Saturday, May 8, 2010

Grande Expectations: Love Lies Bleeding Opens

Elton John touched down in Alberta on Thursday night, though the man himself wasn’t there.

The occasion was the world premiere of Love Lies Bleeding, an Alberta Ballet production, based on Sir Elton’s music, that bends the rules of genre and gender.

The over-the-top costumes, pop music — to which the performers often lip-synched — and the sometimes over-used multi-media staging may have snubbed the traditional tutu crowd, but it certainly justified the budget. Artistic director Jean Grand-Maître’s ballet was expensive — over $1-million, in fact. The song and subject choices also had people wondering.

And now the question is: Was it worth the risk?

Modern Don Giovanni gets Mixed Reaction

When the Canadian Opera Company (COC) introduced a modern staging of Strauss’ Salome in 1996, directed by Atom Egoyan, the reviews were positive but cautious. Staged the following year in Vancouver, it was called “effective”, “tastefully erotic” and “a bold, modern look at the ancient tale.” Three years later the COC mounted La Traviata in a similar way. It was called “controversial” and the costumes likened to “Eurotrash.” But the production sold out in two separate runs, and very quickly. The audience had spoken.

The ensuing trend of modernizing old classics – Egoyan and fellow famous directors François Girard and Tim Albery mounted a stark, contemporary Ring Cycle in 2006, and in 2008 Hip Hopera (a blend of DJ turntables and memorable arias) was introduced – has provoked reaction both good and bad. Egoyan’s Die Walkure received both a standing ovation and loud, persistent boo-ing when it opened in Toronto.

“There are people who take tremendous pride in their ability to publicly disclaim something,” Egoyan said at the time, “I just couldn't help but boo back. It was just fun.”

The staging of Calgary Opera’s Don Giovanni then, which premiered last week as the final production in their 2009/2010 season, was not without precedent in this country or around the world. The minimalist, modern sets were inspired by CEO Bob McPhee’s recent viewing of European operas, which depicted costumes, context and sets as contemporary as the 1940s.

And while there wasn’t any boo-ing on opening night, there was no standing ovation either.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"From the West to the rest": Niall Ferguson in Calgary

Murray Edwards, the media shy millionaire who co-owns Lake Louise and the Calgary Flames Hockey Club, and is said to have the largest individual stake in the oil sands, is a patron. So is Ron Mathison, who specializes in “corporate turnarounds” and is the CEO of Matco Investments. Together with their wives, they sat with Deborah Yedlin, the whip-smart business columnist for The Calgary Herald, and the night’s honoured speaker, at the final instalment of the Salon Speaker Series at Teatro Restaurant.

The featured guest was Niall Ferguson, Harvard historian and prolific author. He began his lecture with a fair warning.

“Some you may be thinking, with a certain dread that I am going to talk at tedious length about the global financial crises, and use words like leverage, credit default swaps, synthetic collateralized debt obligations squared,” he said, “But I’m not. It seems to me we hear all together too much about that. We’re so focused on the small print of this financial crisis. From a historian’s view, under the gaze of eternity, who really cares?”

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Place of His Own: Chef Michael Noble

Driving along a near-empty street bordering downtown Calgary, I pass a strip mall, a gas station, a series of lonely fast food joints, the windowless brick face of a recreation centre and the vast, dirty parking lot of a Tim Hortons.

Yet another strip mall appears on the left hand side of the road, beyond four empty lanes of freeway and a massive parking lot, and I see it: the sports pub Kayne’s on 17th Avenue S.W.. This is where Michael Noble — celebrity chef, mentor, man-about-town, Iron Chef contestant in Japan and Bocuse d’Or competitor — has asked to be interviewed.

BC Get-Aways: Saturna's Charms

Just off the coast of British Columbia, flanked by pods of travelling Orcas and smacked with fat purple starfish is Saturna Island. A peaceful hide-away, Saturna is one giant, rolling mountain that affords tremendous views of the Pacific Ocean (where, it’s true, Killer Whales are often sighted), lush forested valleys and four vineyards. The perfect weekend there begins with a three hour ferry ride from Vancouver through the Southern Gulf Islands ($15.70 per adult plus $58.30 per car, or $2 per bike). Sailing through thin fog, you’ll spot otters, sea lions and perhaps a whale or two. Mounds of thick forests emerge from the haze, and the taste of salt air on your lips will stir the initial cravings: salmon, oysters, fresh berries, wine. You’ll find it all on Saturna. Upon arrival, stop at Saturna Cafe for supplies and a gourmet picnic prepared by head chef, and German ex-pat, Hubertus Surm. Drop your bags at the Breezy Bay Bed & Breakfast ($95 a night with private beach), hop in a kayak and head to Thomson Park, where you’ll find fresh oysters just laying around on the beach ready to be thrown on a campfire. Finish your day with a sampling of Pinot Noir from nearby Falonridge Vineyard, so named for the rare Peregrine Falcons that circle above.

Published in National Post, May 1 2010