It seems like as soon as the lockdown started there was a great rush to get content up online. Companies big and small were at it and so were individual artists and groups of friends. Some of the content was performance, some was interviews and some was just plain quirky. Since then we’ve seen specially staged concerts and attempts to monetize the streams among other things. It’s four months on and what have we learnt?
I was at the second Digital Symposium hosted by the COC and the National Ballet this morning. I was at the first round back in September which was basically an environmental scan that didn’t really evoke much of a reaction beyond noting that there were a lot of shiny technologies and they were expensive so I didn’t write about it. Today was different. In both the plenary session, in which KerrSmith presented their “Horizon Scan”, and the break out groups I was involved in some really deep conversations. I want to try and share some of that with you along with some thoughts of my own. I should stress that anything I’m writing here is personal and provisional and certainly doesn’t represent the views of the COC, the National Ballet or KerrSmith.
The COC unveils its 2020/2021 season next Monday so, as in previous years I took a go at predicting what it might look like. This year operaramblings has abandoned traditional predictive methods such as animal sacrifice and hallucinogenic drugs in favour of handing all the data over to Cambridge Analytica. That didn’t work too well as they predicted a new opera based on Brexit and Putin being elected President of the USA. So it was back to the methodology we data scientists call “small data” where basically we make stuff up based on far too few data points. Here’s what emerged.
My recently acquired media player plays SACD disks. I recently acquired a review copy of one such. It’s the Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’enface du Christ recorded by Andrew Davis and the Melbourne Symphony. It comes with three “tracks”; standard (more or less) CD which will play on a CD player and both stereo and surround tracks in SACD format. Now “standard CD” for Chandos is a bit higher definition than most CDs. 24 bit at 48kHz versus 16 bit at 44.1 kHz. Is there a detectable difference?
I just read Leslie Barcza’s very thoughtful review of the current COC Elektra. It’s an interesting take and, in it’s way, entirely reasonable and please do go and read the whole thing. There was though one theme where I just couldn’t agree and it took me some thinking to figure out why. Paraphrasing a bit brutally, Leslie yearns for an Aegisth and a Klytemnestra he can hate and, as part of that, an Elektra who is more obviously degraded. This had me thinking about my recent experience with a retelling of the last stage of the whole saga; Saga Collectìf’s Iphigenia and the Furies (on Taurian Land) and how that had impacted how I reacted to Elektra.
So sitting in the hall waiting for the judges to come back I made my own list of the likely finalists and reflected on a few things. I had Summerfield and Brancy clearly top, despite their contrasting styles. Osowsky and van Mellaerts seemed the most likely to join them in the final though I would not have ruled out one of the others sneaking the fourth place. And it turned out that Brancy, Osowsky, Summerfield and van Mellaerts were, indeed, the judges’ choice.
There’s been a fair amount of buzz about what competitions are for going on both on-line and here in Montreal. Lydia at Definitely the Opera raised the question in comments and it came up in conversation at the Salle Bourgie a couple of times last night. I suppose the basic question is are competitions a way for younger, less well known, singers to get notice, attract an agent etc or are they a way for more established young singers to cement their reputation (and maybe make some money)? It’s a reasonable thing to ask because it’s asking a lot to expect a 25 year old in a young artists program to compete with a thirty something who has sung significant roles on major stages.
Both types of singer are evident in Montreal this week. The singers range in age from 24 to 35 with a median age of 29.5. Experience ranges from “left the conservatory last year” to “has sung at the Met”. It really stands out in the hall too. There’s a world of difference between an established and polished performer like John Brancy or Rihab Chaieb and someone new to the limelight like Olga Rudyk. (The frighteningly mature and confident Emily D’Angelo being the exception that proves the rule!).
It’s also been suggested that there is almost becoming something of a competition “circuit”. Many of the CMIM competitors (and judges) also featured at the last Wigmore Hall competition. It’s an interesting thought, especially for art song. Maybe a competition format would drum up more interest than conventional recitals (though rules severely restricting the use of certain songs would surely be necessary).
To the Four Season’s Centre last night to check out one of the COC’s adult education events. This time it was about the baritone voice in all its aspects and featured Liz Upchurch at the piano and, mostly, doing the talking with Ensemble Studio members Sam Chan and Bruno Roy plus ES graduate Neil Craighead back in Toronto to sing Ceprano (not soprano) in Rigoletto doing some singing.
Besides the singing, of which more later, I think there were two takeaways from the evening though it was not actually divided up that way. One, fascinating, dealt with the development of the voice and the sheer number of years it takes for bigger voices to more or less grow up. Also, how do you develop and stretch the voice while staying vocally healthy. Neil is 34 and his voice is really just beginning to get where one can see it going, which is likely big to very big. Sam and Bruno, much younger, are still going through the process of figuring out what Fach (see below) they really are. This seems to happen to everyone except maybe genuine basses, high sopranos and the really obvious tenors. It was pretty cool for instance to heat Bruno sing a tenor aria though not, of course, something like Pour mon âme.
It’s that time of year when one reflects on the good and the not so good. What one would like to see more of and not. What seemed significant about the year. As I look back over my writings for the last twelve months one clear theme stands out, Reconciliation. There was the COC’s very thoughtful and thought provoking remount of Somers’ Louis Riel in April and all the fascinating events that went on around that. There were attempts by the TSO to incorporate Indigenous themes; the Tanya Tagaq concert in March and Adizokan with Red Sky in October. Neither of these quite came off but the intent was good. Then there was a really fine recital of works by Indigenous composers by Marion Newman at the beginning of the year. Then, of course, the Clemence/Current piece Missing, about murdered and missing Indigenous women, which premiered in British Columbia and which I haven’t seen yet but really, really want to. 2017 was also the year when Land Acknowledgements went mainstream in the Toronto arts world. I guess there’s some tokenism here but there does seem to be far more engagement with Reconciliation in the arts world than in, say, the political mainstream which is unfortunate because opera isn’t going to produce clean drinking water. We have to start somewhere I guess.
Yesterday’s RBA concert was titled Celebrating the Invictus Games. Now the Invictus Games is a sporting competition for athletes disabled on military service. It has royal patronage and has clearly become part of the official pageantry of celebrating all things military, as witnessed by the presence of the Lieutenant Governors of Ontario and Alberta at yesterday’s concert. For me it raises all kinds of questions about why we put the military on a pedestal and how we do it and that is very tied up with the choice of rep at a concert like yesterdays. I’ll come back to that at the end of this piece, after reviewing what we actually heard.