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Robert Lepage’s watery production returns

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
04/13/2018 -  & April 14*, 22, May 1, 2, 10, 12, 13, 15, 19, 2018
Igor Stravinsky: Ragtime – Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet – Pribaoutki – Berceuses du chat – Two Poems of Konstantin Balmont – Four Russian Peasant Songs – The Fox – The Nightingale
Allyson McHardy (Pribaoutki), Lindsay Ammann (Berceuses du chat), Danika Lorèn (Two Poems of Konstantin Balmont)
The Fox: Myles Mykkanen, Owen McCausland (tenors), Bruno Roy, Oleg Tsibulko (baritones)
The Nightingale: Owen McCausland (The Fisherman), Jane Archibald (The Nightingale), Lauren Eberwein (The Cook), Anatoli Sivko (The Chamberlain), Michael Uloth (The Bonze), Oleg Tsibulko (The Emperor), Miles Mykkanen (Japanese Envoy 1), Samuel Chan (Japanese Envoy 2), Bruno Roy (Japanese Envoy 3), Lindsay Ammann (Death)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Johannes Debus (conductor)
Robert Lepage (director), Marilyn Gronsdal (revival director), Carl Fillion (set designer), Michael Curry (puppet designer), Mara Gottler (costume designer), Etienne Boucher (lighting designer), Martin Genest (puppet choreographer), Caroline Tanguay (revival puppet choreographer)

J. Archibald & O. Tsibulko (© Michael Cooper)

I’ve recently learned that a sure way to become unpopular in Toronto is to voice the slightest reservations about Robert Lepage’s world-striding production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables which originated in Toronto is 2009 and has since been staged in Aix-en-Provence, Lyon, Amsterdam, Quebec City, and by the COC in New York.

It has had three reviews on this website: the Toronto premiere, from Aix, and Quebec.

While I admire the inventive and stunningly attractive stage work, it still comes across as a rather thin theatrical experience. The nine short works in the first half are little bites and bits, some quite jolly, featuring various types of puppetry. The Nightingale is a engaging little masterwork - note the qualifier “little”. The small puppets are fine if one sits reasonably close to the stage (actually, most action is in the water-filled orchestra pit while the orchestra occupies the stage). People in the cheaper seats are offered a view of a screen that descends from the ceiling on which is projected the pit action via a fixed camera. As I stated nine years ago, the whole thing out to have been staged...on the stage.

Either despite or because of this perverse “staging”, ticket demand is such that an extra performance has been added to the run. This also happened back in 2009.

There is some very fine singing on display, notably Jane Archibald as the Nightingale, her third role this season. Her voice has both its much-vaunted crystalline quality plus expressive depth. Owen McCausland renders yet another strong performance in both The Fox and as the Fisherman in The Nightingale, and Ensemble Studio member Danika Lorèn is outstanding in the Two Poems by Konstantin Balmont.

Most of the parts are very brief and a singer has to make an impression right from the start. Both Oleg Tsibulko as the Emperor and Leslie Ammann as Death slightly disappoint (they replaced the previously announced Christian Van Horn and Meredith Arwady).

The orchestra and chorus both sound fine while Maestro Debus seems a bit less than comfortable conducting performers who are behind him, but it all works out in the end.

Michael Johnson



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