say failed miserably:

  • Cable Guy
  • The 40 year old Virgin
  • Knocked Up
  • Funny People

Okay I have a confession.  I love Funny People, that movie where Adam Sandler is cracking up, and gets the shit beat out of him by Eric Bana.  And I love Superbad, but who doesn’t.

The Big Sick defies the usual expectations of genre.  Is it even a comedy? For much of the film we’re watching someone who seems to be dying, and I mean in addition to the inept comedy we see onstage.  What happens when people get close to one another in a hospital while standing by someone on the verge of death?  If you’ve been there—and I confess I have—this film will be poignant beyond anything you see in formulaic Hollywood comedy.

We see Nanjiani in the hospital with Emily’s parents, played by Holly Hunter –whom I’ve missed terribly over the past few years—and Ray Romano.  I didn’t recognize RR right away. He underplays so well we doesn’t resemble an actor, but a real human.  I think that’s a good thing even if critics likely were thrown for a loop. He’s unrecognizable, and I think that’s a good thing.

I think we’ll see a lot more of Nanjiani, especially if he and Apatow have any other projects up their sleeves.  I love that my ideas of comedy are being played with, enlarged, and revised by the great writing and courageous performances.  I’ll see it again mostly because it feels like the best film I’ve seen in months, and also to see how it feels the 2nd and 3rd time.   I have to see it again!  The first time I was hesitant about laughing in many places that were painful. NOW, knowing how it ends (and I hope I am not accused of being a spoiler by reporting that in this romantic comedy, the girl at death’s door in the hospital ICU –played by Zoe Kazan—does actually survive), I think I’ll dare to laugh in a few places that were painfully scary the first time.

You should see it.

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Tribute to Maureen Forrester

The Toronto Symphony presented the first of two concerts titled “A Tribute to Maureen Forrester” tonight, a celebration of a great Canadian artist, and two premieres.

It felt a bit like a radio program, given that

  • Ben Heppner was “host” for the evening
  • His comments as well as those from conductor Peter Oundjian went back and forth between our two official languages
  • We even had a little bit of an old CBC interview of Forrester played.

If tonight’s concert was being recorded for some sort of broadcast, I believe that the levels will work better in the re-produced version than they did in the hall, as I strained to understand Maureen, even if it was a wonderfully precious moment to hear that familiar voice speaking.

The program included the following:

  • John Abram’s Sesquie Start
  • Howard Shore’s song cycle L’Aube, for mezzo-soprano & orchestra , sung by Susan Platts
  • Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, sung by Platts and tenor Michael Schade

As a tribute to Forrester the occasion did push some buttons for me, in the performance of a Mahler work she had sung and with which she was associated.  In our opera class a couple of weeks ago, I played a performance of her singing “Von her Schönheit” both as a demonstration of her unique voice and to encourage the class to come to this concert.

There was a definite sense of occasion.

Abram’s Sesquie was two minutes of wacky sound, reminding me of the music one hears in cartoons, unpretentious & fun.  It made a great impression.

Next came Howard Shore’s new song cycle with texts by poet Elizabeth Cotnoir, an occasion for some lovely sounds, including a wonderful trumpet solo in the first song, a brass choir in the last, and of course the rich voice of Susan Platts.  I’m very fond of Shore’s work in films. He’s known for the Lord of the Rings films, but my favourites are his subtly psychological work with David Cronenberg such as Dead Ringers or Crash.  I wish I could say there was comparable profundity here. It’s my first listen to the cycle, and so perhaps I just don’t get it; but I felt that Shore was being very self-effacing and supportive in most of the songs, ambient and rarely very dramatic rather than taking the stage and showing us something distinctive.  But the music was beautiful, if rather undistinguished.  I couldn’t help contrasting Shore’s work to Abram’s, where one composer boldly sought our attention, where the other seemed very self-assured and relaxed.

But to be honest I was really there to hear the Mahler, to hear Platts, Schade, Oundjian and the TSO, and they did not disappoint.

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Michael Schade waits his turn, while Susan Platts sings, with Peter Oundjian’s eloquent leadership of the TSO (photo: Jag Gundu)

Again, I’m mindful of  broadcast.  In the two loudest songs, namely the first (“Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde”) and fourth (“Von der Schönheit”), the big sound of the TSO covered the singers.  Perhaps you have to be a Vickers or a Forrester to avoid that fate? I’m not complaining. The flood of sound from the orchestra was very rewarding, whether in the flawlessly executed solos or in powerful tutti, with Oundjian favoring faster tempi. I’m conflicted because I prefer faster Mahler, just the way Oundjian did it, yet for this occasion and our reminiscence of Forrester, I suspect slower would be a more accurate evocation of her era and the conductors such as Bruno Walter with whom she worked.  But that’s splitting hairs.

Schade continues to be a revelation, with a voice that can make claims on repertoire bigger and heftier than what we used to expect. While he still sings a stylish Tamino there is a power suggesting he could undertake heavier roles if he wanted to.  While not quite a helden tenor, the sound was ample for this occasion.

Platts gave us a profound and thoughtful interpretation, particularly in “Der Abschied”, the massive song that closes the cycle.  She had quite a big sing tonight, with the Shore piece as well.

Oundjian continues to get better results from the TSO all the time.  It can’t simply be because he’s no longer dying his hair –since his 60th birthday—and as a result getting a different sort of respect from the orchestra.  Maybe it’s that with every new player, there’s a bit of a shift, and fewer players left from before his era began. That era is approaching its conclusion, and I find myself enjoying his presence, his kindness and warmth onstage.  He has nothing left to prove, and as a result might simply be enjoying his remaining time with the TSO.

Me too.

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Tessék?

A little something has nagged at me for days after seeing Arabella at the Canadian Opera Company on the weekend, a moment stuck in my head like an ear-worm.

It’s not a musical ear-worm, it’s a linguistic one.

I have this funny feeling about this opera, a piece of music theatre that is full of subtleties.  Sometimes they require closer study, as when there’s a reference to another piece of music, as I mentioned already a couple of times:

  • A tiny bit of Wagner’s music
  • A few bits of Strauss’s own music

But Arabella is a subtle story that likely is understood differently depending on your background.  When the opera appeared in the 1930s, I can’t help wondering what audience Strauss & Hofmannsthal imagined. Whom were they addressing, whom did they picture in the audience?  I ask this as a Hungarian, perpetually fascinated by the relationship between Austria & Hungary, indeed between any cultures coming into contact with one another. Arabella is many things, and one of them is a study in an inter-cultural encounter.

That question comes up for me as I keep mulling over one little word that was repeated more than any other, a word that actually doesn’t exist. I kept musing on this word, wondering just what I had heard.

Finally today I went to the libretto.

Mandryka is from abroad, and while it’s not precisely spelled out during the opera, I understand he’s from Croatia (when I looked it up online), a place where he has lots of land & money.  Mandryka has just met Arabella’s father, Count Waldner, who is totally broke: but of course hasn’t admitted it to his prospective son-in-law.

The generous young man offers the older one a few huge notes, lots of money that he hands over in a very nonchalant fashion.

When he does this, he says the following:

Teschek, bedien dich!

Waldner is so thrilled by this, he staggers around as if in a dream, repeating the phrase at least six times (or is it more?).  Zdenka thinks her papa is cracking up, perhaps due to the strain of their financial difficulties, and so has no idea what he’s talking about.

And what IS he saying, Zdenka and the rest of the audience might ask?

Google is quite clear in telling me that “bedien dich” means “help yourself” or words to that effect.

And Teschek?  I tried google out on that one, using German and Croatian.  Maybe google was stumped, but all that came back for “teschek” was the same word OR “Teschek” with a capital T.

And then it dawned on me that maybe Hofmannsthal had something else in mind. This was an opera set in Vienna after all.  A visitor to Vienna might use a different language, namely my own.

The headline I put on this, of “Tessék” with a question mark is, as usual, both an indication of what I’m writing about and a bit of an extra joke.  Tessék interrogative is another way of saying “I beg your pardon”?  Please note, that the word “tessék” in Magyar phonetics is pronounced virtually the same as a German would pronounce “Teschek”.  The ss is said like an sch gets pronounced by a German- or Austrian-speaker or an sh in English.

The key meaning though for Tessék is the one likely intended by Hofmannsthal. Tessék as a declaration simply means “here you go”, which is perfect in this context, meaning almost exactly the same thing as “bedien dich”. Surely that’s what the phrase means.

In fact in a society where Hungarian words may have been inserted, references to dobos torta and Tokay (or perhaps Tokajer if you’re speaking German?) tossed around politely.  I think it’s possible Hofmannsthal meant to signal a mis-pronunciation, rather than a correct one. A provincial visitor such as Mandryka might affect Hungarian but get it wrong, saying Teschek rather than “Tessék” (where that accent signifies a similar e vowel to what you get for instance in French with your accent aigu).

It’s also possible that Hofmannsthal expected the correct pronunciation to be known, although I am guessing that if that were so, there’d be some indication in the score. The repetition over and over suggests that the librettist & composer were very deliberate, and were not making a mistake.

I wonder, did they mean for Waldner and Mandryka to make the mistake?

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Tapestry pays it forward

Tapestry Opera receives gift of $225,000 Bösendorfer piano; ‘pays it forward’ with disaster relief concert on October 25

Opera and jazz greats unite to inaugurate “the Stradivarius of pianos” with proceeds to benefit relief efforts across the world

(Toronto, ON) – Tapestry Opera has received a historic and transformational gift with the donation of a 9.5-foot Imperial Bösendorfer 290 Concert Grand Piano, one of the most highly sought-after concert pianos in the world and one of only 12 in Canada. Valued at $225,000, the piano was privately donated in September by Clarence Byrd and Ida Chen, marking one of the most significant gift of a piano to a performing arts organization in Toronto’s history. To inaugurate the instrument and celebrate its public debut as part of the musical community, Tapestry Opera will hold a disaster relief concert on Oct. 25, 2017 at the Earnest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District, featuring many greats of the Toronto opera and jazz scenes.

In honour of the monumental generosity shown by Byrd and Chen—and as a way to pay it forward—Tapestry Opera will present two concerts on the evening of Oct. 25th to benefit disaster relief efforts around the world, specifically those underway in Puerto Rico, Dominica, Mexico and India. All proceeds will be donated to the Medecins san Frontieres and Global Medic, who are working to rescue, support and rebuild the lives of millions affected by recent extreme weather events.

The Bösendorfer Imperial is widely regarded as the world’s premier concert grand piano (with its signature extra half-octave of keys). With its recent arrival to the city, the piano will be among the most valuable instruments publicly available for use to musicians and concert producers in Toronto, adding the Ernest Balmer Studio to a short list of destination classical and jazz music venues in the city. During a technically demanding installation process, the piano was carefully lifted by crane through the third-storey window of its new home in Tapestry Opera’s Ernest Balmer studio, capturing the attention of onlookers in the Distillery District.

“This is a momentous gift for our creative and performing arts community,” said Michael Mori, Artistic Director of Tapestry Opera. “By making world-class instruments available to the public, we are able to support a whole new generation of exciting artistic achievements. It also puts the Distillery District on the map as Toronto’s newest destination for jazz and classical chamber music, which is especially significant at a time when live music venues are vanishing.”

Toronto’s brightest young opera stars will unite in a performance of favourite arias and scenes, including selections from musical theatre. Featuring soprano Simone Osborne, mezzo-soprano Erica Iris Huang, tenors Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Klassen, baritone Alexander Hajek and others, the two-hour concert will take place at 7 p.m., with tickets priced at $30.

A late-night concert of piano greats presented by Yamaha Canada will follow at 10:00 p.m., featuring jazz legend Robi Botos and classical concert virtuoso Younggun Kim. This concert will mark the first opportunity to hear two of Toronto’s most gifted pianists grace the Imperial Bösendorfer. Tickets are $30.

Tickets for both performances are available at www.tapestryopera.com.

“There is a deeply felt sense of civic duty and community spirit within Toronto’s cultural landscape, and we were overwhelmed when our single Facebook post to solicit participation generated such an incredible response from artists willing to donate their time and talent,” said Mori. “Tapestry is honoured to be in a position to facilitate something so meaningful and inspiring. It’s also a fitting way to introduce our wonderful new instrument to the community – one act of generosity begetting another.”

Tapestry Opera is grateful for the visionary generosity of Clarence Byrd and Ida Chen, and the gracious support of Robert Lowrey Pianos, Wayne Strongman, O.C., and Yamaha Canada.

ABOUT CLARENCE BYRD AND IDA CHEN:
Clarence Byrd and Ida Chen reside in Ottawa, and over the past 40 years have written over 150 books on accounting and tax, widely used both by students and professionals. In addition, Mr. Byrd has held positions at a number of Canadian universities. Currently, most of their time is devoted to preparing the annual edition of Canadian Tax Principles, the most widely used university text on taxation.

Both Clarence and Ida spent many years studying piano. In addition, Clarence played professionally for a number of years. While they no longer have an appropriate home for the Bösendorfer, they have several other pianos and try to spend some time each day playing.

ABOUT TAPESTRY OPERA:
Tapestry Opera is a Toronto-based company that creates and produces opera from the heart of here and now. For 38 years, the company has presented award-winning works by preeminent artists, brought to life by some of the most talented and versatile performers of the contemporary stage. As Canada’s leader in opera development, Tapestry Opera is committed to cultivating new creators and performers to serve the evolution of the art form and build a lasting Canadian repertoire.

www.tapestryopera.com
http://www.tapestryopera.com@TAPESTRYOPERA
facebook.com/TapestryOpera 

 

“Press releases and announcements” are presented verbatim without comment.

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The Poetry of Apocalypse: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky at TIFF

The Poetry of Apocalypse:
The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky
First Toronto retrospective in 15 years devoted to the visionary
Russian auteur, including full theatrical runs for sci-fi masterpieces Stalkerand Solaris

November 9 — 30, 2017
TIFF Bell Lightbox

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The Mirror (1974), Photo Credit: Janus Films
Solaris (1972), Photo Credit: Filmswelike
Stalker (1979), Photo Credit: Janus Films

Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” 
— Ingmar Bergman

Arguably the greatest director of Soviet cinema and one of the most influential figures in film history, Andrei Tarkovsky has made an immense impact with a filmography that consists of a dozen titles, including only seven feature films. Known for his long takes and distinct use of time, religious iconography, the spiritual struggles of characters, his particular approach to science-fiction, and consistent visual motifs, Tarkovsky’s legacy reaches far and wide, continuing to influence countless filmmakers, and remaining relevant across continents and disciplines decades after his death.

Curated by James Quandt, Senior Programmer, TIFF Cinematheque, The Poetry of Apocalypse: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky is the first Toronto retrospective in 15 yearsdevoted to the Russian visionary. The programme runs November 9 to November 30 and showcases eight of Tarkovsky’s works, five in 35mm and three digital restorations. The series also includes a documentary on Tarkovsky by Chris Marker, who was a personal friend of the auteur. Highlights include:

  • The full-length version of Andrei Rublev (1966), Tarkovsky’s masterpiece on the 15th-century painter, which is almost a full hour longer than its original release.
  • Week-long theatrical engagements for the new digital restorations of Tarkovsky’s two science-fiction masterpieces, Stalker (1979) and Solaris (1972), starting November 17 and 24, respectively.
  • University of Chicago film scholar Robert Bird, author of Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema, will offer an introductory talk on the aesthetics of Tarkovsky’s work and his influence on Soviet Cinema on November 14, prior to the first screening of Stalker.
Click here for the complete schedule or visit tiff.net.
“Press releases and announcements” are presented verbatim without comment.
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Magic Elixir

It’s my second consecutive opera involving a romantic beverage at the Four Seasons Centre with the Canadian Opera Company, and no I don’t mean what I was drinking.

I can’t help comparing and contrasting Arabella, yesterday’s opera with The Elixir of Love, today’s matinee.

  • In yesterday’s the women are powerless; today, in contrast, two men attempt to please a woman who is the powerful one
  • Yesterday’s was German, today’s was Italian
  • Yesterday it was water at the centre while today it was a magic elixir (you’ll have to see the opera to find out the actual ingredients of the drink)
  • Both operas feature Canadians; although yesterday’s biggest star was a European, today’s best performances were all by Canadians

As I stood at the urinal after the opera, I couldn’t help overhearing the shouted conference on either side of me, comparing the two.  “Today’s opera was better”, they said, and his wife was cited as the ultimate authority for what was wrong yesterday.

Who was I to argue? (and I felt I was intruding)

Perhaps it’s a triumph of promotion over resistance, a production that deconstructs opera’s forbidding surface into something gently lovable.  We’re watching Donizetti’s Elisir d’Amore re-framed as though it were Meet me in St Louis or Music-Man, a very approachable stage picture that puts us at our ease immediately.   There we are supposedly in what the program note calls “Anytown USA circa 1914”, on the eve of WW One.  It doesn’t matter whether it felt Canadian (with the inclusion of our flag) or American (mostly red white and blue banners). What it did NOT resemble was a scary opera set, especially when you add in the chorus and Nemorino’s ice cream truck.

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Andrew Haji as Nemorino in the COC’s Elixir of Love, 2017 (photo: Michael Cooper)

And in passing I wonder if we’ve ever had a season like this from the COC. The opera composer giving us two operas isn’t Puccini or Verdi or even Wagner.  It’s Donizetti of all people (Anna Bolena still to come, a bel canto opera of a completely different flavour).

And we were in the presence of beautiful music, magnificent singing, where the plot was really a pretense for arias and ensembles, a story that’s pleasant but not earth-shaking, while we get lost in some pretty music.   As I have been discussing with students in my opera class, the distinction between musicals and operas isn’t always a big one.

Who’s afraid of opera?  No one in this audience, especially once we had a chance to sink our teeth into the performances by a capable and authentic sounding bel canto cast led by Andrew Haji, Simone Osborne and Gordon Bintner.  All three have a genuine gift for comedy, aided and abetted by this charming opera.

Haji plays dumb. I mean that although he’s a very intelligent fellow,  he’s very believable in playing up Nemorino’s gullibility, his naive belief in the power of a magic potion.  The voice soars without forcing, an authentic bel canto approach that is Italianate and oh so musical.  Osborne is Adina, a cruel tease for much of the opera who melts near the end, even though her top notes were as radiant when she was heartless as when she becomes sympathetic to Nemorino at the end.

Bintner as Belcore is the classic miles gloriosus, that braggart soldier we’ve seen since ancient times in everything from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, to Don Giovanni, and even though he doesn’t get the girl in the show he’ll be just fine marching off to further conquests.  The voice is powerful and seems effortless.

The cast was rounded out by Andrew Shore as Dr Dulcamara –who sells the elixir that may or may not have changed Nemorino’s life—and Lauren Eberwein as Adina’s friend Giannetta.  Conductor Yves Abel led a very tight performance by orchestra & chorus.

The Elixir of Love continues at the Four Seasons Centre until November 4th.

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Timely Arabella

Some compositions catch on right away, others take awhile to find an audience.

I saw and enjoyed Arabella tonight in the Canadian Opera Company premiere production, the first time they’ve presented it: the sixth and last (premiered in 1933) in a series of collaborations between composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal.  With the exception of the even rarer Die ägyptische Helena it is the least popular of the six according to operabase.com.

There are likely two inter-connected reasons for this, that it’s not easy to do and not yet well-known. Producers may ask: why risk doing a difficult work when the audiences may not fill the seats?  And so you have the perfect storm of an unfamiliar work that can’t catch on or become familiar even if it’s quite a wonderful composition.

After seeing it tonight and watching the rapturous ovation greeting the production afterwards, I’m inclined to think that it was ahead of its time.  Thank you COC for bringing this opera to Toronto. Arabella’s pace is much faster than Rosenkavalier (1911) without the set-pieces that made that work both popular and more easily intelligible.

The story seems especially apt in this era of Harvey Weinstein and the pussy-grabber POTUS, a time when the quid pro quo can suck the romance out of any love story.  And with Arabella we’re watching an inter-cultural collision of mores.  Where the COC – Santa Fe Opera – Minnesota Opera co-production (directed by Tim Albery & with sets & costumes designed by Tobias Hoheisel) doesn’t re-frame the opera in another time or place, the opera feels surprisingly modern, the performances all too real.

Count Waldner and his wife Adelaide are broke, desperately hoping that marriage of their daughter Arabella might rescue their fortunes.  We meet their other daughter Zdenka who dresses as a boy and calls herself Zdenko.  As Anna Russell might say

But that’s the beauty of Grand Opera: you can do anything so long as you sing it.

But in 2017 I’ve met people like Zdenko (or Zdenka).  Once the opera is underway and they start singing? we get swept up in the story.

Count Waldner has sent a picture of his beautiful daughter to an old friend from the army hoping to stir some interest, not expecting that a rich young nephew would show up instead.   And so things really came to life when young Mandryka shows up, baritone Tomasz Konieczny in the most interesting vocal & dramatic portrayal of the night.  I’d seen the role before on video, not realizing how many opportunities there were for comedy, with the right performer.   Konieczny underplays much of the time to begin, giving us a portrait of a smitten lover from a foreign culture, a bit shy about his backward ways, and showing his awkwardness through his body language.

However when Mandryka seems to catch Arabella in the act of cheating –overhearing a key being given that will get a man into her room –he is transformed.  The carnival celebration of Act II in the Strauss opera (presented in two parts by the COC, but written in 3 acts by Strauss/ Hofmannsthal) is a descent into disorder, an anti-masque of drunken revelry that presents an opportunity for performers who can take the stage.  Konieczny comes into his own, as extroverted in Act II as he was restrained when we first met him, alongside the deliciously decadent Claire de Sévigné as the Fiakermilli, giving Mandryka a run for his money as the life of the party.

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Claire de Sévigné as the Fiakermilli and Tomasz Konieczny as Mandryka (photo: Michael Cooper)

The arc of Konieczny’s performance, when he discovers that he misunderstood what he heard –that Arabella did not betray him—is delightful to watch, leading to the final reconciliation with Erin Wall as Arabella, one of the most impressive performances in any year from the COC.

Wall was brought to life by Konieczny, coming into her own in spectacular fashion in the last act, when she stands up for herself and refuses to be dishonoured by mere appearances.   Jane Archibald sang with wonderful subtlety as Zdenka, a huge difficult role that she seemed to handle quite easily.  Michael Brandenburg was appropriately passionate as Matteo the emotional blackmailer, whose threats of suicide keep manipulating poor Zdenka(o), in another very difficult role to sing.  The opera began strongly with the scene between Adelaide and her fortune teller, Gundula Hintz and Megan Latham respectively, joined later in the act by John Fanning as Count Waldner, also great fun but totally believable.

The COC orchestra were the heart & soul of the production, led with a wonderful sense of flair by Patrick Lange.  I prefer Strauss to resemble Mozart rather than Wagner, a similarity I felt often with Lange’s leadership.

Don’t miss your chance to see and hear a delightful rarity from the COC.  Arabella runs until October 28 at the Four Seasons Centre.

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