I Will Fly Like a Bird is a chamber opera for two voices and six instruments composed by John Plant to a libretto by J. A. Wainwright. It deals with the story of Robert Dziekanski, a young Pole who was fatally tasered by police at Vancouver Airport in 2007. It’s not dramatic or angry. It’s more of an elegy recounting the hopes and aspirations of Robert and his mother who waits for him in Kamloops. It’s often very beautiful and very, very sad,
The two characters; Robert and his mother, are sung by baritone and soprano with support from string quartet, piano and clarinet. The music is tonal but quite modern in feel. There are certainly no concessions to musical theatre but it does have a few “songs” notably a drinking song. The music really feels apt for the story and is geared more to allowing the singers to convey the text than show off.
Summer Night is a CD of songs by Healey Willan produced by the Canadian Art Song project and due to be released on the Centrediscs label next month. Willan is best known as a composer of church and choral music but he also wrote over 100 songs and song arrangements, many of which have not been published, let alone recorded. There are 28 songs on the CD ranging in composition date from 1899 to the late 1920s. Most are original settings of the text though a few are arrangements of existing songs; either traditional or by Burns.
Opera 5’s interactive production of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus opened last night in the Great Hall at 918 Bathurst. It’s an intriguing but, above all, fun show. I think it’s fair to say that presented straight Die Fledermaus has more than a few elements of meta-theatricality. Here it’s central to the plot from MC Pearle Harbour’s initial apology for the lack of a fourth wall because “we can’t afford one” through a whole series of “interventions” by various characters. Unpacking it all would probably make as much sense as Umberto Eco’s Three Owls on a Chest of Drawers and I’m not as clever as the late Professor Eco and, in best Fledermaus tradition, it’s the morning after and I’ve only had five hours sleep. So, I’ll avoid the meta and try and describe the show.
I caught the second performance of the current run of Carmen at the COC this afternoon. It’s a revival of the production previously seen in 2010 but with, we are told, debuting director Joel Ivany being given some freedom to change things up a bit. Obviously he was mostly constrained to use the existing sets and costumes which, for reasons that escape me, transplants the piece to 1940s Cuba which was, as far as I know, markedly short of both gypsies and bull fights but there you go. Actually it matters scarcely at all because both sets and costumes are generic scruffy Hispanic and could be anywhere from Leon to Lima. For the first two acts too the blocking and Personenregie is pretty standard too. It’s all really down to the chemistry between the singers and the quality of the acting and neither is anything to write home about. It says a lot when Frasquita is scene stealing. Fortunately it livens up a lot after the interval. The third act is atmospheric and Micaëla’s aria is deeply touching and for the first time I felt genuine emotion. It gets even better after that with a really effective use of the whole auditorium for the parade which had much of the audience clapping along and a clever stage set up for the crowd during the final confrontation scene. I don’t think it’s a production for the ages but it’s better than merely serviceable and I’ve seen much worse Carmens. And, frankly, it’s simply not realistic to expect one of the season’s cash cows to push the envelope very far.
I caught the second and final performance of Isis and Osiris – Gods of Egypt presented by Voicebox:Opera in Concert yesterday. It’s a new piece with a libretto by Sharon Singer and music by Peter-Anthony Togni. It tells the story of mythical ancient Egypt under the rule of sibling consorts Isis and Osiris and there struggle with their brother Seth who embodies violence and chaos. In the process Seth disposes of Osiris in fourteen pieces but Isis manages to gather up all save the phallus. A golden replacement is made, Osiris is revived and the cosmic order restored. It’s quite a promising premise but it never really comes off.
The last of this season’s Recitals at Rosedale was on the theme of the the Seven Deadly Sins. It was an interesting and enjoyable afternoon, perhaps notable as much for what it had to say about the state of the industry as for the music making. The format was four singers moving fairly rapidly between short (more the most part) songs linked by a one or two sentence chosen text. The effect was to keep things moving along swiftly and even to generate a kind of narrative arc. There was no time for applause between numbers for example. It was a very different feel from the traditional art song recital where one or two singers sing sets of related songs. It was also quite operatic. All the singers chose to act physically and with the voice. Again, a far cry from the art song tradition where a raised eyebrow is considered over acting. Overall I thought it worked and in a city where the music commentariat has been lamenting the death of the art song recital for years somebody has to try something!
Things are starting to quieten down a bit on the Toronto vocal music/opera scene but there’s still a fair bit to seer in May. Here are some of the highlights:
Friday, May 8 sees the opening of Massenet’s Don Quichotte at the COC. It’s strongly cast with Ferruccio Furlanetto, Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili headlining. There are seven performances between Friday and May 24.
Readers of this blog will likely know that Peter Grimes is a very special opera for me. I’ve watched it live and on recordings a lot. I think about it a lot troo so the chance to see it live is rather special. It’s even more special when it’s done as well as at the Four Seasons Centre last night in the opening performance of a new run of Neil Armfield’s much travelled production, revived here by Denni Sayers.
“Culture Days” is a weekend long festival in Toronto where various arts organisations put on free events. This year it included a concert in Koerner Hall by the ARC Ensemble with guests Baritone Peter Barrett and cellist Se-Doo Park. The main draw for me was Respighi’s Il tramonto; a setting for baritone and string quartet of an Italian translation of Shelley’s The Sunset. This was indeed very well executed but was far from the most interesting part of the afternoon.
It was actually the final piece that was the revelation; Castelnuevo-Tedesco’s Piano Quintet No. 1. It’s a really fun piece in high romantic style with tons of melodic ideas and lots of colour. It was given a truly virtuoso performance by Erika Raum, Benjamin Bowman, Steven Dann, Se-Doo Park and Dianne Werner. I think I’ll be looking for more examples of Castelnuevo-Terdesco’s work.
Recitals at Rosedale is a new venture from collaborative pianists John Greer and Rachel Andrist. There will be four themed recitals, each featuring multiple singers, on Sunday afternoons at Rosedale Presbyterian Church. Last night saw a preview of excerpts from all four programs. Around 200 people showed up on a very hot and humid Saturday evening to see a pretty decent cross section of Toronto’s singing talent. The venue has a typically resonant church acoustic and tends to swallow the words a bit however carefully the singer enunciates but it’s a sensible size, holding maybe 200-300 and so avoids the problem of feeling empty even when there is actually a pretty decent crowd.