Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina is a bit of a weird opera. It’s ostensibly based on a series of not entirely related events that unfolded during the succession crisis following the death of Tsar Fyodor III (which took about 12 years to play out) into a story that takes place in a day. It’s complicated by the fact that key players in the story; the Tsars Peter and Ivan and the Tsarevna Sofia don’t actually appear because the Russian censorship would not allow members of the dynasty to be portrayed on stage. Perhaps unsurprisingly Tcherniakov isn’t much interested in the details of the history and uses it to make some, not always entirely obvious, points about modernity vs tradition, personal power and the nature of religious cults.
The students of the post graduate program at UoT Opera were on show in the RBA yesterday with a show made up of staged opera excerpts curated and directed by Michael Patrick Albano. It’s right at the beginning of the academic year and these sorts of concerts are a bit of a calibration exercise for those of us who follow the progress of young singers. The starting point this year is decidedly high.
The Canadian Opera Company’s ninth annual Ensemble Studio Competition is being held on October 30, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The 2019 finalists are: sopranos Kirsten LeBlanc (Moncton, NB), Midori Marsh (Cleveland, Ohio), and Charlotte Siegel (Toronto, ON); mezzo-soprano Sarah Bissonnette (Boucherville, QC); tenor Marcel d’Entremont (Merigomish, NS); bass-baritone Alex Halliday (St. John’s, NL); and bass Brenden Friesen (Langham, SK).
I met with Laurie Rubin today to talk about her upcoming show with Liz Upchurch and Amplified Opera; The Way I See It. Laurie is a mezzo-soprano and she’s been blind since birth. All she can perceive visually is dark and light. We talked about her life growing up and as a professional singer and the upcoming show.
The bio is interesting going from a fairly toxic high school environment in Los Angeles where music was pretty much her salvation, to Oberlin where she first appeared on stage in actual opera to Yale Opera, which took her on the strength of her voice and then didn’t cast her in anything in her two years there (which clearly still hurts), and on to a professional career based in New York. She’s done a lot of new music including creating the role of the voice/witch in Lisa Bielawa’s episodic opera, Vireo, written for broadcast which aired in June 2017 on KCET Los Angeles and creating, with her wife Jenny Taira, an arts program in Hawaii; Ohana Arts, which in turn led to the creation of a musical Peace on Your Wings, about the life of a young Japanese girl who suffered from the Hiroshima bomb, which toured the Hawaiian islands and the US west coast. If all this, and performances too numerous to list, weren’t enough she wrote a book, Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight, which in turn became a one woman show. She has also recently become a mother.
Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA was given by soprano, Vanessa Vasquez and pianist Miloš Repický. It was a well constructed programme though there were few surprises. The first set was three Strauss standards; Ständchen, Breit’ übermein Haupt and Befreit; the last dedicated to Vanessa’s teacher who died recently. They were all well sung with appropriate emotional emphasis and, best of all, both performers appeared to be enjoying themselves.
My quest to find a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that has anything insightful to say about the piece continues. This time it’s the 2018 production from Glyndebourne directed by Annilese Miskimmon. I was interested to see how a female director would treat the obvious problems with the piece. Miskimmon’s solution is to shift the setting to early 1950s Nagasaki and to treat Butterfly as one of many real and fake war brides. Apparently there was a thriving fake war bride business at the time. The obvious problem of a Nagasaki setting is just ignored.