UoT Opera Division’s production of Arthur Benjamin’s A Tale of Two Cities, currently playing at the MacMillan Theatre, is really rather good. Its partly the work itself which surely deserves to be better known. It’s a 1950 work to a libretto by Cedric Cliffe. It was written for the Festival of Britain and was considered a success at the time. It is in many ways typical of mid 20th century English opera (though Benjamin was a peripatetic Australian rather than a Brit). It’s colourful and uses a large orchestra with lots of brass and percussion and combines lyricism with some fairly heavy dissonance. It also includes a few good arias, notably one for Lucie Manette, the romantic female interest.
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Egoyan’s Così – brunette edition
The COC season continued last night with Atom Egoyan’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, first seen in January 2014. There are some changes from the previous outing but most of what I had to say about the production holds good still. This time there have been cuts. The show now runs as two ninety minute acts plus an interval and it feels tighter and doesn’t drag so much in the second act. In the process some of the heavy handed symbolism has been discarded; fewer pinned butterflies. I think the physical comedy may have ratcheted up just a touch but maybe that’s me misremembering. And the girls are brunettes, rather than redheads, but still well matched enough to look like sisters. Musically, I think it’s been lightened up somewhat. Bernard Labadie, something of a period specialist, conducts and Michael Shannon accompanies the recits on a fortepiano. But, still, fundamentally the same show.
Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian
I finally got to see Rufus Wainwright’s new opera Hadrian, to a libretto by Daniel Macivor, at the Four Seasons Centre last night. There’s been a lot of hype around it and I was interested; the few bits of music from it that I had heard intrigued me but I’m no fan of his earlier work Prima Donna. One thing was certain. The piece does not lack ambition. There are four acts totalling something like 160 minutes. There’s a large cast, a large orchestra, a large chorus and an epic storyline. It’s clearly an attempt to produce a “grand opera” for our times. Does it succeed?
Danceworks at 40
Danceworks 40th anniversary show opened at Harbourfront last night. Now contemporary dance isn’t really my thing but I was invited in part on the assumption I’d write about the music. Fair enough but I thought we could do better than that so I asked my partner Katja, who has at least some dance in her background to guest review. She has done this in rather more detail than I might have expected so what follows is basically her work. I have added a few comments, mostly about the music, and I have made it clear where it’s me talking. It would be obvious anyway as I am, as the good lady points out, a “grumpy old bastard”. Over to Katja…
And now, the TSO
Hot on the heels of the RCM, the Toronto Symphony has announced its 2017/18 season, whih will be Peter Oundjian’s last as Music Director. There’s lots of sesquicentennial stuff of course but here’s a summary of the interesting vocal stuff (rock and roll and other children’s music omitted).
September 27,28 and 30, 2017: Brahm’s German Requiem with Erin Wall and Russell Braun.
October 19 and 20, 2017: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Susan Platts and Michael Schade. This is billed as a Maureen Forrester commemoration.
November 9 and 11, 2017: Jeffrey Ryan’s Afghanistan:Requiem for a Generation with Measha Brueggergosman, Alysson McHardy, Colin Ainsworth and Brett Polegato.
December 16, 19, 20, 22 and 23, 2017: Handel’s Messiah with Karina Gauvin, Kristina Szabó, Frédéric Antoun and Joshua Hopkins.
April 26 and 28, 2018: A concert performance of Bernstein’s Candide with Tracy Dahl, Judith Forst, Nicholas Phan and Richard Suart.
June 2 and 3, 2018: A concert called Water Music with Leslie Ann Bradley singing Dvorak, Schubert and Mozart.
June 28 and 29, 2018: Peter Oundjian signs off with a Beethoven 9. Soloists tba.
Full details here.
Best of 2014
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
Kaduce transforms Butterfly
My review of the opening night of the COC’s much revived Brian Macdonald production of Madama Butterfly was as lukewarm as the audience reaction. In fact, I’ve never seen an audience in that house so subdued. Reviews of the alternate cast with Kelly Kaduce in the lead had generally been more encouraging so I was keen to see what she could do. I saw it yesterday afternoon. Let’s cut to the chase. She transforms the production. It’s like watching a different show and every scene she appears in has an energy that was lacking before.
Ben out, Tracy in
If you have been wondering who would replace recently retired Ben Heppner in Westben’s annual Sunday Afternoon at the Opera, to be held this year on July 20th at 2:00 pm, the wait is over. It will be veteran coloratura soprano Tracy Dahl, last seen in Toronto as Despina. She’ll be accompanied by Ensemble Studio head honcho Liz Upchurch. Tickets available at www.westben.ca
Pelléas et Mélisande in the Tanenbaum Courtyard Garden
Hidden away up an alleyway behind the COC’s ioffice and rehearsal complex is a very beautiful garden. I say hidden because I lived less than 200m away for 10 years before I discovered it. Last night it made a rather magical setting for Against the Grain Theatre’s new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. The piece is set in a gloomy castle and surrounding forest in Brittany. The high, ivy covered walls and ironwork of the performance space, enhanced by Camelia Koo’s fractured flagstones forming patterns on the grass, evoked the essentially sunless world of Maeterlinck’s poem. Costuming in the style of the period’s composition meshed nicely with the aesthetic of the roughly contemporary space.
Lunchtime with Tracy Dahl
I’ve attended many very good concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre but I’m not sure I’ve ever attended one as intense as Tracy Dahl and Liz Upchurch’s Songs from the Heart recital today. Tracy really is a rather extraordinary artist. She is the antithesis of the lieder singer who stands demurely by the piano and Schuberts mellifluously. She throws every fibre of her being into the performance. It’s not campily histrionic but voice, facial expression and gesture are all used to the full whether she’s hiccupping a drunken Harlequin or sibilantly suggesting a slithery singing snake.