Opera Atelier’s current production of Mozart’s Idomeneo is frustrating, especially given their recent run of good form. It, unfortunately, combines a fussy, rather pointless production with histrionic antics and uneven singing. It’s just not good enough.
Last night the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre was the setting for celebrating the award of the twelth Glenn Gould prize to the great Jessye Norman. There were speeches, of course, celebrating Ms. Norman’s life as a singer rising to the top of the profession from unpromising origins as well as her lifetime of educational and philanthropic endeavours. They were decently short and to the point allowing us to get onto to the music, though not before we had heard Ms. Norman’s heartfelt and very touching acceptance speech.
Last night the RCM celebrated the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with a suitably themed concert at Koerner Hall. The first half consisted of a performance of all the Anniversaries. These are short piano pieces; only a minute or two long, that Bernstein composed late at night. Each is dedicated to a friend or family member and many were reused later in longer works. There are somewhere between 20 and 30 of them and last night they were played in sets of three, four or five with introductions before each set by the composer’s eldest daughter Jamie complete with photos etc. The playing by Sebastian Knauer was idiomatic, virtuosic and sensitive. The introductions were informative, engaging and mercifully short. The music covered a vast range of moods and styles though all of it very Bernstein; that is to say tonal and obviously American. I was particularly struck by the brooding piece he wrote for his younger daughter some years after the death of her mother and by the earlier piece, dedicated to his wife Felicia Montealegre, that had Copland all over it and was none the worse for that. It was actually a rather brilliant way to showcase the man in a 45 minute or so concert segment.
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.
Opera Atelier have announced their 2018/19 season. As usual, there are two shows. In the Fall there is a double bill of Charpentier’s Actéonpaired with Rameau’s Pygmalion (Oct. 25 – Nov. 3, 2018). Colin Ainsworth, who has also been named as OA’s first “artist in residence”, features in both title roles with Mireille Asselin as Diana and Amour and Allyson McHardy as Juno and Céphise. The supporting cast includes Jesse Blumberg, Christopher Enns, Meghan Lindsay, Cynthia Smithers and Anna Sharpe. Pygmalion will be prefaced by Opera Atelier’s first Canadian commission for solo baroque violin and contemporary dancing, entitled Inception. It will be performed by composer/violinist Edwin Huizinga and choreographer/Artist of Atelier Ballet, Tyler Gledhill. Following its Toronto dates, the show will tour to the Royal Opera House in Versailles.
What’s On Stage is a UK on-line magazine covering the theatre scene in the UK. They have an annual reader poll for “best of” in various categories in opera. One such is “Breakthrough Artist in UK Opera” which this year was won by Ottawa native and COC Ensemble Studio graduate Wallis Giunta for a series of roles with Opera North (who picked up a bucketload of awards) including Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti and L’enfant in L’enfant et les sortilèges. She’s not just ridiculously photogenic! I’m slightly shocked to realise it’s almost two years since I interviewed Wally by Skype from her home base in Leipzig but so it is. The interview write up is here.
Winner for “Outstanding Achievement in an Operatic Role” deservedly went to Allan Clayton for his outstanding work creating the title role in Brett Dean’s Hamlet at Glyndebourne.
Last night’s Decades series concert featured three works from the 1930s plus a sesqui. The sesqui, Andrew Balfour’s Kiwetin-acahkos; Fanfare for the Peoples of the North was definitely one of the more interesting of these short pieces. There were elements of minimalism combined with a nod to Cree/Métis fiddle music. Quite complex and enjoyable. It was followed by Barber’s rather bleak Adagio for Strings and the Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. It’s familiar enough fare and was well played by the orchestra under Peter Oundjian. I particularly enjoyed some of the weird percussion/celesta effects in the third movement of the Bartók. But really I was there for the second half of the program.