Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting. So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019? Let’s look at it by categories.
Fully staged opera with orchestra
The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me. David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years. The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested. Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world. The other winner was Elektra in January. The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.
The latest concert in the Confluence series featured Marion Newman and friends addressing the question “What is Indigenous classical music?” through a carefully curated programme of works; all of which featured words by Indigenous women. We began with Marion singing Barbara Kroall’s Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost) with words in Odawa describing the earth going to sleep for the winter with flute accompaniment by Stephen Tam. It was followed by Rebecca Cuddy singing three of the Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dumont by Ian Cusson. These are really fine settings of interesting, pithy, angry texts that have a wicked humour to them. I particularly like Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald which I’ve written about before.
We went back last night for a second look at Shanawdithit. We were sitting up much closer to the stage area this time and that did bring out some things I hadn’t noticed so much before. It also made the role of the chorus much clearer. That said I don’t think I’d write anything much different to my original review if I were doing so again. But there are some additional thoughts that I want to share:
This year’s Canadian Art Song Project commission is a setting of poems by EJ Pratt by Dean Burry entitled Sea Variations. It was given its first performance yesterday in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre by Michael Colvin and Stephen Philcox. The texts all deal with the moods of the sea and seem curiously archaic for the 1920s when they were written. They are much more reminiscent of, say, Matthew Arnold than Yeats, let alone Eliot. They have a certain power though and anybody who knows the North Atlantic will easily appreciate why they might appeal to fellow Newfoundlander Burry.
The header is a line from Yvette Nolan’s libretto for Shanawdithit; the work she is creating with composer Dean Burry for Tapestry Opera and Opera on the Avalon, which tells the story of the last survivor of the Beothuk people. I sat down with them on Friday to talk about how the work has progressed since I saw an incomplete version in workshop last October. The line really does get to the heart of the creative process that addresses the issues I raised in my review of the workshop (i.e. how we remember and tell stories) and this line, and it’s accompanying music, have become a kind of leitmotiv for the emerging work.
So May Day greetings and hello again. And here are some things you might care to see this month during your eight hours for “what you will”. It’s a bit belated for reasons previously announced but it’s here and I’m back.
Tonight at Lula Lounge at 7pm Tongue in Cheek productions have Democracy in Action. Several noted singers (Krisztina Szabo, Julie Nesrallah, Natalya Gennadi, Teiya Kasahara, Asitha Tennekoon, Romulo Delgado, Alexander Hajek and Stephen Hegedus) will perform pieces based on audience voting.