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Veteran mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter appeared in recital at Koerner Hall yesterday afternoon with pianist Christopher Berner. The first part of the programme was some fairly gentle Mozart with some fairly light weight Weckerlin and one long Schubert piece; “Die Viola”. A short Mozart piano piece rounded out the programme. It was stylish, enjoyable singing but one felt that both choice of material and method of presentation were being chosen to conserve the voice. How would things go after the interval when three songs from Winterreise were promised?
So to Eastminster United last night for the opening concert of the Toronto Bach Festival. We got three concerti bookended by (I think) a sinfonia from one of the cantatas; an excuse to show off the trumpets and timpani recruited for Sunday’s oratorios, and an arrangement of the Air on the G String. Festival director John Abberger contributed a scholarly programme note on the general issue of Bach concerti. Bottom line, there aren’t very many of them but they can be rearranged for a pretty wide range of instrumental options. Last night we got the Concerto for Oboe BWV1056, Concerto for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord BWV 1044 and the much better known Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 BWV 1046.
Emma Haché’s Lesson in Forgetting (translated by Taliesin McEnaney and John Van Burek) is an exploration of memory, amnesia and love. It;’s currently playing in a production by Pleiades Theatre directed by Ash Knight at the Young Centre. The basic premise is that HE (Andrew Moodie) has suffered head injuries that mean the only thing he can remember is how much he loves SHE (Ma-Ann Dionisio). She visits him every day to work on his memory issues but it’s obviously hopeless and eventually, wanting to be free to continue her own life, she tries to leave him but can’t.
So continuing my exploration of music by contemporary female composers I listened to Rebecka Sofia Ahvenniemi’s Soundtrack for an Imaginary Opera. Ahvenniemi is both a composer and a philosopher who is inviting us, in this work, to reflect on opera as a social construct as much as text and music. There’s lots of information on what she’s getting at plus all the texts at this link.
The texts here are a mix of fragments from opera and other works plus a made up “operatic language” which is a sort of cod Italian. The pieces are all very different with the soundworlds created by what the composer calls “musical dumpster diving”. So, in the first track; “Beauty Hurts”, which riffs off Monteverdi’s Orfeo there are bits of “Monteverdi like” music mixed with strings slipping from arpeggios into slides plus lots of percussion and synthesizer. The second track; “Punish Me”, uses a variety of vocal techniques; speech, whispering, something akin to Sprechstimme and a kind of pop style, backed up by booming percussion and shimmering strings. Continue reading
Janáček’s Jenůfa was staged and recorded at the Staatsoper unter den Linden in 2021 under COVID conditions. There’s no audience and the chorus members, in black, are distributed all around the auditorium. Even without a live audience it’s extremely dramatic and intense.
There’s a new video up on the Confluence Concerts Youtube channel. It’s a lecture recital by counter-tenor Ryan McDonald about Klaus Nomi. It’s an interesting and scholarly attempt to situate Nomi in the context of both his own time and place (1970s/80s New York City) and in the context of contemporary queerness in the classical music world. There’s also some singing. Ryan, accompanied by Ivan Jovanovic, performs some of the material associated with Nomi including a couple of “diva arias” and songs by Dowland, Schumann and Purcell.
Songs From the House of Death is a new song cycle for mezzo-soprano and orchestra by Ian Cusson. It was premiered in April by Krisztina Szabó and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. It’s a setting of three texts from Joy Harjo‘s How We Became Human. Ian has a knack of finding really strong texts by Indigenous poets and these are no exception. The longest (13 minutes of the 23 minute work) is “Songs From the House of Death; Or How to Make it Through the End of a Relationship”. This is an evocation of death and impermanence and memory. The setting is very varied. The opening pizzicato strings are barely audible but it rapidly builds to blend densely orchestrated (it’s a big orchestra) and very high energy music with much gentler and more lyrical passages; sometimes using the concert master as a soloist. This fits the changing moods of the text and, as I’ve come to expect with Ian, the music is always rooted in the text.
My review of the opening night of the COC’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is now live on Bachtrack.
A Northern Lights Dream is a new operetta by Michael Rose which premiered this last week at Toronto Operetta Theatre in a production directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin. A new operetta is a very rare thing. It;’s just not a form that contemporary composers seem to take to. There’s far too much spoken dialogue for an opera but the musical language; mostly tonal, often quite beautiful but not afraid to get more abrasive when appropriate, is much closer to that of contemporary opera than musical theatre. So an operetta it is.
The third instalment of the Likht Ensemble’s Shoah Songbook project features music from Poland; specifically from the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz-Birkenau. It’s available now on the Harold Green Jewish Theatre channel on Youtube. Here’s the link. There’s about 12 minutes of useful introductory material and 25 minutes of music.