Sorry for the long silence. The past ten days have been so busy from early in the morning until late at night that I just didn't succeed in writing anything for the blog in my spare time.
First and foremost, we have finished preparing our production of Britten's Death in Venice. The dress rehearsal was on Wednesday and we open tomorrow evening. Alan Oke must be the best Aschenbach around and Steuart Bedford, who also conducted the piece's world premiere in 1973, contributes his wonderful musicianship and the seal of authenticity.
Yoshi Oida's production is stunningly, magically beautiful and just looks as if it had been designed for our Four Seasons Centre. Yoshi and I met a few years ago when I was working for the Ruhrtriennale-Festival in Germany preparing the world premiere of a new play staged by Peter Brook. Yoshi has been (and still is) a member of Brook's theatre company in Paris for many years, but he also is a very accomplished director in his own right. At 77, he is as active as ever and above all a wonderful and profound human being. It has been a true pleasure to have him at the COC.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have posted comments about our production of Aida here. An open discussion with our public about why we do things the way we do them can only help us to deepen our understanding of the expectations, challenges and satisfactions of performing opera here and today.
Yesterday evening, I had the great pleasure to present a Ruby Award to Roger Moore, one of opera's greatest supporters in Toronto. In his acceptance speech Roger spoke about the necessity and challenges of a putting on new Canadian work for a big company like the COC and wondered how audiences would react to these news works when already an unconventional production of Aida alone causes so much controversy. I hope we will find out together.
Today, I am off to New York for a day of meetings and to see the Met's new production of Boris Godunov.
Posted by Alexander Neef / in Season / comments (2) / permalink
As you all know we opened our 2010/11 season with a new production of Aida on Saturday. Putting on a piece like Aida is a major undertaking and I am proud that we succeeded in assembling a world-class cast, led by the astonishing Sondra Radvanovsky in her role and COC debut, under the direction of our Music Director Johannes Debus. During the rehearsal break of Death in Venice yesterday evening one of the long-time members of our orchestra told me that never in all his years with the COC he heard an audience erupt like they erupted after Aida's first aria Ritorna vincitor. It was wonderful to experience on Saturday that the performance was such an unqualified musical triumph.
On the other hand, Tim Albery's production has caused quite a bit of controversy. When Tim and I started talking about Aida two years ago we decided that a lot of traditional productions of the piece had gotten in the way of telling the story through over-sized sets and spectacle, especially in the triumphal scene. It was a very deliberate decision that we would want to tell the tragic story of people in times of war, Aida and Radames trapped in their national identities and in love with the enemy with no possibility to break out and live their love.
Let me say here that I don't believe in updating a piece for the sake of updating it, or even less in provoking our public for the sake of provocation. I don't adhere to any kind of postmodernist dogma. Nothing could be further from our intentions than "tinkering" with a piece (as one reviewer put it). My love and respect for great composers, like Giuseppe Verdi, would prevent me from doing so. When we decide to present a piece as a new production we go through a very careful, serious and respectful process of understanding its meaning. Sometimes, this results in a production aesthetic that might be different from the performance tradition of a piece. While being respectful of this tradition, I believe we also have the obligation to question it.
The first big updater in the history of opera was Gustav Mahler. During his tenure as the Director of the Vienna Court Opera from 1897 to 1907 he presented updated stagings of masterpieces like Mozarts's Le nozze di Figaro, Beethoven's Fidelio or Wagner's Tristan und Isolde which caused uproar then and are considered classical stagings today. When facing criticism about his productions Mahler would respond: "Tradition ist Schlamperei" (tradition is sloppiness). Throughout the 20th century there have been numerous shifts in production styles, often leading to new performance traditions. Just think of Wieland Wagner's work at the Bayreuth Festival after World War II or Patrice Chereau's radical new interpretation of Wagner's Ring Cycle, also in Bayreuth in 1976. Both are considered landmarks for the staging of Wagner's operas today.
Verdi's letters are an invaluable source for us to learn about how he intended his opera to be staged and performed. Reading through them I just can't help asking myself what he would have thought of our production. All his life Verdi was politically engaged. He wanted his pieces to be relevant and meaningful to audiences. For most of his life he fought censors who forced him to diminish the relevance of his works. Just think of La Traviata which had to be transposed from the contemporary 19th century setting, which Verdi had originally intended, to the early 18th century for the 1853 world premiere in Venice. Only in the 1880s Verdi's original wishes were carried out and contemporary productions were staged. I am sure he would have hated for his works to be considered representational artifacts in the museum of opera. If he would have approved of our production or not we will never know, but I am sure he would have respected our search for relevance, and our integrity in approaching his work.
Posted by Alexander Neef / in Season / comments (42) / permalink
For our new production of Aida this was the crucial week as we moved out of our rehearsal facilities on Front Street to the Four Seasons Centre for the final rehearsals on stage with orchestra. Verdi's opera hasn't been performed by the COC in more than twenty years and we were courageous enough to go for a new production, entirely built in our own workshops, rather than for a rented production from another company. Add to that three role debuts in three of the four principals roles and you get an idea of how exciting it was to see the sets and costumes finally on our stage and to hear the voices of our great cast in our auditorium. After the first full run-through with orchestra yesterday we now have only a few days left for the final corrections, but the hardest work is done.
Also in town this week was Lotfi Mansouri, General Director of the COC from 1976 to 1988. He has just published his memoirs (Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey) and we had offered to host the launch in Toronto at the Four Seasons Centre on Tuesday evening.
Amongst Lotfi's many achievements for the COC was the creation of the Ensemble Studio. Its 2010/11 members gave their first public recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Tuesday at noon. I am very proud of this year's group and curious to see how they will develop in the course of the season.
This short recap of the week wouldn't be complete without a paragraph about the COC's intrepid Education Department. Activities from our first ever COC Youth Opera Lab on Wednesday to the public rehearsal of Aida on Saturday (as part of our programming for the first ever Culture Days) might serve you as just two examples how readily my wonderfully committed colleagues, and indeed the whole Company, always embrace new ideas and challenges in order to introduce new audiences to opera. It was especially impressive to see the huge line-up of people waiting for admission to the Aida rehearsal and the pre-rehearsal talk with Aida director Tim Albery, Classical 96.3's Alexa Petrenko and myself on Saturday.
This afternoon, we arrived in New York. I have a day of meetings tomorrow and then we will attend the Met's season opening of Wagner's Rheingold in Robert Lepage's highly anticipated production. There will be a lot to tell, I'm sure.
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