Tonight Toronto Opera Collaborative presented Massenet’s Le Cid, an opera that is outside the boundaries of what’s usually understood as the “standard repertoire” of operas one usually encounters in an opera house. There’s a single piece that some might recognize, namely Rodrigue’s aria “O Souverain!” but otherwise it’s a work that isn’t well known. This means not only that it’s a risky programming choice from the commercial angle of attracting an audience (given the usual assumption that people flock to their favourite Puccini & Verdi operas rather than a more obscure work), but for cast members as well (given the effort required to learn a role that’s unlikely to be staged elsewhere; with roles in popular operas you have slightly more chance of getting to sing them somewhere).
For TOC to undertake this challenging and rare work is a special opportunity. I was disappointed that the audience wasn’t bigger for this bold programming choice from TOC even as I enjoyed the opportunity to hear this fascinating work.
Le Cid is in some respects old fashioned in its story, concerning honour and parental control of their children. We can see some of that in Romeo and Juliet or Othello but the parents are disregarded; otherwise there’d be no story. In Le Cid Rodrigue and Chimène are in love. Don Gormas, father of the Chimène, has a quarrel with Don Diègue, father of Rodrigue. Don Diègue asks Rodrigue (his son) to avenge him, which means that Rodrigue kills Don Gormas (Chimène’s father). Luckily he’s virtually the saviour of the Christian World, and so when Chimène demands that Rodrigue be punished, the king hesitates, needing the services of the great warrior.
Kristine Dandavino brought an extraordinary passion to the role of Chimène, the most vivid portrayal of anyone in this concert production. In some respects the format makes sense, given that so much of the opera concerns passionate discussions of situations. Standing still but singing and emoting with great passion, Dandavino showed us all those contradictory emotions, including several wonderful high notes.
Jason Lamont as Rodrigue got better as he went along, giving us a very spiritual reading of “Oh Souverain”. While I’ve never looked in the score (except the famous aria), I am fairly certain this is among the most difficult roles one could find. Lamont has a heroic voice, which is apt for roles such as Florestan, which he sang with TOC a few months ago; I am not sure this is a perfect fit, even if there are few men in the world who can sing this role. And by the way, that’s also a big reason why this opera is rarely staged.
None of the other roles are nearly as difficult. Michael Robert-Broder continued to show his lovely lyrical line, even if he was often an observer of the passions of others. The two fathers were central to the plot, even if their roles weren’t huge. Grant Allert as Don Diègue and Fabian Arciniegas as Don Gormas believably gave us the context of ego and macho honour that’s the basis for the plot. Marion Samuel-Steven as the King’s daughter had some wonderful moments, sounding lovely throughout.
Music Director and Pianist Michael Rose gave a wonderful account of this unfamiliar score, opting for a pianistic reading, always clearly articulated, strongly rhythmic, and tuneful yet without being percussive.