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!
Yes subtitles can be a bit dodgy but the one above is actually from a very good PBS segment on Eric Owens. You can see it here. Or you can just enjoy this snap of him with two lovely ladies on the opening night of Hercules at the COC a little while ago.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Lunchtime 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.
First a disclaimer, I’m not a huge Massenet fan and even among his works Don Quichotte would rate pretty low with its cheesy melodies and faux Spanoiserie. However, a good production has the potential to liven it up and a stellar cast is always a plus. The run that opened at the Canadian Opera Company last night certainly had the latter in Ferruccio Furlanetto, Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili. Unfortunately Linda Brovsky’s production looked and felt like one of Mr. Peter Gelb’s attempts to get the Broadway audience into the Met. It was cluttered, unfocussed, pretty much devoid of ideas and didn’t even really make best use of the acting talents of the principals though Rashvelishvili did her best to inject some life into it. It’s exactly what I feared when I heard they were going to use a real horse and donkey (later replaced by a mule in one of the more recent of the season’s casting problems at COC). For me, one of those productions almost best listened to with eyes closed.
Things are starting to quieten down a bit on the Toronto vocal music/opera scene but there’s still a fair bit to seer in May. Here are some of the highlights:
Friday, May 8 sees the opening of Massenet’s Don Quichotte at the COC. It’s strongly cast with Ferruccio Furlanetto, Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili headlining. There are seven performances between Friday and May 24.
I really had intended to write up the COC’s new production of Handel’s Hercules tonight. But the best laid plans etc were subverted by the lovely Sasha Djihanian dragging me off to the after party. There will be a proper review in the morning but, if you are smart (and don’t already have tickets) you won’t wait and will go buy some before they sell out.
To tide you over here’s Hercules himself (aka Eric Owens) flanked by Sasha and Rihab Chaieb.