mp134This is a blog mainly focussed on classical vocal music; opera, art song and choral. I try to cover more than just the standard grand opera, symphonic and recital repertoire.  If there’s an interesting new music, genre bending or fusion project that intersects with my mainstream interests I’m up for it.  I’ve been running the blog since August 2010 when I started it as a writing project with no expectation that anyone much would read it.  Much to my surprise it proved quite popular and now gets up to 8000 hits/month.  It’s also got me a certain amount of recognition which means I get to see a lot more shows than I could ever afford to go to and even the occasional writing gig beyond the blog.  I’ve appeared in several COC and other podcasts and written reviews and features for Opera Canada magazine.

In terms of live performance, my beat is mainly Toronto.  You will find me at the COC, the TSO when it makes sense, the University and the Conservatory and at the smaller opera and genre defying companies that make the Toronto scene so intriguing.  I also review recordings.  There are well over 500 DVD and Blu-ray reviews, ranging from standard rep to contemporary opera, and about 150 CD reviews, heavily focussed on new music and emerging artists, on this site.

Over time, this blog has expanded to cover some other aspects of theatre arts; especially where there is an intersection of the classical arts and Indigenous Performance.  I am immensely grateful to my First Nations and Métis friends for the invaluable help and encouragement they have given me along the difficult road of learning, however inadequately, to engage with the complex set of issues this involves.

Opera Ramblings is written in that part of T’karonto which was once part of what we now call Lake Ontario.  It’s the traditional territory of the the Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, and the Anishanabek First Nations, including the Mississaugas of the New Credit.  It’s covered by the Dish with One Spoon Treaty and Treaty 13 between the Crown and the Mississauga.  I feel immensely privileged to live and work on land where people have created art for thousands of years.

Should you feel moved to contact me by email, I’m jgilks AT rogers DOT com.

The title banner image shows Alan Oke in Tim Albery’s production of Britten’s Peter Grimes that took place on (freezing) Aldeburgh beach in 2013. The image is cropped from a vidcap from the Blu-ray recording.  The picture of me at the top of the page was taken at Inti Pinku looking back to Macchu Picchu.

20 thoughts on “About

  1. Dear John:
    Sorry to hear you can’t join us for the UofT Opera Student Composer Collective Encounters this Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 5 pm, but appreciate the nod. This ‘class’ is a unique feature of the UofT opera/composition/performance programs; I know of no other schools internationally that develop and fully stage new operas annually in this way. This year’s five miniatures include the long-requested sequel to our 2012 production Rob Ford: the Opera—In the shadow of Rob Ford. Free. Popular. Exceptional.
    With best wishes, Don McLean, Dean, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

  2. I am reading your blog/critique for the first time and am delighted to sense a truly intelligent and honest review of a performance and what must go into establishing character, even, in a work that is pure farce. It has been a very long time since I have read a well written review with real insight into a period piece. You, also, managed to point out the production’s failings without cruelty. I am not a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan but because of your review, I am tempted to take it in, out of sheer professional curiosity. Bravo! It takes a lot to peek an old opera singer’s desire for attending a G&S production. We need critics like you in mainstream publications, that do not have an agenda of vindictiveness or blatantly blind promotion. As Christopher Newton once said: “Nothing should be played more seriously than farce.” I would go farther and say that: Nothing should be “critiqued” more seriously than farce!

    • Thank you for that. It means a lot. I much prefer to focus on positives when reviewing so it’s very hard to write a review of a show that one feels is not as good as it might be. It’s even harder when one knows many of the people involved.

  3. Your blog is brilliantly informative and fresh – thank you!
    I have had so many introductions to various productions and singers from you. So I thought I would draw your attention to this superb new CD , the first of Jonathan Dove’s song cycles, sung by three leading singers and their very talented accompanist. It is odd that it has taken so long for a CD of this well regarded opera composer’s song cycles to be recorded. I love the title, and final cycle on the CD (words by Vikram Seth) All You Who Sleep Tonight. There are samples available on this link. I wonder if your subscribers would enjoy it as much as I have… Yours ever, R


  4. “Much to my surprise it proved quite popular and now gets around 8000 hits/month.” The benefits of truth-telling, combined with consistent and honest effort, are often immeasurable. It’s nice that you can put a number to some portion of yours. Well done, and ramble on!

      • I see you are a Patricia Bardon fan too? Might I recommend the wonderful new CD for Naxos she features on with soprano Claire Booth, tenor Nicky Spence and their fine pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen? World Premiere recordings and was Editor’s Choice in Gramophone magazine. Superb listening for all singing fans:


        DOVE, J.: Song Cycles – All You Who Sleep Tonight / Out of … http://www.naxos.com DOVE, J.: Song Cycles – All You Who Sleep Tonight / Out of Winter / Ariel (English Song, Vol. 23) (Booth, Bardon, Spence, Matthews-Owen) Jonathan Dove is one of …


      • Ah that’s great I reminded you of it, to hear again.

        Might it be worth reviewing/featuring on your blog? Dove is very popular and these songs are gems are singers, especially opera students at the colleges and new into the profession?

        It is lovely to hear how much more adventurous young singers are these days in their recitals.

        The same team on the Dove CD – Booth, Spence, Matthews-Owen also feature on a Naxos CD of Alun Hoddinott’s song cycles and folk songs, curated again by the pianist.

        Do listen to the last 6 Folk songs – they are stunners.

        Hoddinott and Myfanwy Piper collaborated on some major operas. Why does WNO never do them? R

        http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/r/Naxos/8571360 [http://i.prs.to/t_200/747313136070.jpg]

        Presto Classical – Hoddinott: Landscapes – Naxos: 8571360 … http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk Presto Classical – Hoddinott: Landscapes – Naxos: 8571360 with Claire Booth (soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone), Andrew Matthews-Owen …


      • I’m going to have to check this out. I’m a complete sucker for settings of Welsh folk songs. I was in tears during Bryn T’s recital here. Plus I have the family connection with Cardiff and a lot of climbs in Snowdonia under my belt.

      • You will love this CD then as the first cycle ‘Landscapes’ is about 5 mythical points on Anglesey – Roman ruins, where daffodils now grow on graves of the fallen, a beach with secret paths where lovers walk, a ruined chapel. The music and words really evoke Anglesey.

        There are also the 6 folksongs and 2 further folsongs on Pontypridd and Llangyfelach, as well as a cycle which Hoddinott collaborated with Ursula Vaughan Williams with.

        There is also the last vocal work Hoddinott wrote, commissioned by the CD’s excellent accompanist (as on the Dove CD) Andrew Matthews-Owen: an interesting scena for soprano, baritone and piano duet (words by John Dyer) – the baritone is not great sadly but the performances of Claire Booth, Nicky Spence and Andrew Matthews-Owen are again superb.

        I am so glad I mentioned this now!


      • I have had similar issues with that site! Thought it was just my internet.

        It makes me mad that Hoddinott’s operas are no longer performed – he is a superb composer.

        I love the orchestral playing of the pianist in the opening cycle – Hoddinott’s sound world is very evocative


  5. Hey John, just discovered your blog, looks great so far! I’m curious, what is your background in music, did you study opera?


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