THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (Stratford/CBC, 1988) w/ Goldie Semple, Colm Feore, Henry Czerny, Geraint Wyn Davies, Scott Wentworth, Kim Horsman and Kate Hennig. Rating: NNNN
ROMEO AND JULIET (Stratford/CBC, 1993) w/ Megan Porter Follows, Antoni Cimolino, Colm Feore, Lewis Gordon, Kate Trotter, Barbara Bryne, Bernard Hopkins and Lorne Kennedy. Rating: NN
it's arguable that a stage per- formance should be seen live, but sometimes the taped version of a production captures its emotions vividly. Veteran CBC director Norman Campbell helmed a pair of Shakespeare productions from the Stratford Festival, both shows that Richard Monette directed before he became the company's artistic director. The Taming Of The Shrew, Monette's first directing job at Stratford, was a splendid success, and the TV version captures the great chemistry between Goldie Semple and Colm Feore as Kate and Petruchio. From their very first scene there's clearly a sexual draw as well as an antagonism between them, and the difficult final scene of Kate's public show of wifely support comes off because the actors have built characters who've learned to respect and love each other. It's a visually striking production, designed by Debra Hanson and set in 50s Italy, complete with Ferraris, Vespas, beatniks and characters who look like they stepped out of a Fellini film. The fine supporting cast includes Henry Czerny and Geraint Wyn Davies (both of whom would later find film and TV success), Scott Wentworth and Kate Hennig.
Monette also sets Romeo And Juliet in 20th-century Italy - the early 30s, with Hanson using lots of tennis whites - but this piece fares less well dramatically.
Megan Porter Follows's Juliet moves believably from nervous, innocent teen to strong woman and dedicated wife, but her Romeo, Antoni Cimolino (now the company's executive director), manages only the boyish look, delivering the young lover's text and emotions woodenly.
The show's real star is Feore, whose animated, teasing Mercutio handles the language with quicksilver skill. Too bad he's killed off in the middle of the play. Other pluses are Lorne Kennedy's sneering, sharp-edged Tybalt and Kate Trotter and Lewis Gordon as Juliet's parents.
EXTRAS Shrew: history, bios, interview with Feore. Romeo: history, bios, interview with Follows.
THE MIKADO (Stratford/CBC, 1982). Rating: NNNN
IOLANTHE (Stratford/CBC, 1984). Rating: NNN
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Stratford/CBC, 1985). Rating: NNNN
THE GONDOLIERS (Stratford/CBC, 1984). Rating: NNN
H.M.S. PINAFORE (Stratford/CBC 1982). Rating: NN
TRIAL BY JURY (Stratford/CBC, 1962). Rating: NN don't think that the gilbert and Sullivan operettas are only fun for your grandparents. In the 1980s, director/choreographer Brian Macdonald brought a strong vision to a quartet of works by the British duo he directed for the Stratford Festival. The vibrant results were sometimes entertaining, sometimes over the top. Issued on DVD in two box sets, the four are joined by two others, both more curio than fun.
The best of the four is The Mikado, deservedly revived several times and taken on tour. Susan Benson's gorgeous designs are remarkable, and so is the company, headed by Eric Donkin as Ko-Ko, Marie Baron as Yum-Yum, Henry Ingram as Nanki-Poo and Richard McMillan as a scene-stealing Pooh-Bah.
Almost as good is The Pirates Of Penzance, and here the onstage credit goes to Brent Carver, a sexy and slightly campy Pirate King, and Jeff Hyslop as a dewy-eyed Frederic, the idealistic young and unwilling pirate who leaves the company.
But the other two Macdonald productions have too much gimmickry. Iolanthe, whose cast includes Maureen Forrester as an intentionally fruity-sounding Fairy Queen, is done as a backstage show-within-a-show, and its humour peters out long before the end. And The Gondoliers, a commedia-inspired piece, drags. Part of the problem is the writing itself, but other than an inspired dance number that has the cast doubled by the addition of life-sized rag dolls, it's not a must-have disc.
HMS Pinafore, a Stratford G&S directed by Leon Major, lacks inventiveness, and its performers (Donkin excepted) are stronger vocally than dramatically. Major's rather leaden direction doesn't help.
The one-act Trial By Jury, Gilbert and Sullivan's first big success, is a historic black-and-white production. Produced in 1962 by the Stratford Festival Light Opera Company, it's conducted by Godfrey Ridout (all the others are led by Berthold Carrière) and directed, like the other CBC tapings, by Norman Campbell.
Go for the box that has The Mikado, Pirates and Iolanthe.
EXTRAS Making-of documentaries (Mikado), text alterations, program notes, glossary, Gilbert and Sullivan bios.
GISELLE (National Ballet of Canada/CBC, 1976) w/ Karen Kain, Frank Augustyn. Rating: NNNNN
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY (National Ballet of Canada/CBC, 1972) w/ Rudolf Nureyev, Veronica Tennant. Rating: NNNN when people talk about the dearth of ballet stars these days, all they have to do is look at these two National Ballet of Canada gems, filmed for the CBC by Norman Campbell in the 1970s and now combined on a single DVD, to realize it wasn't always so. Veronica Tennant is joyful and exuberant from her first entrance in The Sleeping Beauty, and Rufolf Nureyev is magnetically compelling as the prince who wakes her with a kiss after a 100-year sleep. These are two artists in their absolute prime.
I've always had problems with The Sleeping Beauty, which seems to be one big fantasy about delayed sexual gratification. There's a lack of dramatic compulsion, and the third act,with its dancing bluebirds and cats, is insufferably cute.
But Nureyev's own choreography (after Petipa) and production look fine in this live-performance taping, even though the colours look muddy and drab at times. It's startling to note the uniform whiteness of both the dancers and the then O'Keefe Centre audience.
Even better is Giselle, edited and filmed especially for the screen from Peter Wright's atmospheric production. No applause interrupts the action, which includes close-ups (and even a special effect or two) to emphasize character and plot, never at the expense of the dancing.
Karen Kain is luminous as the simple maid who loses her mind and dies when she realizes the guy who's been courting her (Frank Augustyn) is royalty. The two have a great onstage chemistry, while Hazaros Surmeyan proves an effective jealous lover and Nadia Potts a frightening, if tiny, Queen of the Willies.
Look for current National artistic director James Kudelka in a tiny role in the Giselle corps.
To have both historical performances on one CD is good value, even if apart from artist bios there are few extras - a shame, because Tennant, Kain and Augustyn are very much alive and kicking.
EXTRAS Kain, Augustyn, Tennant, Nureyev and Norman Campbell bios, National Ballet history.