The annus horribilis of 2021 seems to be going out with a whimper rather than a bang; at least musically in Toronto. Much of the streamed content on offer consists of repeats which is, I suppose, a holiday tradition. In this category we could include Against the Grain’s Messiah:Complex showing on Youtube and at TIFF and Essential Opera’s December. There’s still some new stuff appearing. Opera Revue have a rather good short piece about the exorbitant cost of aviaries in Toronto on Youtube. (They also have a live show coming up this weekend at the Emmett Ray. The COC have a show I(n Winter coming up this weekend on the COC web site featuring music by, among others, Vivaldi and Ian Cusson. There are also a couple of very short concerts from the RBA on the COC’s Youtube channel. Also, this year the annual Krehm memorial concert in aid of St. Mike’s ICU is on Youtube at 5.30pm on Boxing Day. Rachel Krehm is singing Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in the Schoenberg arrangement and that will be followed by a chamber reduction of Beethovens Symphony No.7. Evan Mitchell conducts the Canzona Chamber Players. For live, Tafelmusik have a sort of Christmas “greatest hits” concert and the TSO have a much shortened Messiah. Apart from that the holiday season is looking like booze and booster shots.
Next Monday, December 21st, Essential Opera is streaming a new one act opera for three singers and string quartet by Monica Pearce called December. Julia and Natasha are newly in a relationship and are visiting Julia’s parents for the first time for the holidays. We are promised a light hearted piece about travel, holiday stress, family and relationships. It premieres at 8pm (Nova Scotia time I think) and it’s ticketed. Cast, crew and ticketing information is here.
I last saw a live show in a theatre on March 13th. Eight months later I’ve watched a lot of web content as well as continuing to review commercial opera recordings. A month ago I wrote in Opera Canada that “there’s no substitute for live” and I stand by that view. I do think though that there’s an opportunity and a need to rethink how opera and song is produced for webstreaming.
Mirror, Mirror is a fifteen minute film from Essential Opera based on a score and libretto by Anna Pidgorna. There’s a lot to unpack for a fifteen minute work! First off, let’s be clear that this is a film and not a video of a performance or production that might have had a live audience. It’s shot on location in Nova Scotia; on the beach, in the forest etc. And it’s done very well with excellent editing and high quality in the audio and video recording.
Tonight Essential Opera have a short livestream of a new creation. It’s a fifteen minute piece on the theme of Snow White called Mirror, Mirror. Words and music are by Anna Pidgorna. It’s being screened on Youtube and Facebook at 7pm EST.
Tapestry Opera is offering a full-time, paid, multi-year professional opportunity to female-identifying and non-binary music directors and conductors in partnership with Pacific Opera Victoria and leading orchestral partner the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, collaborating with over 10 other Canadian opera companies and orchestras for national placements. All the details on the programme and the application process are here.
The Royal Conservatory of Music have announced a metric shedload of cancellations, alterations and postponements relative to their 2020/21 season. All the details are here. In any event, if you were planning on seeing anything live or via webstream from the RCM I’d double check!
Suzie Leblanc has a new website. You can check it out here.
April is a busy month for fully staged opera. Canadian Opera opens two productions and there are shows from Opera Atelier, Against the Grain and Essential Opera. First up is the COC’s revival of Robert Lepage’s production of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables. This opens on April 13th and runs to May 13th. In 2009 it sold out so this time there are nine performances. Also at the COC there’s Donizetti’s Anna Bolena completing the Tudor trilogy. It opens on April 28th with nine performances closing May 26th.
There have been quite a few announcements in the last couple of weeks or so. Here’s what’s coming up.
Essential Opera is back after a hiatus. They are doing a single performance of Gianni Schicchi at 3pm on April 22nd at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (the one up near the Arctic Circle). Kevin Mallon conducts the Toronto Orchestra with a really good line up of soloists.
21C is back from May 23rd to 27th with a varied lineup. Perhaps the most interesting concert from a vocal point of view is vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis with violinist and singer Maarja Nuut and electronic music composer Hendrik Kaljujärv in works by Arvo Pärt, David Lang, and Helena Tulve. The concert is presented in partnership with Estonian Music Week and it’s on the 26th at 8pm.
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.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a preview for Peepshow which opened last night at Campbell House. Summarizing crudely, the idea was to present a show that broke down some of the barriers of formality that make the opera house intimidating and so open up the genre to a different kind of audience. So did Peepshow do that? The answer has to be “to some extent”. There were four shows in four rooms and in an ideal world they would have each played at intervals throughout the evening and people would have been able to drop in and out as they chose. The geography of Campbell House simply doesn’t make that possible. It’s a 19th century house with stairs and corridors and fairly small rooms with mostly “do not touch” furniture. Each room will only hold a dozen, in a couple of cases perhaps twenty people, in comfort levels ranging from OK to excruciating. This means that audience members must be assigned to specific performances, rounded up and herded to their allotted place at the right time; or as close to it as possible as it always takes longer to herd an opera audience than anyone imagines. And no drinks in the performance rooms. Once in, for an admittedly only fifteen minute show, you are as stuck as in a performance of Parsifal at Bayreuth. In other words, rather than a fluid experience it’s a series of chunks of more or less traditional concert hall broken up by some socializing at the bar.
I find it somewhat ironic that while “traditionalists” want to return to the opera house experience of the 1950s, there are younger, more radical, groups that look more to the opera audience experience of the 1750s. The argument goes “Young people don’t come to the opera house because of the experience. It’s a stuffy crowd. You have to sit still and quiet for hours in the hushed, darkened auditorium. You can’t get trashed, just maybe a glass of wine at the interval if you are lucky”. Thank you Mahler and Wagner with your Holy Temple of the Arts! Whatever happened to going to the opera house to hang out with your friends, play cards and bonk that rather cute countess in the discretely dark recesses of her box?