First the good news: The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is an acoustic marvel, which—in the right handds—has the potential of becoming one of the finest opera houses in North America. There is no longer any reason for the countless ensemble problems that plagued the Canadian Opera Company’s work in the O’Keefe/Hummingbird Centre. (Question: How long will the new name last? Until the next corporate takeover or bankruptcy?) In the meantime, the hotel chain’s Valhalla is a spectacular room that belies the banality of its brick, mortar and glass exterior. Patrons take note: the stanchions between seats are easily tripped on and the steps back to Earth from the upper tiers can be treacherous on the outside track.
Opening the season and the hall with Wagner’s Ring Cycle is a marvellous test of all things operatic. The orchestral sound is clean, crisp and lush as required—such a pleasure to hear Mark Rogers’ poignant and thoughtful oboe lines emerge from the pit, effortlessly reaching every ear. The harps add so much more than just tinkle and shimmer, yet the clarity can be humbling as the uncharacteristically baubly horns can attest in the early going. Those onstage, offstage and in the stage (the hard working dwarfs toiled spectacularly) have the luxury of knowing that their entire range can be employed with the surety that all can be heard and seen. The gigantic cavern on Front Street is instantly a distant memory as its far more intimate replacement fulfills its promise for excellence.
The through-composed back-story for the three epics to come must set forth more than just the narrative details. From the beautifully balanced murmurings of the Rhinemaidens (Laura Whalen, Krisztina Szabó, Allyson McHardy) through the gods’ struggle for immortality and a magnificent home built on the backs of equally lustful and greedy giants, to the prophetic curse on the ring that has been forged from stolen treasure, the centuries old themes are as relevant today as ever.
Yet Michael Levine’s vision, like the building’s outer shell, lacks depth and magic. Both the water and precious metal are, literally, spun from fabric, which, to be sure, billows in the wind/waves and gleams from David Finn’s functional light. But the quest for power and riches never rings true; the swish of gold rather than its solid clunk is metaphorically and actually disproportionate to the upheaval that awaits the participants in their struggle for supremacy. More than love has been renounced, it seems.
Thanks goodness for the voices. John Fanning makes a convincing Wotan, Judit Németh soars through the role of Fricka, Julie Makerov is an appropriately terrorized Freia. As Fafner, Philip Ens is a marvel; Julian Tovey’s Donner and Richard Berkeley-Steele’s Loge spark each other to greater heights in every scene. As Erda, Mette Ejsing whets the appetite for future installments.
In the pit, Richard Bradshaw keeps everything moving along, but, not yet, forward. His stellar band have never sounded better, due in no small part to being able to hear themselves.
The inner success of the hall is a triumph for everyone. No doubt, the musical offerings will soon keep pace. JWR