There’s much to like in this year’s unfussy TSO Messiah. It’s not bloated. For most of the piece conductor Johannes Debus deploys around thirty strings, chamber organ, harpsichord, oboes and bassoon. Trumpets and timpani are added for the grand moments later in the piece. He even manages to get quite a delicate sound out of the largish (100+) Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The delicacy is a recurrent thread. That and a really bouncy sense of rhythm. One could dance to Debus’ Handel.
Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA featured Claire de Sévigné and Rachel Andrist with Huw Montague Rendall chipping in with readings. The theme, naturally enough, was Love. It was a carefully curated program taking us through Passion, The Bond, Pain, Memory and, finally, The Truth. Along the way we got Poulenc, Fauré and Debussy; Wolf and Liszt; Schubert and Schumann; even some Strauss and Weill before The Truth was revealed in English language texts set by Hughes, Previn, Copland and Bridge. Make of that last what you will.
Here is what’s coming up. Valentine’s day sees two vocal recitals. At noon in the RBA there’s Clare de Sévigné and Rachel Andrist with The Truth about Love; the story of a young woman’s love gone awry. At 8pm Ian Bostridge has an all Schubert program at Koerner Hall. Thursday is also busy with members of the Ensemble Studio in a Russian program in the RBA at noon, a Johannes Debus masterclass at UoT at 2pm and Opera Trivia at the Four Seasons Centre at 7pm. Then on Friday at 7.30pm in Walter Hall there’s a free concert; Vocalini, from the undergrads of the UoT Opera. Also Thursday and Friday MYOpera have a couple of opportunities to see emerging artists. There’s a public masterclass with Philip Morehead at 6pm Thursday at the Edward Jackman Centre and a concert at 7.30pm Friday at the Vandenberg House.
Wajdi Mouawad’s production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, originally seen in Lyon, opened last night at the COC with Valérie Négre as revival director. The piece has been somewhat restructured and the spoken dialogue changed to explode the idea that the piece is “about” some kind of crude juxtaposition of the “West”; Enlightened, civilized etc, and the “East”; obscurantist, cruel, barbarian etc. To this end Mouawad has inserted a prologue before the overture where Belmonte’s father is holding a party to celebrate the return of his son and the others where he makes the above comparison in extremely crude terms and then invites his guests to play la tête du Turc, a game that involves hitting a Turk’s head with a sledgehammer. The guests wade in with drunken abandon, except for Konstanze and Blonde who are clearly revolted by the idea. This leads to a conversation around who changed and how while they were in captivity and so to telling the whole story in flashback.
Tim Albery’s production of Richard Strauss’ 1933 opera Arabella, first seen at Santa Fe in 2012, finally made it to Toronto last night. It’s, I believe, a Canadian premiere for the piece, which is a bit shocking for an important opera by a major composer. It’s not a perfect piece. The librettist, the incomparable Hugo von Hofmannsthal, died before he and Strauss could revise the second and third acts and there are places where it feels a bit unfinished but it’s still an impressive work. The plot’s a bit contrived perhaps, though no more so than many more famous operas, but there’s real depth of humanity and Mandryka, the landowner/tribal chief from the southern fringes of the Habsburg empire, is a really fascinating study.
How it Storms; music by Allen Cole, libretto by Maristella Roca, is a chamber opera for four soloists and gamelan ensemble. It was premiered last night at the Array Space and is co-production of Array Music and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. It’s a really interesting piece. The libretto is allusive (at times even elusive) rather than being a straight forward linear narrative. There’s a soon to be wedded couple, her sister and a very strange beggar. There’s a hunting scene and a curse but what’s really going on is never entirely clear. The libretto is beautiful to listen to with repetitive elements and non-English elements. It’s clearly as much the work of a poet as a playwright(1). Using gamelan to accompany this makes so much sense. The instruments mirror, amplify and transcend the rhythmical, shimmering nature of the words. The solo vocal parts too give the singers an opportunity to sing beautifully as well as tell the story.
June is still a bit quiet but I have had word of a few more performances around the city. On the 13th Lindsay Promane, Daevyd Pepper and pianist Natasha Fransblow; all seen recently at either Metro Youth Opera or various UoT events, have a recital at Islington United Church. Featured composers include Ravel, Tosti and Saint-Saens. It’s at 7.30pm and it’s Pay What You Can.
On the 17th and 18th at 8pm Array Music are presenting How it Storms. It’s an opera for gamelan ensemble by Allen Cole. The singers will be Salzburg and Zürich bound Claire de Sévigné, Danielle MacMillan (where’s she been this year?), Chris Mayell and Keith O’Brien. This one is at The Array Space, 155 Walnut Ave and admission is $15.00.
Then on the 21st there’s a concert performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at St Simon-The-Apostle Anglican Church. It’s at 7pm and it’s Pay What You Can.
Finally, you can catch the broadcast of the Royal Opera’s recent production of Weill’s Mahagonny at the Bloor Hot Docs on the 28th at noon.
So, after the rather scattered events of the summer last night’s fundraiser for Opera 5 at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu felt like the start of a new season. It was well attended and organised in an intriguing and fun format. Basically, Team Day and Team Night were competing to see who could raise the most money. There were four rounds in which a singer from each team presented an aria, song or MT number. The one with the most pledges got to sing his or her “show off” aria. For an additional donation, the loser got to do the same. Given that some of the city’s best young singers were performing it was to be expected that it was a good show.
On April 11th FAWN Opera is workshopping L’Homme et le Ciel; music by Adam Scime and libretto by Ian Koiter. It’s PWYC and it’s at the Ernest Balmer Studio at 8pm. Partrick Murray conducts, Amanda Smith directs and the singers will be Giovanni Spanu, Larissa Koniuk and Adanya Dunn. I wish I could go but I can’t.
On the 26th at 8pm the Aradia Ensemble, conductor Kevin Mallon, will be joined by Claire de Sévigné and Maria Soulis for a programme of Vivaldi’s sacred music. It’s at St. Anne’s Anglican church on Gladstone Avenue which sounds worth a visit in itself. Apparently there is a Byzantine dome and decoration by members of the Group of 7. Tickets are $35 ($20 seniors).
I only managed to get to the first half of yesterday’s Ensemble Studio lunchtime concert. It was Brahm’s Liebeslieder-Walzer Op. 52 performed by Claire de Sévigné, Charlotte Burrage, Andrew Haji and Gordon Bintner with Liz Upchurch and Michael Shannon providing the four handed accompaniment. I’m not a huge Brahms fan and this was pretty much that late 19th century sentimental stuff I don’t really get; somewhat schmaltzy waltz rhythms setting somewhat schmaltzy texts. It was well done though. Haji, in particular, sang with a fine attack and the different voice combinations made interesting contrasts. I thought the music came off best when the girls sang together and when the guys sang together. Both pairs have voices quite different in timbre and blended to good effect. The more complex four voice sections seemed to come a bit unstuck in the RBA. I’m 99% sure it was the acoustic not the singers but certainly textures got quite muddy at times. The accompaniment was, unsurprisingly, very good indeed. Work pressures meant I had to leave before the second half of the programme which featured John Greer’s Liebesleid-Lieder.