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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 4, No. 3

Opera in Universities

by Philip Anson & Wah Keung Chan / November 1, 1998

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The operas presented annually by Montreal universities are a cheap and enjoyable way to learn about classical lyric theatre without blowing your budget. This year, all three Montreal university opera programs are planning fully-staged productions with orchestra.

The UQAM Opera Workshop was founded twenty years ago by Quebec bass Joseph Rouleau and continues under the direction of his colleague, soprano Colette Boky. The UQAM program is unique in that it is open to young singers outside UQAM and benefits from the modern facilities of the 650-seat Salle Pierre-Mercure at the Centre Pierre-Péladeau. To commemorate Rouleau's retirement last spring, the Opera Atelier staged Puccini's La Bohème with orchestra. This was the first time UQAM presented opera with orchestra, and the four shows played to capacity houses. This year's UQAM production of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman (March 25-28, 1999) will be again staged by Boky. Corporate sponsors have boosted the budget to $40,000. Boky looks forward to building on last year's success.

The McGill Opera Studio has traditionally offered one staged opera production in Pollack Hall per year. Last year's colorful and witty staging of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos was a highlight of the Montreal opera season. Many of the singers and sets from that show will make their way to Pacific Opera Victoria's Ariadne auf Naxos in the near future. This year Opera McGill presents a concert version of Mozart's Così fan tutte in November, a mainstage production of Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus in late January, and a week of one-act operas at the Black Box Theatre in March. The previously announced concert version of Fidelio is to be replaced by Bruckner symphonies.

McGill Opera's presentation of baroque operas in collaboration with the McGill Early Music Department is becoming something of an annual tradition. In 1996 they mounted a Handel pasticcio The Enchanted Isle, followed by Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Last year they staged an impressive production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. McGill's most intriguing offering this year is a semi-staged production of Jacopo Peri’s early opera Euridice, often described as the world's first opera. (Nov. 28 &29, 19h30)

Peri's rarely performed Euridice is the first opera for which we still have the music. Peri's earlier opera Dafne is older than Euridice, but it is lost. We know from historical sources that Dafne's composition sparked competition between Peri and the composer Caccini. For their next opera, both composers chose the same subject and the same libretto by Rinuccini. The production of Peri’s Euridice nosed out the publication of Caccini’s version and was presented on October 6, 1600, in time for the wedding of Henri IV of France to Maria de’ Medici.

Euridice is a balanced, concise piece of musical theatre with a prologue and five scenes, lasting barely ninety minutes in total. It is full of expressive recitatives, and each of the five scenes concludes with a chorus. The libretto tells of how the great singer Orpheus is guided by Venus to the depths of the underworld in search of the dead Eurydice. Through his beautiful singing, Orpheus induces Pluto, Proserpina, and Caronte to free Eurydice from the realm of death.

The Euridice production team (Brent Krysa, director; Robin Paterson, lighting designer; and Peter Phoa, production/stage manager) previously collaborated in local productions of Sondheim’s Assassins and A Little Night Music. McGill’s Euridice will be a revisionist staging, celebrating the rituals of birth, marriage, the quest, prayer, and death. The opera predates the development of baroque gesture, so the cast will adopt a more contemporary approach to acting.

On the other side of the mountain, Université de Montréal's vibrant but underfunded opera program has put on some remarkable productions in the small 175-seat converted chapel (Room B-484), with Louise-Andrée Baril at the piano. The U de M Atelier lyrique has benefited in recent years from their collaboration with the Opéra de Montréal, who have loaned them costumes and props as well as the talents of apprentice directors Renaud Doucet and Nathalie Deschamps. Last year's Don Giovanni, directed by Deschamps, was a particular delight. In March 1999, Deschamps will direct Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. She will have her work cut out for her, trying to accommodate the 60-member Université de Montréal orchestra, chorus and sets in the pitless and backstage-free Salle Claude-Champagne. "We looked around town for a hall with a pit, but due to the costs we finally decided to stay on campus and make do with what we have," said Rosemary Landry, director of the Voice Department. "It is very important for students to sing with orchestra, and they will be getting lots of rehearsals with the orchestra." U de M's other show will be Nicolai'sThe Merry Wives of Windsor in February 1999. A concert of excerpts of Chabrier’s L’Étoile and Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel will also be presented during the year.

Other Opera on tap

Orchestre Métropolitain. Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel. Dec. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9. 598-0870.

Théâtre d'Art Lyrique de Laval. Bizet: Les Pêcheurs de perles. Nov. 13, 14, 20, 21.

I Musici de Montréal. Pergolesi: La Serva Padrona; Cimarosa: Il Maestro di Capella. Dec. 17, 18. 982-6038.

Opera Plume. Denis Gougeon: Une certaine proposition. Nov. 21, 22, 25, 27, 28, 29. 872-2237. Maisons de la culture.

Opéra de Montréal. Verdi: Don Carlo, with Canadian tenor extraordinaire Richard Margison. Nov. 7, 9, 12, 14, 18, 21. 985-2222.

Opéramania continues their screenings of opera videos. A special series of lectures (in French) on The Castrati will be presented by François Filiatrault. Nov. 13, 20, 27 and Dec. 4 at 19:30. 343-6427.

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