I managed to catch Opera 5′s last show before it closed this Thursday, the program titled Bésame Ópera and consisting of two Spanish works: Manuel de Falla’s El Retablo e Maese Pedro and Enrique Granados Goyescas.
They’re definitely good news, the Opera 5 crew. Their programming is imaginative and resourceful. The under-performed gems, the multi-media approach (they always couple their shindigs with at least one other art or design or culinary discipline), and a mix of rising stars and upstarts is shaping up to be a great recipe. Next season starts at an haute couture atelier, with a program of operatic numbers used on film, and Vasil Garvanliev as a guest star. Near the Halloween, they will have a program of works based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and perform it in the lobby of the Arts and Letters Club which will be Halloween’d up by installation artist Nicholas Comeau. After that, it’s operetta time with the little performed Offenbach and Hahn in cahoots with l’Alliance Française and a bit later a big do with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony dedicated to the opera novices. Finding that many allies and co-producers across that many different creative disciplines for a program of generally unknown works is quite a feat for a company that is essentially an artist-run coop: all the key positions in Opera 5 are occupied by the musicians themselves. So: kudos.
The Bésame program was also a mix — of the unexpected and the familiar. The second work, Goyescas (1916), is a melodic, nostalgic, old-fashioned piece with a chorus, love duets, dancing and a lot of room for the soprano to impress with her solos (which Emily Ding did do as Rosario). In smaller roles, mezzo Catharin Carew and baritone Giovanni Spanu also managed to leave the mark. The chorus was particularly of interest because each of the singers in it had a distinct personality and physique – something you rarely see in choruses, and even in the big singing competitions. Maybe the cast of Opera 5 gives hope that some of the habits of seeing (and of commercializing the looks) can be bucked.
The first work in the program was more unusual: the 1923 de Falla puppet opera, El retablo de maese Pedro. What type of puppets and how much of the human component is included is entirely up to the director. You could go all-out puppet-y, as Liceu recently did, for example:
Given a somewhat smaller budget, O5 opted for the shadow puppets behind a quilt, and the three main singers (Rachel Krehm in the trouser role of a boy narrator Trujaman, Giovanni Spanu as Don Quixote and Conrad Siebert as Maese Pedro / drums) are fully on stage. The score – a more recognizably twentieth-century work with twists and dissonances and humour – was rendered in a piano-and-drum reduction (the ever reliable Maika’i Nash at the piano). The singing was all around good, with the toughest role going to Krehm – essentially whining, during which you should avoid sounding beautiful at all cost. (Take a listen to that Liceu clip.)
Given the new partnerships announced for the season 13/14, the sets and costumes for O5 shows are bound to improve. (They are currently a bit ValuVillage.) It will be a pleasure to observe this small opera company grow in the years to come.
The photo: Emily Ding in Goyescas, with the chorus. Courtesy of Opera 5.