It’s that time of year when one goes back over one’s writing in search of the standouts. Somewhat segmented, here are my thoughts on the year.
Major opera productions
At the COC nothing really blew me away in 2018. Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian was better than I had feared and, I think, with revisions could be rather good. In the form we saw it, it felt somewhat overblown and didactic. It was also great to see Robert Carsen’s Eugene Onegin finally get an airing in Toronto; especially with a very good, young, largely Canadian cast. Nothing from Opera Atelier really floated my boat this year though. Are Against the Grain or Tapestry major companies now? One could argue that they are sailing under false colours in describing themselves as “Indy”. In any event they each provided one of the year’s highlights with the spectacular Orphée from the former and the best new work of the year; The Overcoat, from the latter.
Small company productions
As always, there were a lot. Jani Lauzon’s I Call myself Princess took an idea that didn’t seem on first blush very promising and created something deeply moving and thought provoking. Sara Schabas and co were equally affecting with their double header of Jake Heggie Holocaust operas; Farewell Auschwitz. Bicycle Opera Project’s Llandovery Castle was probably the best commemoration of the centenary of the ending of the Great War. And, on a lighter note, the crazily Canadian Hockey Noir was great fun, as was Opera 5’s high energy Barber of Seville.
There was good stuff from both main schools. My picks would be Die Fledermaus at the Glenn Gould School; not least for another chance to see Jonelle Sills and Lynn Isnar in tandem. I also enjoyed the UoT Opera Street Scene which isn’t my favourite Weill work by a country mile but which featured a very fine, nuanced performance by Matthew Cairns.
I saw far fewer recitals in 2018 because of the demands of the day job, which prevented me from getting to any lunchtime concerts, much to my chagrin. Highlights of what I did get to though Included Gerry Finley and Julius Drake at Koerner and a near perfect offering by Christophe Prégardien, also with Julius Drake, at the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Less standard but very satisfying fare included Yiddish Glory; a celebration of Soviet Jewish resistance music from the Great Patriotic War, Teiya Kasahara’s searingly honest Queer of the Night and the thought provoking Sovereignty Voiced which kicked off Larry Beckwith’s new Confluence series.
It wasn’t a bumper year for me on video but there were a few standouts. I really like David Pountney’s production of Weinberg’s The Passenger recorded in Bregenz (this seemed to be the year for Holocaust music). And, oddly perhaps, the other standout was Laufenberg’s production of Parsifal from Bayreuth. There are a lot of very good video recordings of Parsifal out there. On CD the clear standout was Miriam Khalil’s extraordinary performance of Golijov’s Ayre. It’s as spine-tingling on record as it was live.