TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
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To mount this monumental work in the first few months of the academic year to such a high standard of creativity and skill is a tribute to the production team, singers and musicians. To have mounted this work with two alternating casts and two conductors is even more impressive. University of Toronto Opera’s Spring Main Stage production will be George Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing at the MacMillan Theatre March 15-18, 2018.

Review by David Richards

​Toronto ON November 27th 2017

Joel Allison (Leporello);  Photo credit: Richard Lu

UofT Opera hits the mark with a timely and appropriately dark Don Giovanni​

Opening Scene from Mozart’s Don Giovanni;  Photo credit: Richard Lu

Alex Halliday (Masetto), Sarah Amelard (Zerlina) and chorus;  Photo credit: Richard Lu

Alex Halliday (Masetto), Sarah Amelard (Zerlina) and chorus;  Photo credit: Richard Lu

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the final performance of University of Toronto Opera’s  Don Giovanni at the MacMillan Theatre. Instead of an eighteenth century setting, I found myself looking at white paper drapes with nondescript grey markings and a number of boxes scattered around the stage. In a minimalist way, the production took on a 1940's ‘Cassablanca’ aura of black and white film. As such, it went beneath the surface comedy about an out-of control sexual miscreant and into a probing look at the effect of sexual abuse in society. That this could be accomplished with a Mozart opera was fascinating. That it could be done within a University’s budget and with student performers was even more so.


Stage Director Marilyn Gronsdal, Choreographer/Assistant Director Anna Theodosakis​, Set Designer Melanie McNeill, Lighting Designer Siobhán Sleath and Costume Designer Lisa Magill combined to make effective use of the 1940's locale. The paper curtains came to represent the torn lives of the victims. Female supernumeraries represented at times the Don’s conquests, at other times observers and still later, statues in the grave yard scene. The Humphrey Bogart look on the part of the Don gave him the aura of the sexually all-powerful male.

It was up to the singers and orchestra to give life to the drama. Mozart’s operas demand vocal and instrumental flexibility and musical phrasing in some very challenging music. This group of performers was more than up to the task. The opera was staged with two casts and two conductors. Samuel Tam conducted with clarity and expressiveness. One could tell that both orchestra and singers responded enthusiastically to his leadership. The orchestra was remarkably in control of the score and provided a well-balanced accompaniment adding to the drama without overpowering the voices on stage. The chorus members were well prepared by the opera school’s Co-Director, Sandra Horst. They projected wonderful confidence in their singing.

The solo roles were each delivered by aspiring professional singers whose careers will only be enhanced by being part of a production as well put together as this one. Daniel Thielmann as Don Giovanni, Joel Allison as Leporello, Leanne Kaufman as Donna Anna, Rebecca Gray as Donna Elvira, Sarah Amelard as Zerlina, Alex Halliday as Masetto  Joshua Clemenger as Don Ottavio and Brenden Friesen as Il Commendatore all sang with authority and became their characters.

A few special moments for me included Leporello in his ‘Catalalogue Aria’, Donna Anna in the graveyard scene and the ensemble singing with Zerlina, Masetto and Leporello when Leporello identifies himself. Kaufman and Allison were especially brilliant throughout the opera.