Yesterday the Ensemble Studio put on a really nicely curated tribute to Pauline Viardot. Viardot was a singer, pianist, composer and muse who was enormously influential in music circles in paris in the middle years of the 19th century. She came from a famous musical family and was the younger sister of Maria Malibran. Her own work is little performed today although the Royal Conservatory did her Cendrillon in 2016.
John Neumeier’s production of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, recorded at Lyric Opera in Chicago (also seen in Neumeier’s home house of Staatsoper Hamburg and scheduled for this year’s Salzburg Whitsun Festival with the same principals) is quite unusual. Neumeier designed sets, costumes and lighting and served as both director and choreography. It’s very much his work. It’s also the Paris version rather than the Vienna (Italian) version more usually seen. Orphée is sung by a tenor and there’s a lot of ballet which extends the opera to three acts spread over two hours; maybe half an hour longer than an average production. Neumeier also chooses to give the story a modern frame. Orphée is a choreographer, Amour his assistant and Eurydice his prima ballerina as well as wife. The piece opens with a ballet rehearsal during the Overture. Orphée and Eurydice have a flaming row, She storms out and is hit by a car. At the end Eurydice, or her ghost, shows up during another rehearsal. The ending is in fact very unclear. As is the purpose of the frame. Is all the action supposed to be a dream or a trip? I couldn’t tell and it really didn’t seem to add anything.
I really wonder why Gluck’s Alceste gets as many productions as it does. The plot is essentially dull (summarised in this review) and I really can’t see an angle that could be used to make it interesting and relevant to today’s audience in the way that one can with such classical stories as Antigone, Medea or Idomeneo. The music, bar a handful of numbers, is not very exciting either.
Nuits blanches is the title of a new CD from Karina Gauvin and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. It’s largely a subset of the material they performed at Koerner Hall in November and I don’t see much point in repeating my thoughts which are indeed confirmed by the CD. There’s less music on the CD (about 55 minutes) so no Berezovsky sonata or Paisiello divertimento. It’s a collection of mostly arias with the odd instrumental piece by Bortniansky, Dall’Oglio, Berezovsky, Fomine and Gluck.
The performances are as good as at Koerner and the disk, which was recorded at the Église Saint-Augustin in Mirabel in October 2019 is nicely balanced and clear. There is very complete documentation in the accompanying booklet, albeit in cruelly small print.
Isabel Bayrakdarian’s latest CD is rather odd. The material is obscure. It’s all taken from 18th century operas about the Armenian king Tigranes and his daughter Cleopatra. The plots are basically the same. Tigranes wants Cleopatra to make a marriage of state but she is in love with Tigranes’ enemy Mithridates. The outcomes are predictable. Apparently, these operas are Bayrakdarian’s academic specialty and she has chosen excerpts from Cleopatra’s part in versions by Hasse, Vivaldi and Gluck.
Gluck’s Orfeo/Orphée is one of those works where things get a bit complicated because an Italian and a French version wre produced and then all kinds of mash ups of the two versions. It’s a bit like Don Carlo/Don Carlos or Guglielmo Tell/Guillaume Tell. The original Orfeo ed Euridice, which premiered in Vienna is quite short and has Orfeo written for a castrato. The Paris version spreads the piece out over three acts, adds both new vocal music and lots more dance music and has Orphée written for haut-contre. Today, when people do the French version they usually cut some of the new music and us the higher Orphée music; casting either a mezzo or a counter-tenor. This is true of both recordings (Paris 2000 and Munich 2003) which have come my way in the past.
Off I went to the Four Seasons Centre to see Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer perform some Schubert. Sadly Sam was indisposed so what we got was a hastily, but very well, constructed program featuring some of the other singers in the Ensemble Studio.
Things kicked off with the increasingly impressive Anne-Sophie Neher in an accomplished rendering of Mozart’s “show off” piece Exsultate jubilate, in which she showed very decent control in the rather fiendish runs. She was back later with “The Presentation of the Rose” from Der Rosenkavalier which sounded suitably Straussian and sufficiently girlish at the same time. Nicely done. She made a third appearance with one of Adèles’s arias from Le comte Ory. This didn’t quite do it for me but it was fun to hear Stéphane playing around with the very Rossiniesque accompaniment.
Against the Grain Theatre’s Orphée+; a burlesque inflected version of Gluck’s Orphée, opened a three show run last night at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront. There are many, many things I want to say about this show and the challenge is going to be to present them in some kind of orderly sequence. First off there are expectations for an AtG show in Toronto that probably weren’t present when it opened in Columbus (It’s a co-pro with Opera Columbus and the Banff Centre). We have come to associate AtG with various kinds of “doing differently”; transladaptations, site specific stagings, staged art song and so on. In that context this is a rather conservative show. It’s a production of a canonic opera in a conventional theatre. It’s not a traditional production and would likely shock at the Met or the Lyric but would probably raise only half an eyebrow in Berlin or Barcelona. So I’m inclined to treat it as if I had seen it in Europe.
The first time I saw a DVD recording of Gluck’s Alceste I put my reaction of utter tedium down to Robert Wilson’s highly stylized and static production. This time I looked at a production, recorded at Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2006, by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Marabito, who did a rather good job on the rather dreary La Somnambula, expecting rather more. Actually I think they have some good ideas but they can’t obscure the fact that this is basically a very dull opera.
Against the Grain Theatre have announced the line up for their 2017/18 season. First up is a workshop of a Handel mash up called BOUND. It’s a collaboration with composer Kevin Lau and will explore aspects of the refugee crisis through Handel’s music as well as contemporary real life stories. It’s the beginning of a three year concept to production cycle. The workshop cast will include soprano Danika Lorèn, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritone Justin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and soprano Miriam Khalil. It will play at the COC’s Jackman Studio on December 14, 15, and 16, 2017.