This year’s featured composer in UoT’s New Music Festival is Toshio Hosokawa. Last night saw performances of two of his one act operas in Walter Hall in productions by filmmaker Paramita Nath, with the composer in the hall. The first was a monodrama setting of Poe’s The Raven featuring Kristina Szabó and a student ensemble conducted by Gregory Oh. It’s an interesting piece. Hosokawa’s sound world combines the European avant-garde with Japanese elements so it’s unlike anything I’ve heard from a North American composer. It’s dramatic and atmospheric and works really well with fevered nature of Poe’s text. He also writes well for the voice with a variety of demands from whispering, through speech to full on singing. All of this coped with admirably by Szabó who, as ever, seemed perfectly at home with whatever the composer threw at her.
Nath’s production consisted of Szabó in a flowing white dress on a chaise-longue against a background of projections of the singer which overflowed onto the ceiling. It was a good use of the space. Oddly, given the use of projections, there were no surtitles though I guess most pople are familiar enough with the Poe for that not to be a huge problem. The student ensemble seemed entirely at home with the idiom and sounded very well integrated.
The second piece, The Maiden from the Sea was based on the Noh play Futari Shizuka. It featured soprano Xin Wang and Noh singer/dancer Ryoko Aoki and an entirely different ensemble conducted by Lorenzo Guggenheim. This was a story of a refugee girl possessed by the spirit of a 12th century court dancer, the lady Shizuka. Sung partly in English and partly in Japanese and being completely unfamiliar as a story surtitles might have been a good idea. The sound world was similar to the first piece but with the interesting element of having a bright Western style soprano contrasting with the slightly gravelly traditional Noh sound. The production made sparing use of projections of waves and snow but Aoki’s entrance and exact through the auditorium were dramatically lit.
So, an interesting and valuable double bill in a style not heard so often in Toronto with excellent performances all round.