John Malkovich pays Toronto a visit as Casanova in this touring theatrical production
The Giacomo Variations is an international production by Musik Konzept that blends theatre and opera which first premiered in Vienna 2001. Show One Productions & Starvox Entertainment have brought the playful and touching piece about the notorious seductor¹ Casanova to Toronto and Montreal.
A couple personal biases to get out of the way before I begin. First, I don’t know much about opera, although my four year old loves it, so I have a growing appreciation of the music since I’m hearing it much more often these days. Second, I’ve had a crush on John Malkovich (who plays Casanova in this production) since I first saw Dangerous Liaisons many years ago.
I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect from the piece, all I knew was that it combined opera and traditional theatre in some way. When my show-partner, John, and I entered the auditorium at the Elgin Theatre we were greeted by a full orchestra and a beautiful set of three tents made of huge skirt sections of pannier gowns.
These, along with the rest of the set design, costumes, and lighting design were excellently suited for the piece, and fit well with Casanova’s reflections on his life. It also worked really well in the space, which may not sound like a big deal, but sometimes with touring shows these elements just don’t work in every space since there is often not much time for tweaking and personalizing for a specific space.
When I asked John what he thought of the piece overall he said “Beautiful. The whole thing was beautiful.” And it was. The music was beautiful. The set was beautiful. The story was beautiful. Fitting really, because it’s a bit like Casanova himself. He was filled with beautiful words and thoughts, the things which no doubt enabled him to seduce so many women.
Of course, this doesn’t mean it was a perfect show: it had some definite uneven moments. Something that really seemed to get under John’s skin is that they had this little anachronistic moment in the beginning mixing the 18th century with the 21st that seemed like a nod to what to expect, but then it never reappeared. After that point it was all 18th century. It really bugged him. He said it felt like a gimmick. To be honest, that particular piece didn’t bother me at all, which is exactly why I always ask my writers to interview their show-partners after each performance. I love the discovery of a diversity of opinions within one review.
We both felt that the beginning of the piece wasn’t as strong as the rest, which is not an uncommon thing to see. I have time and time again observed actors basically “warming up” on stage and thought that if only they’d have taken a bit more time before the performance to find their character and focus and warm up I’d have been able to fall into the play more quickly. This production was no different.
What I didn’t expect was John Malkovich singing opera. He doesn’t sing much, and he clearly isn’t a trained opera singer, he’s not even a particularly good singer, and I got the feeling he might know that. But it didn’t detract from the production for me at all. In fact, what I ultimately ended up feeling was that it was pretty brave of Malkovich to put himself out there like that, singing next to three strong trained opera singers. It must be pretty bloody intimidating singing next to them.
Turn around is fair play though, since, while the opera singers seemed in my experience to be good actors for opera singers (I have not observed many great opera singers who are great actors), they didn’t hold a candle to Malkovich once he got started.
Overall it was a wonderful evening out. Beautiful music, which sometimes I listened to while reading the surtitles, and sometimes I closed my eyes to listen to, a beautiful and somewhat heartbreaking story, an opportunity to see a different side of the Casanova, a bit more of a human-side and less of a broad-strokes caricature of a man. I really loved the opportunity to see some opera and still enjoy the nuanced performance and stories I love in traditional theatre.
If you get the chance to go I really recommend it.
- The Giacomo Variations is playing until June 9 at the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge Street, Toronto)
- Shows run Friday, June 7 at 8pm, Saturday, June 8 at 3pm and 8pm, Sunday June 9 at 7pm
- Ticket prices range from $55-$175
- Tickets are available online at www.ticketmaster.ca, by calling 1.855.622.2787 or in person at the Elgin Theatre Box Office
Photo by Olga Martschitsch
¹Interestingly, while writing this piece I learned that in English the word seductor does not actually exist. Seductress yes, seductor no. I didn’t like the double standard, and since it’s a word in Latin and Spanish, I’m making it a word on Mooney on Theatre too.