Summer Night is a CD of songs by Healey Willan produced by the Canadian Art Song project and due to be released on the Centrediscs label next month. Willan is best known as a composer of church and choral music but he also wrote over 100 songs and song arrangements, many of which have not been published, let alone recorded. There are 28 songs on the CD ranging in composition date from 1899 to the late 1920s. Most are original settings of the text though a few are arrangements of existing songs; either traditional or by Burns.
I haven’t heard a lot of music by Andrew Staniland but what I’ve heard I’ve liked so I was pleased to get my paws on a recent recording of songs by him; Go by Contraries. There are three pieces on the disk. The first, and longest piece; Earthquakes and Islands, is a setting of eight poems by Toronto poet Robin Richardson. It’s the work that reminds me most of Dark Star Requiem. Words and music are both quite quirky. My Voice, In My Mouth, for example. is a meditation in an oncologist’s waiting room about the consequences of getting close to a lion. The music is full of variation; tonally, rhythmically, harmonically and dynamically. It’s quite surprising the range of sounds Staniland can conjure up from a piano and two singers. It always appears to be rooted in the text though and even long voiceless passages come back logically to words. Continue reading
Claus Guth has a way with Mozart. At his best; with his Salzburg productions of the da Ponte operas for example, he’s superb while I was unconvinced by his Glyndebourne Clemenza, despite its ambition. I was really keen to see what he would do with an opera like Lucio Silla which, despite some lovely music, is formulaic and potentially very boring.
Claus Guth’s Salzburg da Ponte cycle is certainly my favourite trifecta and they are right up on my list for top picks for all three operas so I was intrigued to see what he would do with the much less recorded La clemenza di Tito which he directed at Glyndebourne in 2017. Bottom line, I’m not at all convinced by it.
Fidelio is an interesting piece. The music is great and it has a powerful, very straightforward, plot. There are no convoluted subplots here. But there is a lot of spoken dialogue which slows things down. Is it necessary? Claus Guth doesn’t think so and in his 2015 Salzburg production he replaces the dialogue with ambient noise and also doubles up Leonora and Don Pizarro with silent actor “shadows”; the former using sign language in the manner of the narrator character in Guth’s Messiah. It works remarkably well. The ambient noise sections are quite disturbing and the “shadows” add some depth, especially the frantic signing in the final scene. Perhaps worth noting that the “noise” contains a lot of very low bass and precise spatial location. It may need a pretty good sound system to have the intended effect.
Once a season the young artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio get to perform one of the company’s productions on the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre. Last night it was the Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro. I’ve said enough about the production already here and here so let’s cut to the chase.
Back at the Four Seasons Centre last night for another look at the current Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro. It was a somewhat different experience than opening night. The timing and physical comedy seems to have crisped up and the audience seemed more relaxed. There was a lot of laughter. A lot. I could see why too, although I have never thought of this as a “funny” production. Indeed the 2006 Salzburg original earned its reputation as “the darkest Figaro ever”. Interval conversation suggested that the production has been progressively “lightened up” in its various Salzburg revivals and maybe this was just the next step in that progression. There seemed to be fewer dead birds too. One effect of the shift was to bring the character of Figaro more to the fore. I thought Joseph Wagner was a bit anonymous on opening night but he impressed me last night.
Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, first seen at Salzburg in 2006, opened last night at the COC. I was curious to see how it would be received because, while by no means an extreme production by European standards, it’s well beyond the 1970s aesthetic beloved by sections of the Toronto audience. The aesthetic is Northern European; a Strindberg play or a Bergmann film perhaps. It’s monochromatic, quite slow and focusses on the darker side of the characters’ psyches. It’s the antithesis of Figaro as Feydeau farce. There’s also a non-canonical character, Cherubim. He’s a winged doppelganger of Cherubino and seems to be a cross between Cupid and Puck. Pretty much omnipresent he manipulates scenes and characters though with a power that falls well short of absolute. Perhaps the whole production is best summed up in the final ensemble. Cherubim visits each couple in turn and is brusquely rejected. Only Cherubino is still subject to his power and that seems to have become destructive. Perhaps the message is “Now we are married forget this love nonsense and let us get back to our drab lives of quiet despair”.
Last night was the “event” at which the COC brass and guests, with a bit of help from Brent Bambury, announced the upcoming season to a packed house of subscribers and friends. What struck me was how much news was packed in. It was far more than the usual schedule presentation with announcements of several major new projects. But first the season. Continue reading
Claus Guth’s 2006 production of Ariadne auf Naxos recorded at the Opernhaus Zürich in 2006 is a compelling piece of theatre. It’s one of those Regietheater pieces that combines a workable concept with compelling Personenregie to create a whole that’s extremely illuminating. The entire Vorspiel is played out, in modern dress, in front of a grey curtain. We get an immediate idea of how Guth is going to explore/exploit metatheatricality as soon as the Haushofmeister appears. He’s played by none other than Zürich Intendant Alexander Pereira. Who is calling the shots? This is reinforced when he drops the bombshell that the opera seria must be combined with Zerbinetta’s farce. This speech is delivered by Pereira from among his guests in the Intendant’s box. It’s very clever. But there’s so much more going on during the Vorspiel. The Komponist is getting seriously deranged; perhaps even more so after he begins his infatuation with Zerbinetta. There’s a moment when it looks like a love triangle is being set up. The diva just gives one look that suggests that she’s got her eyes on the Komponist. It’s a typical moment. A look, a gesture, seems to convey so much. It all concludes with the deranged Komponist shooting himself.