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.
In Winter is the latest digital offering from the COC and is available free until June. Described by the COC as a concert that “explores and celebrates winter” it’s more a Eurocentric potpourri of seasonal fare with a decidedly Christmas twist. It’s a cut above “Christmas’ Greatest Hits” though a John Rutter arrangement of Deck the Halls and I’ll be Home for Christmas are in that vein and even the exuberance and lovely voice of Midori Marsh can’t make more of The Twelve Days of Christmas than is there to be had.
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.
Usually by December I’ve had a pretty good chance to see the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Not this year of course. So it was good to see at least a few of them in a stream of a short concert recorded at the Aga Khan Museum.
My predictions were rubbish but we’ll come back to that. There are two new productions in the upcoming season; Parsifal, which had already been announced and Janáček’s Káťa Kabanová in a David Alden production with Amanda Majeski in the title role. This is great. It’s been far too long since Janáček featured at the COC.
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.
David McVicar’s production of Dvořák’s Rusalka opens with a prelude while the overture plays. We see the Foreign Princess and the Prince. She appears to be upbraiding him and he is drinking hard. Are we seeing a failed/forced marriage that in reality the Prince made rather than some preferred alternative? Is what we see over the next three and half hours some dream version of what might have been? In this most Freudian of operas, why not?
I don’t think I’m ever going to love Mozart’s La finta giardiniera. It has some pleasing music, though oddly the two principal characters don’t get much of it, but the plot is ridiculous and it really outstays its welcome. That said, Michael Patrick Albano’s production for UoT Opera in the MacMillan Theatre at least makes the complexity clear. We never lose sight of who is who; even if the other characters do, and what logic there is in the plot comes through clearly enough. Albano sets it entirely realistically in 18th century dress with set elements efficiently dropped in from the fly loft or carried around by a small band of liveried servants. There’s a fair bit of “park and bark” but then there’s a lot of prosy explaining going on.
No big surprises in the announcement of new members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It’s the three prize winners from last year’s Centre Stage; tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian and mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote. Also joining is pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway. Cairns and Groote are UoT grads and are well known to many Toronto opera goers through their appearances in UoT productions and elsewhere. Gabrielian is a Toronto native but studied at the Curtis so is not so well known. It will be interesting to get to know him.