Review: Super Villains (Against the Grain Theatre)

Super Villains (Against the Grain Theatre) was a comedic revue of villainy in opera and musical theatre. Four exceptionally talented singers performed arias and duets from works such as Don Giovanni (Mozart), Sweeney Todd (Sondheim) and Carmen (Bizet).

Against the Grain Theatre undertakes to bring opera to the public in an informal, accessible manner. This is the second production by this company I have seen and both productions took place in informal venues where audience members could enjoy a beer during the performance, quite a change of pace from what one can expect at a Canadian Opera Company or Opera Atelier performance.

Super Villains took place at SMASH, an antique store in the Junction. The performance opened with Mezzo-Soprano Vilma Vitols performing “Habañera”, the immediately recognizable aria from Carmen. Later on Ms. Vitols also performed “Seguidilla”. Both arias are inevitable crowd pleasers. However, I questioned the characterization of Carmen as a villain. Ms. Vitols did a wonderful job with the arias dramatically as well as vocally, artfully bringing to life Carmen’s confident sensuality. There was some truly excellent prop comedy in both numbers.

Baritone Gene Wu gave a formidable performance of “Deh vieni alla finestra” from Don Giovanni. Lecherous and rapacious Don Giovanni was certainly an appropriate character for this bill of fare.

One of my favourite pieces from this show was a fairly sizeable excerpt from Sweeney Todd with Gene Wu performing the role of demon barber Todd; Vilma Vitols as Mrs. Lovett, maker of human pies; and Stephen Hegedus as corrupt Judge Turpin, whose villainy rivals murderous Todd’s. Vitols and Wu’s performance of “A Little Priest”, rife with humour about cannibalism based on stereotypes of different professions, elicited hearty laughs from the entire audience.

Another highlight of the performance was three arias performed by Ambur Braid. Ms. Braid is an up-and-coming young Canadian singer to watch for. She is currently a member of the COC ensemble. Ms. Braid’s singing is breathtaking and her dramatic ability is equally impressive. I have rarely seen the villainy of the Queen of the Night from the Magic Flute brought to life with such malevolent energy. The closing number of the show was Ms. Braid’s performance of “Der höller rache”, more commonly known as the “The Queen of the Night aria” and arguably the most famous opera aria.

I really appreciate what Against the Grain Theatre is doing to make opera less stuffy and more fun. The audience, who was kept in stitches the entire night and gave the performance a heartfelt standing ovation, seemed to share my sentiments. Against the Grain will be remounting their production of La Bohème (Puccini) on December 1, 2011 at the Tranzac club.


Super Villains played at SMASH Furniture Store, 2880 Dundas Street West on October 27, 2011 at 8 PM