Guillaume Bernardi is a lucky opera director. Singers and conductors frequently get to fine-tune their work on several productions of an opera, but a director often has to wait years before a second chance.
Bernardi opens the Canadian Opera Company's season helming Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro; he did the same at the Frankfurt Opera last spring.
"Having a seven-week rehearsal period in Germany gave me new insights into this rich piece," says Bernardi of the classic, which examines love and various upstairs-downstairs relationships in a Spanish aristocrat's house.
The company hasn't performed Figaro since 1993; their former venue wasn't suited to the intimacy of Mozart's operas.
It's a piece that's full of humanity, both in the music and in Lorenzo da Ponte 's libretto.
"What's central is the examination of relationships that are at different stages of maturity. The young infatuated page Cherubino falls for any woman, while Figaro and his bride-to-be, Susanna, are in the early stages of love. The Count and Countess have lived together for years, and both are trying to figure out where their marriage is going.
"That last relationship," admits the director, "is the most interesting for me.
"During the Frankfurt production, I fell in love with the role of the Countess. She has the biggest journey, from abandoned, self-pitying figure to active participant in the action. The forgiveness she offers her wandering husband at the work's end is absolutely true, a real gift."
Bernardi, who works in theatre, dance and opera (the last, until now, only in Europe), often develops a production using movement as well as text and music. For the COC's Figaro, choreographer Heidi Strauss gives added life to the show. Next month he works with Marie-Josée Chartier on her dance piece Bas-Reliefs.
But the words aren't pushed to the side, especially in the important recitatives. In the arias, the action often stops and characters share their emotions; in the dramatically important, plot-advancing recitatives that link the arias, characters reveal the nuances of their interaction.
"I like the Italian dimension of the text, with its roots in commedia dell'arte. Mozart and Da Ponte were drawing on centuries-old sources, well known to their audience but less familiar to viewers today.
"Our recitatives will sound idiomatic; if you lose that truth, you damage the dramatic thrust of the piece."
It's clear that Bernardi doesn't want to revisit Figaro as a museum piece, but rather to discover "what it says to us today. That's harder than it sounds, because while some issues are relevant and fresh, others, such as the class differences, are a challenge."
See Opening, theatre listings page.
Toronto audiences don't often see Caribbean theatre, or the work of We Are One Theatre 's Marvin Ishmael. He returns as writer and director of Duppy In The House, set in Jamaica and based on Molière's comedy The Doctor In Spite Of Himself.
The romantic Doris (Alma James), upset when her husband, Seefus (Henry Gomez), forgets their 20th anniversary and plays the all-powerful male to explain his actions, gets revenge when a stranger (Ian Jutsun) comes looking for an obeah man (a witch doctor) to cure his Trinidadian boss, Rafeek's (also Jutsun), possessed wife, Tyra (Cara Ricketts). Doris tells the stranger that Seefus is the man he wants, but that Seefus won't admit his talents unless he's beaten.
Cue the commedia slapstick.
The first act is pretty much an overlong set-up for the shenanigans of the second, which include a series of misunderstandings and an exorcism; the titular duppy is a Caribbean spirit or ghost. The style is broad, with comic dialogue and action that sometimes provide laughs and sometimes fall flat. Tighter direction would help.
Along the way, Ishmael sends up male and female stereotypes and the rivalry between Jamaica and Trinidad, but the focus is on jokes and selling the humour. With her strong presence, James fills the stage, whether fuming as the incensed housewife or giving jerky physical life to the obeah man's assistant.
Ricketts, one of our favourite young performers, shows her warmth in those few scenes when she's not playing a spawn of hell; in the latter role, it seems she's taken a few coarse-acting lessons from The Exorcist's Linda Blair.
See Continuing, theatre listings page.
Though theatre's roots are in storytelling, these days you don't usually think of a storyteller as a theatre artist. But Helen Carmichael Porter, who died of leukemia earlier this month, was an exception.
Porter's love of tales dated back to childhood, and in the early 80s she almost single-handedly created an audience for storytelling in this city. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, Carson McCullers and Alice Munro, among others, were given a striking new life through Porter's performances. She later wove her own stories into the theatre evenings she offered.
Her sense of drama was as clear as her ability to hold listeners over the course of a tale, and she used music, lighting and design elements to reinforce the theatricality of her presentations.
A former teacher who became a professional storyteller, Porter reminded people that storytelling was for adults, not just for children sitting through a reading session in a library.
A memorial celebration of Porter's life and work is set for Saturday (September 29), 2 pm, at Oakham House (55 Gould).