It’s the day before the Academy Awards, which means Canadians can indulge in our favourite sport. No I don’t mean hockey, which is more of an obsession than something you could dismiss as mere fun. It’s too much of a passion. No, the favourite sport I am referring to is Canadians puffing out our chests when one of our countrymen is noticed in the USA.
Last year it was Christopher Plummer’s turn to finally get recognition (he should have won several times before), while the foreign language nominee from Québec (notice how I put in the accent aigu, meaning you pronounce it to rhyme with Kay-beck, not the anglicized Quee-beck) unfortunately lost out.
This year Mychael Danna (Anglophone from Ontario this time) is up for an Oscar. Again he’s a talent who could have won several times already. Maybe this time?
And in newspapers and blogs emanating from New York, another Québecois is winning acclaim. No it’s not a movie although the man is an acclaimed director. I speak of François Girard, who may be known to you as the man behind Thirty-Two Short films about Glenn Gould and The Red Violin.
He has also been a frequent presence in Toronto as a director for the Canadian Opera Company. As I puff out my chest – proud of his current acclaim—I want to be honest. I was conflicted about both of his previous triumphs in Toronto.
Triumph #1 was the Stravinsky double bill of Symphony of Psalms and Oedipus Rex, dedicated to victims of AIDS. I was sensitized to why it’s problematic to associate a guilt-tainted plague in Oedipus Rex with AIDS, and so perhaps prevented from opening myself fully to the experience. Even so it remains one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen, a warm memory of Richard Bradshaw & Michael Schade that won’t fade soon.
Triumph #2 was Girard’s piece of the COC Ring, namely Siegfried (recalling that the COC took the unorthodox path of dividing the cycle among four directors), again in collaboration with Michael Levine. I’d complained in a review I posted about aspects of the production, one that pleased critics & fans alike; my quibble was mostly about the staging of the forging song. Even so, Girard’s interpretation stands as the tightest of the interpretations in the COC’s cycle, as conceptually rigorous as any of his other work, if you look back at the Stravinsky double bill (a kind of waste landscape, with a pile of bodies), and the Gould film (borrowing its structure from the Bach composition most closely associated with the pianist namely the Goldberg Variations). Similarly, Girard structures everything around the conceit that the world is all in Siegfried’s head, and so, for example, the dragon who fights Siegfried is a compound of several humans strung together in a bizarre puppet, and the magic fire is actually a human chain trying to scare Siegfried away.
Parsifal, which premiered last year in Lyon, and recently opened at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, is perhaps the same sort of opera, but with a much bigger budget. Co-produced by Opera de Lyon, the Met and –voila—the COC, it appears we are again in the presence of something conceptual, exploring the fundamental subtext of the story. With Oedipus it was plague & death. With Siegfried it was the possible solipsism of poor Siegfried, isolated in the forest. Parsifal? I will see it next week, so I can only go by what I have been reading, but it appears to take the Christian grail story and re-frame it around deep questions of gender & sexuality, once again calling upon Michael Levine to work his magic.
Girard’s Parsifal has been getting the kinds of reviews that help Canadians indulge that sport I was telling you about. The Metropolitan Opera emails include the following quotes from reviews:
- “Radiant new Parsifal makes Met glow, audiences cheer… I don’t think better singers exist anywhere in the world” (Bloomberg).
- “In imagination, cohesiveness and brilliant execution, this Parsifal honors the composer’s concept of total artwork” (Star Ledger).
- “A magnificent new production… It is an exquisite pleasure for the eye and ear, it’s also food for the soul” (New York Post).
- “Arresting, consistently absorbing… a powerhouse cast of singers… a moving, modern vision” (Wall Street Journal).
- “A modern new Parsifal for the 21st century” (Huffington Post).
- “Both the production and the performance caught fire, and the Parsifal of Wagner’s imagination came vividly to life” (Musical America).
Here are two very detailed reviews that tell you a great deal about the production (if you’d rather not know what you’re going to see, perhaps you shouldn’t read them yet…but i did and they whetted my appetite):
- James Jorden in Musical America
- John Yohalem, guest-posting in parterre.com http://parterre.com/2013/02/21/equal-rites/
Even if the great voices (who may or may not be available when the production comes to Toronto) may have influenced the critiques, the key to this production is the relationship of the design concept to the directorial conception of the work. I am eager to see what Girard & Levine have accomplished, in the high definition broadcast next weekend. If you’re curious look for it at a movie theatre near you March 2nd.
Here’s a sample of Jonas Kaufmann singing from Act II on the Met’s website.
And then later of course, we’ll see this production on the Four Seasons Centre stage. Wow.