As promised, thoughts on art song recitals

gerhaherhuberThe imminent death of the art song recital is perhaps an even more prevalent trope than “opera is dying” doomandgloomery.  It reached something of a crescendo in Toronto when the Aldeburgh Connection shut up shop after thirty years.  Oddly enough there still seem to be plenty of recitals of various kinds but unquestionably there has been something of a shift away from “two dudes in tails with a piano”.

One thing I have noticed is that, for traditional recitals, only really big name (as in singers Toronto audiences really know about) stars draw a big audience.  Sondra Radvanovsky and Karita Mattila filled Koerner Hall but Christian Gerhaher couldn’t and Chris Maltman played to just a few hundred people in Walter Hall.  Further down to food chain, the first Mazzoleni Masters show played to a less than full house in not so large Mazzoleni Hall.  It’s curiously reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of the audience gap between the COC and everyone else.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to a number of new approaches, alone or in combination.  These include:

  • Creating a narrative line for a group of songs and staging it with props and costumes.  Tim Albery has done a fair bit of this at UoT.  I’ve found it a bit uneven but at its best it can be very rewarding.
  • Incorporating choreography.  Both Against the Grain and Canadian Art Song Project have gone down this route and it certainly seems to pull in an audience.
  • Broadening out the repertoire to include songs from other genres.  I think this has been done with encores time out of mind but it seems to have become more common to include show tunes and folk songs in the published program.
  • Using non-traditional venues, usually of a more club like atmosphere where one can buy a drink and sit at a table.
  • Using projected surtitles so that the audience can actually watch the performers rather than reading their lyric sheet.

Unlike the opera scene I don’t see any clear patterns here,  We are still very much in experimentation mode and time will tell what audiences will go for.  I’m also less sure who the potential audience is, especially for the less established players.  It’s harder to market a recital I think.  It’s relatively simple to articulate a USP for a new way of doing an opera but perhaps not so easy to do so for a concert.

I’m curious to see how this space evolves over the next few years.



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