Against the Grain’s Messiah/Complex is a rewarding, actually quite fascinating, piece of work. It’s condensed to around 80 minutes but most of the well known numbers feature in some form. Each takes the form of a filmed vignette filmed somewhere in Canada. Some locations are urban, some are very much not; from David Pecaut Square to the high Arctic. Twelve soloists and a number of different choirs are used. Some pieces are sung in the original English but five other languages are also used. The non-English pieces are not translations in fact they subvert Charles Jennens’ theology in some really interesting ways. The TSO (or at least a bit of it) conducted by Johannes Debus provides the accompaniment. The performances are good, the filming is excellent and the technical quality is first rate. You can watch it for yourself at this link.
Like everything else the 2020 Rubies, Opera Canada‘s awards show, is going virtual this year. It’s going out as a video, produced by Taylor Long of the COC, which will premier at 8pm on November 23rd. Joyce El-Khoury hosts and Ben Heppner narrates the honouree videos, and then Barbara Hannigan, Michael Schade and Yannick Nezet-Seguin contribute ‘acceptance’ speeches. Plus there’s a tribute to this year’s posthumous honouree, tenor Edward Johnson. There are also performances by Russell Braun, Rihab Chaieb, Midori Marsh and Matt Cairns recorded in the studio with pianist and singer co-located. The show will be shown via OC’s Youtube channel.
There’s much more about the honourees and their careers on the Opera Canada website:
Last night’s final Koerner Hall event in Toronto Summer Music started off with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major. It’s a tuneful, well constructed piece which in places riffs off Romany music, hence its nickname “Turkish”. Jonathan Crow was the soloist with a small orchestra drawn from all the area’s major orchestras plus TSM Fellows. Gemma New conducted. It was very satisfying. The orchestra was excellent and the interplay between solist and orchestra worked very well. It’s quite a demanding piece for the soloist and I really enjoyed the sound that Jonathan produced. He plays an instrument with a rather distinctive timbre which worked well here. I’m curious about the first movement cadenza. I don’t know the work well enough to knoew what the options are but this one was very virtuosic though sounding distinctly post-Mozartian.
There are a couple of interesting concerts coming up in the last week of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. On the 24th at 7.30pm in Walter Hall you can see Collectìf in a “spooky” programme. Collectìf is a group started by Danika Lorèn and friends. They do shows that incorporate staging, art song and video and they are never boring. (They also do adult cabaret but that’s another story!). Wednesday’s show is called Beyond Perception: What Haunts Us Now and features three sections. The first is built around the theme of La Dame Blanche, the second features Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and the last deals with the myth of Daphne and Apollo. Recommended. And as an added incentive for operaramblings readers there’s a discount code OR10 which will get you $10 tickets. Tickets from the Royal Conservatory Box Office online, in person or by phone.
So the first four semifinalists have sung. It’s interesting. Julien van Mellaerts sang a very restrained, very Liederish set while all three girls were more dramatic. A lot is going to turn on the judges views on the “right way” to do art song. If the prelims are anything to go by I suspect they tend more to the operatic than I do. We shall see.
Julien van Mellaerts kicked off with Schubert. Der Einsame was a model of Germanic restraint but he clearly had plenty of power in reserve and let it out a bit in the more dramatic Rastlose Liebe. Mahler’s Zu Strassburg auf der Schantz was lovely and lyrical and showed real ability to shape a line. Gurney’s In Flanders showed off clean high notes plus a sense of style. His version of Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing? almost teetered into the mannered. It was lovely but a little precious à la Bostridge. Songs by Fauré and Duparc were sung stylishly to round out a set that was very much to my taste but will it please the judges?
Last night the final eight aria contestants performed. Canadian mezzo Marie-Andrée Mathieu was up first. Meyerbeer’s Nobles seigneurs, salut! showed genuine mezzo colours, good control and some dramatic flair. Parto! Parto! was pleasant but not as dramatic as one might expect. Certainly the range of emotion on display was markedly less than Emily D’Angelo the day before. Amour, viens rendre mon âme from Gluck’s Orphée showed she could handle long runs. So it was a solid performance but maybe not at the level needed against this field.
Yesterday afternoon and evening we heard all sixteen contestants in the preliminary round of the art song competition and the eight semifinalists were announced. To try and keep things interesting I’m going to do three posts; one on the afternoon, one on the evening and one on the judging and other general observations. The first was written between the afternoon and evening sessions yesterday and I haven’t updated it with later information. The second will be based on my notes and I’ll try to ignore who the fact that at time of writing I know the results. So here’s the first post about yesterday afternoon…
So after a bit of a hiatus the Toronto music scene is coming back to life. The Toronto Summer Music Festival has kicked off and the main interest for followers of the vocal arts lies in the Art Song fellows project with concerts at 1pm on each of the next two Saturdays in Walter Hall (free but tickets required). Then the vocal highlight of the festival; Soile Isokoski in recital with Martin Katz at 7.30pm on the 18th at Walter Hall. The programme includes the Schumann Mary Stuart songs, the Strauss Ophelia songs plus some Wolf and, of course, Sibelius. Ms. Isokoski is also giving a public masterclass in Walter Hall on the 23rd at 2pm.
Yes subtitles can be a bit dodgy but the one above is actually from a very good PBS segment on Eric Owens. You can see it here. Or you can just enjoy this snap of him with two lovely ladies on the opening night of Hercules at the COC a little while ago.
The Toronto production of Against the Grain’s A Little Too Cozy opened last night at Studio 42 at the CBC Centre. It’s the third and final instalment in the series of Ivany/Mokzrewski adaptations of the Mozart/da Ponte operas, following on from Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn. Like the earlier pieces it’s updated, site specific and makes a lot of references to social media. The schtick here is that it’s a reality TV dating show. Dora and Felicity are yet to meet Elmo and Fernando in the flesh though they have become engaged via social media and through the prior episodes of the show. Tonight is the season finale and there is one big test left. Can they be tempted by two strange men? Show host Donald L. Fonzo and girl handler Despina will make sure they are maximally tempted. The rest you can work out.