It finally feels like summer here in Toronto and it is glorious. Since we returned from Florida in late April, we have enjoyed many wonderful cultural events. I like to attend the spring opera offerings of The Canadian Opera Company, and this year we saw Puccini’s La Bohème and Verdi’s Otello. Both were excellent productions. Bohème was traditional in staging, but when the artists are compelling and sing beautifully, the music takes over as only Puccini can. American soprano, Angel Blue sang warmly and I am looking forward to seeing her in the Met HD production of Porgy and Bess coming next season. In a role close to my heart, Musetta, Adrianna Chuchman was fine, with her very typical bright soprano and the usual flouncing about the stage, but frankly she never exuded vulnerability, charm or sensuality. The men were all passable. It was an enjoyable evening though.
2nd act of La Boheme COC
Now Otello is another story with its searing music and intense drama. I loved Gerald Finley’s interpretation of Iago. The man is a brilliant singer with a chameleon voice that portrayed the two-faced character perfectly. Russell Thomas, the tenor, soared, and it was appropriate to have a black artist portray a black character, especially in these days of political correctness. I feel his portrayal will develop over the years. The Desdemona of Tamara Wilson was touching. Her singing lyrical and lovely, but both Thomas and Wilson are of large proportions and seemed uncomfortable with each other. Johannes Debus’ conducting was excellent as usual, and only occasionally covered the singers’ voices.
Russell Thomas as Otello -opera
brilliant Gerald Finley as Iago in the opera Otello
Thomas and Findley looking nicer than his role
What was intriguing was to go to the opening week of the Stratford Festival and see Othello, the play, and compare it to the opera. I think that music always enhances a drama, but the performance of Michael Blake in the title role at Stratford’s Festival Theatre was riveting, and haunting. Opening week is almost always a delight. I say almost because last year’s opening had a bomb threat which kept us from seeing The Tempest. This year all was smooth sailing. It is an early black tie affair and the weather was quite lovely. Best of all is the dinner where Charles and I were seated with Donna and Colm Feore who are marvelous, amusing, captivating dinner companions, and are friends.
Michael Blake as Othello
Donna is the director/choreographer of Billy Elliot and Little Shop of Horrors and I can never quite comprehend how clever, creative, imaginative and brilliant she is. She is also very beautiful and vivacious. Colm is an actor of great esteem and recently won the prestigious Governor General’s Arts Award.
festival theatre, Donna and Colm in front of theatre, and us on opening night of Billy
at the roof topping of the Patterson theatre with a construction foreman
Extraordinary Nolan Dubuc as Billy
This year Charles and I supported Billy Elliot and it was superlative. If you have ever seen the movie, know that this is better. The music by Elton John and incredible dance numbers just blow your mind, particularly because this is the thrust stage of the Festival theatre, and the dancers are just a breath away. The number with the riot police, the striking miners and the children of the north English town is astounding, and unnerving. I have seen this now twice and will see it again in August. The boy, played by Nolen Dubuc, is superb; his acting, singing and especially his dancing are fabulous. Hard to believe he is only 11.
I loved Dan Chameroy who played his father; a tough, but eventually loveable character. Dan is amazing. He also appears as the crazy dentist in Little Shop of Horrors and last year was Frank N. Furter, the star of the Rocky Horror Show. He is truly a remarkable actor and singer.
Dan Chameroy , Steve Ross, and André Morin and in Little Shop
We also saw the Merry Wives of Windsor and the audience was in an uproar of hilarity. I personally am not wild about slapstick comedy, but I would have to take that up with Bill Shakespeare, as this is how he wrote it. I do prefer the opera, Falstaff, with the same story, but perhaps that is because the music takes over. The actors were excellent as usual, and what delights me is that they play more than one role at the Festival, sometimes in one day. Geraint Wyn Davies went from being the egocentric Falstaff, to the urbane and sophisticated Elyot Davies in Private Lives. He and Lucy Peacock are hilarious, and Noel Coward’s play is just a true comic delight with excellent period sets and costumes. What a joy!
Geraint Wyn Davies, as Falstaff and urbane Elyot Davies, and the inimitable Lucy Peacock
Finally we saw Little Shop of Horrors. I didn’t like the movie years ago when I saw it, but as Donna Feore was at the helm of this production, we wouldn’t miss it. It was terrific. Gabi Epstein who played Audrey can really belt it out, and has a charmingly innocent demeanour. Dan Chameroy steals the show, well almost, as Orin, the dentist. All the cast is excellent, but the plant, Audrey 2, is my favourite with her bass voice and massive mouth repeating, ‘Feed Me’. Laughed myself silly and enjoyed the Motown music with the three muses, side singers, with their costume changes and slinky moves.
we were in my convertible and saw this on the road
Stratford is always a wonderful time. When we have some spare time we drive over to Mennonite country in St. Jacobs about 30 minutes away. We often buy homemade jams and produce. This time Charles got a real buy with shoes, some new Sperry topsiders. I have since gone back to see Billy Elliot and loved it even more. I also saw Little Shop again, and though it is fun, I loved it less. Not one you can see many times.
hazy wonderful paintings
We visited the AGO and saw two exhibitions. ‘Impressionism in the Age of Industry, Monet, Pissarro and More’ was very crowded, but we managed to see some super works of art. I love the French impressionists with their hazy colours, of course reflecting the times with coal dust in the air. That exhibit is now finished, but the ongoing one that I was curious about is Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirrored Room’, and worth a visit. It is a brilliant space filled with mirrors and reflections, and is now part of the permanent collection. This is not an easy to describe exhibit. Unfortunate that there is so much construction on Dundas Street where the gallery sits. It just makes it more challenging for us, as it is a trip downtown. We used to go early, find a parking spot, head down to the waterfront afterward to our fave dim sum place, Pearl Harbourfront, and have a pleasant art and food filled day. Pearl’s food is delicious and reliable, and the view of Toronto Harbor is splendid. The whole city always is under construction at this time of year, and even the subways can be closed from time to time. They say in Toronto there are two seasons, winter and construction.
Infinity Mirrored Room
Sadly, a dear friend of mine, Wayson Choy, died suddenly in his sleep. Wayson was an esteemed Canadian author. My emails from Wayson have given me solace these last few months since he died. And they are beautiful. Wayson was a superb writer of books. He was also a superb writer of emails
with our writing group at my house for dinner
The last one he sent me, he wrote,’ And soooooo – I’m trotting along with Father Time – on this coming April 20th, to be exact, it’ll be my 80th year! – it seems my brain cells have been slip-sliding along, my mobility sloooow-ing down – in fact, I have recently fallen twice, and been advised to carry a cane with me, especially if the streets are wet …icy … etc. Shucks! no more dancing down our front steps like Fred Astaire – damn! …And the memory of that wonderful smile, so deeply treasured by me – and that smile belongs to you, dear friend. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a dim sum at the Pearl Court, say, after Mid-April? Of course, my treat! My joy! Let me know. Much love, Wayson (Toronto is a city of dim sum restaurants and this one is different from the other Pearl I mentioned above.)
I arrived back in Toronto from Florida late Tuesday, April 23rd and he died on the 27th. Alas, no lunch that weekend, only tears, and memories of Wayson.
A few years ago, I decided to write a memoir and applied to Humber College. I had to submit some writing, and lo and behold I got into Wayson’s class. I think he knew that I was an opera singer and was curious. It couldn’t have been my submission. He encouraged me to write a memoir. His mentorship continued until my book was published. He wanted drafts of every chapter so that he could offer his pithy suggestions. He was always kind, but also very truthful.
I had begun my book with the tragic death of my daughter, and I thought it was a very dramatic way to begin. Wayson, carefully pointed out in another email, ‘we have not been given a chance to see you as that individual you were before the tragedy struck. Some of your raw material must clearly examine “Who was I before this event?” And all those details that make you real to the reader must be established thoroughly. The drama is what you were, and how you changed or grew, fell back or rose, before, during, and after, the powerful events in your life.
So I followed his advice and he wrote, ‘I have bought three of your paperbacks to share with all my new students to show them what can be achieved by sharing the truth of their own significant lives – a beautiful and significant memoir.’ Yahoo! I was thrilled with his approval.
My husband and I entertained him a few times at our home, and he loved our piano-playing dog, and the green of our garden. I will miss him this summer, and always.
I was asked to be a guest on Finance is Personal by my good friend Liz Naumovski, the host creator. She is a marvellous interviewer, and the focus of the television programs is financial management for and by women. Each segment focuses on a different issue related to women and finance, and the guests discuss such topics as financial planning, debt, estate preparation, investing, insurance, finance of divorce, taxes, running a business, fraud and so much more. Because of my experience in philanthropy we discussed that in all its many forms, from volunteering, to giving blood, to sponsoring the arts, and supporting hospitals. We talked about how I became involved in philanthropic pursuits. The show can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVftGSfl66c&feature=player_embedded
Liz Naumovski just after winning her prestigious award
Liz was recently honoured with the Wealth Professional Financial Literacy Champion Award. This is an endorsement of her skills and knowledge by her peers. She is getting married this week. Charles and I are hosting a formal black tie dinner for her and Wouter, her fiancé, at our home this evening. So I am not sure why I am sitting in my office and writing. I should be prepping appetizers. I am having a chef and server come to help me, but of course there is lots to do. I set my table as I always do a few days ahead of time. This early effort always pays off as I am not as stressed the day of a dinner party, and I can enjoy looking at the table and fuss about it. My garden needs one last clean-up, and some de-fogging for mosquitoes by Charles, and then I will set up outside for our apps and champagne in the garden. The weather so far is cooperating, not humid, as it has been, and a nice summer temperature.
I enjoyed setting the table this past week because Lara, our son James’ ex- wife was visiting us with June, our grand daughter. They live in a small town in Quebec near the Ontario border. Lara helped me by rolling up the menus that I had created and tied them with a ribbon. I am quite hopeless at those sorts of things. We also set the table together. Our visit was filled with much laughter and catching up, and we took a trip to Stratford to see Little Shop of Horrors once again, and to visit the incredible costume warehouse on a private tour that was informative and entertaining, and we got to try on some of the wares.
with June and Lara at Stratford- a wonderful day
After a slow start today, the morning after our party, I can truly say it was a momentous, celebratory occasion. All went well, and I even sang after dinner. The guests were from Macedonia, the Ukraine, Russia, the USA, and everyone was ready to party. It was great fun. Even Oscar played the piano at one point.
Waiting to greet our guests- great formal black tie dinner for Liz and Wouter
There was Raptors fever in Toronto this summer and so many of us who never watched a basketball game were glued to our TV’s. The extraordinary parade after Toronto’s win drew an unexpected crowd of close to 2 million people. Our first NBA championship.
My golf club’s member/ guest was a hoot with the theme Summer of Love. Our team went dressed as Mama Mia wanna be’s and had many laughs and loads of amusement. All the women danced the night away with each other. My girlfriend, Marlene, who is always my guest for this event, unabashedly grabbed a young male golf pro and got him up on the dance floor.
our head professional, Phil, and Andrew, a pro, and the girls ready to stop the show.
This week is the opening of the Toronto Summer Music Festival, which is always a delight. The wedding of Liz and Wouter with the glory of the Macedonian church is coming up, and we continue in our senior years to be as busy as can be.
We are off next week to Spain and of course I will report on that trip. I will also be going back to Stratford for two more opening shows, The Crucible and Front Page in August, and will write about the gorgeous Macedonian wedding that we attended, another crazy member/guest and the final weeks of Summer in the City 2019.
Please feel free to make any comments about this and previous blogs. I love reading them.