Saturday evening’s Cinq à Sept concert in the 21C Festival at the Royal Conservatory was intriguing. The first half of the programme was a new song cycle, After the Fires, with words by Liza Balkan and music by Lembit Beecher. It set seven pieces about the 2020 fires on the central California coast and their aftermath based on interviews with local residents. It’s a really interesting piece scored for piano, clarinet, soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone. It’s very “text first”. Although the accompaniment is often intricate it never overpowers the words and there’s a real harmony between words and music. The mood varies but, given it’s about really awful events, it’s more elegiac and lyrical and even funny than angry or sad. It got a fine, nuanced performance from Henry From (piano), Zachary Gassenheimer (clarinet), Xin Wang (soprano), Andrea Ludwig (mezzo-soprano) and Korin Thomas-Smith (baritone). Continue reading
Tag Archives: balkan
January is looking quite promising on both the music and theatre front but there’s not a lot of opera… Here’s what’s in my agenda.
January 11th to 14th the TSO have four performances of a concert that includes Mozart’s Requiem with a good looking line up of soloists.
The line up for this year’s (and a bit of next’s) 21C at the Royal Conservatory has been announced. The full line up is here.
I’m particularly interested in the Kronos Quartet concerts on December 8th and 9th; especially the latter which features “Music for Change” including a world premiere of a piece by Tanya Tagaq.
I’ll also want to see three of the concerts in the new year. On January 21st at 5pm there’s a Cinq à Sept concert in Temerty Hall which, among other things, features a new song cycle by Lembit Beecher and Lisa Balkan. The following day at 3pm in Koerner Hall there’s a concert of new works by Ian Cusson and Stewart Goodyear. Finally, on January 28th at 10pm in Temerty Hall Brian Current and the GGS New Music Ensemble have a candlelit concert of night related works including music by Bekkah Simms and R. Murray Schafer.
Lots of good stuff!
It was March 2017 and I was interviewing composer Brian Current over lunch. He mentioned having seen Geoff Sirett bouldering on the wall of the Royal Conservatory atrium and how he had an idea for a site specific opera based on the life of Glenn Gould. Eventually this became Gould’s Wall with a libretto by Liza Balkan. Announced and rescheduled more than once due to COVID it premiered last night under the auspices of Tapestry Opera and the conservatory’s 21C series.
Last night was the one of only two chances to see Bicycle Opera Project in Toronto this year. (The other is tonight). It was a show in collaboration with Toy Piano Composers’ Collective called Travelogue and featuring four new works around the broad them of travel. The show was run without an interval but with each composer introducing their own work by reading, e.g., post cards from their travels or, hilariously, in the case of the absent Tobin Stokes, recordings of the voicemails he left apologising for not having finished the piece yet. Staging was, in the BOP way, minimalist but effective.
Xavier Montsalvatge’s El Gato con Botas, given last night by the Glenn Gould School at Mazzoleni Hall, may not be the most profound thing in the opera canon but it is fun. The 1948 score is jazzy and accessible and the libretto has fun with the fairy tale of the scheming cat and her gormless monkey servant. The lighter, even absurdist, elements of the plot were rather played up, and to good effect, in Liza Balkan’s production. Mazzoleni Hall is not the easiest place to present opera. There’s no pit and no way to do surtitles. Not much in the way of wing space or scenery handling either. Balkan got round this by placing the band on stage and using very simple sets and props that often spilled over into the auditorium even getting Charles Sy, sitting in the front row, to take a selfie of the wedding party at the end. Given that the Spanish numbers were not surtitled, it was smart to add extra English dialogue, much of it improvised. I certainly didn’t have any difficulty following the story. Credit too to lighting designer David Degrow too for making the most of the limited resources of Mazzoleni.
A bicycle opera in a bicycle shop
I was back last night to see Bicycle Opera Project’s Shadowbox again. This time it was in the more intimate, and highly appropriate, setting of a bicycle shop; Curbside Cycle on Bloor Street. Minus the high roof of the Davenport-Perth Community Centre it was much easier to understand the sung text which is pretty important with this show. The show is an interesting concept. It’s still a series of scenes by different composers and librettists but they are linked thematically by the common idea of memory and dramatically by the auction of objects that set up each scene The auctioneer is rather brilliantly played by Chris Enns who, curiously, seemed quite sinister at Davenport-Perth (like something out of a German Expressionist movie perhaps) but seemed quite avuncular close up.
Opera on wheels
Yesterday saw the 21st and final performance for this season for the Bicycle Opera Project; the conclusion of a five week, fourteen city trip around Ontario. Fittingly for an eco-opera venture it took place at the Evergreen Brickworks in a bare brick and sheet metal industrial setting.The programme consisted of seven pieces; short works or excerpts from longer ones, all by contemporary Canadian composers and scored or rescored by them for the unusual ensemble of keyboards, flute and clarinet that accompanied the singers.
First up was an excerpt from Brian Current’s Airline Icarus. They played the scene where the passengers and stewardess are expressing their hopes and, more vehemently, fears. It’s an uncomfortably funny scene and it was played here in a more broadly comedic manner than in Tim Albery’s original staging. That proved very effective as a stand alone especially with most of the audience up so close. Fine performances from all four singers with Chris Enns as an extremely angsty academic, Stephanie Tritchew flirtatiously displaying her considerable charms and some neat eye rolling from Larissa Koniuk and all anchored by Geoffrey Sirett reprising the role of the Businessman. I was reminded too what a fine score this is, even in the reduced arrangement used here. Continue reading