Opera! In Vancouver!

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You may recall my whining about Vancouver Opera’s lousy customer service over the years (and my very subtle gloating about their downsizing into a mere “festival”).

There wasn’t even time for me or other non-fans to feel their absence, because a new company immediately came on the scene: Heroic Opera, whose vision is to “produce only operas of Wagner, Strauss, and Verdi“, put on a production of Wagner’s Die Walkure in June.

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Tasty German pretzel and cherry strudel–proceeds go to the church’s sponsored refugees

[If you’re interested but fuzzy on the details, this is the part of the Ring cycle that deals with Siegmund and twincest, not Siegfried being a hero.]

Like the opera B-cat and I saw last November, this took place in a church. The surtitles were projected (crookedly and with typos) onto a board behind rather than above the artists, who sometimes blocked the view. The wardrobe was contemporary. A couple of the Valkyries were a little wooden…

Nothing really mattered except the voices. The voices were strong and beautiful. Sarah Templeton as Sieglinde was particularly expressive, though her interaction with David Gibbons‘s Siegmund made both of them seem more vulnerable and lovable.

The opera was so good it didn’t feel five hours (including intermission) long.

Heroic Opera’s next project, which won’t be ’til their next season, is a joint one with Opera Mariposa: Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera in November. Keep an eye on tickets/dates here.

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Above: Ryan Caron, nihonbuyo dancer. Below: B-cat

Oh, and two weeks ago, B-cat took me to Nikkei Centre‘s fundraiser tea & silent auction in return for my taking him to the opera. Proceeds went towards the Japanese-Canadian museum’s exhibitions and programs.

We had a (mini) traditional tea ceremony with Maiko, who taught all the tea ceremony classes we’ve taken, tasted other teas and canapes, and watched two snippets of buyo dance. I enjoyed the dance most of all, though I’m a completely uninformed spectator beyond ballet.

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Proof of admission is a lovely green floral ribbon tied around the wrist!

Other than the opera and tea, I’ve missed all the events going on recently, thanks to graveyard shifts and daytime courses.

Don’t be like me; go out and support the arts! If you’re in Vancouver, you can even start tonight with UBC Opera‘s production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Let’s make this a summer of German opera.

 

And When is This Free Thursday

Last Thursday I saw Vancouver Opera‘s free production of Stickboy tailored to high school students but performed for adults (under 35) at a wine reception. Jillian Christmas opened with a spoken word performance featuring two poems I’d heard at Vancouver Writers Fest.

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Wine and cheese: the lavender-streaked cheese that tasted of berries was best. (What was it?)

But first, I have updates on the hellish adventure that is VO customer service. As you may recall, the story began when a rep we shall call Doreen tried to get me to resubscribe to VO by being a bit of a thug. I complained at the next opera; someone told me to email; my email was ignored. In the next chapter, someone at VO saw that blog post and told me to contact them again; my email was ignored again.

Chapter 3: Someone at VO called to solicit donations. I summed up the above as refusal. She transferred me to her manager, who declared she’d look into this and get back to me for closure. Still no word a month later.

If there was any doubt about my tone here or on the phone, let me clarify that I find all this unprofessional and infuriating. I’m glad there’s nothing left in the season but a musical and the Orientalistastic Madama Butterfly, because screw VO.

 

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The stage

As for Stickboy, the music often weakens where it should affirm the words, and at times the piece is less opera than musical. The version we saw has a particularly small cast, which inspires clever stage setup and character changes, but again does not help the sound. The writer (Shane Koyczan) manages to portray the bullying experience among boys in a realistic and moving way, however. The most effective scenes are those that speak more universally of love, e.g. when the Boy and his grandmother pass each other notes under the door, and when the Boy graduates.

So, screw VO, but read about the good things they’re doing with Stickboy in schools.

Full Circle (and Vancouver Opera) Disappoint with Words

Two weeks ago, Vancouver Opera came across this post (Summary: I complained about a VO rep we shall call Maureen being rude. VO told me to email them and then ignored my email) and told me to contact them. While I didn’t see the point of complaining again, I thanked them for reaching out and figured they’d finally apologize or give me boilerplate copypasta about their customer service just for the record.

Well, they ignored my email again. Fool me twice…?

For the Pleasure
Quick selfie with the poster

This previous week, I saw Full Circle: First Nations Performance‘s production of For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again at Gateway Theatre. I and all other volunteers at Vancouver Writers Fest got two free tickets, but the room wasn’t full.

[Only the vaguest of spoilers]

The narrator relives various conversations with his mother — as the middle-aged actor morphs, through speech and mannerisms alone, from a prepubescent boy to a college student — before giving her life a (surprise) ending.

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I know, I know, the play is a tribute to a dead mother, and who can criticize someone’s mother?! But as a character on stage, “Nana” (Margo Kane) comes across as such an unintelligent, unfunny (unless physical comedy is your thing) stereotype of a housewife that I was really surprised by the narrator’s (Kevin Loring) spiel about her wit and brilliance. Just because someone gave birth to you, it doesn’t mean you’re capable of breathing life into your idea of her.

As with the opening monologue, every rant, every joke, every idea is stretched too long. The 90 minutes feel like days worth of tedium and cliches. While B-cat finds the 10- to 12-year-old narrator’s vocabulary unlikely, Loring is convincing in his role(s)… except when he’s completely unfazed by his mother’s melodramatic cries about being “pregnant with [her] death”. B-cat and I both notice Kane’s numerous mistakes in speech that are not part of the writing, and I doubt Nana’s slang is period-accurate. Mentions of drawers (as in underpants) and wringers garner dry chuckles from the senior members of the audience, but it’s little more than “oh, I get that reference” a la Family Guy.

Stage set-up
Stage set-up

The ending is B-cat’s least favourite, but, to me, the only worthwhile part. Visually, it’s stunning; if anything, it looks as if the whole budget went into it, because the rest takes place on a too-small platform beneath too-tall walls and harsh, uneven lighting. I love its absurdity and its message about writers and their power or need to rewrite lives or truths, the latter of which writer Michel Tremblay handles more effectively than, say, Ian McEwan in Atonement. (McEwan is better at basic research, though — Tremblay obviously knows nothing about ballet lessons.)

Too bad the rest of For the Pleasure is mostly noise.

[Insert obligatory joke about the discomfort of seeing this play] It runs until Oct. 24, 2015.

At Least the Audience isn’t Fickle: Rigoletto with Vancouver Opera

Having told a polite rep at Vancouver Opera who is definitely not the hound from hell we shall call Lauraine that I’d see at least Rigoletto this season, I went. But I made sure to get cheap seats.

Photo op at the end of Rigoletto
Photo op at the end of Rigoletto

I was reading about Manon beforehand and of course confused Rigoletto with the five-act opera. (Hopefully, the nice people beside us didn’t hear me misleading B-cat…) It didn’t help that there was a looong pause in Act I, between the Duke’s party and Rigoletto’s (Gordon Hawkin) meeting with Sparafucile, for the set change.

The set does look more traditional and cumbersome than usual — it makes the stage look cramped but more interesting than a half-hearted modernisation, so I’m not complaining. Except about the tacky projection of red streaks on the walls as Rigoletto vows revenge.

Bruce Sledge as the Duke offers up the most beautiful sounds of the evening. Yes, “La donna e mobile” is first amusing and then devastating, but Sledge’s duet with Simone Osborne‘s Gilda, his brief lament at the opening of Act II, and his exchange with the couriers are wonderful, too.

Hi, nosebleeds!
Hi, nosebleeds!

No one shines in much of the first act, though Sledge warms up and Cameron McPhail’s Monterone is quite good when the orchestra isn’t playing over him. Osborne’s gesticulating doesn’t make her convincing as a cloistered young girl fearful of yet happy about first love, but she makes up for it in the painful scene before the stabbing. Oh, and she sings beautifully.

Similarly, Hawkins’s taunting has no bite and his “struggle” with the courtiers is the most awkward choreography ever. B-cat didn’t feel emotionally vested in the character the whole evening. Still, Hawkins’s shuffle in jester attire and shaky, half-controlled movements betraying worry for his daughter are a heartbreaking sight.

Rigoletto at Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Rigoletto at Queen Elizabeth Theatre

With the exception of Carolyn Sproule’s disturbing Maddalena, who looks more attracted to her brother than to the Duke — no sister would slide her hand up a brother’s inner thigh that way, ma’am — VO’s Rigoletto is a good piece of tragedy.

You’ve missed this one, but Vancouver Opera’s Dark Sisters begins Nov. 26, 2015.

Die Bart Die: Die Fledermaus at Vancouver Opera (and a Bonus Play)

This is late as I’ve been preparing for a trip to Germany (Staatsballett Berlin, yo), but in March I saw Vancouver Opera‘s production of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus.

I’ve loved opera since I first took opera studies in the SFU English department, and the first opera I ever saw in person was Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with VO, 10 years back. (Turned out not to be quite my thing, being a comedy.) I even subscribed to their 2013/2014 season.

But since one of VO’s reps — let’s call her Francine — hassled me last summer, I’ve borne a bit of a grudge.

Over the course of a few weeks, Francine called half a dozen times demanding to know if I would resubscribe. I hadn’t yet looked at their 2014/2015 lineup, but she offered no information (unlike the other rep who phoned, just once). When this crotchety CS genius caught me at work/sleep, she’d keep talking, and sounded disbelieving and offended when I offered to call VO back when ready.
Each time I picked up, Francine increased in volume and aggression, until finally I received a call that was literally, “Are you gonna subscribe or not?”

When I complained to VO during the intermission of one of the operas, they gave me an address to email. And then never responded. Thus completing the circle of excellent customer service.
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San Francisco Opera being an 18-hour drive away, VO is unfortunately the only good live opera around, so for Christmas I got B-cat tickets to Die Fledermaus.

This year they encouraged pictures to be taken (and shared online) at the final bow

It was good. We both prefer tragedy over comedy, but it was good.

[This opera is ollld. Do you really need a spoiler alert?]

Die Fledermaus, which I’ll forever remember as the opera Rachel missed in that episode of Friends (the one in which Ross meets Emily) is a comic opera about a man, Gabriel von Einstein, skipping his week-long prison sentence to go to a ball, at which he encounters his wife Rosalinde and maid Adele in disguise. The ball is held by the Prince so that Falke could publicly make a fool out of the latter’s pal von Einstein, as revenge for another prank involving a bat (the titular fledermaus) costume.

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With several of VO’s operas the previous year, and with all student operas I’ve seen, weak (?) voices seem to be a problem. i.e. Some of the singers are unable to project, and are drowned out by the orchestra. Is this a thing?

Aside from first faltering minutes of Joyce El-Khoury’s Rosalinde, who soon warmed up beautifully (and the Prince, who is too minor a character), there are no voice issues in this performance. Not quite as smooth is the insertion of jokey references to Vancouver places and people — VO touts this as being set in “Viennacouver” — but the jokes aren’t bad, and Frosch, the drunken jailer who delivers most of them, is a hit with the audience.

B-cat and I especially liked David Pomeroy‘s Alfred, Rosalinde’s enthusiastic foreign lover, with his wonderful voice and energy.

Vancouver Opera’s next and last production of the season is Sweeney Todd, with performances on April 25, 26, and 30, and May 1 to 3.

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Plus:

Two weeks after the opera, I took B-cat to Arts Club Theatre Company‘s production of The Foreigner at Shadbolt.

Written by American playwright Larry Shue, The Foreigner is a farce about Charlie, a shy, cuckolded Brit reluctantly vacationing at a country resort in the US where the other guests mistake him to be something very rare: a real foreigner! They discuss private matters in front of him, try to teach him English, etc. Add a pair of no-goodniks with Klan ties who try to cheat the lodge owner out of her property, and hijinks ensue.

B-cat and I have been lucky in that each play we’ve seen this year has been better than the previous, and The Foreigner is the best yet. Except when Charlie’s bowing and hai-ing get way too Mr. Yunioshi for comfort, and except when the portrayals of the Klan and bigotry truly terrify — ironically, considering my only complaint (unless the awful Japanese stereotyping was intentional…) — we laughed and laughed and cried and laughed. As did everyone else.

tempArts Club‘s next next production is Farewell, My Lovely on Granville Island. It’s a private eye tale based on a Raymond Chandler novel I haven’t read. I won’t be able to see it, but you should if you have the chance.