Unsuk Chin at the RCM

95e6758bda5e6da733933c23a4a65bbfe6fffa86_220x220The closing concert of this year’s 21C, presented by Soundstreams at Koerner Hall, featured music by Chris Paul Harman and Unsuk Chin.  In the first half we heard two related pieces by Harman based on songs by Ray Noble.  The first, Love Locked Out started with a tape recorded interview and a scratchy recording of Al Bowlly before morphing into a complex piece with allusions to the original song.  It’s not in any sense a set of variations.  Harman’s sound world is complex.  It’s very modern and varied.  There were warring pianos and tubular bells in passages that were almost violent but which morphed into more playful sections.  Parts of the string writing and the transitions reminded me of Shostakovich; though Harman tends to genuinely playful rather than sardonic.  But the comparison should not be taken too far because there’s also a tendency to build tension and logic through repetition rather than symphonic development in a vaguely John Adamsish sort of way and there are passages that are meditative à la Messiaen.  The piece closed with a slowed down tape of the song. So complex and intriguing stuff very well played by 21C Chamber Orchestra conducted by Guillaume Bourgogne.

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The Killing Flower

hqdefaultThe Killing Flower is an opera by Salvatore Sciarrino.  Both Italian and English versions exist and it was the latter that was given, in semistaged form, at Walter Hall as part of the Toronto New Music Festival last night.  It’s a very distinctive work and not easy to form a full appreciation of on a single hearing.  The plot is straightforward enough.  There’s a duke and duchess.  She falls in love with a guest.  They are betrayed by a servant.  He kills the guest and then her.  But all this happens in a highly abstracted way (made even more abstract by not being fully staged).  As the composer puts it:

My theatre is ‘post cinema’ theatre, beginning with the way the scenes are laid out – they proceed by dry blocks that ‘subtract’ in order to get the point across.

Got that?  Nor me but what I saw was a succession of scenes in which two characters exchanged fragments of text repeated multiple times.  This was actually quite useful as there were no surtitles and it made it easier to grasp what the (very few) words actually were.

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Getting busier

We are moving into busy season for the next two or three weeks.  Next week, Tuesday sees a lunchtime recital in the RBA by Phillip Addis with song cycles by Maurice Ravel and Erik Ross.  Wednesday sees a concert staging of Salvatore Sciarrino’s The Killing Flower (Luci mie traditrici).  It tells the story of Carlos Gesualdo’s murder of his wife and lover.  Performers include Shannon Mercer, Geoffrey Sirett, Scott Belluz and Keith Klassen.  It’s at Walter Hall at 7.30pm with a pre-show with the composer at 6.30pm.  Sciarrino is involved in other events connected with the New Music Festival all week.  Thursday is opening night for the COC’s Götterdämmerung at the Four Seasons Centre with an early kick off time of 6pm.  Alternatively the TSO are doing the Fauré Requiem with Karina Gauvin and Russell Braun on both Wednesday and Thursday evenings.


Music Theatre Wales’s touring production of The Killing Flower at Buxton Festival. Photograph: Clive Barda

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Toronto Masque Theatre 2016/17

apollodaphneToronto Masque Theatre have announced their 2016/17 season.  There are two main stage productions and three salon concerts.  First of the main stage shows is a double bill of  Handel’s dramatic cantata Apollo and Daphne with Jacqueline Woodley and Geoffrey Sirett and dancer Stéphaie Brochard, directed and choreographed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière paired with Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden based on the epic poem by Tennyson, performed by actor Derek Boyes and pianist Angela Park.  This one is at 8:00 pm on November 17th, 18th and 19th with a pre-show event at 7:15 pm each evening at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse.

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UoT 2016/17

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

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Fairest Isle

Toronto Masque Theatre’s latest effort is a Purcell show called Fairest Isle.  It’s semi-staged performance of excerpts from Purcell works, mainly the four stage works; Dido and Aeneas, The Fairy Queen, The Indian Queen and King Arthur (Wot! No Diocletian you cry) interspersed with readings from the plays and a narrative about Purcell’s life performed by actors Derek Boyes and Arlene Mazerolle.  The staging involves frequent short dance pieces, in a recognisably period style (heels, long skirts, arms never above the shoulder) by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière.  The six singers, costumed throughout in dark suits or dresses, mostly sang from music stands though some pieces were blocked.  There was an eight piece ensemble; two violins (Larry Beckwith/Kathleen Kajioka), viola (Karen Moffat), two oboes (John Abberger/Gillian Howard), cello (Margaret Gay), lute/guitar (Lucas Harris) and keyboards (Christopher Bagan) directed by Beckwith.  Continue reading

Chasing an opera around the Gladstone

Theresa – Emily Atkinson

Last night we saw the preview of A Synonym for Love at the Gladstone Hotel.  The Gladstone has a long and eventful history. Nowadays it’s a boutique “artist” hotel which serves as a performance space and gallery for various indie projects like the one we saw.  The work itself is, I suppose, a pastiche.  The music is Handel’s long lost cantata Clori, Tirsi e Fileno.  It was written when Handel was 21 and isn’t maybe his greatest work but there’s a lot of really good music in it.  The libretto is an English text by Deborah Pearson that takes the basic idea of a love triangle and gives it a modern twist.  In Ms. Pearson’s story Clori, sung by soprano Traxy Smith Bessette, is a bisexual woman from Calgary in town for a fling with her male lover Phil (countertenor Scott Belluz) at, naturally, the Gladstone.  She is followed by her jealous long term partner Theresa (soprano Emily Atkinson).  Mayhem ensues.  There are also three non-singing roles who act as “guides” to the audience and participate in the drama as hotel employees.  Continue reading