×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Golden Ass

Long before "The Golden Ass" opened in Toronto, Canadian Opera Co. boss Richard Bradshaw was carefully making distinctions between accessible and cheap in referring to this new work by Robertson Davies and Randolph Peters.

With:
Festus ..... Theodore Baerg Scholar ..... Michael Colvin Merchant ..... Thomas Goerz Philosopher ..... Doug McNaughton The Boy ..... Decker LaDouceur Lucius ..... Kevin Anderson Fotis ..... Rebecca Caine Milo/Bandit Leader ..... Raymond Aceto Pamphilea/Antiope ..... Judith Forst Charis ..... Tamara Hummel Seedy Bandit ..... Alain Coloumbe Psyche ..... Racheal Gibson Psyche's sisters ..... Barbara Glazar, Laurence Racine Venus ..... Kathleen Renaud Cupid ..... Daniel Touchette Persephone ..... Nicholas Gede-Lange Jupit er ..... Reuben Wright Ballet Stage Manager ..... David Meinke

Long before “The Golden Ass” opened in Toronto, Canadian Opera Co. boss Richard Bradshaw was carefully making distinctions between accessible and cheap in referring to this new work by Robertson Davies and Randolph Peters.

His concerns are understandable: With a score that draws on the traditions of Gilbert and Sullivan, echoes of jazz and even leans into Andrew Lloyd Webber territory (though it doesn’t actually topple over), as well as a percussive-rich sound that avoids the worst excesses of dissonance, there’s not much here to excite new music afficionados.

There is, however, a considerable nod to audiences who like to be hip, not only musically, but also in Colin Graham’s physically active and smartly staged production (his most recent new opera credit is Andre Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”).

Based on a 2,000-year-old Aesopian story by Lucius Apuleius set in second-century Carthage, “The Golden Ass” is a retelling by Canadian literary icon Robertson Davies, who died before seeing the work completed. The hero, womanizing and handsome Lucius, rejects the earthly love of a good woman to gain power by dabbling in magic. But things don’t go right and he ends up transformed into a donkey, condemned to stay in this form until he can find a rose to eat.

Robertson spoke of profundity and the transformative powers of art and magic in regard to this work, but it’s a bit difficult to focus on that when Lucius (as the ass) sings “thrust a firestick up my hole” or when his state is referred to as “asshood.”

That aside, it’s a puzzle how such a young composer with a growing reputation in the new music field managed to create a score without much flourish or daring (although the second act is much livelier and more interesting than the first). Perhaps the looming ghost of Davies, whose gruff pontificating style is clearly present in the libretto, created insurmountable obstacles.

In any case, it sure looks good. The C$ 1.8 million ($ 1.2 million) investment shows in the glorious production by Stratford Festival designers Susan Benson (sets and costumes) and Michael Whitfield (lighting).

Soprano Rebecca Caine, who created the role of Cossette in the world premiere of “Les Miserables” and played Christine in Toronto’s “The Phantom of the Opera, ” is Fotis, apprentice to the sorceress and Lucius’ lover. She brings passion and beauty to bear on a voice that is both sweet and strong. Kevin Anderson’s Lucius is also clear and focussed, and at his strongest when partnering Caine.

Mezzo-soprano Judith Forst has proved herself a formidable dramatic singer, and in the dual role of the sorceress and leader of a group of bandits she finds hidden depths in the score, while baritone Theodore Baerg, the storyteller who parks himself on the steps of the market to tell his tale, delivers the narrative in clean, concise fashion.

In fact, precision and clarity is plentiful, even in tumbling and dance sequences that weave throughout the show courtesy of choreographer Debra Brown, moonlighting from her job with Cirque du Soleil.

“The Golden Ass” is one of Bradshaw’s ongoing attempts to introduce opera to a younger and hipper audience. And while the marriage between traditionalist Davies and new music advocate Peters is a rocky one, Bradshaw can rest assured that “The Golden Ass” is indeed accessible, perhaps as it turns out too much so — but it is never cheap.

The Golden Ass

(OPERA; HUMMINGBIRD CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS; 3,300 SEATS; C$ 135 TOP)

Production: TORONTO A Canadian Opera Co. presentation of an opera in two acts with music by Randolph Peters and libretto by Robertson Davies. Conductor, Richard Bradshaw. Directed by Colin Graham. Set and costumes, Susan Benson.

Crew: Lighting, Michael Whitfield; choreographer, Debra Brown. Opened April 13, 1999. Reviewed April 23. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

With: Festus ..... Theodore Baerg Scholar ..... Michael Colvin Merchant ..... Thomas Goerz Philosopher ..... Doug McNaughton The Boy ..... Decker LaDouceur Lucius ..... Kevin Anderson Fotis ..... Rebecca Caine Milo/Bandit Leader ..... Raymond Aceto Pamphilea/Antiope ..... Judith Forst Charis ..... Tamara Hummel Seedy Bandit ..... Alain Coloumbe Psyche ..... Racheal Gibson Psyche's sisters ..... Barbara Glazar, Laurence Racine Venus ..... Kathleen Renaud Cupid ..... Daniel Touchette Persephone ..... Nicholas Gede-Lange Jupit er ..... Reuben Wright Ballet Stage Manager ..... David MeinkeWith: Margaret Evans, Alex Fleurian Chateau, Sonya Gosse, Gaynor Jones, John Kriter, Stephen McClare, David Pomeroy, Krisztina Szabo.

More Film

  • Atlantics

    Netflix Snags Worldwide Rights to Cannes Winners 'Atlantics,' 'I Lost My Body'

    Mati Diop’s feature directorial debut “Atlantics” and Jérémy Clapin’s animated favorite “I Lost My Body” have both been acquired by Netflix following wins at Cannes Film Festival. “Atlantics” was awarded the grand prix while “I Lost My Body” was voted the best film at the independent International Critics Week. The deals are for worldwide rights [...]

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content