TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
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A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, 2018; Photo credit: Michael Cooper

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON May 4th 2018

The show is a demonstration of Stravinsky’s impact on the Parisian music scene for the decade that began with his collaboration with Diaghilev. Paris had been enraptured by the exoticism of far-off cultures, and it was Diaghilev along with Stravinsky who fed into the excitement by bringing Russian folk-lore, ballet, and a new musical language. Conductor Johannes Debus led the orchestra with precision bringing out the colourful effects Stravinsky wrote into the score. The chorus, led by Sandra Horst was superb.  Stephan Bonfield, in his pre-opera lecture, described the cultural life of Paris of the time and the impact of Stravinsky and Diaghilev on the city and beyond. 

(l-r) Miles Mykkanen as Tenor 1 and Owen McCausland as Tenor 2 in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, 2018
​Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

(l-r) Michael Uloth as the Bonze, Anatoli Sivko as the Chamberlain, Lauren Eberwein as the Cook and Jane Archibald as the Nightingale in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, 2018
​Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Jane Archibald as the Nightingale and Oleg Tsibulko as the Emperor in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, 2018
​Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

The Nightingale, described as a Conte lyrique in three acts, is an adaptation of a children’s story by Hans Christian Anderson. Here is where the tubby toys come into play. The orchestra pit was filled with water, allowing for boats, dragons, a giant frog, an ox and processions of Chinese and Japanese royalty to make their way. Only the nightingale, coloratura soprano and this year’s Artist in Residence Jane Archibald, stayed dry. Her voice was the magical force of the evening as she sang as only a nightingale can. Tenor Owen McCausland, a COC favourite in recent years, was stunning in his role as a fisherman. Others in the superb cast included soprano Lauren Eberwein as the Cook, mezzo soprano Lindsay Ammannas Death, baritone Oleg Tsibulko as the Emperor, Anatoli Sivko as The Chamberlain and Michael Uloth as The Bonze. Each of these characters had to control the puppets they held and moved while singing. The chorus added amazing colour and pageantry as the court of the Emperor with their gold emblazoned costumes and puppets. 

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, 2018; Photo credit: Michael Cooper

COC’s Stravinsky: A visual and musical extravaganza of child-like imaginative proportions!

Do you remember the childish laughter that would erupt in elementary school when the class show-off would put his hands in the way of a film or overhead projector to create a shadow-image of a dog barking or a wolf devouring a human hand? Perhaps you were a child who loved to put on puppet shows. Do you remember spending time in your bathtub playing with your ‘tubby’ toys? The Canadian Opera Company’sThe Nightingale and Other Short Fables took me back to childhood memories in a lavishly creative production at the Four Seasons Centre.

The first half of the show is a series of Russian fables told in song, shadow-puppetry and pantomime. It began with Stravinsky’s Ragtime, an instrumental work for just eleven instruments including a cimbalum. The lively and colourful sounds of the instrument combinations and the syncopations proved a suitable overture to the fanciful stories yet to come. Clarinetist Juan Olivares, dressed in Russian peasant clothing, performed Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet, interspersing them between the fables. Pribaoutki, sung by Allyson McHardy (last seen in Louis Riel) was riveting in telling the nonsense Russian nursery rhymes. The fables continued with Lindsay Ammann, Danika Lorèn, and the COC Women’s Chorus each singing while puppeteers standing on a side platform, projected shadows of cats, kittens. pidgeons, babies and chickens. The first half ended with a quartet of men dressed as Russian peasants (Miles Mykkanen, Owen McCausland, Bruno Roy and Oleg Tsibulko). They told the story of a fox trying to kill a rooster and being thwarted by a cat and a goat. The story was animated by the shadows of a group of dancers behind a scrim. Altogether, the first half was a story of peasant life in Russia with animals replacing their human counterparts in the various fables.

Robert Lepage, the Canadian visionary stage director (Lion King, Cirque du Soleil and The Met’s Ring Cycle) put the show together in 2009 as a co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and Opéra de Lyon (in collaboration with Lepage’s production company Ex Machina). To say the show has been a success is an understatement. The set design (Carl Fillion), puppets (Michael Curry), costumes (Mara Gottier) and lighting (Étienne Boucher) are all spectacular. The COC took the show on tour to New York in 2011 to rave reviews in the New York Times. It has had successful runs in France and the Netherlands. You can even find it on YouTube (albeit with German sub-titles). Even the current run has been extended to ten performances, remarkable for a show that is beyond the usual scope of Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti.

If there is any of the child left in you, there are five performances remaining on May 10, 12, 13, 15 and 19. You may never see another opera with the youthful magic of this one.