On Thursday evening the members of COC’s Ensemble Studio collaborated to create an on-line concert called Songs of Hope. All the current Ensemble members plus Liz Upchurch took part in an extremely eclectic programme MC’d by Simone Osborne. There was “classic” art song with Jamie Groote singing Britten’s arrangement of Burns’ Highland Balou. Joel Allison sang Silent Noon by Vaughan Williams; a test piece for any Anglo baritone inviting comparison with the likes of Thomas Allen and Bryn Terfel. He passes the test in my book. Very fine singing indeed. Vartan Gabrielan gave us a rare chance to hear a genuine bass singing Schubert; in this case Ständchen. The different timbre is an interesting and welcome change.
David Lang’s love fail is a choral work inspired by the story of Tristan and Isolde. It was originally written for Anonymous 4 but later revised for the slightly larger forces of the Lorelei Ensemble (3 sopranos, 3 mezzos, 2 altos) who have now recorded it. It’s basically an a cappella piece though there are places where the singers play percussion instruments. The texts are a mixture of elements that the composer has taken (and translated where necessary) from various classic versions of the tale; Gottfried von Strassburg, Marie de France, Sir Thomas Malory and even Richard Wagner among others, and interspersed them with poems on themes of love and loss by Lydia Davis. The “classical” texts are somewhat repetitive and reflect the classic values of the story. Davis’ poetry is wordier and less obviously poetic and deals with relationships in more more modern, more personal, less mythic terms. It’s an interesting contrast that the composer exploits to find two rather different colour palettes within the constraints of eight female voices singing essentially tonal music. It works. The risk of tedium is avoided and the work hangs together for its full length.
Toronto Summer Music have announced their revised “virtual” schedule. Alas most of the vocal music is gone but there is plenty of interesting looking chamber music with, of course, a Beethoven focus. It runs July 16th to August 1st and it’s all free. The full schedule is here.
The one vocal recital features mezzo Ema Nikolovska with Steven Philcox in an interesting and varied programme. It airs on July 31st from noon to 2pm. The programme is here.
Pretty major announcements from both the COC and the TSO recently; the COC’s reinforced with an on-line Q&A with Alexander Neef last night. The substance of the COC announcement is that the fall season (Parsifal and Marriage of Figaro) is cancelled along with all other in-person performances for the rest of 2020. Parsifal has been rescheduled for the fall season 2022. At this point the rest of the 2020/21 season is still on. Officially at least. However Alexander made it pretty clear that the Four Seasons Centre won’t be reopened until they can sell at least the bulk of the seats which would mean the end of social distancing. I don’t see that happening until a Covid-19 vaccine is generally available and can’t imagine that being soon enough to save the winter season and maybe not the spring season either. Meanwhile the COC is looking at its virtual options.
I’m rarely disappointed by a Pierre Audi production and his Tristan und Isolde for Teatro dell’opera di Roma, recorded in 2016, was far from that. It’s a bit of a slow burn but then so, really, is the work itself. It’s starkly simple. The sets contain few elements and no fuss. Costuming is almost drab but the direction of the singers is compelling and it builds to a brilliant staging of the Liebestod with Isolde silhouetted, motionless in a kind of frame and absolutely nothing happening which, paradoxically, is riveting.
Cantilena is a CD of art songs by various composers arranged for soprano, harp and cello. It’s an interesting twist on music that one is likely to be fairly (sometimes very) familiar with in the usual voice and piano format. It’s a generous disk with nineteen songs in all. The composers featured are Debussy, Duparc, Fauré, Massenet, Tosti, Tedeschi, Richard Strauss, Gregory and Villa-Lobos. The performers are soprano Gillian Zammit, harpist Britt Arend and cellist Frank Camilleri. Arend and Camilleri are principals with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Dora winners were announced last night. I don’t think there were any big surprises in the opera category. The COC’s Rusalka scooped most awards with four including Outstanding Production. The other three were Outstanding Direction (David McVicar), Outstanding Musical Direction (Johannes Debus) and Outstanding Achievement in Design (Lighting) (David Finn). It was probably the best thing overall the COC has done in a long time so not shocked.
Yvette Nolan and Dean Burry won the Outstanding New Opera category for Shanawdithit. I’m delighted about this one as I had rather more personal emotional investment in this project than most things I see and it was an important project in so many ways. Marnie Breckenridge received the Dora for Outstanding Performance by an Individual for her performance in Jacqueline. Also well deserved and a wee but surprising as there was every reason to give this one to Sondra Radvanovsky and usually that kind of name recognition wins out. In any event two big wins for Tapestry (and a nod to Opera on the Avalon for being a smaller regional company prepared to invest in something relevant).
Finally, Soundstreams presentation of Two Odysseys: Pimooteewin / Gállábártnit won Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble. In this case Nicole Joy-Fraser, Karen
Weigold, Vania Chan, Deantha Edmunds, Jennifer Taverner, Rebecca Cuddy, Bó Bárdos, Michelle Lafferty, Jonathan MacArthur, Mitchell Pady, Evan Korbut, Bryan Martin and Neil Aronof. This was another fascinating show that deserved some recognition.
So, yes, the eight hundred pound gorilla came out on top but hardly by a knock out.
One of the interesting things about Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann is that there is no definitive edition so creative teams have a lot of flexibility in how they cut and combine material. Director Tobias Kratzer and conductor Carlo Rizzi created a really interesting take for their production at Dutch National Opera in 2018. It’s a very modern, very dark interpretation that while it keeps Offenbach’s music (though not interpolations like Scintille diamante) and the words are all from (some version of) the libretto the storyline varies a lot from what we are used to while keeping intact the central psychological fact that Hoffmann is incapable of relating to real women.
Last night’s virtual salon by Confluence; Let’s Stay Together, featured an extremely, if unsurprisingly, eclectic selection of music and poetry and some serious techno-wizardry. Two numbers featuring Suba Shankaran and her technical whizz husband Dylan Bell exemplified the techy side. Come Together was an overdubbed. live looped, east meets west version of the Lennon and McCartney number in which the pair built up layers of sound incrementally. Meditation Round, which rounded out the evening, was a moving new work by Suba dealing with how we need to move forward, not back, as life, perhaps, returns to some sort of normality. There was an almost 16th century quality to the music and the performance in which pretty much everyone took part remotely. Brilliant mixing and post production here backing up an extremely affecting work.
June 24th sees the return, virtually, of Larry Beckwith’s Confluence Concerts. Let’s Stay Together: A Confluence Salon will air on the Confluence Youtube Channel at 7pm EST with a pre-show Q&A at 6.30pm. Larry Beckwith, Dylan Bell, Andrew Downing, Gordon Gerrard, Robert Kortgaard, Marion Newman, Patricia O’Callaghan, Suba Sankaran and Bijan Sepanji will perform music by Randy Newman, Ernest Chausson, Edith Piaf, Béla Bartok, Peter Maxwell Davies, Gustav Mahler, Leonard Cohen, Suba Sankaran, The Beatles, Charlie Chaplin and others. In addition, the renowned Canadian author André Alexis will read poems by Anna Akhmatova, Roo Borson and one of his own, Johnson Grass, from his 2019 novel Days by Moonlight. I’m excited. Since the series started Confluence has been one of the most interesting and fun gigs in town. Free!