So the Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a Shakespeare themed show called A Shakespeare Serenade. Curated and directed by Patrick Hansen of McGill it fell into two parts. Before the interval we got Shakespeare scenes acted out and then the equivalent scene from an operatic adaptation of the play. After the interval it was a mix of Sonnets and song settings in an overall staging that was perhaps riffing off The Decameron. Patrick Hansen and Michael Shannon alternated at the piano.
The first part started strongly with the Tytania and Bottom scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the operatic setting being the Britten/Pears. I have to say I found Geoffrey Penar’s extremely physical acting more effective than his singing but Vanessa Oude-Reimerink was a vocally effective and decorative Tytania. Next up was ACt3, Scene 2 of the Tempest; the opera being the one by Lee Holby, with Kevin Myers excellent in both parts as Caliban and some suitably camped up drunkenness from Zachary Rubens and Russell Wustenberg.
The Amelia/Desdemona scene seemed a curious choice for Othello. It’s not the most interesting scene in the play by a long chalk and if, as the Director’s Notes suggest, the point was to show how different Boito’s treatment for Verdi was than the original, surtitles for the aria (Salce) would have been a good idea. Samantha Pickett made a competent fist of the aria with support from Stephanie Kallay who was very good in the spoken scene. Piano accompaniment doesn’t do this aria any favours either.
Rachel Krehm acted and sang well in the poison scene from Romeo and Juliet (opera by Gounod). It was well characterized and well sung with, for connoisseurs of such things, two opportunities to display the trademark Krehm “collapse gracefully in a heap”. The set finished up with the letter scene from The Merry Wives of Windsor played with suitable comic exaggeration by Ana Tourmine and Simone McIntosh who also made a well matched pair in the excerpt from Geddai’s Die Lustigen Weiber. I’m not sure it was necessary or wise to double this up with the quartet from Falstaff, especially without surtitles.
The second half featured song settings by Tippett, Quilter, Korngold, Thomson and Finzi and finished up with Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music. Highlights included two versions of Come away death with tenor Kevin Myers very pleasing in the Quilter and the sadly underused Rose Naggar-Tremblay displaying her dark mezzo in the Korngold setting. I also very much liked Vanessa Oude-Reimerink’s lively and engaging Sigh no more ladies in the Thomson setting and Keith Lam’s thoughtful Fear no more the heat o’ the sun. Finzi of course and one of the best of all Shakespeare settings done full justice.
It was an interesting concept, though perhaps stretched a tad further than ideal and a bit of a mixed bag as far as the singing went. That’s not really a surprise with a mix of singers that ranged from very recent graduates to others with a good deal of stage experience. What was consistently impressive was all the cast’s ability in the spoken sections. One might not necessarily expect young opera singers to be masters of Shakespearean English but in fact the standard was remarkably high.