Review: Maometto II (Canadian Opera Company)

Elizabeth DeShong as Calbo and Leah Crocetto as Anna in the COC’s production of Maometto II, 2016. Conductor Harry Bicket, director David Alden, set and costume designer Jon Morrell, and lighting designer Duane Schuler, photo: Michael CooperThe Canadian Opera Company debuts Gioachino Rossini’s Maometto II in Toronto

Maometto II by Gioachino Rossini has all of the ingredients you need to create melodrama: political intrigue, conspiracies, rape, murder, and violence. This is the Canadian Opera Company’s first time mounting this rarity. Placed in the deft hands of seasoned opera director David Alden, and conductor Harry Bickett, the result was a near-flawless, world-class production.

The casting was a significant contributor to an impressive and thoughtful interpretation of the work. Italian baritone Luca Pisaroni’s commanding, and seductively threatening stage presence, combined with a robust and vibrant tone, brought the title role to life. Maometto, a powerful Turkish sultan, is dedicated to seizing the Roman Empire. He strikes a crushing blow to his enemy by deceiving and seducing their daughter, Anna.

Soprano Leah Crocetta has a voice as smooth and sweet as nectar that was simply perfection in the role of Anna. Every note resonated as heartfelt as we watched her get torn apart by passion and duty. Of course, no operatic romance is complete unless it is a love triangle. Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong completed the triangle nicely in the role of Calbo, the right man for Anna. DeShong executed intricate coloratura passages with seemingly effortless agility. This agility, combined with a deep, fruity tone was truly awe-inspiring.

As is often the case with 19th Century operas, there are some plot elements that are more than a little cringe-worthy for 2016. Some of the remarks about Turks could have been quotes from a Trump speech, and demonstrated that the Islamophobia that the world is still desperately plagued with is of tragically longstanding origin. Also, given that it is paired with Carmen for the COC’s spring season, it means that two out of two productions end with the heroine losing her life to relationship violence. Actually, now that I think about it, you could do a production of Maometto set in modern times that would absolutely work. Suffice it to say, the issues are timeless.

Perhaps the historical continuity of the key themes is an aspect of what set designer Jon Morrell, was striving for. A seamless, rounded backdrop of creamy, roman arches was simple, yet striking. The illusion that the backdrop was continuous, although arresting, created practical challenge. The exits were quite small, and the full company was quite big, leading to a couple of awkward traffic jams as people and props made their way off stage.

Costume design was also directed by Morrell and it showed. Set and costume design fit together very harmoniously. The smooth, fluid lines of the draped costumes seemed to echo the sleek lines of the set. Rich, bold colours were used to punctuate the pristine, majestic backdrop, which my companion and I found very memorable.

We will also remember the ballet dancing ninjas for a long time. The choreography was another highlight of this production, which fused western and eastern dance traditions, and featured stage combat that was both athletic and graceful.

Despite the many strengths of the production, and truly spectacular performances from singers, dancers and orchestra alike, I did not quite fall in love with this opera. It is possible that some of this was simply my reaction to Rossini’s music, which while always charming and florid, did not always seem to reflect the emotional complexity and intensity of the subject matter. That being said, this was an all-around enjoyable performance featuring world-class singing. Take the opportunity to see top talents from Europe and North America while they are in Toronto.

Details:

  • Maometto II is playing until May 14, 2016 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
  • Show times are 7:30 PM on May 3, 5, 7, 11 with additional matinees on May 1 at 2 PM and May 14 at 4:30 PM.
  • Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653).

Photo of Leah Crocetto and Elizabeth DeShong by Michael Cooper