Glenn Gould School Vocal Showcase

lillianbrooks

Lillian Brooks

The GGS Vocal Showcase is an opportunity to take a look at the vocal talent on offer at the Royal Conservatory.  It’s a tricky exercise as the students range from the equivalent of first year undergrad to second year masters so one is constantly recalibrating expectations.  We got to hear one bass, two baritones, three tenors, one mezzo soprano and fourteen sopranos in a variety of arias, art songs and ensemble numbers.

So, in no particular order my favourites and “ones to watch”.  Lets start with the obvious.  Gabriel Sanchez-Ortega is a genuine bass.  We only heard him in some Haydn trios last night but he seems to have heft and genuine low notes and quite a wide range.  He’s also still quite young.  Singing with him was soprano Joanna Burt who also gave us an aria from La Cecchina.  She has real potential as a dramatic soprano which is the one part of the tweeter market that isn’t flooded.  She has some nice dark colours as well as weight.  The trios were rounded out by tenor Zachary Rioux.  He held his own with two pretty big voices so we’ll see.

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Underdone Alcina

There’s not that much Handel on offer in Toronto so it seems really rather odd that Alcina should get two productions within eighteen months.  The attraction of the piece for Opera Atelier was obvious.  It’s Handel’s only opera that incorporates dance.  Why the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory should think it’s a good choice for a student production is less clear.  Dance aside, it’s classic Handel; written for an audience who expected great virtuosity from the star singers (in this case Giovanni Carestini and Anna Maria Strada) plus the very latest in analogue SFX.  Neither of these could reasonably be expected at Koerner Hall.

Photo: Nicola Betts

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The week in prospect

alcina_365sqBack to relative quiet!  The main event in the coming week is the GGS spring production.  They are doing Handel’s Alcina.  The cast includes Meghan Jamieson, Irina Medvedeva, Christina Campsall, Lillian Brooks, Joanna Burt, Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Lam.  Leon Major directs and Ivars Taurins conducts.  The publicity material suggests a 1920s setting.  Anyway it’s at Koerner Hall at 7.30pm on Wednesday and Friday.

There are a couple of kid friendly March break concerts in the RBA.  Tuesday sees what seems to have become an annual event; Kyra Millan’s Opera Interactive.  This year she is joined by Tina Faye and Charles Sy.  Then on Thursday Cawthra Park Chamber Choir and conductor Bob Anderson, one of the GTA’s leading school choirs, present various choral traditions and styles from the Renaissance to contemporary Canadian works.  Charles Sy, a Cawthra Park alumnus also features in this one.  Both at noon of course.

Then at the  Newmarket Theatre on Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm opera Luminata are performing.  This is a rather odd spectacular thing with taped orchestra and pyrotechnics.  I haven’t seen them but they got a rather more positive reception than I expected last time around.  www.operaluminata.com for details.

GGS Vocal Showcase

campsallThe Glenn Gould School Vocal Showcase at Mazzoleni Hall last night was a chance to see twenty of the school’s singers in action.  It was a curious mix actually; one bass, one baritone, a handful of tenors and mezzos and a lot of sopranos.  There was a huge range of age and experience too from 18 year old first years to quite seasoned post-grads.  As usual with these things I’m not going to attempt to be comprehensive but instead focus on the highlights as I saw them. Continue reading

Another Ulisse

William Christie and Les Arts Florissants recorded Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria in Aix-en-Provence, five years before their Madrid recording.  The Aix production was directed by Adrian Noble and featured real life couple Kreśimir Śpicer and Marijana Mijanović as Ulisse and Penelope.

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Exemplary Blu-ray transfer for Glyndebourne’s Fairy Queen

I’ve reviewed two DVDs of Purcell’s semi-opera King Arthur on this blog. One was excellent and one was terrible and between them they went a long way to showing how difficult these semi-operas are to stage well but how rewarding when they succeed.

In 2009 Jonathan Kent and William Christie combined to produce a version of The Fairy Queen for Glyndebourne. It’s quite different in style from the successful Salzburg King Arthur but it works splendidly on its own terms. The Fairy Queen combines a libretto based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream with songs, masques and dances of a largely allegorical nature. Like the play itself they range from high flown allegory with classical elements to bawdy humour. It is very English. It almost epitomises what separates the English baroque from the French. Kent and Christie tackle this with a robust English sensibility, There are some changes to the dialogue and to the order of the numbers but it all makes sense (so far as this piece can). The allegorical elements are gorgeously and wittily staged making good use of a large circular lift at centre stage that allows fully formed tableaux to rise into our sight. The bawdy elements are tackled head on with a robustly TV Mopsa (Robert Burt) in the “Dialogue of Corydon and Mopsa” and the, by now, notorious bonking bunnies in the “Dance for the Haymakers”. The audience is totally engaged and one hears plenty of that commodity, rather rare in the opera house, uninhibited laughter. The team of designer Paul Brown and lighting designer Mark Henderson make all of this look quite spectacular. The dramatic action is played out in fairly long segments and the parts are taken by actors rather than singers. The fairies are appropriately sinister with wings that look inspired by contemporary prints of fallen angels. The Rude Mechanicals are rude and not too mechanical.  The “humans” are credibly 17th century in manner though dress gets less formal as the action proceeds.  The disparate elements are integrated very well.  There’s plenty of dance and it’s choreographed by Kim Brandstrup in a style that is robustly muscular but solidly in the classical ballet tradition.

The cast of actors, singers and dancers is huge and consistently excellent.

I was particularly impressed with Sally Dexter’s Titania and Desmond Barrit’s Welsh accented Bottom among the actors.  Barrit even got to do some singing with a not too over the top version of the “Song of the Drunken Poet”.  The singing stars were the wonderful, sweet toned Lucy Crowe; her “if love’s a sweet passion” was a delight, and the robust bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams who, among other sings, sang a truly chilling Winter.  Singling out individual performances isn’t the point though.  This is very much an ensemble performance.  Christie directs the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment from the harpsichord and is as idiomatic as one could possibly hope for.

So, how well does the stage production transfer to disc?  Extremely well!  The video director is François Roussillon.  Unlike most of his peers he appears to have realised that opera lovers are not, for the most part, watching on tiny screens anymore.  He makes sure we can see what the designer and director intended.  Sure, there are close ups but never at the expense of the bigger picture.  The technical quality is of a very high order.  There are two formats available; a two DVD set and Blu-Ray.  I watched the latter but I doubt most people would see a huge difference.  It was filmed in 1080i HD and the picture is clearly better than my first generation HD TV can fully do justice to.  The sound is incredibly good.  On Blu-Ray it’s DTS-HD Master Audio (DTS 5.1 on DVD).  The quality is apparent even as Christie is walking to the pit.  The applause simply sounds as if one is in the house rather than the usual muffled fluttering noise.  The balance, clarity and spatial depth are exemplary throughout.  Both formats also have LPCM stereo.  There are English, French, German and Spanish subtitles.  There are useful extras.  The disc includes interviews with Kent and Christie which are well worth watching and the booklet includes an informative essay by Kent as well as a track listing and synopsis.

All in all this is an excellent production given an exemplary transfer to disc.  Here’s the official trailer, unfortunately in less than exemplary Youtube quality: