Archives for posts with tag: opera

Dramatic irony is one of those storytelling techniques we all learn about in high school, and I haven’t thought about it much since then – except to enjoy it, when it’s used effectively, and even then, I don’t sit there and think, “This is a really great example of dramatic irony.”

But I’ve been thinking a lot about dramatic irony this week. This afternoon, on CBC Radio 2‘s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, I’ll be presenting Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti. It’s a paragon when it comes to the tension and emotional impact that dramatic irony can confer. Especially when the incredible Edita Gruberová is in the title role.

For it’s the music which amps up the power of Donizetti’s plot line (which he adapted from a play by Victor Hugo, which in turn describes a fictional episode in the life of the real historical figure, Lucrezia Borgia.)

Usually, when the audience is in on something (as is always the case with dramatic irony) it has been well and duly tipped off: for example, in Romeo and Juliet, we all know Juliet’s not dead; she’s merely taken a sleeping potion, even if the rest of the characters (save the friar) are unawares.

But in the Prologue of Lucrezia Borgia, it’s never revealed to the audience that Gennaro’s long-lost mother is in fact Lucrezia. Sure, it’s blatantly obvious, if you’re paying attention. It may as well have been written into the script. But it wasn’t, and this creates an opportunity for Donizetti to tell you with the music. When Lucrezia first spots Gennaro asleep by the side of the canal in Venice, the tenderness with which she sings is unmistakable. It’s unconditional, maternal love. Donizetti captures her restraint, too, in the music: she can’t tell Gennaro when he wakes and tells her about his long-lost mother. And Donizetti captures her anguish too.

A mere reading of the plot doesn’t impart the effectiveness of this particular example of dramatic irony. The story itself isn’t what impresses. Here, it’s all about the music. A kind of musical irony – shall we call it operatic irony? (Or, perhaps better – melodramatic irony.)

In Gruberová’s voice, it’s all the more heartrending. If you’ve the opportunity to watch it, I highly recommend the documentary “The Art of Bel Canto”, all about the ageless Gruberová, and the amazing operatic career that has already spanned four decades. Towards the end of the above clip from this doc, there’s an example of just how powerful the end of Lucrezia Borgia can be in her hands.

 

This Saturday, on CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, I’ll be presenting a Canadian Opera Company production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, starring soprano Rinat Shaham.

Photo by Michael Cooper, COC

Carmen is an opera that’s impossible not to love (in my opinion). It’s not for nothing it’s one of the most popular operas of all time. And Carmen herself is a big part of that. She’s a powerful woman, irresistible, independent, bewitching, someone who meets every challenge head-on. Someone who loves the spotlight.

On the show, I’ll be taking a look at the Carmen archetype by paying tribute to singers who embody Carmen’s spirit: singers like Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Loretta Lynn, and, especially to be remembered this year, the late Lhasa de Sela.

Lhasa passed away on Jan 1, 2010 in Montreal, much too young, after a battle with breast cancer. I was in Montreal that week and it felt like the city itself sensed the magnitude of the loss: it snowed for 40 hours straight – true, not an uncommon occurrence in Montreal in winter – but there was a palpable hush, as if Montreal’s musical soul was taking a moment to acknowledge the tragic loss of one of its most talented daughters.

Hope you can join me, Saturday, November 20th, starting at 1pm  (1:30 NT, 2 AT) on CBC Radio 2 across Canada or online from wherever you are at cbc.ca/radio2.

When I was a kid, like many kids, the stories I loved best were the ones with talking animals, from Louis the swan in The Trumpet of the Swan, to the rabbits in Watership Down, to a certain frog named Kermit. There’s something undeniably magical about looking at the human world through the eyes of animals.

Now that I’m all grown up, I’ve noticed that apart from being fantastic and enchanting, and, well, anthropomorphic, all those stories have something else in common. They all somehow manage to strike at something deeper about nature and humanity and the cycle of life. (Yes, even Kermit.)

I loved all those stories, but I had one clear favourite: Fantastic Mr Fox, by Roald Dahl. But long before Fantastic Mr Fox was a glint in Roald Dahl’s eye (much less Wes Anderson’s), another talking fox was at the heart of another story, a story for grown-ups: The Cunning Little Vixen, the opera by the Czech composer Leoš Janáček.

It’s just as enchanting and just as powerful, and I’m lucky to get the chance to present it this Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, August 21, on CBC Radio 2, in a production from Florence with the glorious Isabel Bayrakdarian in the starring role. I’ll also be celebrating the life of the late Australian conductor and Janáček champion, Sir Charles Mackerras, who died this past July.

This Saturday, August 14th, I’ll once again have the pleasure and the privilege to fill in for the inimitable Bill Richardson on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on CBC Radio Two.

This week’s featured opera is L’Étoile, or The Star, by 19th-century French composer Emmanuel Chabrier. It’s been a fun opera to get to know – and although it’s mostly remained obscure since its premiere in 1877, it seems to have gathered steam over the past decade with productions popping up all over the place. It’s light and frothy; the characters have ridiculous names, there are mistaken identities and plot twists of all kinds, and lots of pretty tunes.

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