Ariadne auf Naxos – Delightful!

Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos is not an opera about Ariadne and her tale of woe and romance but a whimsical tale of an opera production going… in a way that it doesn’t usually go. The show follows an opera troupe who learns that they have to perform alongside a ‘vulgar’ comedy troupe at a nobleman’s dinner.

The first act, in which the audience follows the two troupes and observes their pre-show nervousness and anxiety about the changes being made to their productions, is wonderfully entertaining. A special mention goes to Alice Coote, who plays the talented but angsty composer of Ariadne auf Naxos (the opera in the opera). Her superb acting and voice brings us the highs and lows as the composer goes into his diva-esque fits at the prospect of having his opera changed.

Another special mention goes to Jane Archibald, who plays the feisty and flirty Zerbinetta. She’s the star of the second act, which shows the result of the mash-up of the two productions, where her voice and spunky personality is the cause of much laughter. When I went to the dress rehearsal, Amber Wagner, Adrianne Pieczonka’s understudy, took the role of Ariadne/the Prima Donna halfway through the production in act II. It seems that fate has been on my side, because Wagner seems to have taken the role for the current productions of the opera (until further notice). Wagner is a powerful singer whose voice should not be forever relegated to being an understudy.

Overall, the direction, set and costumes were appropriate and did not detract from the performance or the libretto of the opera. The show was absolutely brilliant and is sure to draw a few laughs – I highly recommend it. A few opera virgins came with me to this production and were as delighted by it as I was.

Ariadne auf Naxos is running from April 30th to May 29th at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts. For those living on a student budget, rush tickets are $20 and are available starting at 11 AM the day of the performance. All rush tickets seats are in the 5th ring. If you are under the age of 30, you are eligible for Opera for a New Age tickets, which cost $22 and will get you seats in the 5th or 3rd ring.

For more information on Ariadne auf Naxos and the Canadian Opera Company, click here.

Thanks for reading! I will be reviewing Orfeo ed Eurydice in a few days. Enjoy!

La Cenerentola (Cinderella) – Almost there but not quite

La Cenerentola is running from April 23rd to May 25th at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts. For people running on a student budget, rush tickets are $20 and are available starting at 11 AM the day of the performance.  If you are under the age of 30, you are eligible for Opera for a New Age tickets for $22.

After a short hiatus in March, the Canadian Opera Company returns with three new productions: La Cenerentola (Cinderella), Ariadne auf Naxos and Orfeo ed Eurydice. I will be reviewing all three of them over the course of the next few weeks. The first of the operas to start its run is Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, which is an operatic version of the classic fairy tale, Cinderella.

Overall, the COC presents a whimsical production that is sure to draw out a few laughs during the entire performance. The libretto (or lyrics) is clever and humourous and the music, lively and energetic. A special mention goes to the orchestra who played a captivating overture – a delightful piece of music to listen to but I felt that the energy of the piece would have been better conveyed if there was some sort of action on stage. Another special mention belongs to the leading lady, Elizabeth DeShong, who played a vocally enchanting Angelina (Cinderella). There were many times where I felt that her arias were much too short and I wished that they could go on forever.

Clorinda and Tisbe, played by Ileana Montabetti and Rihab Chaieb respectively were well cast as the comical and yet snotty evil stepsisters. Lawrence Brownlee played Prince Ramiro and although he was absolutely enchanting in arias that involved wooing and love, I felt that he was a little weak when playing the role of an authoritative monarch. In one part when he sings on how he is absolutely furious and determined to find the mysterious girl with whom he is in love with, my friend commented, “He was probably the least threatening prince I’ve ever seen.” Perhaps the power behind Brownlee’s voice will reveal itself eventually but in the meantime, I would really like to see him sing in a role with more lyrical arias. Sadly, I also felt that the other male cast members – Cinderella’s stepfather, Don Magnifico, the prince’s valet, Dandini and the prince’s tutor, Alidoro – sounded similar and were a bit forgettable once their songs were over.

Continue reading “La Cenerentola (Cinderella) – Almost there but not quite”

So… we’ve got another election on our hands

In case you didn’t know, this will be the 4th election in 7 years. By now, I’m sure a lot of people are frustrated with having to vote, knowing that it’s probable that very little will change. This is one of the major reasons why voter turnout was at a historic low at the last election. I distinctly remembering the low morale during that time and the cynicism at our own elections, especially when we could compare all of our candidates and their attack ads with all of the positive campaigning that was going on in the States. It might have been the only time in my life I wished I was American.

In any case, you could ask, well, what does this have to do with student life? Well, Rick Mercer makes a fair point in this rant:

And when he mentions that point about the senior homes (at 1:10), here’s one of the pictures of Elections Campaign Day 3 on the CBC website:

So on May 2nd, vote!

Student Unions and Associations

You’re at U of T and it’s bloody huge. Your classes are humongous and you’re wondering how you’ll ever manage to make friends to help you through your years here. Let me give you a word of advice from someone who’s almost at the end of her journey here: connect yourself with the people in your student unions. You don’t even have to part of a student union itself, but being part of their Facebook group is super cool and fun. So, before I begin, you might be wondering: what is a student union?

A student union represents students from a certain department, and members are elected by their peers. For example, students who are enrolled in a History class or a major/minor/specialist can vote for the executive members of the History Students Association (HSA). These unions and associations organize events, socials, conferences and aid in the process of the publication of undergraduate journals.

What are the advantages of getting involved in a student union?

  • If you join the ListServe or the student union’s Facebook group, you’ll get news and updates regarding events that are being organized or lectures that might pique your interest. These events can help you network with profs and academics in your field of study, meet people with common interests or get free food.
  • Your student union/association is also a link between you and your profs/department/departments at other universities. This means that they have all sorts of interesting information such as where to study if you want to go abroad and scholarship opportunities.
  • Wondering what courses to take? Try talking to the execs in your student union! They got elected and they wanted to be elected because they wanted to get involved with other students. Drop by office hours, see if any execs are in your class, or send them a message on Facebook with any questions you might have! These students are often upper years with valuable experience and knowledge about the department and your subject POSt(s).
  • Remember back in the summer when students got angry over the Dean’s decision to disestablish departments and shove them into a School of Languages and Literatures at U of T (SLLUT)? Student associations and unions were a rallying point for students who opposed the plan. These associations are your voice and they try to represent you when the university makes important decisions concerning your education.
  • Being part of your student union’s executive committee can be an extremely rewarding experience. Have a conference idea or an idea for an awesome social? Try organizing it! As well, being part of an association helps you network with your professors and TAs, which will be super handy when you want to get reference letters for grad school.

So join the Facebook group for your department and/or go to a few events and maybe you’ll find your experience at U of T a lot more rewarding than you thought it would be. Remember, your education what you make of it; you might as well make it a good one.

Reading Week Woes

Is it just me or is everyone else doing one of…

1. Taking a break constantly, aka procrastinating, even though you’re supposed to be reading/writing that essay/studying for an exam.

2. Just plain tired/frustrated/angry from all the exams  you had last week or from all the assignments you’re doing that are due next week.

3. Gone on vacation but you know that you’re going to be miserable and regret ever going on vacation.

4. Back from vacation and wishing that you had a time machine to be back on vacation.

5. Lounging around at home feeling guilty for not being as productive as you should be.

6. Realizing that reading week was rather appropriately named.

7. Seeing friends/relatives because despite all your assignments, they are important to you after all.

8. Dreading the end of reading week.

9. Being a total miracle and is actually working.

10. Maybe, just maybe, having fun?

Bravo for Nixon in China!

Nixon in China is running from February 5th to February 26th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts at 145 Queen St. W. For more information on specific performance dates and tickets, click here.

The Canadian Opera Company heralded the Lunar New Year with a new production of Nixon in China, directed by James Robinson. For those who don’t know, the title refers to President Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972. (There is also a book of the same name written by past Trinity College Provost, Margaret MacMillan.) However, I will have to warn you now, that this production is far from a “faithful” account of what transpired during this world changing rendez-vous of two great nations.

This opera contrasts greatly with The Magic Flute, which is the COC production that will run alongside of it. Nixon in China is not an opera with pretty little arias and floating music, but then again, since when was Cold War politics a happy thing filled with fairies, fluffy bunnies and butterflies? Rather than a recount of Nixon’s visit to China, the opera is perhaps a very artistic representation of the very nature of history itself; we like to think that history is a coherent linear event, with a beginning and an end as well as one “correct” set of events that is considered to be the truth. But if that were true, what’s the purpose of all of these history students at U of T, writing papers arguing their point of view?

As for all of the elements of the opera – which I usually like to divide into the general and broad categories of music (including the orchestra and singing), plot (the story and libretto) and direction (mise-en-scene, acting) – I would like to say that I have never seen such a well-rounded production since Madama Butterfly from the COC’s 2009/10 season. All of the singers delivered steady, powerful performances and were convincing as their characters.

Continue reading “Bravo for Nixon in China!”

The Magic Flute – Lovely Music, Bad Plot

The Magic Flute runs from January 29th to February 25th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts at 145 Queen St. W.

The Canadian Opera Company began the new year with a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (You can read the COC’s synopsis of the story here.). By now, I’ve already had experience with Mozart’s operas, having watched the COC’s production of Idomeneo last season. I expected an evening of beautiful music, and I was not disappointed. The cast in general was quite decent, though not spectacular, although I will give a special mention to Aline Kutan, who played a very regal and vocally powerful Queen of the Night. Her arias were perhaps the highlight of the evening. Rodion Pogossov definitely deserves a special mention as well since his hilarious acting skills and playful voice were perfect for the silly character of Papageno.

The set for Act I was extremely interesting since it gave the impression of having a play within a play with some of the characters in the opera standing by as an audience, which was an absolutely fascinating concept. The sets for Act II were really well thought out because the set changes that happened during the scenes were absolutely creative. Kudos to set designer, Myung Hee Cho, who also did the costumes.

The costumes, on the other hand were interesting in that they definitely gave the audience an idea of the character’s personality, although the dominatrix, leather, Xena-goth costumes for the Queen of the Night and Ladies serving under the Queen were an eccentric choice. I found them quite a lot of fun, although I’m not so sure about the parents and teachers who were with their kids and students during the student dress rehearsal I attended. The best costumes, however, were the animal costumes. I think they were made with a paper-like material and the silhouettes and movements created by the animal heads attached to human bodies gave a wonderful effect. Prop-wise, the horse bicycles the three child spirits were very cool. I want one!

The only problem I have with the production was mostly Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder’s (the librettist) fault.  The plot of The Magic Flute is driven by misogyny with a generous dash of imperialist rhetoric. Continue reading “The Magic Flute – Lovely Music, Bad Plot”