Toronto City Opera has been around for a while but its previous performance location at the Bickford Centre was quite sufficient to keep me away. The Miles Nadal JCC is quite another matter. The basic idea of TCO is that the chorus is open to, essentially, anybody and that their subscriptions, plus fund raising, allow the company to do a couple of staged shows each year with young professional soloists, director, conductor and pianist. So, in theory it’s a chorus centric endeavour so the choice of Le Nozze di Figaro seems a bit odd since it has less than ten minutes of chorus and that is usually covered by a small group of eight or so ladies. That said, Nozze is their first of two productions this season and I saw the last show in the run this afternoon.
Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah is back for a fourth outing, again under the musical direction of Adam Scime. The formula is basically the same as previous years.
- Take excerpts from Handel’s Messiah
- Add some new music
- Arrange for small chamber ensemble, electronics and turntables (Sarah Svendsen, analog and electric harpsichord; Joel Schwartz, electric guitar; Jeff McLeod, electric organl; SlowPitchSound, turntablist)
- Take a quartet of singers from different vocal traditions (Jonathan MacArthur, Katherine Hill, Aviva Chernick and Alex Samaras)
- Throw in a dancer (Lybido)
- Have some of the text sung in a language relevant to the singer (Gaelic, Hebrew, Swedish this time)
- Stage it at Drake Underground
This year in addition there was some interpolated music not directly derived from Messiah; to whit, a gospel piece for Samaras called “Personal Jesus” and a harpsichord solo.
Staging art song and chamber works happens in Toronto but not a lot. Over the last few years I’ve seen interesting shows from Against the Grain, Collectif and UoT Opera among others. As it’s something I tend to enjoy I was pleased to catch the opening performance of Opera 5’s Hindemith and Shostakovich program; itself the first in a proposed series called Open Chambers.
Slightly off the usual Operaramblings track perhaps, but my attention was recently drawn to a book publishing project that may be of interest. It’s a bilingual Latin/English text of the Mozart Requiem illustrated by artist Matt Hughes in art nouveau style. It’s going to be a 60pp edition with 15 full colour illustrations including gold ink. It’s hard cover bound with the edition size yet to be finalized but quite small. Right now it’s at the Kickstarter phase with a still a little way to go to meet target and allow publication. The book will include an introduction to the piece and the various stories/legends about its completion by the Guardian‘s music critic Erica Jeal and an essay on art nouveau by art blogger and gallery owner Olga Harmsen. There are more details and samples of the art work on Matt’s website or you could just go straight to the Kickstarter page.
Stefano Poda’s production of Turandot (he is also responsible for the sets, costumes and lighting) for Teatro Regio Torino, recorded in early 2018, is one of the most visually effective productions of this (or perhaps any opera) that I’ve seen. I don’t know whether it makes “sense” (but I’m also not sure that any Turandot does) and, if it does, I doubt one would be able to unpack it in a single viewing because there’s a lot going on (but see comment at the end).
This year’s fall production by UoT Opera is Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. It’s a tricky piece in many ways. It’s part opera, part Broadway musical. The moods range from light comedy to something very much darker and lurking treacherously at its core is a sentimental streak that can easily overwhelm its merits. Michael Patrick Albano’s production, coupled with Anna Theodosakis’ energetic and varied choreography, managed to keep the focus on the strengths of the piece and deliver a very satisfying evening at the theatre.
The second of three projected iterations of Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound opened last night at The Great Hall. Version one was staged but in piano score. Last night’s version was sung off music stands but with a chamber ensemble and major changes to the music. It’s going to be interesting to see how the production version, due this time next year shapes up.