Ian Cusson and Colleen Murphy’s Fantasma opened at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre last night. It’s billed as an opera for younger audiences though I think there were more composers than kids in the theatre last night! It’s a ghost story. Two fifteen year old girls and their mother are visiting an old fashioned carnival which is struggling financially. There’s a “ghost” who is employed to scare patrons and generate social media coverage. Then the girls find a real, rather sad, little ghost and things happen. Or maybe they don’t. And the opera ends. Or maybe it doesn’t. It’s surprisingly complex for a 45 minute piece for kids and raises issues about what we see and what we think we see; why adults do and don’t believe kids and so on. When the (virtual) curtain came down rather abruptly I didn’t think I’d be thinking so much about it the next morning. But I am.
The most substantial offering I’ve seen this week is a concert from Toronto Summer Music that aired last night. It was a song recital by four of the Toronto’s better known young singers with Steven Philcox on piano. Simona Genga sang some Mahler and some interesting songs by the Basque composer Jésus Gurudi (new to me!). Clarence Frazer gave us excerpts from Die Schöne Müllerin plus three songs by Butterworth. No prizes for guessing which three but they were well done. Jamie Groote sang a set of Jake Heggie songs plus Strauss’ Beim Schlafengehen. Always excellent to hear Strauss sung well. Asitha Tennekoon rounded things off with a set from Wolff’s Mörike Lieder and songs by Holman (Fair Daffodils; obligatory CanCon), Gurney and Finzi. It’s all high class stuff and there’s about 90 minutes of singing. The platform is Vimeo and it looks and sounds good. It’s free and available here.
Catalan collective Els Comediants’ production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is back at the COC in a revival of the 2015 production. Five years ago I described it as a “glorious romp” and, based on yesterday’s performance, I see non need to amend that judgement. It may be even better this time. It still has Joan Guillén’s wonderfully colourful and silly costumes and sets and it still has Joan Font’s inspired directing; perhaps even crisper this time. Once again it has a wonderful cast of international and Canadian singers including a reprise of Bartolo by the admirable Renato Girolami.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was the last for the year in the vocal series and featured members of the Ensemble Studio. Rachael Kerr was scheduled to do about half the accompanying but illness prevented her from playing so some hasty reprogramming meant that what we got differed somewhat from the printed programme but it was still a very well put together effort.
Tapestry and the COC collaborated for yesterday’s concert in the RBA. The performers were members of the Ensemble Studio. The material was a mix of numbers from the Tapestry back catalogue plus a couple of songs by COC composer in residence Ian Cusson.
Liz Upchurch has now been head of the COC Ensemble Studio for twenty years. To put that in perspective, Alain Coulombe was an Ensemble Studio member back then. So Liz has deeply influenced a whole generation of Canadian singers and it was fitting that there should be a concert in her honour in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s named for the man who brought her to the COC and it’s been the venue for countless concerts by the Mama Bear’s cubs.
It’s that time of year again at UoT when the respective winners of the Norcop song prize and the Williams Koldofsdky prize for accompanying collaborate in a lunchtime recital. This year’s winners were mezzo Simona Genga and pianist Jialiang Zhu who gave us a program of songs by Schoenberg, Freedman, Berlioz and Santoliquido. The Vier Lieder Op. 2 of Schoenberg are extremely lyrical though with a rather complex and involved piano part. They played to the strengths of both musicians. Taken at fairly slow tempi they allowed Simona to show off the beauty and ease of her voice all through the registers combined with terrific breath control and spot on German diction while Jialiang had something fairly virtuosic to display her skills.
There are some pretty silly opera plots. Donizetti’s Emilia di Liverpool comes to mind but the Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing probably tops even the thundering torrents of the Mersey as it descends from the Cheshire Alps for silliness. Basically one John P. Wintergreen is a candidate for POTUS. His campaign gimmick is that he will marry whoever wins a beauty contest, held naturally enough, in Noo Joysy. Unfortunately(?) he falls in love with the homelier corn muffin maven Mary Turner and marries her instead. He duly gets elected but diplomatic complications with the French follow when it is revealed that the pageant winner; Diana Devereaux of Louisiana is the “illegitimate daughter of the illegitimate son of the illegitimate nephew of Napoleon”. Impeachment proceedings follow but, of course, there’s a happy ending. Along the way almost every US institution and region gets gently pilloried and the jokes are even funnier because what might have seemed risque in 1930 seems “business as usual” now, as when three White House interns sing about how the Presidential Mansion is the safest place in America for a young girl…
Not much sign of spring as we move into the second half of the month but there are some things musical to enjoy while we await the return of the sun. On March 18th at 2pm in Mazzoleni Hall there is You’re Welcome Rossini with the glamorous duo of Allyson McHardy and, the not seen often enough in Toronto, Lucia Cesaroni. This one is officially sold out but there may be rushes. Ten bucks says they do the Cat duet.
The COC has announced four additions to the COC Ensemble Studio for 2018/19. I don’t think there any surprises. The three prize winners from last season’s Centre Stage are joined by Lauren Margison, daughter of Richard and currently with the Atelier Lyrique in Montreal. Just for fun I researched how long the four had been on the OR radar. The most recent is Montreal based soprano Anna-Sophie Neher who was unknown to me until Centre Stage. Next would be mezzo Simona Genga; UoT graduate and top prize winner at Centre Stage. She first appeared in these pages in a review of a UoT concert in 2016. Bass-baritone Joel Allison has been on the watch list for a while. He first showed up in a review of a Talisker Players concert in March 2015 and I’ve followed him closely ever since, including his Norcop Prize winner recital. But by far the longest history goes to soprano Lauren Margison who I first wrote about as a 19 year old singing with her dad in the RBA in 2011! I wonder whether that record, seven years from first appearing in OR to joining the Ensemble Studio, will ever be broken. For the record, graduating this summer are Samantha Pickett, Megan Quick, Bruno Roy and Toronto’s favourite naked soprano Danika Lorèn.