Golden buns

New opera The Golden Ass scintillates

Opera is alive and kicking in Toronto, thanks to the scintillating new Canadian Opera Company production of The Golden Ass. Lecherous love, psychedelic costumes, marvelous mood music and titillating singing all roll up into one tasty night out on the town.

COC general director Richard Bradshaw wanted a hit. And pulled out all the stops to make his dream come true. Canadian literary heavy weight Robertson Davies came up with a libretto based on an ancient tale by Apuleius, a drama where hubris and a wastrel’s life are transformed into wisdom and service.

Davies insisted on a composer who had a sense of humour. Winnipeg born Randolph Peters, who previously wrote the music for the COC’s smaller scale opera Nosferatu, was an obvious choice. Peters’ music for the Golden Ass serves the drama well. The orchestration techniques he uses are brilliant and there are many catchy melodies.

Bradshaw’s next big coup came in securing highly esteemed director Colin Graham. With 350 opera productions under his belt and experience with some of opera’s greatest, Graham serves as the elixir which draws the sometime conflicting elements of opera into a wonderful singularity.

The double role of Pamphilea, the sorceress, and Antiope, the bandit princess, seems to have been written for Canadian mezzo-soprano Judith Forst. She’s a great actress and what she may lack in size and volume, she makes up with precision, determination and character.

The role of the Golden Ass is equally well suited for the lyrical voice of Kevin Anderson – and his golden buns. Anderson possesses leading-man charm and a more-than-adequate voice.

For those who run screaming in terror when they hear the two words “contemporary opera,” fear not. The Golden Ass is a relatively lighter work: no murders, not even a drop of blood. And the love scene – between Lucius (prior to his transformation into an ass) and Fotis, the couple assuming the missionary position in a bit of racy staging – is set to a gentle duet that would make pop music composers envious.

The lengthy ballet of the second act is heart warming. Well choreographed by Cirque du Soleil’s Debra Brown, it depicts the myth of the foolish mortal Psyche and her god of love husband Cupid.

The staging of The Golden Ass is unique and engaging. Remaining on stage throughout. the chrous joins the audience for the storyteller’s fables.The set is striking – one giant bank of stairs. But it looks somewhat odd, at times, when dressed with huge, scattered dinosaur-like bones and large wooden slates elevated as sun shields, looking remarkably similar to the Flintstones’ town of Bedrock.

With this new commission, the company feels recharged. The Golden Ass is sure to attract a well-deserved audience. Check it out.


The Golden Ass continues to Sun, Apr 25 at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front St E); Call (416) 363-8231.

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