Get your TOT fix

Like pretty much everybody else Toronto Operetta Theatre has chosen to go virtual for their latest offering.  It’s a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers filmed at the Edward Jackman Centre.  It’s very much a “bare bones” production.  The cast is reduced to nine roles and the chorus is gone.  Accompaniment is piano and accordion.  The Jackman Centre is a rehearsal space and looks like one.  The film appears to havebeen filmed with a single camera, in one take with minimal post processing though, despite which the audio and video quality is excellent.


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Alceste in Munich

I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does.  The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone,  Medea or Idomeneo.  The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.


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gondoliersThere a couple more on-line events coming up.

  • Tafelmusik have a moderated panel discussion on the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of choral singing.  That’s on March 18th at 7pm.  It’s a ticketed event ($5).  Tickets are available from
  • Toronto Operetta Theatre is doing Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers.  It will be available from March 19th at 7pm until April 5th.  This one is also ticketed ($20) plus there are dinner delivery packages available for March 19th and 20th.  Full cast and other details at

Beckwith at 94

Canadian composer John Beckwith will be 94 tomorrow.  His son, Larry, under the auspices of Confluence Concerts webcast a trio of concert’s of Beckwith’s extensive song output yesterday on their Youtube channel.  There’s four and a half hours of music and interviews!  It’s extremely varied.  Composition dates range from 1947 to 2014 and the diversity of the music is equally broad though with a distinct personality.  The pieces range from a set of etudes for cello and voice written for his grand-daughter when she was nine years old to the the crazy Avowals which requires a gifted and slightly mad tenor and a keyboardist who can play piano, celeste and harpsichord; sometimes simultaneously!


It’s very Canadian.  There are a lot of settings of traditional songs and still more setting poetry and prose by various Canadian luminaries.  It’s not just the usual East coast Scots or Irish material either.  Besides, unsurprisingly, traditional Québecois rep there are Dukhobor and Mennonite songs and other surprises.  There’s also a strong internationalism with texts drawn from Chinese, Polish, Welsh and US sources among others.  I think we hear songs in English, French, German, Russian, Lithuanian and Hungarian, maybe more.  What could be more Canadian than a humanistic internationalism firmly rooted in Canada’s various and varying cultures?  Beckwith deserves a blue beret to go with his numerous other honours.

It’s such a distinctive voice too,  A comparison with Britten as a song composer seems not inapposite.  He shares the fondness for setting traditional songs and is distinctly modern without taking on some of the more extreme experiments of the 1950s through 1980s.  Bur there I think the comparison ends.  Britten’s style of piano accompaniment tends to look back to the days when the piano supported the vocal line.  Even Beckwith’s earliest songs seem to lean more to the accompanist as collaborator and commentator on the vocal line.  And if Britten is a bit prone to histrionics (Our Hunting Fathers, Les Illuminations), Beckwith is all ironic humour.  It’s good stuff and I look forward to spending more time with it.  I’ll pass on further musicological ramblings and leave the field clear for Bradley Christensen!

The recordings are (mostly) typical covid era vignettes recorded in peoples’ front rooms and empty university halls.  The quality is good to very good with just a few sound glitches.  There’s even some highly creative videography from Natalya Gennadi.  The whole thing has been very competently stitched together by Ryan Harper.

And what a cast of collaborators Larry Beckwith assembled for this celebration.  They range in age from 8 to 94 and contributions came in from Victoria to Vienna and all parts in between.  There are “big names”; Barbara Hannigan, Russell Braun, Benjamin Butterfield and Krisztina Szabó plus an astonishing array of (mostly) UoT trained professional singers.  What a pleasure to see so many much missed friends.  There are grad students, undergrads and school children too.  There are interviews with many of John’s collaborators including the equally young and lively Mary Morrison.  Larry’s interview with his father displays the latter’s subtle wit and undiminished insight.

Larry Beckwith has conjured up something rather special here and I strongly encourage people to explore the three recordings on Youtube that will be available until March 21st.

And finally, Happy 94th Professor Beckwith!

Coming up at UoT

Alex-Hetherington-Mezzo-Soprano-Headshot-scaledIt’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.

Defrocking the canon

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….

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Our Song d’Hiver

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.


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Interviews and such

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.


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A Native Hill

anativehillGavin 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.

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