All the Strauss

Yesterday’s Amici Ensemble concert in Mazzoleni Hall was an all Richard Strauss program featuring an array of guests.  First up was the Duett Concertino where regulats Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello) and Serouj Kradjian (piano) were joined by violinists Timothy Ying and Jennifer Murphy, violist Keith Hamm, Theodore Chan on bass and Michael Sweeney on bassoon.  It’s a program piece in which the clarinet represents a princess and the bassoon, a bear, who eventually, of course, transforms into a handsome prince.  There are lots of dance rhythms from the strings and some sly quotations from Der Rosenkavalier along the way.  It’s fun and it was very well played.  I almost wonder if it was too smooth.  The bear certainly seemed very suave and his transformation was not terribly abrupt.  Still, bear!

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Carmen in Cuba?

I caught the second performance of the current run of Carmen at the COC this afternoon.  It’s a revival of the production previously seen in 2010 but with, we are told, debuting director Joel Ivany being given some freedom to change things up a bit.  Obviously he was mostly constrained to use the existing sets and costumes which, for reasons that escape me, transplants the piece to 1940s Cuba which was, as far as I know, markedly short of both gypsies and bull fights but there you go.  Actually it matters scarcely at all because both sets and costumes are generic scruffy Hispanic and could be anywhere from Leon to Lima.  For the first two acts too the blocking and Personenregie is pretty standard too.  It’s all really down to the chemistry between the singers and the quality of the acting and neither is anything to write home about.  It says a lot when Frasquita is scene stealing.  Fortunately it livens up a lot after the interval.  The third act is atmospheric and Micaëla’s aria is deeply touching and for the first time I felt genuine emotion.  It gets even better after that with a really effective use of the whole auditorium for the parade which had much of the audience clapping along and a clever stage set up for the crowd during the final confrontation scene.  I don’t think it’s a production for the ages but it’s better than merely serviceable and I’ve seen much worse Carmens.  And, frankly, it’s simply not realistic to expect one of the season’s cash cows to push the envelope very far.

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Guth’s Figaro at the COC

Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, first seen at Salzburg in 2006, opened last night at the COC.  I was curious to see how it would be received because, while by no means an extreme production by European standards, it’s well beyond the 1970s aesthetic beloved by sections of the Toronto audience.  The aesthetic is Northern European; a Strindberg play or a Bergmann film perhaps.  It’s monochromatic, quite slow and focusses on the darker side of the characters’ psyches.  It’s the antithesis of Figaro as Feydeau farce.  There’s also a non-canonical character, Cherubim.  He’s a winged doppelganger of Cherubino and seems to be a cross between Cupid and Puck.  Pretty much omnipresent he manipulates scenes and characters though with a power that falls well short of absolute.  Perhaps the whole production is best summed up in the final ensemble.  Cherubim visits each couple in turn and is brusquely rejected.  Only Cherubino is still subject to his power and that seems to have become destructive.  Perhaps the message is “Now we are married forget this love nonsense and let us get back to our drab lives of quiet despair”.

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Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni

Last night Dmitri Tcherniakov’s much anticipated production of Don Giovanni opened at the Four Seasons Centre.  The production is basically a known quantity.  This is its fourth run overall and it was recorded for TV and DVD in Aix-en-Provence; which is a lengthy way of saying that nobody should have been very surprised by what they saw last night.  Inevitably some were.  Rereading my review of the DVD I find I have nothing much to add to what I said there about the first act and the overall concept so I’m going to pretty much going to repeat it here.

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A partridge without orange

It’s that time of year which marks the passing of the baton at the COC Ensemble Studio which is traditionally marked by a lunchtime farewell concert by some of the graduates.  Today’s Les Adieux featured soprano Sasha Djihanian, baritone Cameron McPhail and pianist Michael Shannon.

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War and Peace

sasha-djihanianLunchtime today at the RBA saw members of the COC orchestra get together with soprano Sasha Djihanian for a concert of works by Handel and Albinoni.  I realised that I really don’t listen to enough baroque chamber works.  The first work on the program was Handel’s Trio Sonata No.2 in D Minor.  It’s compact, playful and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  I stupidly didn’t make a note of who played on what piece so I’ll just credit the ensemble at the end of the post.  The other chamber work on the program was Albinoni’s Sonata à cinque in C major.  This was fun too with lots of fugue elements and dance rhythms and some serious toe tapping by violist Keith Hamm.

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