Dada dada

This year’s GGS School fall opera was a presentation of three short works influenced by Dada and surrealism.  The first was Martinů’s Les larmes du couteau.  It’s a hard work to describe.  Here’s what naxos.com has to offer:

Eleanor longs to marry someone like the Hanged Man, whose body is suspended over the stage. Satan appears, professing love for Eleanor, who rejects him, still longing for the Hanged Man, to which Satan now marries her, an event she celebrates by dancing a tango. A Negro Cyclist appears and Satan assumes the latter’s form. Eleanor seeks to attract the Negro/Satan, while her Mother makes gymnastic gestures at the back of the stage. Eleanor kisses the Negro, whose head bursts open, revealing Satan. Eleanor, terrified, stabs herself and the Hanged Man starts to dance to a foxtrot, as his head and limbs are detached, for him to juggle with. He comes to life and embraces Eleanor, but when she kisses him his head bursts open and the face of Satan is seen. She gives up her pursuit of love, while the Mother claims to know how to win Satan’s love, only to be rejected.

Les Larmes du couteau is very short in duration and offered obvious problems in staging, to be solved, it has been suggested, by the use of film.

Photo: Nicola Betts

Kateryna Khartova and Rachel Miller in Tears of the Knife

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Glenn Gould School’s Die Fledermaus

Die Fledermaus offers a lot scope for reinterpretation.  Like so many works involving spoken dialogue there is a tradition of reworking that dialogue to work in contemporary humour and geographic relevance to the point where there is no canonical version though there’s probably a set of general expectations.  Joel Ivany’s production for the Glenn Gould School, which opened last night at Koerner Hall, goes further than most to create a “play within a play” dynamic riffing to some extent on the difficulty of staging an opera in a concert hall.  He also makes the decision to use English dialogue but have the sung text in the original German (except for the finale).

GGS Opera 2018 Die Fledermaus #1; Lisa Sakulensky Photography

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GGS Vocal Showcase in Mazzoleni Hall

It’s that mid point of the academic year when the GGS puts on a recital programme that features a fairly full selection of the available singing talent at the Conservatory.  This means one sees everything from first year undergrads to singers in the final stages of a master’s degree, who may already be singing professionally, so it’s a constant exercise in recalibration.  It wasn’t helped last night by the fact that I had serious TTC problems causing me to miss the first three numbers on the programme plus feeling a bit frazzled for the rest.  So, in no particular order, I’m going to write about what I particularly enjoyed.  Omission should not be over-interpreted.

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Glenn Gould School Vocal Showcase

lillianbrooks

Lillian Brooks

The GGS Vocal Showcase is an opportunity to take a look at the vocal talent on offer at the Royal Conservatory.  It’s a tricky exercise as the students range from the equivalent of first year undergrad to second year masters so one is constantly recalibrating expectations.  We got to hear one bass, two baritones, three tenors, one mezzo soprano and fourteen sopranos in a variety of arias, art songs and ensemble numbers.

So, in no particular order my favourites and “ones to watch”.  Lets start with the obvious.  Gabriel Sanchez-Ortega is a genuine bass.  We only heard him in some Haydn trios last night but he seems to have heft and genuine low notes and quite a wide range.  He’s also still quite young.  Singing with him was soprano Joanna Burt who also gave us an aria from La Cecchina.  She has real potential as a dramatic soprano which is the one part of the tweeter market that isn’t flooded.  She has some nice dark colours as well as weight.  The trios were rounded out by tenor Zachary Rioux.  He held his own with two pretty big voices so we’ll see.

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Darknet

Great idea.  Create a sort of spooky, short opera program in a funky location and use it as a fundraiser for your next major project.  That was Darknet at Mây last night.  Jennifer Krabbe, singing Berlioz, rounded us up in the bar and ushered us downstairs into an installation created by Alessia Naccarato and Noah Grove.  It was dark.  It was eerie.  We were offered masks.  Cairan Ryan sang The Cold Song from Purcell’s King Arthur while writhing on the floor.  Jonathan MacArthur sort of emerged from some sort of primeval goo singing Aria by John Cage and Beth Hagerman gave us one of Lulu’s arias.  Then we were rounded up and ejected into the light again.  Loved it.

jma

The Met’s Peter Grimes

I liked the 2008 MetHD broadcast of Britten’s Peter Grimes enough to buy the DVD as soon as it came out. After something of a hiatus I just watched it again.

It’s an odd production. The director (Tony award winning – run for the hills) John Doyle, was the first to use, I think, what has now become a Met cliché; a wall with windows running the whole width and height of the set. In this case it can be moved forward and back but mostly it’s forward compressing the depth of the stage. The idea is to convey the claustrophobic nature of the Borough which is fair enough but mostly what it does it confine the enormous chorus to a space it barely fits in meaning there are few options but to have it face straight forward in serried ranks and sing. To be fair, there are scenes where it’s very effective; the opening inquest scene for example and “Peter, we’ve come to take you home” in Act 3. It’s much less successful in, for example, the pub scene. The production is also very dark. This always bothers me because despite eating vast quantities of carrots my night vision isn’t great. I don’t really get it.

Dark as a metaphor is pretty blatant and comes at a heavy cost in terms of the production’s ability to convey anything else. Only at the end, in the final chorus, is the wall removed and the stage lit less funereally. The sea interludes are played out in front of a blank wall. No effort is made to give them visual accompaniment. The “wall” and the naked Interludes both tend to banish the sea from the production. There’s really no sense that the Borough is a fishing village and therefore the whole role that the sea plays in the psyche of people who make their living from it is lost.

The video director, Gary Halvorson, appears either to hate the production or think that the cinema/DVD audience is too thick to get it because he relentlessly undermines it. Unable to present the dark, stark stage that Doyle has called for he gives us a compilation of super closeups and really weird camera angles; pointing up from the side of the pit, pointing down from what looks like the cheapest seats at the outermost edge of Ring 4 and so on. He also can’t accept that the director doesn’t want to distract from the music during the Interludes so we get a succession of close ups on audio members and, more especially, on conductor Donald Runnicles. This is particularly unfortunate as Runnicles conducts like a hyperactive and self regarding pterodactyl.

The above got over with there’s much to like in this DVD set. The performances are generally very good. Tony Dean Griffey is a highly effective Peter Grimes as well as singing very well. He’s close to Peter Pears in his almost dreamy interpretation. He lacks the intensity of Langridge or the brutality of Vickers but its a valid and compelling portrayal. Anthony Michaels-Moore almost steals the show as Balstrode. This is surely the best take on the role since Geraint Evans. The sense that he’s the one man who really wants to help Grimes but knows when enough is enough is overwhelming. There are good performances in the other male roles especially from Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Ned Keene. The women are more of a mixed bag. I still can’t really get into Patricia Racette’s Ellen Orford. She acts well and is sometimes very lyrical but at other times she seems shrill and her vibrato too much for my taste. The Auntie of Jill Groves though is really good. Even toned and with a suitably cynical but not unkind persona she nails the role. The Mrs. Sedley of the timeless(1) Felicity Palmer is also quite excellent. She’s acid without being unmusical and not at all caricature like. Donald Runnicles takes things at a generally rather leisurely pace which makes the first act in particular drag a bit but the tension does build and there’s no disputing the beauty of the orchestral playing. The chorus is excellent throughout.

Technically it’s a typical DVD transfer of a MetHD broadcast. The picture quality is very good and the DTS 5.1 sound is excellent (LPCM also available). There are subtitles in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. There’s a track listing, synopsis and unhelpful essay printed in English (French and German versions in PDF on the disk). The interval features are typical but livened up a bit by Natalie Dessay who seems more willing to go off script than the other Met regulars (probably why she no longer seems to appear).

Bottom line, it’s good but I’m still searching for the ultimate DVD Grimes.

fn1 timeless as in I saw the, then, Ms. Palmer sing Pamina the month after I saw Vickers sing Grimes in 1975