THE BEAR by William Walton, directed by Ashlie Corcoran, conducted by Steven Philcox, and SWOON by James Rolfe and Anna Chatterton, directed by Michael Albano, conducted by Derek Bate (Canadian Opera Company). At the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. December 6-10. $60. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Like death and taxes, the battle of the sexes is one of life's constants. Last week's double bill by the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble offered two variations on the theme, one more successful than the other.
First up was The Bear, William Walton's adaptation of a Chekhov play in which a widow's argument with an insistent debtor of her late husband turns amorous.
The music is staid and the narrative predictable, though, happily, director Ashlie Corcoran avoided stereotyped humour.
The most impressive performer was Lauren Segal as the not-so-grieving widow; Jon-Paul Décosse's demanding debtor was only sketched in.
Swoon, with music by James Rolfe and a deliciously playful libretto by Anna Chatterton, proved the richer piece. Its series of sexual games, set in a contemporary Rosedale-style house, involves flirtatious husband Ari (Justin Welsh), his Holt Renfrewish wife, Mona (Melinda Delorme), their new cleaner, Leah (Virginia Hatfield), and her jealous boyfriend, Roy (Lawrence Wiliford).
Rolfe's score, by turns lyrical and comical, shines in its ensemble numbers, including a psychologically true confrontation between Leah and Ari, a plotting trio and the sensual and moving final quartet that begins as a pair of duets.
All four performers created believable characters, but it was Wiliford's initially inarticulate Roy whose dramatic skill enlivened the show.
In a later performance, with Miriam Khalil and Betty Waynne Allison taking over as Leah and Mona, the performers were more comfortable in their roles. As a result, the clever text was more easily heard.