About operaramblings

Toronto based lover of opera, art song and related music

Taraf Syriana at the Lula Lounge

Taraf Syriana are an interesting collection of musicians.  They are all conservatory trained but in different genres from western classical to Syrian classical to Romani (and probably more) and they play a variety of instruments from different traditions.  They combine all this to create a kind of fusion folk/rock inspired by the music(s) of the lands from the Balkans through Syria to Kurdistan.  They use quite a bit of amplification and the overall effect is like a sort of eastern Mediterranean Fairport Convention although there’s more composed music and less traditional stuff in the Taraf Syriana rep.

3. Taraf Syriana Photo courtesy of Antonia Gueorguiva

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British art song in the late 20th century

msvcd92025The first half of the 20th century was a sort of golden age for British art song unparalleled since the days of Purcell and Blow.  There are works by, inter alia, Finzi, Britten Vaughan Williams and Butterworth that are still staples of the repertoire.  After the second world war though it starts to tail off and I’m hard pressed to think of songs/song cycles from the last two or three decades of the century that have become at all popular.  In fact, it seems to me, the most popular art song like works from this period are stage works which are based on a cycle of songs like Maxwell Davies’ Miss. Donnithorne’s Maggot. I was interested then to come across a 1999 CD of (actual) songs for voice and piano written since 1970.  The CD is Peripheral Visions by soprano Alison Grant and pianist Katherine Durran.  

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Moving Traviata from MMF

It’s not all that often I feel genuinely moved by an opera on video.  It’s so much less immersive than experiencing live.  There is the occasional one.  Both the Berlin Parsifal and the Aix-en-Provence La traviata come to mind.  The recently released La traviata from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino is another one.  It’s an interesting and effective production with a strong cast centred on the searing Violetta of Nadine Sierra.


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The Birds

The Birds, by Bygone Theatre currently playing at Hart House Theatre is loosely based on the du Maurier short story and the subsequent Hitchcock film.  The idea, the script and the direction are all the work of Emily Dix.  The concept, building on the uncertainties of the Trump era and COVID is to explore “how do you explain to someone outside of a crisis the things you did to survive it? How do you justify to the world, and eventually, even yourself, what “crazy” things you did, completely necessary and justified at the time, when afterwards much of the world seems determined to pretend that crisis never existed?” (Director’s Notes).  I’m not sure it really does that.


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Paper V2

wemmfbananaLast night saw the final concert in this year’s West End Micro Music Festival.  Once more the venue was the intimate and acoustically very good Redeemer Lutheran on Bloor West.  The first half of the programme was the latest iteration of Nahre Sol (keyboards) and Brad Cherwin’s (clarinets) PAPER.  Joined by Louis Pino on electronics, they improved on what paper is, sounds like, looks like and can be used for.  There were electronic paper noises, crumpled paper, torn paper, piano prepared with paper and Brad creating a painting on paper and using it as an instrument.  I suppose this is more “performance art” than music but it was pretty interesting.

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Le Jongleur de Notre Dame

jongleurThere are, perhaps remarkably, two operas on the theme of based on Anatole France’s short story about a juggler monk who impresses the Virgin Mary with his skills.  There is a long one by Massenet and a much shorter one by Peter Maxwell Davies which I shall deal with here.

It’s perhaps misleading to call it an opera.  It’s a stage work which requires a juggler mime.  That bit doesn’t work so well on CD!  There’s only one singer; a baritone playing the abbot who is initially shocked by the juggler and then comes to understand.  There’s lots of nstrumental music played by a small chamber ensemble and, rather oddly, the last three minutes or so feature a children’s band.

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Wirth prize winner

The 2021/22 winner of the Wirth Vocal prize at McGill’s Schulich Schoolof Music is Innu soprano Elisabeth Saint-Gelais.  She performed in the RBA at noon on Wednesday, accompanied by Louise Pelletier.  It was impressive.  She has power to burn and a rather lovely voice and, not so common among young dramatic sopranos, considerable control across her registers.  She also displayed considerable linguistic skill in French, German and Czech though I’m completely unqualified to comment on the quality of her Anishinabe.


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Rebanks fellows

Last night at Mazzoleni Hall we were entertained by the Royal Conservatory’s Rebanks fellows.  The programme was, to say the least, varied and very enjoyable.  It began with a movement from Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor played by Isobel Howard – violin, Caleb Georges – viola, Joanne Yesol Choi – cello and Sejin Yoon – piano.  It was a pleasant, if conventional, start to the evening.  There were rather more fireworks in the “Allegro ma non troppo” from Strauss’ Violin Sonata in E flat major.  There was some seriously virtuosic playing here from Aaaron Chan – violin and Ben Smith – piano.

1. Group Photo

from L to R: Michael Bridge, accordion; Caleb Georges, viola; Isobel Howard, violin; Sejin Yoon, piano; Hannah Crawford, soprano; Daniel Hamin Go, cello; Tim Beattie, guitar; Jonelle Sills, soprano; Aaron Chan, violin.

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The Golden Ring

thegoldenringGeorg Solti’s recording of Wagner’s Ring cycle made between 1958 and 1966 has probably had more words written about it than any other classical recording.  They are perhaps best. summed up by Gramophone Magazines comment that it is “The greatest of all the achievements in the history of the gramophone record”.  It’s an amzing cast that no-one could afford to assemble for a studio recording today, it’s the Wiener Philharmoiker and, of course, Solti himself.  But most opera lovers and certainly the audiophile ones will know all this.  So why am I writing about it?

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Rising with The Crossing

RisingwTheCrossingArtworkAs I understand it the genesis of this recent CD from Philadelphia choir The Crossing and their conductor Donald Nally was members emailing each other clips of recordings from live concerts to keep their morale up during lockdown.  I guess in that respect it’s got something in common with this show.  No surprise then that the album is quite eclectic.  There’s around seventy minutes of music with twelve tracks in all.

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