Rebanks fellows

Last night at Mazzoleni Hall we were entertained by the Royal Conservatory’s Rebanks fellows.  The programme was, to say the least, varied and very enjoyable.  It began with a movement from Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor played by Isobel Howard – violin, Caleb Georges – viola, Joanne Yesol Choi – cello and Sejin Yoon – piano.  It was a pleasant, if conventional, start to the evening.  There were rather more fireworks in the “Allegro ma non troppo” from Strauss’ Violin Sonata in E flat major.  There was some seriously virtuosic playing here from Aaaron Chan – violin and Ben Smith – piano.

1. Group Photo

from L to R: Michael Bridge, accordion; Caleb Georges, viola; Isobel Howard, violin; Sejin Yoon, piano; Hannah Crawford, soprano; Daniel Hamin Go, cello; Tim Beattie, guitar; Jonelle Sills, soprano; Aaron Chan, violin.

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Trilogy

This year’s fall offering from UoT Opera is three short comic operas presented at the MacMillan Theatre in productions by Michael Patrick Albano.  The first is Paul Hindemith’s Hin und Züruck; a twelve minute musical joke which manages to send up a lot of operatic conventions in a very short time.  It’s a musical and dramatic palindrome.  A man discovers his wife has a lover and shoots her.  The paramedics arrive and attempt to revive her.  In this staging this includes a giant syringe and no prizes for guessing where that goes. The remorseful husband shoots himself.  An angel (Ben Done) appears and explains that the usual laws of physics don’t apply in opera and the entire plot and score is replayed backwards.  It was played effectively deadpan by Cassandra Amorim and Lyndon Ladeur while Jordana Goddard, as the elderly deaf aunt, sat through the whole thing entirely oblivious.  Good fun.

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All’s well that ends well

VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert presented Mozart’s early opera Lucio Silla yesterday at the St. Lawrence Centre.  Inevitably it was in a much reduced version (the original is insanely long) coming in at around two hours and organised into two acts.  Tis left the principals with maybe three arias each plus a few ensemble numbers.  It was presented off book but with a very minimalist production; piano at the centre of an otherwise empty stage, some atmospheric projections, basic blocking and some sort of hybrid of costume and concert wear.  It actually worked rather well.  This is very much a “tell” rather than “show” opera and fancy scenic effects weren’t really required.

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TOT’s Orpheus

Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at the St. Lawrence Centre last night.  Guillermo Silva-Marin gives it a pretty conventional treatment with minimal scenery, “Greek” costumes and no big surprises.  It’s sung in English which has pros and cons for while the dialogue is intelligible enough the comprehensibility of the sung part is a bit variable.

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The Drawing Room

Confluence Concerts opened their season yesterday at 918 Bathurst with a concert featuring a new work by Ian Cusson and André Alexis.  We’ll come to that because before it there was about 45 minutes of music doing what Confluence does; the relatively unexpected.  There were arrangements for various combinations of voices and instruments of songs by the likes of Kate Bush, Coldplay and Neil Young.  There was an instrumental version of Bruce Cockburn’s Pacing the Cage (Larry Beckwith – violin, Andrew Downing – bass) and a Mozart violin sonata (Beckwith and Cusson) plus an intriguing percussion solo by Bevis Ng and more.  It featured the usual suspects; Larry Beckwith, Andrew Downing, Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell and Patricia O’Callaghan plus Messrs Cusson and Ng and it was fun.

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Songs in Time of War

musicgardenThe season finale for the Music Garden this summer was a performance of Alec Roth’s Songs in Times of War.  These are settings of poems by Du Fu translated by Vikram Seth.  Du Fu was a Chinese court poet who lived through times (8th century CE) when millions died or were displaced by rebellion and civil war.  Although more allusive than direct (most of the time), the poems are grim but have an elusive beauty which is reflected in Roth’s setting.  Originally scored for tenor, guitar, harp and violin we got to hear a new version (by the composer) with violin replaced by erhu; a two stringed bowed instrument.  Tnere’s no doubt in my mind that the erhu adds a really effective cross-cultural timbre that the violin version can’t quite match.

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Lovesongs

Soundstreams’ on-line concert, Lovesongs, recorded in Koerner Hall and streamed (access codes are PWYC, min $7) features three works; two by and one “in homage” to Claude Vivier with an intro by Lawrence Cherney and David Fallis who conducts on the first and third pieces.

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Bullet Train/Witch on Thin Ice

Another unusual and interesting show from Larry Beckwith’s Confluence Concerts last night at the Aki Studio.  The first half of the programme was a reading of Madeleine Thien’s short story Bullet Train.  It’s sort of a double coming of age story that also looks at what we hang onto and what we don’t as we move through life.  It was beautifully read by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster with cunningly chosen piano interludes played by Gregory Oh.

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After the interval it was Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Yoko Ono inspired piece; Witch on Thin Ice.  At it’s centre was virtuoso percussionist  Beverly Johnstone who displayed great skill on a range of untuned and tuned percussion while executing parts of Melissa Bettio’s choreography and producing all but indescribable vocals!  She was supported by soprano Vania Chan and dancer Jessica Mak with a rap number by Gregory Oh.  Playing over all of this were really rather striking videos and electronics designed by Alice.  It was a bit overwhelming really.  Maybe like being in the middle of an immersive video game and a very complex percussion piece at the same time.  Anyway, great fun and totally unexpected!

There’s another chance to catch this programme tonight at 8pm at the Aki Studio.

Crowded, dirty, dangerous

The Ward Cabaret, which opened at Harbourfront last night, is an exuberant celebration of the Ward; a Toronto neighbourhood that once covered the area bounded by Queen and College and Yonge and University.  From the mid 1800s until well into the 20th century it was far from the highly respectable quartier it’s become.  It was the first landing place for immigrants; Irish, Jews, Chinese, fugitive slaves, Italians.  A neighbourhood of low rent housing, cheap restaurants, the factories that fed Mr. Eaton’s catalogue and a bunch of rather more dubious businesses.  The City Fathers hated it but it had a life of its own that David Buchbinder (he of Yiddish Glory) and his team have turned into a spectacular evening of theatre/cabaret.

The Ward-Cabaret-04682 photo by Ed Hanley

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Opera for Toronto

Last night at the COC there was a special performance of Puccini’s La Bohème.  The cast was made up, for the most part, of current and past Ensemble Studio members and tickets had been made available free to a variety of community groups.  It was billed as “Opera for Toronto”.  There had also been a small number of tickets available on line on a first come basis and, by the looks of things , a fair number of comps for the cast.

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Afarin Mansouri giving an introductory talk in Farsi – Credit: Gaetz Photography

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