So, apparently Toronto has three opera singers from the otherwise unremarkable town of Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Today they (Michael and Peter Barrett and Adam Luther) together with Doug Naughton on guitar, Andrew Grimes on bhodran and, the definitely not from Newfoundland, Sandra Horst on piano produced a fun recital of arrangements of more or less traditional songs from Newfoundland and the British Isles together with a few pieces that aren’t actually traditional but people think they are. And actually, of course, a lot of the time differentiating between a traditional Newfoundland song and a traditional British song is a bit fraught.
Folksong arrangements are a tricky thing. They are art songs not folksongs but if sung in a too artsy way sound completely artificial. Getting the balance between art song and folksong idiom and inflection right seems to take a singer who really gets both forms. It’s why, say, Jessye Norman, is so great in A Child of Our Time. She can sing the blues so she can sing blues inflected art music better than someone who can’t. The Barrett boys and Adam Luther have that sound grasp of both traditions too and can make it work. They are also very fine singers of course (You can hear them in various roles in the current productions of Lucia di Lammermoor, Salome and Dialogues des Carmélites at the COC) and all of them have a fair bit of comic talent (rather more than a fair bit in Michael’s case). Accompaniment in this genre isn’t easy either and Sandra Horst, in particular, was excellent and idiomatic.
The programme ranged from the sentimental (Danny Boy, Let Me Fish off Cape St. Mary’s) to the broadly comic (That St. John’s Girl, Sarah) to the downright raucous (We’ll Rant and We’ll Roar) with an unexpected diversion into John Ireland’s Sea Fever and an unusual version of Waly, Waly. This was said to be the Britten arrangement but I’ve never heard it done before by three voices, piano and guitar. Whatever, I enjoyed it. They finished with an encore; I’s the by which I’m pretty sure I last heard sung in the same space by Russell Braun, Chris Enns, Kristina Szabo and Erin Wall. Funny how that happens.
Anyway, it was all very well done and tremendous fun.