Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting. So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019? Let’s look at it by categories.
Fully staged opera with orchestra
The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me. David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years. The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested. Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world. The other winner was Elektra in January. The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.
There was a two part session with Barbara Hannigan at UoT yesterday.The first part consisted of an open rehearsal/masterclass for the Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Wallace Halladay with Maeve Palmer as soloist of Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre.The piece is a mash up of three areas for the character Gepopo from the opera Le Grand Macabre. The basic premise is that Gepopo, the head of the secret police, is trying to warn her boss that the Earth is about to be hit by a comet. Unfortunately Gepopo has spent so long in the underworld of spooks and spies that she’s utterly paranoid and can only speak in broken fragments and secret codes. It’s weird and surreal and often funny in a disturbing way. It’s a piece very much associated with Hannigan who has sung it many times and worked on it with the composer.
The TSO’s opening concert of the season at Roy Thomson Hall was quite boldly conceived. Basically hand the evening over to the powerhouse duo of soprano/conductor Barbara Hannigan and violinist/conductor John Storgårds and see what they come up with. It was an excitingly eclectic programme which produced some great performances but a sadly disappointing turn out.
I reviewed Brett Dean’s Hamlet when it was first broadcast from Glyndebourne on the BBC in 2017. Somehow I managed to miss the subsequent DVD/Blu-ray release but I’ve now been able to get hold of the DVD and can provide some further insights. As far as the work itself, the production, the performance and the video direction I don’t have anything much to add to my original review.
September starts the slow ramp up to the new season. The first thing in my calendar is Mysterious Barricades on September 14th from 1pm to 2pm in Walter Hall. This is a series of coast to coast, dawn to dusk concerts in aid of Suicide Awareness. Russell Braun, Monica Whicher and Nathalie Paulin are all involved. It’s free but ticketed. Check the link for details.
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.
The TSO’s New Creations Festival wrapped up last night at Roy Thomson Hall with a concert featuring Brett Dean’s suite Knocking at the Hellgate, drawn from his 2004 opera Bliss. But first came a piece by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Water is a tone poem (if one can still use that term) inspired by soome lines from Philip Larkin:
If I were called in To construct a religion I should make use of water.
Written for a chamber orchestra including two tanpuras and amplified piano, it’s an atmospheric piece mixing elements of minimalism and dissonance with extended techniques in the strings and note bending in an extremely competent way. A fairly gentle introduction to what was to follow!