Monday, November 07, 2005

A Toronto Weekend

I do find the town amusing (I live here by choice!), and it has much to divert and entertain. This weekend we got to enjoy a trilogy of delightful offerings.

1. Habeas Corpus at Canadian Stage.
It is too late for you to enjoy this, as we saw the last performance Saturday night. Alan Bennett can be quite funny, and this had its moments. I love Morris Panych stagings, and there was a lot of that here. To be honest, I think it was the first time I have seen Sheila McCarthy perform live, and it really was not much of a role, but her stage skills were stunning - symptomatic was that she had to be involved in several dance numbers where tap dancing skills were required; hers seem impressive, and among the cast unique. Fiona Reid satisfied me as she always has since King of Kensington. Joseph Ziegler was stunning as ever in a quiet way.

2. The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Canadian Stage.
Edward Albee creates one tricky balance in this play - not so unlike "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" in many ways. R. H. Thomson is particularly wonderful in convincing the audience a sophisticated and accomplished man can fall in love with a goat, and also that, while he recognizes painfully that this can create grief in his relationship with his wife, he is puzzled that others feel tormented for finding themselves in this bestial situation per se (see this post for another viewpoint on a related subject). Contrary to some reviews I have read, I think he manages the balance in this role beautifully.

3. Armide
Opera Atelier strikes again. I don't know what happened last year but the artistic director Marshall Pynkoski now seems to feel it is important to stand up on stage and pontificate (he did this last year announcing that 'Armide' would be on ths schedule this year). Yesterday he repeated last year's tedious homilies, and then told us pretty much all that would follow (somewhat inaccurately, spinning it to fit his view). This lengthened an already long schedule for the show and added zero value. I hope he can learn to shut up as he used to.
One very odd thing about his extended speech. He seemed to think that there was something surprising about this show being done at the court of Louis XIV - I suspect he did not read the script. The Muslim Armide is the ally of the devil, and this is totally clear in the text; Renaud is on the right side (Crusaders), and his only failing is his vulnerability to the charms of Armide. Renaud at the end manages to pull himself free of Armide and rejoin the Crusaders. Armide's only response is to destroy everything she can destroy. Pynkoski's pre-show speech suggested that this script somehow was reconciling the West and East of that time in some surprising way. I would suggest he did not read the libretto.
He also thought that this theme had some major resonance today it did not have five years ago when his team booked it for this season. I think this had something to do with sloppy thought about the fact that the story of Armide was set in the Crusades, and connecting this to the situation in Iraq. So let me get it right - the US is supporting an almost entirely Muslim-led Iraqi government being formed in Iraq, more Muslim than the tyranny earlier removed by the Western forces, and the enemies of that effort spend almost all their energy blowing up Muslim Iraqis. I invite him to explain the resonance.
On the other hand once the blathering stops and the show starts, his skills as a director become paramount and the show is a total delight. It will take more than 20 minutes of Pynkowski's preachy nonsense to turn me off watching the show he can create of 17th century opera.
If you can still go see it please go see it. I will keep signing up to go to his shows.
And even suffer through ill-informed chatter delaying the start of what matters - the art he can create.
I so wish such fine artists would just let me enjoy what they do well - their art - and not put so much effort into spoiling it with their ill-informed additions to their repertoire.

I think I was terribly wrong above. I believe Sheila McCarthy made an even better display of skills in a Stratford presentation I saw of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", produced almost as a rock opera a few years ago. She is excellent.


At 4:33 PM, Blogger Estelle said...

Hi Alan,
I saw the Armide performance last night and I agree with you, our dear friend Marshall should not be allowed to speak on stage before the performance, he can make his speeches to the crowds who show up preperformance who want to understand the opera before they see it, opera atelier opens it doors 1 hour before each performance and has a presentation on the upcoming show, that is the correct venue, not before an audience who came to strictly see opera.

I found the staging with the subliminal mountain of labia majors and minors and the phallic symbol drop down panes a little too much, especially when the "hole" opens up on the mountain of labias and out pops Armide, and when our dear friend Renaud has passed out he is hoisted up and brought into the mountain in an upright erect manner.
Besides the cheap shot at symbolism above and Marshall's monologue I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, I believe Opera Atelier is one of the rare jewel's Toronto has to offer baroque opera fans, I am looking forward to their performance in April of Orfeo to see how they handle a borderline Medeival/Baroque style of opera

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Alan Adamson said...

Wow! I think you are right though I did miss the rather blatant sexual symbolism of the staging - I have always been rather obtuse on that front. But it is one sexy libretto so I guess this all makes sense.


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