True Crime, a Castleton Massive production, by Torquil Campbell and Chris Abraham opened at Crow’s Theatre last night. It’s essentially a one man show featuring Campbell (not quite… composer Julian Brown provides musical backing throughout). It’s certainly a tour de force by Campbell who is on stage continually for 90 minutes and it’s hard to tell when he’s on script and when he’s improvising. He plays a raft of characters from himself, to his father and wife, an imprisoned con man, several dogs and a bunch of others. And he does it very well. He also sings (and barks).
Between Worlds is a collaboration between composer/cellist Margaret Maria and soprano/poet Donna Brown. It uses words and music to explore the tension between Thanatos and Eros via a symbolic journey from Sunset to Sunrise. The piece is in eight movements totalling a little over half an hour of music. The style and technique varies widely. Two poems “Sunrise” and “Sunset” are spoken over a sparse cello commentary. Others are sung but they too vary from a fairly conventional singing style backed up by complex, extended cello technique to a more declamatory style with metronomic accompaniment. To me it felt (in a weird way) “bardic”. By which i mean that the instrument was largely being used to emphasise the text in a way that Homer or the Beowulf poet might have related to. It’s also clearly a very personal statement about art, life and death and one’s reception of it is going to be impacted by how closely one can align with it philosophically.
Technically it’s well recorded (at Raven Street Studios in Ottawa) standard CD quality and comes with full texts and extensive bilingual (English/French) documentation.
How far will people go in the effort to survive? How can they preserve some sense of self respect and dignity in that survival? I think these are the questions underlying George F. Walker’s play Orphans for the Czar which had its world premier last night at Crow’s Theatre in a production directed by Tanja Jacobs.
Little did I suspect on March 12th 2020, as I attended UoT Opera’s Mansfield Park, that I would not review another live concert until July 14th 2021 but that’s how the COVID crumbled. Today I made it to one of Tapestry’s Box Concerts at CAMH on Queen Street. It was much more fun than my last visit which was for a meeting on infection control in the basement of the dreary old building, now demolished.
Navona have just produced an interesting album of art song by Alabama based composer Carl Vollrath. Old & New Poetry consists of three cycles setting texts by William Blake, Sara Teasdale and John Gracen Brown.
The disk opens with five short Blake settings for mezzo-soprano and piano. The songs are accomplished and playful and Yoko Hagino on piano is highly competent. Mezzo Aliana de la Guardia sings clearly and expressively but seems challenged by the higher sections of some pieces.
Opera Lafayette’s March 2020 production of Beethoven’s 1805 precursor to Fidelio; Leonore, was reviewed by Patrick Dillon in the Summer 2020 edition of Opera Canada. It’s now been released on DVD and Blu-ray. Watching it on video I think tends to highlight further the weaknesses described by Patrick. It can’t seem to make up it’s mind what it is; musically or dramatically. Is it a Singspiel or something grander? The dramatic focus drifts, somewhat bathetically, from the domestic comedy of the Leonore/Marcellina/Jacquino love triangle to the “faithful and virtuous wife” theme to, almost, entering more involved philosophical/political territory before relapsing into a sort of cop out ending. The (very real) strengths of the final version of Fidelio are not much in evidence here.
Soundstreams last night presented an intriguing double bill of works in Indigenous languages on Indigenous themes at, appropriately, the Daniels Spectrum. First up was Pimoteewin; music by Melissa Hui, words by Tomson Highway. This piece uses English narration with the singing in Cree. It tells the story of the Trickster and the Eagle going to find out where people go when they die. To quote him “Why are my people always disappearing like this?” The Trickster’ tries unsuccessfully to bring the spirits back to the land of the living and finally realises that that’s not such a good idea. Musically it had almost a liturgical or meditative quality with a lot of fairly hushed choral singing behind strong solo performances by Bud Roach and Melody Courage.
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.
Nicole Brook’s Obeah Opera is described as a “Nicole Brooks vision” which is probably a good starting point for an opera this isn’t. It’s an a capella stage piece with an all female cast, composed and taught to the performers orally and performed with mikes. If it resembles anything it’s a musical but really it’s a unique concept. It’s also clearly rooted in the oral traditions of African-American slavery and a kind of idealisation of the world they had left behind. For example, every slave women is a powerful sorceress from a long lineage rather as every Welshman is a gentleman who can trace his ancestry from King Arthur. It’s a musically rich and powerful tradition and this forms much the most effective element in the piece, especially as it’s where Brooks’ own talents and energy are most focussed.
Jonathan Kent sets his 2011 Glyndebourne production of The Turn of the Screw in the 1950s. It’s effective enough especially when combined with Paul Brown’s beautiful and ingenious set and Mark Henderson’s evocative lighting. The set centres on a glass panel which appears in different places and different angles but always suggesting a semi-permeable membrane. Between reality and imagination? Knowledge and innocence? Good and evil? All are hinted at. A rotating platform allows other set elements to be rapidly and effectively deployed. There’s also a very clever treatment of the prologue involving 8mm home video.