Wednesday, October 31, 2012
THEATRE REVIEW: MISS CALEDONIA
Special to TorSun
31 OCT 2012
Pictured: Melody A. Johnson
It was early in the last century when the great Irving Berlin penned the lines "A pretty girl is like a melody…" So while that means that there is no absolutely chance whatsoever that he was inspired either by the gentle comedic skills of Melody A. Johnson or by her one-woman show, titled MISS CALEDONIA, there exists, despite the years that separate them, a whimsical sort of link between the song, the show and the performer. MISS CALEDONIA is currently running in the Tarragon's Extra Space.
MISS CALEDONIA, you see, is about a pretty girl in the very old-fashioned sense of the phrase — one Peggy Ann Douglas, to be specific — who would grow up to be the mother of the aforementioned Melody A. Johnson, although motherhood was far in the future of Ms. Douglas at the time in which this show is set. When we first meet Peggy Ann, she's a teenager — a rural child of the '50s, mired in a constant round of slopping, miking, mucking, gathering, butchering and marketing — and roundly sick of it all.
But while Peggy Ann's Scots' Presbyterian roots stretch deep into the rich soil of Southern Ontario's farmland, her dreams certainly soar far higher and she finds escape, not only in romantic books, but in those dreams as well. Problem is, for a pretty girl in the '50s, all roads lead to — well, pretty much nowhere, unless, of course, she happens to be pretty enough to be a be a beauty queen. That's what happened to Debbie Reynolds, after all, and Peggy Ann figures she just might have a chance at following in her heroine's footsteps. Even though her hide-bound father forbids it, she pursues just such a dream, aided by a loving mother and a few good friends.
But while Peggy Ann's pursuit of crown and sash forms the plot of this story, its charm is very much built from solid blocks of character development, as Johnson (who both wrote the script and stars under the direction of Rick Roberts and Aaron Willis) brings life to not just Peggy Ann and her parents, but to the community around them — bossy neighbours, shyly amorous milkmen, officious school marms and community minded auctioneers mix it up with a bevy of young beauties who represent Peggy Ann's principal competition.
The direction here is deft, if sometimes-overly-fussy and, while the show (reworked, apparently from its run in the 2010 Summerworks Festival) feels a trifle long at 75 minutes, it is nonetheless wonderfully entertaining, showcasing the trademark built-from-the-heart-out style we have grown to love in Johnson's earlier forays onto the stage. In fact, with a talent such as hers, one wonders why she has put herself in such strong competition with fiddler Alison Porter, whose sprightly musical contribution initially proves charming, but quickly becomes intrusive as an audience falls more and more under Johnson's spell.
Berlin, of course, got it right — a pretty girl is like a melody. And when the one calling the tune is this sweet and touching, nothing should be allowed to intrude on the Melody.
Friday, October 26, 2012
THEATRE REVIEW: POLITICAL MOTHER
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
26 OCT 2012
Pictured: The Hofesh Shechter Company
Israeli-born and British-based choreographer and composer Hofesh Shechter may not be the first to cotton on to the notion that there is a certain circular (and often horrifyingly familiar) pattern to be found in the political upheavals that have rocked our world for millennia — but one can say with some degree of certainty that no one has drawn our attention to it with a louder fanfare.
As part of an extensive international tour, Shechter has brought his British-based dance company to Toronto for a very limited engagement, performing as part of the current Canadian Stage season. On offer, his highly acclaimed theatrical dance thesis, titled POLITICAL MOTHER, which opened Wednesday at the Bluma Appel Theatre.
On examination, POLITICAL MOTHER proves to be an often aggressive, sometimes reflective, work that boldly (though sometimes far from seamlessly) fuses dance and theatre, rock music and classical, in a work that while thought-provoking, proves to be jarring and too often repetitive. Built around the cycles of political violence that form so much a part of out political history, evoking everything from Japan's militaristic samurai to the fascistic pageantry that led inexorably to World War II, it is for all its faults, an often-engaging piece of work. Built around a dozen committed dancers and seven live musicians, backed by the recorded contributions of seven more, PM strives to blend an unorthodox dance vocabulary with what is often a veritable wall of sound, all intended to drive home Shechter's political
premise: a premise that seems to suggest that in the face of inevitable oppression, we are repeatedly redeemed by hope, creativity and the conviction that things can be healed, that wrongs can be righted.
Its 70 minute duration is marked by moments of touching intimacy, played out against moments of sheer horror — a samurai committing ritual suicide and a dictator haranguing a rapt audience played out in contrast to repeated images of people coming together and slowly finding a common language of movement that enables them to band together before the inevitably split into factions again. It is an often visually stunning work, using highly dramatic lighting to underscore the passion of the dancers, each of whom dons the role of oppressor and the oppressed with equal ease and conviction.
And while the sheer volume involved in the collision of metal guitar stylings and militaristic percussion often threatens to overwhelm the proceedings, it nonetheless renders the more thoughtful, classical moments woven into the fabric of the dance all the sweeter in comparison.
But finally, while one has no choice but to admire the sheer audacity of Shechter's creativity and vision, one is forced to conclude that the reach of his dance thesis has exceeded his inspiration and in the end, it all seems just a trifle repetitive. Indeed, at Wednesday's opening night performance, it seemed that too many of the audience members, enthralled though they were by Shechter's inventiveness, still managed to reach a conclusion about 20 minutes before he did.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Special to TorSun
16 OCT 2012
Pictured: Ambur Braid, Peter Barrett
If there’s one thing — beyond a good waltz — that defines Vienna for most people, it is that city’s association with Sigmond Freud, father of modern-day psychoanalysis. And disparate though those two elements may be, they are brought together, for good or for ill, by director Christopher Alden, in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Johann Strauss II’s DIE FLEDERMAUS, playing in rep at the Four Seasons Centre.
As for judging the merits of what Alden has wrought, that will probably be hotly debated by the two factions comprising the modern opera audience: Those to whom the story reigns supreme and those to whom a concept is to be considered king.
Alden, of course, is a director in love with concepts staging, director of the COC production of The Flying Dutchman, simultaneously loved and loathed by Toronto audiences — and while this latest production isn’t as visually dank and dismal (both were designed by Allen Moyer), it manages nonetheless to make both debauchery and 19th century Vienna seem bleak and dull, despite the lighting genius of Paul Palazzo.
Written as a mere confection — a musically driven French farce —the unbearable lightness of DIE FLEDERMAUS proves utterly incapable of carrying the weight of Alden’s re-imagining, wherein it is transformed into a funeral march through the human psyche, full of Freudian slips, and most of those worn by men in the chorus, at that. His concept is almost totally at war not only with the libretto, crafted from the bones of a vaudevillian stage play titled Le réveillon, by Carl Haffner and Richard Genée, but with Strauss’ music as well, a series of lilting Viennese waltzes deserving of a glittering meringue of a production.
And one suspects that such a production might showcase this excellent cast in a better light as well, although these performers fearlessly tackle anything Alden throws at them. Indeed, tenors Michael Schade and David Pomeroy seem to be having a better time than a major portion of their audience, cast as rivals Alfred and von Eisenstein, the former still madly in love with the latter’s wife, Rosalinde, played by magnificent soprano Tamara Wilson, who also has the dubious distinction of being by far the worst victim of Constance Hoffman’s appalling costuming.
Starting in Rosalinde’s boudoir, featuring an over-sized bed that almost never leaves the stage — underscoring Alden’s Freudian conceit — the action progresses through lavish costume ball to a police station, before it is all revealed as mere hijinks cooked up by old friend Dr. Falke, sung by baritone Peter Barrett.
This is an impressive slate of principals, supported by fine performances from the likes of soprano Ambur Braid, tenor David Cangelosi, baritone James Westman and soprano Laura Tucker. And with Johannes Debus conducting, it all comes together sounding like a musical sacher torte worthy of Vienna’s best cafés. Sadly, Alden serves it up, for those who prefer story-driven to concept-driven work, like a slab of dry black bread.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Special to TorSun
15 OCT 2012
Pictured: Evan Buliung, Trish Lindström
TORONTO - If, in lieu of life imitating art, life were to imitate musical theatre instead, Theatre 20's natal production, which launched Toronto's newest company last week on the stage of the Panasonic Theatre, would be Broadway-bound, destined to sweep the Tonys and carry all the talented artists involved with this promising new company to richly deserved stardom. But things work the other way around, of course, and because BLOODLESS: THE TRIAL OF BURKE AND HARE — a new Canadian musical written and composed by Joseph Aragon — still has a way to go in creating a viable imitation of the seedy lives it attempts to portray, audiences and players alike are simply going to have to content themselves with a first production that lands happily somewhere between promising and highly promising.
Part of this production's problems, of course, rest ultimately in Aragon's book and score, which spins out a tale that both thematically and stylistically owes a considerable debt to one of Stephen Sondheim's more enduring works: Think Sweeney Todd, with a touch of Gilbert and Sullivan thrown in; a true-life tale of two ex-pat Irishmen on a murder spree in 19th century Edinburgh, providing fresh cadavers for medical dissection, while enriching themselves in the process. It gets insufficient help here in a production helmed by Adam Brazier — already a director of no small accomplishment, who for all his talents, just can't seem to get his extensive and highly talented cast singing out of the same songbook, at least on a figurative level.
Is this the dark and sexy thriller Evan Buliung's finely-drawn William Burke suggests? Or is it the silly black comedy that Trish Lindström's broadly overblown take on Burke's wife, Margaret, leads us to expect? Is everyone as two-dimensionally villainous as David Keeley's portentous turn suggests, cast as the supposedly respectable Dr. Knox — a man whose willingness to turn a blind eye to the murderous ways of our two protagonists comes as a surprise to no one? Or, finally, is everyone as innocent and winsomely tragical as Carly Street's well-scrubbed, well-fed and bodacious bawd, Janet Brown?
Is life as bleak and dour as Jan Alexandra Smith's touching portrayal of Helen McDougal, partner to William Hare, sees it, or as inconsequential as Eddie Glen's David Hare leads us to believe, at least on the rare occasions when he emerges from the shadows of superior performances by Buliung and Smith? Finally, is it the horror story its ending suggests, or does it follow through on its title in the fashion of Dr. Knox's single dissection, wherein viscera emerges from the body like jars of pickles and preserves? Or is it simply as it finally appears, merely a morality play that strives to amuse without ever offending, sidestepping the humanity of the tale at nearly every turn?
It is almost as though Brazier has forgotten that good theatre is not merely art imitating life, but rather art imitating life (and death) through a prism of order and vision imposed by a strong director. BLOODLESS, for all the charm Brazier has unearthed, still needs another blood transfusion — of the blood, sweat and tears variety.
MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW:
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
Special to TorSun
15 OCT 2012
Pictured: George Hamilton, Christopher Sieber
TORONTO - It’s been almost four decades since we fell in love with a charming little piece of French cinema, based on a then little-known stageplay titled LA CAGE AUX FOLLES — and a lot has changed since then. Most of us look differently, for instance, on the whole notion of same sex families, which serves to render La Cage’s portrayal of two men — one a drag queen, the other a bit of a gay Lothario — raising a son above the transvestite club they operate in the south of France at least a trifle less exotic. A revolutionary idea in the wake of the sexual revolution of the ’60s, today it would raise eyebrows only in the most right wing of circles.
In fact, even the whole idea of drag has changed significantly, as transvestites in the know move away from the gender-based tromp l’oeil popular then in favour of a broader androgyny that celebrates elements of both sexes in an often mind- (and certainly gender-) bending explosion of feather boas and broad biceps. So it’s hardly surprising that the latest version of the musical adapted from that movie reflects those new realities in a pared-down touring version which took to the stage of the Royal Alexandra Friday as the latest entry in the Mirvish subscription series.
For openers, British director Terry Johnson pulls out all the stops in his portrayal of the seedy French nightclub in which the show is set, challenging his chorus, as well as many of his principals, to go completely over the top in their performances. It often feels like it is not life they are sending up as much as the music of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation of Jean Poiret’s stageplay.
In fact, things are so over the top in the first act, as George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber’s characters set the stage in both the club they own and the home they share above it, that it all threatens to get a trifle tedious, their antics incapable of masking neither the annoying performance by Jeigh Madjus as their sexually ambiguous butler nor an utterly white-bread turn from Michael Lowney as Jean-Michel, the priggish son they have raised, only to lose him to the daughter of a politician of the rabid right.
As the drag queen, Albin, Sieber goes broad on the Ethel Merman front, while Hamilton gives an oddly endearing but detached performance as Georges that, over the course of three hours, not only wins over his audience but almost convinces them he can sing.
In the second act, the production falls victim to the modern-day penchant for portraying villains as mere fools, rendering Dindon, the right-wing-politician played by Bernard Burak Sheredy, a bit of a straw dog in the process. But happily, the production still manages to drive home the same strong message that the play and the movie delivered almost 40 years ago and it does so with a lot of heart. And while the notion that it is finally love that defines a family might have been groundbreaking back then, it is certainly no less moving in today’s world.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
THIS MUST BE THE PLACE:
THE CN TOWER SHOW
Special to TorSun
With all the media coverage of Toronto's myriad problems — be it gun violence, transportation woes, construction dilemmas or a dysfunctional council — one might assume that a quick look at our city through rose-coloured glasses might be a welcome change. And to some degree, one would be right. For proof, look no further than THIS MUST BE THE PLACE: THE CN TOWER SHOW, currently playing on the stage of Theatre Passe Muraille, the latest entry in a series of fresh-faced Toronto-centric shows that comprise the theatre's current season and anchor it firmly in its community.
Collectively created by the Architect Theatre Collective in the great tradition on which TPM was built, this is a show that attempts to capture modern-day Toronto in microcosm, building on a series of one-on-one interviews conducted and then dramatized by the four-person cast, aided by director Jonathan Seinen, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Layne Coleman. And while it can boast dramatized interviews with former mayors David Miller and David Crombie, as well as the late Jane Jacobs, it also offers perspectives gleaned from a host of everyday Torontonians living their everyday Toronto lives.
Subway riders, panhandlers, community workers, disaffected youth and ambitious city councillors mingle with fresh-faced newcomers and jaded members of the established middle class — they are all embraced in a show that gently mocks our city even while it underscores a deep affection for the place. All of which means that there's not a lot of hard-hitting stuff here, hardly surprising, on reflection, in a world where people don't much like portraits that show them in anything less than flattering light.
But under the rather loose direction of Seinen, it still merits more than a quick look-see, for while THE CN TOWER SHOW may not offer any terribly earth shattering new perspectives on this city we call home (unless, of course, you didn't know the tower of title was to have been the centre-piece for a massive urban renewal renewal that would have claimed Union Station), it does give us a close up look a four very appealing young performers.
Led by a hugely talented Greg Gale, who inhabits even the most ludicrous comic characters with great heart, Georgina Beaty, Ingrid Hansen and Thomas Anthony Olajide individually and collectively demonstrate a genuine gift for stage-craft. But too often, this appealing quartet are charged with tedious exercises intended to involve an audience in their shenanigans, when composing songs and eliciting confessions of bad behaviour from said audience really only serves, at best, to blur their efforts to put modern-day Toronto under the microscope and, at worst, distracts us from the quest altogether.
So, if you're looking for deep insight into what makes Toronto tick, this might be a show to miss. But if you're simply looking for a pleasant evening of theatre, then, by all means, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE.
I ON THE SKY
Special to TorSun
12 OCT 2012
Pictured: The Ensemble
At first blush, DynamO Théâtre's production of I ON THE SKY, currently playing at Young People's Theatre, might seem a strange, even over-demanding, choice for an organization justly celebrated for its ability to bring theatre artists and young audiences together to the enduring maximum benefit of both. But not so fast.
Created for the Montreal-based company and directed by Yves Simard, the hour-long work may be all but devoid of spoken text, but it nonetheless fluently and fluidly blends music, movement and, of course, some high quality acting to tell a complex story of a young woman who finds herself alone and unanchored on a park bench in some un-named park, a refugee full of hope but haunted by her memories.
But as told by the the artists of DynamO Théâtre, her story really needs no words. Tormented and bullied by a group of teenage thugs, the waif-like heroine nonetheless finds refuge not only in the occasional kindness of the strangers who mill around her but in her own memories of familial and romantic love — memories that appear to grow from the very music they evoke. That music (composed by J.S. Bach and Christian Légaré) and an ever-shifting sky-scape that serves constantly to enhance the ever-shifting mood (part of an ingenious set created by Simard and Pierre-Étienne Locas) are the only additional clues the five-member cast use to enhance a story they tackle with an almost ferocious intensity and physicality.
And while the absence of dialogue might initially prove distancing for some members of their young audience , the athleticism and commitment in performances crafted by Laurianne Brabant, Andréanne Joubert, Marie-Ève Lafontaine, Frédéric Nadeau and Hugues Sarra-Bournet soon serve to draw that young audience into the heart and soul of these characters and the story they tell. In the finest sense, this is a theatrical colouring book that challenges its young audience to fill in the emotional colours of the story that is being outlined on stage.
And such a story. Using a rich mix of dance, acrobatics and mime, these artists populate the their un-named park with a rich pastiche of humanity, blending the rambunctiousness of youth and the self-involvement of the middle class into a tasty stew that requires no heavy handed preachiness as spice. Instead, there is wit aplenty, all offered up in a style that trusts its audience to figure out right from wrong, the humane from the inhumane.
Only in the portrayal of an old lady do they stoop to clichéd caricature, making infirmity an object of gentle derision and thus marring an otherwise strong piece of theatrical art. But such an oversight can almost be forgiven in a work that boldly challenges a young audience to blend their own imaginations with those of the performers to enrich their theatrical experience, instead of simply sitting back and becoming passive young theatrical consumers.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
TEAR THE CURTAIN!
Special to TorSun
10 OCT 2012
Pictured: Laura Mennell
TORONTO - They exist, side by side and, most often, unobtrusively, in all quality stagework — the often antithetical notions that theatre is mere entertainment and that it is, in fact, something far deeper. But in TEAR THE CURTAIN!, a stylish new work from Vancouver’s Electric Company (of Studies In Motion fame), produced in association with the Arts Club Theatre Company and presented by Canadian Stage, those duelling elements are front and centre, fighting for control of the stage in a noir-ish nightmare that also pits live performance against film, blending them in such a rich pastiche that it is often hard to remember which is which, or even that they are two separate components in the theatrical experience. TEAR THE CURTAIN! opened a limited run Tuesday at the Bluma Appel Theatre.
Written by Kevin Kerr and Jonathon Young — who also juggles co-directing duties with creator Kim Collier, while starring in the role of troubled theatre critic Alex Braithwaite — it is set in a fictitious Vancouver of the 1930s, a city where two separate gun-toting gangs battle for control of the city’s theatres. One favours the world of the status quo, where live performance is king, while the other favours new-fangled motion pictures, like the soon-to-be-released talky, The Swan, starring Lillian Gish.
In the midst of this gang warfare, Young’s perfectly drawn Braithwaite is seduced by the sultry charms of Mila Brook (a Harlow-esque Laura Mennell) and becomes the tool of the anachronistically named Empty Space gang and their even darker secret vision for capturing the imagination of a nation. As Braithwaite’s life spins out of control and he struggles to sort dreams from reality, he discovers that only the love of a good woman — in this case, that would be Mavis, the long-suffering newsroom secretary played by Dawn Petten — can redeem him.
In Collier’s hands, the action switches almost seamlessly from film to live performance and back again as Young and Kerr’s convoluted plot unfolds/unravels over the course of close to three hours — an often riveting hybrid that blends elements of homage and send-up in much the same way as it blends live action and film. But, while Collier’s creativity proves impressive, it is finally insufficient to a storyline that keeps wandering off in search of even more ways to demonstrate the cleverness of its creators. As things becomes more and more cuckoo and less and less Cocteau, TEAR THE CURTAIN!’s audience becomes ever more caught up in the ‘how’ of it all, instead of the ‘why.’
Its message — that theatre remains a highly personal, versatile and immediate art form — seems to get lost in the creative glitz. Despite the high level of its artistry, it loses all sense of urgency and with it, any sense that there is a meaningful battle going on here.
Friday, October 5, 2012
MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW:
Special to TorSun
5 OCT 2012
Pictured: Hollis Resnik, Ta'Rea Campbell
Consider it a bit of divine intervention that, when Deloris Van Cartier, the brassy, ambitious heroine of SISTER ACT: A DIVINE MUSICAL COMEDY, witnesses a gangland execution, she finds herself hiding out in a Philadelphia convent. Because if there is one thing Deloris — and indeed the entire musical in which she is featured — is in need of, it’s a good book. And a convent is bound to have at least one of those.
But sadly, it’s not the kind of book on which winning musicals are based - the kind that use such things as plot and character development to take us where they want us to go instead of simply telling us where we should be. And that leaves Ta’Rea Campbell — cast as the hapless Deloris in the touring production of SISTER ACT launched Thursday at Ed Mirvish Theatre — and her castmates with only a score and a lot of God-given talent with which to redeem themselves.
Happily, that score is composed by Alan Menken, who, in complicity with lyricist Glenn Slater, manages to provide a songbook full of ’70s inspired disco soul that does much to mitigate the many shortcomings in a book inelegantly hewn from Joseph Howard’s hit movie by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane. Deprived of the familiar hit tunes that propelled the movie, Menken and Slater have at least come up with an original score that has the virtue of sounding oddly familiar. On the talent front, however, veteran director Jerry Zaks hasn’t fared nearly so well, recruiting a cast that individually seems up to its tasks, but collectively, earns a failing grade on the interacting front.
Cast as the stiff-necked Mother Superior, Hollis Resnik brings a lot of heart to her character, which only serves to underline the fact that while Campbell may have the vocal range necessary for her role, she is a brassy one-note wonder on the acting front. As bad guy Curtis, Kingsley Leggs can’t scare up enough villainy, even backed by a gangland version of the Three Stooges, to make happy salvation anything less than utterly inevitable. And as for love interest sweaty Eddie, E. Clayton Cornelious has some nice moments in I Could Be That Guy, but is left hanging in his ‘romantic’ interludes with a self-involved Campbell.
On a choreographic front, Anthony Van Laast at least keeps things hopping, whether it serves the story or not, and while Klara Zieglerova’s sets are often eye-catching in their use of theatrical trompe l’oeil, the costumes, designed by Lez Brotherston, prove conclusively that, at least on Broadway, sequins are a tough habit to shake.
Where truly memorable musical theatre succeeds by gently wooing its audience into a willing surrender of disbelief, SISTER ACT: A DIVINE MUSICAL COMEDY shows up with little more than brash enthusiasm and demands we simply take it all on faith.
Monday, October 1, 2012
Special to TorSun
30 SEPT 2012
Pictured: Elza van den Heever, and Chorus
Giuseppe Verdi's musically magnificent IL TROVATORE is, by modern lights, an opera almost at war with itself, weighed down by the now-clichéd melodrama of Salvatore Cammarano's libretto (adapted from a play by Antonio Garcia Gutierrez), even while it is carried aloft by some of Verdi's most passionate and enduring compositions. But when the Canadian Opera Company enters the fray between a leaden libretto and a soaring score, their audience almost always emerges victorious.
For the second time in less than a decade, the COC is showcasing a production of Verdi's tragic opera that ranks as a must-see for opera-philes. This time out, it is a production from Opéra de Marseille, under the direction of Charles Roubaud, and it opened at the Four Seasons Saturday, with conductor Marco Guidarini marshalling the impressive skills of the COC Orchestra to maximum effect. In staging IL TROVATORE, Roubaud deals with the challenges of the tale -- a story of two brothers, separated at infancy, who grow up on opposite sides of the political spectrum, only to fall in love with the same woman -- with appealing wisdom and dispatch.
Recognizing that almost all the most interesting and certainly active elements of the story take place off stage, he conspires with his design team -- Jean-Noël Lavesvre, sets, Katia Duflot, costumes and Marc Delamézière, lighting -- to create a monumental setting for the work and then sets his hugely talented cast down smack in the middle of it, challenging them to illuminate Verdi's score with simple, exquisite passion and utmost vocal artistry. This may indeed be museum opera, but in Roubaud's vision, it is, by every light, a most impressive museum.
And the COC has assembled just the right cast, it seems, to fill that museum with masterpieces, with baritone Russell Braun and tenor Ramón Vargas cast as the Conte di Luna and the troubadour Manrico respectively -- antagonists in a romantic and political struggle that can only end in unwitting fratricide. Soprano Elza van den Heever, meanwhile makes a worthy object of both their affections, giving lustrous depth to the steadfast and constant Leonora. Meanwhile, mezzo-soprano Elena Manistina rounds things out with heart-breaking skill as the gypsy Azucena, driven to vengeance and then madness by an act of horror that spawned the brothers' separation.
In the hands of this cast, Verdi's masterpiece emerges as so much more than the classical earworm that is the Anvil Chorus, although even that is delivered here with a fresh sheen, thanks to the talents of the COC Chorus. Backed by a supporting cast that includes assured performances from the likes of bass Dmitry Belosselskiy, tenor Edgar Ramírez, bass-baritone Robert Gleadow and soprano Rihab Chaieb, each of the four principals mines the emotional jewels with which Verdi adorned his score and polishes them until they blaze with pain and passion. And in the process, of course, they ensure that this production of IL TROVATORE will be remembered as yet another jewel in the ever-more impressive crown of the COC.