by Paula Citron
Toronto Operetta Theatre mounted the Canadian premiere of Imre Kálmán’s Gypsy Violins which premiered in 1912, and while none of the songs is familiar, the operetta is quintessential Austro-Hungarian schlock with a surprisingly interesting storyline.
Bass-baritone Terry Hodges played Pali Racz, a famous, much-married gypsy violinist who is plagued with gout which affects the twilight of his concert career. There is also conflict with his son Laczi (tenor James McLennan), a composer/violinist who performs new music, and romantic entanglements with Juliska (soprano Elizabeth DeGrazia) whom both men love.
The subplot involves Pali’s daughter Sari (soprano Katerina Tchoubar), and the French patron of the arts Count Irini (tenor Rory McGlinn). A juicy character role is M. Cadeau, the count’s tutelary. The latter was played delightfully by Ken Stewart who comes from a musical theatre background. King Estragon (tenor Joseph Angelo) also figures into the mix, a woman chaser who puts things to rights at the end.
The usually reliable Jose Hérnández was the music director but I found his tempi a trifle slow and self-indulgent. Virginia Rey and Guillermo Silva-Marin were responsible for the staging and this was the best part of the performance. We felt Racz’s pain as the world was passing him by, and the conflict with son Laczi had real dimension. Concert master Lance Elbeck did a splendid job as the Racz men’s violin.
The stand out, in terms of diction, voice, pitch and character intensity was baby face tenor McLennan who becomes more impressive with each outing. He possesses a sweet lyric voice of great promise, and he finds the edge when the drama is needed. The rest of the cast, although they acted very well, could pick up performance notes from him.
Except for McGlinn and Hodges, diction was non-existent which was very irritating. On the other hand, McGlinn is making strides on nailing his high notes, but Hodges’ pitch was wild. Angelo, while a bit rough around the edges, possesses an interesting colour in his voice. Both DeGrazia’s and Tchoubar’s words were indecipherable. DeGrazia voice is also heading to shrill on the high notes, while Tchoubar has a woody, vibrato sound that can be quite unattractive at full power. The chorus was solid, except on diction, and the five children who played the Racz younger siblings were cute.
Sadly, this was a performance that was not well heard in the music.