Alburnum is a record of contemporary American art song from baritone Brian Mulligan (Torontonians may remember him as Enrico in the COC’s 2013 Lucia di Lammermoor) and pianist Timothy Long. There are two substantial pieces; each about 26 minutes long. The first is Walden by Gregory Spears and it sets four prose extracts from Thoreau’s work with an extremely minimalist piano accompaniment. I’m not really sure about turning prose into song and I’m not a huge Thoreau fan. Perhaps if I were I would have found this more interesting. It’s pleasant enough; it’s tonal and somewhat melodic and Mulligan has a pleasant voice but I wasn’t excited.
Oscar Straus’ A Waltz Dream opened last night in a Toronto Operetta theatre production at the St. Lawrence Centre. The piece premiered in Vienna in 1907 and soon became a huge international hit with various English versions appearing quite early on. The version given by TOT appears to be a 1970s version with book by Michael Flanders, Edmund Tracey and Bernard Dunn and the music adapted and arranged by Ronald Hanmer.
Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at the Jane Mallett Theatre last night. Bill Siva-Marin’s production is competent and very traditional with some strong performers in the key roles. It won’t leave you with any new insights into the piece but it’s a well executed production which is lots of fun and very funny in places. When I say traditional I mean pirates in pantomime pirate dress, maidens in some stereotypically Victorian maiden garb and a Major General in a cod colonial uniform. Tnere are the traditional mild updatings to the libretto including a couple of rather well crafted verses in the MG’s patter song that reference the Glorious Leader of our neighbour to the south. There are also a few nice touches. In the second act the MG spends much of the time clutching a bust of one of his purchased ancestors and the “catlike tread” scene is noisily anything but. That said, the choreography and blocking are pretty formulaic though there are some deft touches in the Personenregie. Mabel’s body language in Oh! Is there not one maiden breast? is worth a look.
Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbre sets texts from Lamentations and is incredibly beautiful in a very French baroque way as well as rather bing music to cut your wrists to. There’s a new CD recording of it by English sopranos Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts with La Nuova Musica directed by David Bates. It’s very fine. Both Crowe and Watts give exemplarty performances. They use minimal vibrato; just enough to create some resonance in louder passages and both have a wonderfully expressive trill. Coupled with really expressive playing from Jonathan Rees – viola da gamba, Alex McCartney – theorbo and David Bates – organ, it’s a real pleasure to listen to. Interestingly the three sections of the Leçons are separated by two trio sonatas by Sébastian de Brossard where the instrumentalists are joined by Bojan Čičić and Sabine Stoffer – violins. It works really well. The disc is rounded out by Brossard’s Stabat Mater, another rather lovely piece of Lenten dolorosity. The singers on this last are Miriam Allan, James Arthur, Nicholas Scott and Simon Wall with Jonathan Rees – viola da gamba, Judith Evans – double bass, Alex McCartney – theorbo and Silas Woolaston – organ. The recording, made in St. Augustine’s Kilburn, is clear and well balanced with an ambience that suits the music well.
Oddly enough, what Toronto Operetta Theatre does best is operetta and the production of Romberg’s The Student Prince that opened yesterday afternoon is a pretty good example of why. I suppose, technically, that it’s a Broadway musical but everything about it, down to the humour and sentimentality seems Teutonic enough. Anyway, there’s a solid trio in the lead roles, the key back ups are thoroughly professional and the minor roles and chorus are filled out by talented and enthusiastic young singers. The band is big enough to cover all the colours of the score and the staging is appropriate and not overly ambitious. The piece gets to do its tuneful, rather bittersweet thing.
So along with the late night (10pm start) June 14th Roy Thomson Hall concert of Mason Bates’ Garages of the Valley (a Canadian première/TSO Co-Comission) and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 there’s a tailgate party at 7.30pm in the car park and an after party in the lobby. The former features all you can eat food from Kaplansky’s and Smokes Poutinerie with the after party featuring food from Big Daddy’s.Those of us over 40 are not encouraged to attend; a line will probably be endorsed by local cardiologists. Full details here.