Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park opened last night at UoT Opera in a production by Tim Albery. It’s a really interesting show that builds up in “layers” to a very satisfying whole. The Austen novel, of course, is very self consciously a novel. There’s no pretence at “immersion”. The author is both telling the story and commenting on it for the benefit of you, the reader. Librettist Alasdair Middleton both builds on this and does a quite brilliant job of compression to bring in a condensed, and only slightly simplified, version of the story in under two hours.
The latest release on the Chandos label from Sir Andrew Davis consists of three works by Sir Arthur Bliss; The Enchantress, Meditations on a Theme by John Blow and Mary of Magdala.
The Enchantress was written for Kathleen Ferrier and premiered in 1951. The text is a free adaptation of the Second Idyll of Theocritus by playwright Henry Reed. The preface to the score tells us that:
The students of the post graduate program at UoT Opera were on show in the RBA yesterday with a show made up of staged opera excerpts curated and directed by Michael Patrick Albano. It’s right at the beginning of the academic year and these sorts of concerts are a bit of a calibration exercise for those of us who follow the progress of young singers. The starting point this year is decidedly high.
The ninth edition of Tapestry’s celebration of their back catalogue happened last night in the Ernest Balmer Studio. This year’s mentors are Jacqueline Woodley and Andrea Grant. The emerging artists are Elisabeth Boudreault, Lindsay Connolly, Brianna DeSantis, Ryan Downey, Gabrielle French, Rebecca Gray, Lauren Halász, Rachel Krehm, Brittany Rae, Anne-Marie Ramos and Jennifer Routier with pianists Qiao Yi Miao Mu and Ryoko Hou.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA was a sneak preview of the material for a longer workshop/performance in the Ernest Balmer Studio on Saturday night. The five works involved and the background are covered in this post.
We got excerpts from all five works with Jennifer Szeto at the piano and various combinations of Suzanne Rigden, Kristin Hoff and Lindsay Connolly singing. There were also brief introductions to each piece from the creative teams. What struck me most was how different the pieces were but how they seemed to reflect regional differences in musical expectations across Canada. For example, the two works from Quebec both used extended/prepared piano with a bunch of extended vocal techniques in Margareta Jeric’s Suites d’une ville morte. Laurence Jobidon’s L’hiver attend beaucoup de moi was perhaps more conventionally lyrical but it wasn’t a sound world one hears much in Toronto (at least in opera).
A new opera by Australian Brett Dean based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet premiered at Glyndebourne this summer. A recording of it was broadcast on BBC television on 22nd October. I’ve now had a chance to watch it in full. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it get somewhat mixed reviews. I was impressed. Very impressed. First off, Matthew Jocelyn, who wrote the libretto, and Dean know how to turn a play into an opera. They understand that it’s not just about taking a bunch of dialogue and giving it a soundtrack. What they do is very clever. All the text is Shakespeare but it’s split up and moved around. There’s repetition and sometimes words are reassigned to different characters. Characters sing parallel lines. Then, of course, there’s a chorus. A good example is when the players appear before performing The Death of Gonzago. They get lines taken from various of Hamlet’s soliloquies chopped up and rearranged. It’s effective and allows the main elements of the story to be told in under three hours of opera. The main bit that’s missing is the whole Fortinbras and the Norwegians thing but that often gets cut anyway.
Just been checking out the Glyndebourne 2017 season announcement. Not that I’ll be going or anything but one production did catch my eye. There’s a new Hamlet opera from Brett Dean and Matthew Jocelyn to be directed by Neil Armfield and conducted by Vladimir Jurowski which sounds promising enough but look at this cast: Allan Clayton (Hamlet), Sarah Connolly (Gertrude), Barbara Hannigan (Ophelia), Rod Gilfry (Claudius), Kim Begley (Polonius), John Tomlinson (Ghost of Old Hamlet). There had better be a DVD.
Oh yes and they’ve unearthed yet another previously (more or less) unheard of Cavalli.
There’s quite a lot for the vocal music fan in this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival though the only operatic opening is getting a bit Twilight Zone. How often does an opera like Britten’s Rape of Lucretia get done in Toronto? Well for now the answer is twice in quick succession because besides the MYOpera production later this month we are also getting a “semi-staged” version on July 22nd at 7.30pm at the Winter Garden Theatre. It is a transplant from Banff originally created by Joel Ivany and Topher Mokrzewski but to be directed here by Anna Theodosakis. The cast includes Emma Char (Lucretia), Peter Rolfe Dauz (Junius), Beste Kalender (Bianca), Jasper Leever (Collatinus), Iain MacNeil (Tarquinius), Ellen McAteer (Lucia), Owen McAusland (Male Chorus), and Chelsea Rus (Female Chorus). That’s a pretty good cast but it does seem an odd choice. Is the King Street streetcar contagious?
There’s a pretty good “making of” extra with the 2013 Glyndebourne recording of Rameau’s rarely performed Hippolyte et Aricie. In it, director Jonathan Kent argues that there are essentially two ways of dealing with the French baroque; elegance or “throwing the kitchen sink at it”. To this one might add a weird pastiche of bare chests, stylized gesture and high camp but that’s another story. My best experiences with Rameau have definitely been of the kitchen sink variety. I’m thinking of productions like José Montalvo’s Les Paladins. Kent is a bit more restrained but still pretty inventive which I think is necessary as Hippolyte et Aricie is rather episodic and fragmented and could use some livening up.
The MetHD broadcast of Strauss’ Capriccio has been issued on Blu-ray. I enjoyed the original broadcast but found watching it again on disk rather unsatisfying. The main problem is the production. It’s a John Cox effort from 1998. The period is updated from ancien régime France to just after WW1, apparently to make the people more contemporary while allowing an opulent, old style Met “all the things” production. Peter McClintock’s direction of the revival emphasizes the most obvious comedy (the ballerina falling over with her legs in the air, for example) while doing little or nothing to bring out the sheer cleverness of this opera, about an opera, within an opera. It all seems very heavy handed, in fact the word that popped into my head several times was “vulgar”.