What’s old is new

Back to the Tranzac last night for the first Toronto performance of Against the Grain’s national tour of the Joel Ivany transladaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème which started it all back in 2011.  The Tranzac has changed a lot and so, of course, has Against the Grain.  The room is way smarter, they brought in a proper piano to replace the one that Topher plonked the first performance out on (and which memorably accompanied Jonathan MacArthur’s rather startling Hitler a few years later).  And not in any way to knock that first cast it’s a sign of AtG’s rising stature that this time they are fielding a cast that would not be out of place in most regional houses in Canada.

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reGENERATION week 2

The second set of reGENERATION concerts of the Topronto Summer Music Festival took place yesterday at Walter Hall.  The song portion, unusually, consisted of 100% English language rep, mirroring the Griffey/Jones recital earlier in the wee.  The first concert kicked off with tenor Eric Laine and pianist Scott Downing with five songs from Finzi’s setting of Thomas Hardy; A Young Man’s Exhortation.  It was good.  Laine has a nice sense of style and very good diction.  The high notes are there though sometimes, especially at the end of a line, they don’t sound 100% secure.  There was some quite delicate accompaniment from Downing too.

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Voices Across the Atlantic

Last night’s Toronto Summer Music concert at the Church of the redeemer was headlined by Daniel Taylor, Charles Daniels and Steven Philcox but, somewhat to my surprise, also featured multiple fellows from both the art song and chamber music programmes.

The “headliners” kicked things off with Britten’s canticle Abraham and Isaac, based on one of the Chester Mystery Plays.  I thought I knew this piece but soon realised I was confusing it with the setting of Owen’s The Parable of the Old Man and the Young in the War Requiem!  It’s an interesting piece with a very medieval Catholic take on an Old Testament story.  It was performed here with the delicacy and attention to detail I’d expect from these performers.

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reGENERATION week 1

There were three reGENERATION concerts in Walter Hall yesterday at 1pm, 4pm and 7.30pm.  It made for a long but interesting day.  As last year, each concert was a mix of vocal and chamber music.  The vocal program was not announced in advance so I’m working from notes and there could be the odd error.  Pleasingly, there were surtitles for the songs.  This is a huge improvement on a sheet of tiny print to be read in the dark! Continue reading

Act of Remembrance?

hand-graphic-on-blackHow, collectively, we remember is a cultural act defined by both choices and the general milieu in which the remembering takes place(*).  Sometimes this results in stories being distorted and “misremembered”.  The story of Shanawdithit, the last survivor of the Beothuk people is, perhaps, one such story.  Her life and death, the final act in the campaign of genocide against her people is still “remembered” in Newfoundland culture but how much do we really know?  The “evidence” boils down to a handful of sketches by Shanawdithit, annotated by one William Cormack; pretty much the only white person to show her any kindness or to display any interest in her people.  Dean Burry and Yvette Nolan’s new opera; a co-production of Tapestry Opera and Opera on the Avalon asks what we know and how we know it.  I attended a workshop presentation of the incomplete work yesterday.

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Singing Stars: The Next Generation

Last night saw the culminating concert of the IRCPA’s Encounter program.  It wasn’t exactly a competition as the winner of the Career Blueprint Award had already been decided but not announced.  Still, it had the air of a competition with ten singers each offering an aria accompanied by the ubiquitous Rachel Andrist.  It was also being broadcast live on 96.3FM so we got the full on Zoomerplex treatment which is not far short of having flashing signs that say “Applaud Now!!”  It’s the price one pays for getting young singers media exposure I guess.

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Best shot I could get. Most of the singers are visible.

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Opera pub night

I’ve seen opera in a lot of venues in Toronto, including several pubs, but last night was my first time at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club; the occasion being the first pub night hosted by Against the Grain Theatre.  There was a pretty decent crowd and, somewhat to my surprise, a couple of decent beers on tap.  There was also singing with Topher Mokrzewski at the keyboard of a piano almost as grotty as the one he made his AtG debut on.  Perhaps unsurprisingly the line up was pretty impressive; Clarence Frazer, Stephanie Tritchew, Aaron Durand, Cait Wood and John Brancy plus a bonus drop in by no less than Krisztina Szabó.  Rossini, Puccini, Donizetti, Bernstein and others all got a look in.  It was loud, it was fun and the audience, not all of whom I suspect knew what they were in for, stayed.  Further sessions are planned for the first Thursdays in November and December at the same venue.

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Cozy enough

The Toronto production of Against the Grain’s A Little Too Cozy opened last night at Studio 42 at the CBC Centre.  It’s the third and final instalment in the series of Ivany/Mokzrewski adaptations of the Mozart/da Ponte operas, following on from Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn.  Like the earlier pieces it’s updated, site specific and makes a lot of references to social media.  The schtick here is that it’s a reality TV dating show.  Dora and Felicity are yet to meet Elmo and Fernando in the flesh though they have become engaged via social media and through the prior episodes of the show.  Tonight is the season finale and there is one big test left.  Can they be tempted by two strange men?  Show host Donald L. Fonzo and girl handler Despina will make sure they are maximally tempted.  The rest you can work out.

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A Little Too Cozy

So the cat’s out of the bag.  The long awaited where, when and who of Against the Grain’s Toronto run of A Little Too Cozy have been revealed.  A Little Too Cozy is the third and final instalment in a trilogy of Mozart “transladaptations” developed by AtG, which place the works in appropriate, non traditional opera, venues and which use English language librettos by Joel Ivany bringing the stories into a contemporary context.  The first two instalments; Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn, sold out their Toronto runs.

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