The headline is the inevitable result of a weekend watching and comparing two different virtual offerings from two opera companies, one much bolder than the other. Yesterday’s Opera Atelier headline aims to praise what’s praiseworthy, so I used the word “bold”, leaving my misgivings for the latter part of the review.
And I loved the new Canadian Opera Company Gianni Schicchi, their first opera presented using the new technological upgrades at the Four Seasons Centre, available via free download for six months.
Amy Lane is the director of this charming take on Puccini’s popular work, chosen by the COC for their first virtual opera.
At times Lane turns the cast loose to play for laughs. Both Roland Wood in the title role and Doug MacNaughton as Maestro Spinelloccio amuse us with their vocal choices and physical prowess. Yet they’re mostly deadpan. The comedy is underplayed except when it’s time for the group to explode in fury. I find my taste in comedy has changed over the years, as I’m not amused by operas that are too broad, too blatant in their expectation of laughs. The camera sometimes comes in tight upon a committed series of performances without any trace of overacting. It works. And there’s even a bit of a surprise at the end.
Puccini’s indestructible romance can’t fail so long as it’s entrusted to sympathetic singers. Lauretta (Hera Hyesang Park) and Rinuccio (Andrew Haji) win our hearts by being authentic and real. How do you approach something so well known? Park’s execution of the famous aria is subtly understated, a gentle delivery that works especially well with the intimacy of the virtual medium. Haji, who has been busy this year (at least in what I’ve been watching, between the Barber of Seville in Quebec and Against the Grain’s Savitri), also acquits himself well in an aria that’s not nearly as famous nor used in many films (we hear it briefly in Serpico).
Today (again making a comparison in my head between opera presentations on consecutive nights) I recalled words from the third book of Edmund Spenser’s epic The Faerie Queen, a sign over a door saying something like “be bold, be bold, but not too bold”. Spenser’s knights could just as easily be artistic directors striking a balance between creativity (“be bold”) to entice and intrigue the audience, and fiscal prudence (“be not too bold”) to avoid bankruptcy.
On November 1st as I write this, my deadline to renew my COC subscription is just over a week away on November 10th. Many of us have credits in our accounts due to operas cancelled last season. No Parsifal, no Figaro, no Aida, no Dutchman, (if I am recalling correctly), and yet these were paid for by subscribers. So now when the COC offer us three operas to begin 2022 (Butterfly, Flute and Traviata), they owe some of us money for the shows that they had to cancel. Let that be preamble to the question of what the COC offer us, in their virtual offerings in the autumn of 2021, the three operas to re-open in 2022, and thereafter. I wonder how they can manage to stay afloat, how to pay all those people.
But for now (with Gianni Schicchi) and in February (Butterfly) the COC count on the assistance of Mr Popularity, aka Giacomo Puccini.
For now? The fact that the COC are still in business is bold enough for me.