Last night’s Soundstreams Koerner Hall presentation; Magic Flutes was an interesting experience. Aside from interesting (mostly) contemporary flute pieces it was very much an experiment in different ways of staging a concert. I’m all for breaking down the conventions of Mahlerian solemnity and I think experimentation is great. It’s in the nature of taking risks though that some things don’t quite work.
A concert of contemporary works for accordion? Why not! Well it was more of a concert of contemporary works for fixed reed instruments with, ironically, Trinity St. Paul’s most impressive fixed reed instrument forming an unused but imposing backdrop to the proceedings. Things started off conventionally enough with Soundstreams’ Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney on stage with three players of different instruments describing their histories and properties and then mild Hell broke loose as a curiously clad Joseph Macerollo burst into the auditorium, ejected Lawrence and friends and launched into R. Murray Schafer’s performance piece La Testa d’Adriane; the tale of a head mystically preserved between life and death. At this point the purpose of the rather bizarre contraption on stage was unclear but soon enough the cloth was pulled back to reveal Carla Huhtanen, or her head at least. More accordion and speech from Macerollo and a bizarre collection of grunts, squeaks, shrieks and gurning from Carla followed. Madness or genius? It’s Schafer. The question is unanswerable.
Last night’s Soundstreams concert at Trinity St. Paul’s was devoted to works by John Tavener and people who were close to him. The principal performers were soprano Patricia Rozario, Choir 21 and the Toronto Children’s Chorus joined, as needed by Christopher Dawes on piano and organ and Erica Goodman on harp. Conducting duties were split between Elise Bradley and David Fallis. There was plenty of explanatory material from artistic director Lawrence Cherney plus some from Ms. Rozario as well as taped comments from Tavener to set up the pieces.
Making a film of an opera rather than filming an opera involves interesting choices and one of the strengths of the DVD of Penny Woolcock’s film of John Adams’ and Alice Goodman’s The Death of Klinghoffer is that includes 47 minutes of Woolcock, Adams and others discussing just how one takes a rather abstractly staged opera (the original staging was, inevitably, by Peter Sellars) and turn it into an essentially naturalistic film. Of course, naturalism will only go so far with opera but this goes a long way in that direction. The soloists are filmed mainly on location and they sing to the camera. The choruses, mainly backed by documentary footage, and the orchestra were recorded in the studio but the actors sing ‘live’. The one concession to “being operatic” is having a mezzo voice one of the Palestinians though he is played by a male actor.