The first of Amplified Opera’s series of three shows in the Ernest Balmer Studio took place last night. The series explores the idea of “otherness” in opera. The Way I See It , directed by Aria Umezawa, explores how the opera and wider world treat the visually impaired and how we (in the broadest sense) can not just accommodate but incorporate their insights and perspectives into our performance practice.
Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured Russell Braun and Caolyn Maule in a generous and varied program anchored on Schumann’s Dichterliebe; a setting of sixteen poems by Heine. It was framed by three Mendelssohn songs and a varied and intriguing second half program.
Russell is a singer at the height of his powers. He has a lovely instrument and perfect control of pitch, dynamics and tone colour. He’s also a sensitive and musical human being. Throw all that at text and music as rich as Dichterliebe and the result is inevitably quite wonderful. One could just luxuriate in an emotional journey through the highs and lows of romantic love and a physical one up and down that magical river, the Rhine. The Mendelssohn was rather lovely too.
Yesterday’s free lunchtime concert should have been the first opportunity to see Simone Osborne and Gordon Bintner in recital together but, sadly, Gordon had the lurgy so, if you want to see them perform together you will just have to go and see L’elisir d’amore at the COC. Fortunately Andrew Haji was able to jump in at short notice. Not such a bad guy to have on the bench!
Andrew started out with Santoliquido’s I canti della sera. I had heard him sing these before at Mazzoleni but it was good to hear them again. Genuine Italian art song isn’t all that common and these show the voice off nicely. There was both some lovely limpid singing and plenty of power when needed. He’s a pretty good story teller too. He also gave us the three Duparc songs that he and Liz Upchurch, once again at the piano, gave us earlier in the year. Again the standout was Le manoir de Rosemonde, a most beautiful and haunting song given the full treatment here.
Layla Claire is one of a handful of young Canadian singers making something of a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with major roles in Glyndebourne, Zürich, Toronto and Salzburg and an upcoming Pamina at the Met. Her debut recital CD Songbird, with pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, was recently issued on the ATMA Classique label. It’s an interesting and varied collection of songs though never straying very far from familiar recital territory. It’s tilted towards French (Gounod, Chausson, Debussy, Fauré, Bizet) and German (Wolf, Strauss, Brahms, Liszt) repertoire but there’s also Quilter, Barber, Argento and Britten (the comparatively rare Seascape which is, oddly, omitted from the CD liner).
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured mezzo Lauren Eberwin, soprano Danika Lorèn and pianists Hyejin Kwon and Stéphane Meyer. Lauren and Hyejin were first up with Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben. I’ve rarely seen this sung by a singer so obviously “in” the story. There was a real sense of first person storytelling as well as rather good singing. I thought Lauren sounded surprisingly sopranoish in the first seven numbers but they are optimistic and happy and a bright coloured voice seems apt. She certainly darkened it nicely for the final grim song. Hyejin was a most sympathetic partner.
The Academy Program is an important part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. It allows selected young artists; singers, collaborative pianists and chamber/orchestral musicians, to work with experienced professionals in an intensive series of coachings, masterclasses etc culminating in a concert series. This year the mentors for the vocal/collaborative piano component were pianist Craig Rutenberg, who has worked everywhere and with everybody, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; a last minute replacement for an indisposed Anne Schwannewilms. I didn’t make it to any of the masterclasses, though word on the street is that they were exceptional, but I did make it to yesterday’s lunchtime concert in Walter Hall.
Hearing Anita Rachvelishvili sing Carmen on the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre, it was obvious that she had a huge voice with really interesting colours. The full scope only became apparent to me hearing her in recital in the RBA today. It’s an extraordinary instrument that can go from a very delicate pianissimo to very loud indeed without any obvious change in quality. There’s no steeliness or squalliness as the volume ramps up. Just the same colours and rich tone. A blow by blow account of a concert that included music in Georgian by Tabidze, Russian by Rachmaninov, French by Fauré and Spanish by de Falla seems superfluous. There was delicacy. There was drama. There was humour. There was playfulness. All in less than an hour. And to cap it off there were encores; Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix from Samson et Delilah and, perhaps inevitably, the Seguidilla from Carmen. Stephen Hargreaves was at the piano. One wonders if he actually lives at the hall. He covered a wide range of material from the delicate to the impressively percussive with his customary skill.