The Canadian Nightingale: Bertha Crawford and the Dream of the Prima Donna is a biography by Jane Cooper of early 20th century Canadian coloratura soprano Bertha Crawford who became, rather improbably, an “A” list opera star in Poland before returning to Canada to die in relative obscurity. It’s the story of an unusual life but it’s also the story of how opera and vocal music was impacted by war, revolution, depression, jazz and the cinema. It offers interesting insights into the Toronto (and wider) Canadian musical scene in the first quarter of the 20th century which was curiously similar to today in some ways and very different in others. There was neither opera nor a symphony orchestra in Toronto in that period so professional opportunities were few and far between but then, as now, most aspiring singers first professional gig was a section lead in a church choir and a main route to fame and fortune was to head for Europe. At least steamers had bigger baggage allowances than Air Canada.
Mercadante’s I due Figaro(1) is one of a number of operas that continue the story of Figaro, Almaviva etc into a third instalment. It sets a libretto by Felice Romani based on Les deux Figaro by Honoré-Antoine Richaud Martelly. It premiered in Madrid in 1835 but was lost for many years before being rediscovered in 2009 and given at the 2011 Ravenna Festival. Yesterday in got its Canadian premier at VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert.
I didn’t actually see anything much in the Luminato line up that got my juices flowing but my attention has now been drawn to CHARLOTTE: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music. It’s a Singspiel about a young female Jewish artist struggling with her identity and art during the early 1940s. She ends up in Auschwitz. You get the picture. The title role is being played by Adanya Dunn and the musical director is Peter Tiefenbach which, frankly, are reasons enough to go see it. It plays June 16th to 18th at the Theatre Centre on Queen Street West. More details here.
On a completely different tack, Jane Cooper is trying to raise funds to publish her biography of Bertha Crawford, a Canadian soprano who enjoyed a very successful operatic career in Poland and Russia in the early 20th century but who has been largely forgotten. You can find out more at Jane’s Kickstarter page.
I caught the second and final performance of Isis and Osiris – Gods of Egypt presented by Voicebox:Opera in Concert yesterday. It’s a new piece with a libretto by Sharon Singer and music by Peter-Anthony Togni. It tells the story of mythical ancient Egypt under the rule of sibling consorts Isis and Osiris and there struggle with their brother Seth who embodies violence and chaos. In the process Seth disposes of Osiris in fourteen pieces but Isis manages to gather up all save the phallus. A golden replacement is made, Osiris is revived and the cosmic order restored. It’s quite a promising premise but it never really comes off.