UoT Faculty of Music have just announced their 2016/17 season. It’s the usual broad range of performances so I’ll highlight the opera and vocal music contributions.
UoT Opera is offering four shows. The fall main production is Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld with new English dialogue and stage direction by Michael Patrick Albano. Choreography i by Anna Theodosakis and Russell Braun makes his podium debut. There are four performances November 24th to 27th. Spring sees a Handel rarity; Imeneo. Tim Albery directs and Daniel Taylor is in charge of the music. This one runs March 16th to 19th. Both shows are in the MacMillan Theatre.
Last year’s student composed opera; The Machine Stops
This spring’s main opera production from UoT Opera is Britten’s Paul Bunyan. It is a really peculiar work. The libretto is by WH Auden and is, well, weird. It mixes up the (apparently) profound with the absurd and the downright silly. There’s a Swedish lumberjack fish slapping dance, talking cats and dogs, trees that aspire to be product and a philosophical accountant (*). There are also countless pronouncements from the off stage voice of Bunyan along the lines of the closing:
“Where the night becomes the day, Where the dream becomes the fact, I am the Eternal guest, I am Way, I am Act“
Walt Whitman meets Dr. Seuss meets a lot of drugs? One of those 1970s English public schoolboy prog rock bands?
This year’s UoT Opera student composed opera sets a libretto by Michael Patrick Albano based on a 1909 story by EM Forster. It’s a dystopian sci-fi story and OK as these things go though one suspects it felt a whole lot more original in 1909. Basically, humanity is living underground in pods with limited face to face interaction. Life is mediated by “The Machine” which increasingly has become an object of veneration as well as utility. The principal characters are Vashti, a believer, and her rebellious son Kuno who is prone to make illegal excursions to the planet surface where, he realises, there are still people living. It’s a bit like Logan’s Run but not as sexy. The Relationship between the two breaks down over their belief systems until The Machine goes belly up at which point there is a reconciliation before everyone dies. Along the way there’s a fair bit of heavy handed philosophising by the narrator and chorus.
UoT Opera’s fall production opened last night at the MacMillan theatre. It’s a double bill of Menotti works; The Telephone and The Medium. The former was cleverly updated by Michael Patrick Albano to reflect the age of the smartphone. It actually seems more relevant than ever and, slight as it is – an extended joke about a girl who won’t get off the phone long enough for her fiancé to propose – it was wryly amusing. The Medium I’m not so sure about. It’s a contrived piece written in the 1940’s but set a few years earlier about a fake medium and her deluded clients. It seems dated, not so much in the sense that seance attendance is pretty unusual today, but in the extent to which the characters are clichéd, cardboard cut outs even. The medium herself is bad enough but her sidekicks are her rather dippy, if kind, daughter and a boy who is mute (k’ching), Gypsy (k’ching) and “found wandering the streets” (k’ching, k’ching) “of Budapest” (k’ching, k’ching, k’ching). The first act in which the fake seancery goes on isn’t bad but then the medium gets a shock; a real or imagined cold hand on her throat (probably imagined as she is a raging alcoholic) and decides to go straight. The second act is pure bathos. I can see why it was a Broadway hit in the 1940s but I think tastes have moved on. And who the heck calls their daughter “Doodly”?
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured the assembled students of UoT Opera in a staged programme called The Art of the Prima Donna. It was a sequence of mostly ensemble numbers drawn from the core 19th century rep. Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Donizetti, Bellini, Bizet and Rossini all featured with works made famous by the great divas of the era’ Patti, Pasta, Malibran etc. Linking narrative, which skipped over who slept with Rossini, was provided by Michael Albano who directed the staging with Anna Theodosakis. Sandra Horst headed up the musical side and accompanied with help from Sue Black, Kate Carver and Ivan Jovanovic. Continue reading →
Andrew Ager’s Führerbunker is a short chamber opera depicting the events leading up to Hitler’s suicide in April 1945. It’s a tautly constructed work in which many short scenes are woven into a seamless and compelling whole. It flies by and its 45 minute length seems even shorter. The score is spare, even brutal, as befits the subject matter. The composer told me he had initially envisioned something Wagnerian but feared that that must descend into pastiche. He made the right decision. So, the piano line is minimalist with elements of serialism and very little support for the singers. It’s a style that has perhaps been largely discarded (in north America at least) but here it was startlingly effective. Perhaps the crappy Tranzac Club piano contributed to the effect!
Yesterday afternoon I went to see the UoT Opera program’s show Brush Up Your Shakespeare. It was substantially the same as the program they gave six months ago in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre so I ‘m just going to comment on changes of one kind or another.
There were a few extra numbers. Danika Lorèn sang the Poison Aria from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. It’s an interesting voice. There’s lots of power but maybe isn’t quite fully under control yet. Still, easier to refine a powerful basic instrument than get anywhere with a small one. One to watch. William Ford sang Macduff’s O figli mie! from Verdi’s Macbeth. That’s a pretty bold call for a student and he wasn’t bad at all. This time we also got a sort of catalogue raisonnée of the program from director Michael Patrick Albano with contextual information on each number.
It’s getting pretty busy in Toronto. Here are a few upcoming things of interest that I haven’t already mentioned.
This year, the Faculty of Music’s annual student composer project is a co-production with Campbell House Museum, the 19th century home of Sir William Campbell, Chief Justice of Upper Canada. Footsteps in Campbell House is a series of pieces by student composers to words by Michael Albano. The audience moves around the house exploring the lives of those who livedd there. There are five performances on January 30th and 31st and February 1st. Each performance is limited to 35 people. Tickets are $20 and available here. I’m really intrigued by this but there’s no way I can go. Continue reading →
And so is Michael Albano’s new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore which opened last night at the MacMillan Theatre. It’s been a long time since the UoT Opera Division did G&S but it was worth the wait. Fred Perruzza’s straight forward unit set was really brought to life by a fast paced and lively production. From the very beginning of the overture we had members of the crew cavorting and dancing (Choreographer Anna Theodosakis) in a manner perhaps owing more to Broadway than D’Oyly Carte and the better for it! The set, a quarter deck with a gallery, provided cabin doors and traps in the deck for characters to come and go (including conductor Sandra Horst appearing from “below” to take her bow). And of coming and going and dancing there was plenty. There were some more than decent dancers in the chorus too.