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West Side Story at Vancouver Opera


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#1 EricHG31

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 11:51 PM

Vancouver Opera is doing West Side Story for a bit over a week at the end of October. I wish I could afford the trip, but it looks like I won't be able to (it's just a quick ferry ride from Victoria, but add in hotel, etc, it starts to cost a lot--and tickets, like anything from Vancouver Opera are *pricey*, more than I'd typically pay for a first class touring production of a musical at any rate). Still, I might try to sneak a trip over for a matinee or something as I've been kinda starved for any musical theatre since the late Spring. The last time I saw West Side Story on stage was as a teenager in London at the end of the 90s, when there was an amazingly danced (and decently acted) recreation of the 1957 original.

Is anyone going? I am not sure how many people here are around the Vancouver area (I live most of the year currently in Victoria).

While I'm weary when opera companies do musicals like this, the cast seems to be almost entirely from the musical theatre world, except for the two leads who at least in interviews have the right appearance for the roles, and can pronounce English, so I don't expect a fiasco like that Placido Domingo operatic album--which is what I first think of, and cringe, when I see WSS and opera put together. They're also making a huge deal about, apparently, *all* the Jerome Robbins choreography being recreated (I hope, and assume, this means the entire Somewhere Ballet, and not Laurents' edit), which would be the main selling point for me, and a 30 piece orchestra, which doesn't seem too big a deal to me since even the recent Broadway revival managed about that, I believe. I haven't been able to find out much about the design though.

Anyway the commercials have been on TV a lot, and while not all that original anymore, I quite like them:



And a behind the scenes clips thing (which apparently mistakenly credits the woman recreating the choreography as choreographer--and has the Maria actress apparently think her character could be as old as 19... Oh well, apparently it was filmed only one day into rehearsals, which is probably why the dancing looks a little rough, I hope...)



And a piece with Anita and Bernardo (who likewise don't seem all that informed, oh well... Like I said, I do like the commercial )



#2 dirac

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 11:41 AM

Welcome, Eric. Thanks for these clips. Maria, eighteen, nineteen? Hmmm. I don't think it's out of line for the purposes of these promos to call Tracey Flye the choreographer, though, and she does talk about restaging Robbins' choreography. Depends on what the final credits say. The "Somewhere" ballet in toto would certainly be worth seeing and it sounds as if no one will be singing Spanish translations, a plus. We do have posters from round about Vancouver, so perhaps someone will report on the production for us, please.

I agree fully in principle about opera singers singing musical theater. The Bernstein WSS with Te Kanawa and Carreras I thought was amusing listening. I do retain a soft spot for the late John McGlinn's recording of "Show Boat" with von Stade, Stratas, and the late Jerry Hadley, but I think that works because Kern is not yet so far from operetta and I think opera singers do better with Kern generally.

#3 EricHG31

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 01:15 PM

I actually was surprised with tickets to this next week as a gift from my boyfriend, so I guess I'll be reporting back. You're right about the use of the term choreographer--it's something I have to get used to, but I know for the A Chorus line revival tour Baayork Lee was credited as choreographer.

The McGlinn Show Boat is one of my favorite musical recordings ever, it's just stunning how much amazingly gorgeous music there is that was cut out of town, and I've always been kind of perplexed that Hammerstein and Kern never followed it up with anything comparable. As you say, I think it works because Show Boat was really a bridge between operetta and musical theatre, and back in 1927 the voices were probably more "operatic" anyway (they'd have to be to sing over some of those Bennett orchestrations!). I used to have a copy of McGlinn's Annie get Your Gun, which I found unlistenable... The issue with West Side Story I guess, is the music is so difficult in many ways, but still has to sound legit in street terms--which is true of the dancing too. (And yeah, I'm glad there's little chance of the Spanish translation--something that must have seemed right on paper, but doesn't make any real theatrical sense).

#4 dirac

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 09:23 PM

I can't say that WSS ever evoked any realistic sense of the street in this viewer/listener, not that I think that's a bad thing. Please tell us about the production when you see it, I'm now very curious!

#5 EricHG31

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 12:52 PM

No, I agree, although I do think that aspect works far better on stage than on film, for me, where they're on "real" streets. I love the movi--it's one of the better stage to screen adaptations--, but definitely have some issues with aspects of it. Dancing street gangs is esir to accepton a somewhat abstract stage. I guess what i meant was that the music, while often difficult, really doesn't work when the voices sound *too* operatic, Maria probably being the character who can get away with it the most.

Will report back.

#6 sidwich

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Posted 20 October 2011 - 12:56 PM

and a 30 piece orchestra, which doesn't seem too big a deal to me since even the recent Broadway revival managed about that, I believe. I haven't been able to find out much about the design though.


Unfortunately, a 30 piece orchestra is a big deal these days, at least in musical theatre houses. Most Broadway productions have been rather ruthless in cutting down orchestra sizes because of costs, even in revivals where the original arrangements were written for 25-30 piece orchestras. The "Encores!" concerts of Bernstein/Comden & Green "Wonderful Town" and Bock/Harnick's "Fiorello" were also noteworthy for fielding orchestras of 30+. Part of why "Chicago" has been able to continue running for so long is because it only requires an "orchestra" of 11. And the new style of revivals where the actors also play the instruments have also owed some part of their success to saving on musician costs (even if they do butcher the scores at the same time).

#7 EricHG31

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 02:44 AM

Oh you're completely right--as a huge Sondheim fan I've been rather dismayed at how most revivals now (A Little Night Music being a glaring example, particularly since it's one of Sondheim's more "symphonic" scores) cut the orchestra as much as they cut anything else, to the bare union minimum. And I'm not a fan of actor/musician shows, partly because with pieces like Comapny (to give one example) the concept means that even the little, but important, use of dance in the piece originally is completely removed (I did think John Doyle's earlier revival of Sweeney Todd was at least an interesting production--but I didn't find it as much when used with Company and other shows).

I gues what I meant was the recent Broadway revival of WSS did, somehow, manage to have a full orchestra (ibdb.com credits it with 29 pieces), so in the case of this show it didn't seem that unique--but I do know that sadly that's become the exception rather than the rule.

#8 EricHG31

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Posted 31 October 2011 - 12:56 PM

I am still trying to word together my very mixed WSS at Vancouver Opera review (though the dancing was *really* great) but I found this, and thought it was both moving and incredible:



#9 dirac

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Posted 01 November 2011 - 11:25 AM

Thanks, Eric. Very interesting clip.

#10 bart

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Posted 01 November 2011 - 04:04 PM

Loved the way the dancing looked at this stage of the rehearsal process, especially from the lead dancers.

I have a question: are those ... ahem ... older singers actually supposed to represent the Jets and Sharks on stage? I assume that this is the regular Opera chorus and don't mean to disparage them. Opera has a long tradition of casting "old," especially for the chorus. But West Side Story??? Eric, how did work from the perspective of the audience?

#11 EricHG31

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Posted 01 November 2011 - 06:48 PM

Oh sorry! That clip is actually from an anniversary special done in New York *not* the Vancouver opera! I should have been clear--those older actors are the surviving original cast member! (Obviously Chita Rivera and Carol Lawrence are the most recognizable...) The cast in Vancouver was all (more or less) age appropriate--well 20s as the show is usually cast

I THOUGHT that "Vancouver" lady looked remarkably like Rivera. And it turns out she WAS Rivera. Posted Image . She still has it. Posted Image .


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