So here we go with the “preliminary evening” of the Deutsche Oper Berlin’s new production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen directed by Stefan Herheim. Das Rheingold opens before the music starts with a crowd of scruffily dressed people with suitcases; presumably refugees, filling a stage which is empty except for a grand piano. One of them starts to put on clown make up. We will soon see that this is Alberich. Another “refugee” sits at the piano and conjures up the first notes of the prelude from the pit. It takes a bit longer for us to realise that this is Wotan.
My predictions were rubbish but we’ll come back to that. There are two new productions in the upcoming season; Parsifal, which had already been announced and Janáček’s Káťa Kabanová in a David Alden production with Amanda Majeski in the title role. This is great. It’s been far too long since Janáček featured at the COC.
Catalan collective Els Comediants’ production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is back at the COC in a revival of the 2015 production. Five years ago I described it as a “glorious romp” and, based on yesterday’s performance, I see non need to amend that judgement. It may be even better this time. It still has Joan Guillén’s wonderfully colourful and silly costumes and sets and it still has Joan Font’s inspired directing; perhaps even crisper this time. Once again it has a wonderful cast of international and Canadian singers including a reprise of Bartolo by the admirable Renato Girolami.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was the last for the year in the vocal series and featured members of the Ensemble Studio. Rachael Kerr was scheduled to do about half the accompanying but illness prevented her from playing so some hasty reprogramming meant that what we got differed somewhat from the printed programme but it was still a very well put together effort.
The final concert of this year’s Toronto Bach Festival at Saint Barnabas Anglican Church featured two of the little performed Latin masses written for Leipzig (or possibly for Count Franz Anton von Sporck of Lysá. Sources vary). In any event they are unusual for liturgical music. Based on previously written cantatas for the most part, they incorporate elements not much seen in church music.
The fourth annual Toronto Bach Festival runs May 24th to 26th. There are four concerts and a lecture. Here’s the line up:
Friday, May 24th at 8pm – Brandenburg Five
The program includes two cantatas: the early Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, and Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, plus Julia Wedman as soloist in Bach’s Concerto in A minor for violin. A brilliant night of illuminating music. Soloists for the cantatas are Hélène Brunet, Daniel Taylor, Nick Veltmeyer and Joel Allison. John Abberger directs the Toronto Bach Festival Orchestra.
Last night at the COC there was a special performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. The cast was made up, for the most part, of current and past Ensemble Studio members and tickets had been made available free to a variety of community groups. It was billed as “Opera for Toronto”. There had also been a small number of tickets available on line on a first come basis and, by the looks of things , a fair number of comps for the cast.
Afarin Mansouri giving an introductory talk in Farsi – Credit: Gaetz Photography
Off I went to the Four Seasons Centre to see Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer perform some Schubert. Sadly Sam was indisposed so what we got was a hastily, but very well, constructed program featuring some of the other singers in the Ensemble Studio.
Things kicked off with the increasingly impressive Anne-Sophie Neher in an accomplished rendering of Mozart’s “show off” piece Exsultate jubilate, in which she showed very decent control in the rather fiendish runs. She was back later with “The Presentation of the Rose” from Der Rosenkavalier which sounded suitably Straussian and sufficiently girlish at the same time. Nicely done. She made a third appearance with one of Adèles’s arias from Le comte Ory. This didn’t quite do it for me but it was fun to hear Stéphane playing around with the very Rossiniesque accompaniment.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA, the first I’ve been to in a while, featured the five members of the Orchestra Academy; violinists Joella Pinto and Gloria Yip, violist Carolyn Farnand and cellists Erin Patterson and Alison Rich, with Joel Allison and Samuel Chan and Rachael Kerr on keyboards. It was an interesting concert in many ways. We don’t get to see the young instrumentalists much nor do we often see Ensemble members sing with a chamber ensemble. It was also interesting to hear the contrast between Joel’s dark toned bass-baritone, often singing in a very low tessitura, with Sam’s much brighter, lighter baritone which sometimes was well up in tenor territory.
I’m not sure that I had ever heard anything by Heinrich Schütz before this afternoon but I’m glad that I have now. His St. John Passion formed the first half of the closing concert of the Toronto Bach Festival at St. Barnabas on the Danforth this afternoon. Written in 1666, towards the end of his life ,it’s steeped in the Lutheran tradition. There’s no orchestra. The main burden of the Gospel is taken by the Evangelist as narrator in a style not very far from the Anglican traditional style of singing metrical psalms. The emphasis is on the text; indeed on The Word. Members of the chorus contribute in similar style as Jesus, Pilate and so on. The narrative is interspersed with polyphonic choruses with sparse organ accompaniment perhaps hinting at an even older tradition where the meaning of the words mattered less.