I managed to catch the fourth performance of the COC’s current run of Verdi’s Otello last night. It’s a David Alden production that first aired at ENO and it’s a very dark take on an already dark story. It’s set maybe circa 1900 and the sets are stark but the lighting is dramatic with lots of contrasts and giant moving shadows. The overall Zeitgeist seems to be of a society that has seen too much war; a sort of collective PTSD. This comes over in a number of ways. The scenes that usually lighten things up a bit; the victory celebrations in Act 1, the children and flowers in Act 2, don’t here. In fact they are downright creepy. There’s also a female dancer, used rather as Christopher Alden used Monterone’s daughter in Rigoletto, who clearly doesn’t expect good things from returning soldiers.
Last night at the COC there was a special performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. The cast was made up, for the most part, of current and past Ensemble Studio members and tickets had been made available free to a variety of community groups. It was billed as “Opera for Toronto”. There had also been a small number of tickets available on line on a first come basis and, by the looks of things , a fair number of comps for the cast.
Afarin Mansouri giving an introductory talk in Farsi – Credit: Gaetz Photography
There’s much to like in this year’s unfussy TSO Messiah. It’s not bloated. For most of the piece conductor Johannes Debus deploys around thirty strings, chamber organ, harpsichord, oboes and bassoon. Trumpets and timpani are added for the grand moments later in the piece. He even manages to get quite a delicate sound out of the largish (100+) Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The delicacy is a recurrent thread. That and a really bouncy sense of rhythm. One could dance to Debus’ Handel.
The second of three projected iterations of Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound opened last night at The Great Hall. Version one was staged but in piano score. Last night’s version was sung off music stands but with a chamber ensemble and major changes to the music. It’s going to be interesting to see how the production version, due this time next year shapes up.
Andrew Haji, Miriam Khalil, Topher Mokrzewski, Justin Welsh, David Trudgen
Wouldn’t that make a really good title for a pipe tune? But that aside Peter Oundjian is marking the end of his long run as Music Director of the TSO with a series of three Beethoven 9ths with Kirsten MacKinnon, Lauren Segal, Andrew Haji, Tyler Duncan and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir joining the TSO. I caught the second yesterday evening. It’s always a bit odd listening to a piece one has been familiar with for years. Will I hear or learn something new tonight? Will this performance probe the nature of the piece like I have never heard it probed? The Tafelmusik performance and recording of this piece did just that. I felt I was hearing it for the very first time. Alas, the only new thought I had last night was about how repetitive certain sections are. So there it was, an OK run through but no more. The soloists were fine, though perhaps possessing a weight of voice better suited to Tafelmusik at Koerner than the TSO in full cry in the unforgiving sonic deserts of Roy Thomson. I did think Ms. MacKinnon and the sopranos of the choir managed the fiendishly high setting of their part (probably a good job that Beethoven didn’t have to listen to complaints from his sopranos) very well. Nice work from the piccolo accompanying them too. Otherwise it was a bit unremarkable though that didn’t stop the obligatory idolatry from the RTH audience. Heaven knows what would happen if they ever heard a truly great performance…
And so the final act. First on stage was Emily D’Angelo; the only lady left in the competition. It was an accomplished and varied set. She started with a characterful and technically proficient Una voce poco fa followed by an appropriately lyrical Must the winter come so soon?Coeur sans amour from the Massenet Cendrillon showed off excellent French before a suitably dramatic rendering of the Komponist’s aria from Ariadne. Pretty much all the mezzo bases covered there and covered very well.
So I guess I wasn’t that impressed with the first session in the aria competition; too much loud, technically correct, but dull singing. Things were much better in the evening though. First up was Russian mezzo Alexandra Yangel. She was very personable and fun to watch but a bit wayward vocally. Nobles seigneurs, Salut! from Les Huguenots was dramatic and lyrical in places but her upper register gets quite squally. This was even more noticeable in the aria from La Cenerentola that followed. I liked the passion and the vocal acting ability in her Smanie, implacabili though.
Yesterday’s free lunchtime concert should have been the first opportunity to see Simone Osborne and Gordon Bintner in recital together but, sadly, Gordon had the lurgy so, if you want to see them perform together you will just have to go and see L’elisir d’amore at the COC. Fortunately Andrew Haji was able to jump in at short notice. Not such a bad guy to have on the bench!
Andrew started out with Santoliquido’s I canti della sera. I had heard him sing these before at Mazzoleni but it was good to hear them again. Genuine Italian art song isn’t all that common and these show the voice off nicely. There was both some lovely limpid singing and plenty of power when needed. He’s a pretty good story teller too. He also gave us the three Duparc songs that he and Liz Upchurch, once again at the piano, gave us earlier in the year. Again the standout was Le manoir de Rosemonde, a most beautiful and haunting song given the full treatment here.
James Robinson’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was designed for various American regional houses. It has been updated to 1914ish and been given “regionalization” tweaks in the towns in which it has appeared. The version that opened at the COC last night has been transported to small town Ontario, Niagara on the Lake perhaps, during a Fall Fair. There’s a bit of a problem. The iconography; Kitchener recruiting posters, steel helmets etc, clearly place the action during, rather than before, WW1. Maybe an American director just doesn’t get, or doesn’t care about the implications but Adina buying Nemorino out of the army for example would hardly have been seen as virtuous in the white feather infested British Empire of 1914. Fortunately most of the audience either didn’t get it or didn’t care either and frankly even persnickety me was prepared to let it go and just enjoy the rather silly romp that we got. After all, this is not the other opera about love potions!
Here’s a preview of things to see/listen to next week. It’s Met in HD season again and the next two Saturdays have broadcasts. On the 7th it’s Bellini’s Norma with Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce DiDonato. It’s a David McVicar production and no prizes for guessing what happens when you cross McVicar and druids. On the 14th it’s Die Zauberflöte with the Resident Groundhog conducting. It’s the Julie Taymor production but given in full in German rather than the abridged ‘for kids” version. The best thing about the cast is René Pape’s Sarastro.