Looking ahead to the next few weeks:
- From September 11th to 25th Crow’s Theatre has a show; The Shape of Home: Songs in Search of Al Purdy. This is a sort of staged song cycle exploring the words and ideas of “Canada’s unofficial poet laureate”.
Looking ahead to the next few weeks:
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya is the sort of play that makes one wonder why the Russian Revolution didn’t happen much sooner. If the land owning class were living such miserable lives it must have been absolute hell for the peasants. Maybe they just couldn’t afford a guillotine? Anyway it’s playing at Crow’s Theatre right now in a production directed by Chris Abraham which runs until October 2nd.
In May of this year I reviewed a recording of Janáček’s Jenůfa from the Staatsoper unter den Linden that impressed me enough to get onto my all time favourites list. I really did not expect to come across another as good for a very long time, let alone one that is, perhaps, even better within a few months but I have. It’s the 2021 recording from the Royal Opera House and it’s really fine.
Last Night at the Cabaret Yitesh is playing at the Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront. It’s a crazy mix of cabaret and other influences from the wild and wacky pen of Michael Wex. The back story is that it’s 1938 and the last night that the Yiddish language Cabaret Yitesh will perform in Warsaw before being, in effect, deported. So, no longer dependent for their continued existence on the whims of the censor’s office they can let rip.
Last night, as part of the Ashkenaz Festival, we got to see Henekh Kon’s Bas-Sheve. It’s the only known pre Holocaust Yiddish opera and there’s quite a saga involved in it getting to a staging. The work dates to 1924, when it premiered in Warsaw then disappeared. In 2017 Dr. Diana Matut unearthed an incomplete piano score version which was completed and orchestrated by librettist Michael Wex and composer Joshua Horowitz to create an hour long piece that premiered in August 2019 as part of the Yiddish Summer Weimar festival.
Dmitri Tcherniakov directed Der fliegende Holländer in Bayreuth in 2021 where it was recorded. It’s no surprise given (a)Tcherniakov and (b)Bayreuth that it’s not a straightforward production. I’m not sure I have fully unpacked it and there isn’t anything in the disk package to help (just the usual essay telling the reader what he/she/they already know/s).
Having enjoyed the performance in the Toronto Music Garden of Alec Roth’s Songs in Time of War I downloaded the CD of the original version with violin rather than erhu. There are actually three pieces on the CD. There’s the complete Songs in Time of War with tenor Mark Padmore, guitarist Morgan Szymanski, harpist Alison Nicholls and violinist Philippe Honoré, there are two solo guitar pieces Canción de la Luna and Danza de la Luna (Szymanski) and Padmore and Szymanski collaborating on Chinese Gardens; a setting of four Vikram Seth poems inspired by the Ming dynasty gardens at Suzhou.
The season finale for the Music Garden this summer was a performance of Alec Roth’s Songs in Times of War. These are settings of poems by Du Fu translated by Vikram Seth. Du Fu was a Chinese court poet who lived through times (8th century CE) when millions died or were displaced by rebellion and civil war. Although more allusive than direct (most of the time), the poems are grim but have an elusive beauty which is reflected in Roth’s setting. Originally scored for tenor, guitar, harp and violin we got to hear a new version (by the composer) with violin replaced by erhu; a two stringed bowed instrument. Tnere’s no doubt in my mind that the erhu adds a really effective cross-cultural timbre that the violin version can’t quite match.
Tanya’s Secret is a queer-trans adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. It’s a production by Opéra Queens who seem to be a Montreal based group created during the pandemic and doing their first show in Toronto; in this case at the Betty Oliphant Theatre. Actually it’s not a particularly radical adaptation compared to, say, some of Against the Grain’s transladaptations. It’s sung in Russian (with some Ukrainian interpolations including a Lysenko art song) with subtitles on screens either side of the stage). The plot isn’t really changed at all though the ball scene in Act 3 gets a sort of drag queen competition element. The big change is that some roles are assigned to the “wrong” gender. Tatiana is sung extremely well and acted even better by Mike Fan. Catherine Carew is a strongly sung and impressive Gremin doubling as the very different Madame Larina. Christina Yun’s Lensky is ardent and she makes a nice fist of “Kuda, kuda”. (Who needs tenors?) Oddly this doesn’t really come across as all that radical. The necessary transpositions occasionally create the odd awkward high note but it’s very singable and generally well sung.
In 2017 Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists, the Monteverdi Choir and a rather distinguished group of specialist baroque singers toured semi-staged versions of the three main Monteverdi operas, which were also recorded for video. Being a bit skeptical about the idea of videoing semi-staged performances I decided to take a look at L’incoronazione di Poppea (because it’s my favourite of the three) before committing to the trio. Bottom line, despite some stylish singing, good acting and excellent playing I can’t really see the point. There are good fully staged versions of all three operas available on video and, for me, especially watching at home, it’s hard for a semi-staged version to fully engage my attention.