It’s Norcop Prize time. On March 11th at 1.10pm there will be a pre-recorded recital by mezzo-soprano Alex Hetherington and pianist Dakota Scott-Digout, this year’s recipients of the Jim and Charlotte Norcop Prize in Song and Gwendolyn Williams Koldofsky Prize in Accompanying. Free on the UoT Music Youtube channel. I shall miss watching it with Jim N!
It should also be time for UoT Opera’s spring performance. Last year, their Mansfield Park (March 13th) was my last pre-plague live show. This years festival of one act operas has been postponed and will now be streamed on April 22nd to 25th.
There have been a lot of discussions lately about diversity in opera and how, particularly, race and gender are represented in very limited and problematic ways, especially in the canonical operas of the long 19th century. The latest to come my way is a very good panel discussion hosted by the COC (on their Youtube channel) and moderated by Aria Umezawa. This one tackled gender issues but, inevitably broader questions came up and that’s what I want to explore here. You might want to watch it either before or after reading the rest of this piece.
The only revolution to ever start in an opera house….
Our Song d’Hiver is Tapestry Opera’s latest on-line offering. It’s a little over an hour long and features Mireille Asselin exploring French-English bilingualism and biculturalism as it manifests itself from l’Acadie to the Ottawa valley with a bit of Provence thrown in for good measure. It’s very cleverly done and the production values are high. In places it’s very funny and in others impossibly sad. There are lovely performances by Mimi and pianist Frédéric and guest appearances from guitarists Maxim and Gervais Cormier, poet Élise Gauthier and composers Ian Cusson and Marie-Claire Saindon.
There are three new Youtube videos that aren’t performances but may be of interest. On the Confluence Concerts channel there’s the John Beckwith Songbook Lecture. I was expecting the usual sort of pre-show thing ahead of this weekend’s concert but it wasn’t that at all. What we get is Bradley Christensen explaining his doctoral thesis research on developing an interpretive and pedagogical guide to Beckwith’s songs. One might expect this to be rather dry and in a way it is but dry like a certain kind of British (or I guess Kiwi) humour. It’s a sort of “Note the sheep do not so much fly as plummet” performance. No sheep though. One would have thought a Kiwi could have fixed that. I shouldn’t joke really. It’s a perfectly serious and valuable project but the deadpan delivery is curiously compelling.
Gavin Bryars’ A Native Hill is a setting of sections from Wendell Berry’s 1968 essay of that title. It was written for, and recorded by, Philadelphia based choir The Crossing and their conductor Donald Nally. The essay was written by Berry shortly after moving back to Kentucky to farm. It deals mainly with how landscapes and the humans in them are shaped by each other in profound ways. It’s very local and specific and reminded me in a curious sort of way of WG Hoskins’ The Making of the English Landscape that came out a few years before the Berry essay.
Songs for Murdered Sisters is a new song cycle by Jake Heggie setting poems by Margaret Atwood. It came about as a result of an initiative by Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins ,whose own sister was murdered by her ex in 2015, to raise awareness about violence against women. It’s now been recorded by Heggie and Hopkins and will be released by Pentatone in digital format tomorrow. It’s also available as a free video stream on the Houston Grand Opera website until March 21st.
March 12th at 8pm. ARC Ensemble plays Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and English Songs. An all Beethoven programme featuring Monica Whicher in the songs. That’s a free livestream on the Koerner Hall performance page.
March 21st at 1pm. To the Distant Beloved. Miriam Khalil, Russell Braun and Carolyn Maule perform Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte and a world premiere piece by award-winning Iranian Canadian composer, Afarin Mansouri, commissioned by Canadian Art Song Project. This one is $10 with tickets/codes available from the RCM box office.
There’s an interesting new project on Youtube from Natalya Gennadi and Catherine Carew. It’s called HBD! Project and the idea is to produce a short themed video each month featuring composers whose birthdays fall in that month. The February pilot is online and it’s a bit different from other “shows” in similar vein that I’ve come across. This one features a song by Alban Berg sung by Natalya with a fluffy puppy, music for cello and piano by Jean Coulthard played by Alice Kim and Hye Won Cecilia Lee and Rodney Sharman’s Tobacco Road sung by Catherine. So what’s new you ask (apart from the puppy)? It’s the graphics with Mozart in a party hat, animated Emily Carr paintings and a look for the Sharman that could double as the witches’ scene in Macbeth. Yes it’s a bit weird but oddly compelling.
Once more the week’s Youtube offerings show that digital works best when it’s “made for digital”. Who’d a thunk it eh! Anyway there’s very watchable new content on Youtube from Alexander Hajek, Opera Revue and Domoney Artists. Best of all though is a new short film called Sempra Libera from Carsen Gilmore and the very good soprano Michelle Drever. If you like the look and feel of Morte you’ll love this. It’s really dark. It’s the grimmest take on Violetta I’ve seen; Natalie Dessay included!
The Travelled Road is a new recording of songs by Saratoga Springs based composer Evan Mack. Mack sets a rather eclectic set of texts and his musical style is varied. His roots in opera are evident and I enjoyed these songs much more than most American art song that comes my way.
The first piece is A Little More Perfect and it sets Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell vs. Hodges; the case that effectively legalised same sex marriage in the United States. It’s scored for mezzo-soprano, piano and cello. It starts out quite sparely, though the cello is quite lush from the beginning and then builds to a much more operatic climax. Megan Marino has the heft to carry the louder bits and she has near perfect diction. She’s well supported by John Arida on piano and Jameson Platte on cello. Continue reading →