Homage to Viardot

Yesterday the Ensemble Studio put on a really nicely curated tribute to Pauline Viardot.  Viardot was a singer, pianist, composer and muse who was enormously influential in music circles in paris in the middle years of the 19th century.  She came from a famous musical family and was the younger sister of Maria Malibran. Her own work is little performed today although the Royal Conservatory did her Cendrillon in 2016.

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Back to the RBA

midoriIn another nod to normality the COC’s free concert series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre kicked off with the traditional concert with the members of the Ensemble Studio.  It was reasonably well attended, which is good news. But unlike previous years one didn’t need to be there an hour early to get a seat.  Which is not so good news.  I’m really curious to see when and if we start to get back to pre-plague audiences.

For me in previous years, this concert has been about taking stock; an opportunity to reflect on which members of the ES have progressed and how.  Yesterday was much harder as I’ve seen little of any of them (live at least) for two and a half years.  Some things though stood out.  Midori Marsh, who kicked off the show with “Caro nome” has matured quite a lot.  She’s always had a terrific voice but here she showed as a much more polished and poised performer.  Alex Hetherington is also something of a known quality with her excellent 2021 Norcop Prize recital one of the better streamed events of the pandemic.  She gets bonus points for singing “Lord, to Thee Each Night” from Handel’s Theodora.  It’s a highly charged and technically awkward piece that demonstrated her technique and artistic sensibility nicely. Continue reading

#weirdopera

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.

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Vladimir Soloviev as Dante and Vartan Gabrielian as Tino

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Marriage of Figaro at UoT

UoT Opera’s fall production is Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro which opened last night at the MacMillan Theatre. It’s a period production directed by Michael Patrick Albano set in the “Opera 18th Century”; more Chatsworth than palace near Seville, but it looks pretty, the action is skilfully composed and the physical comedy works.

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Ensemble Studio Competition 2019

The Ensemble Studio Competition again last night.  Seven singers were competing with Ben Heppner’s jokes for cash prizes, champagne and, possibly, a place in the COC Ensemble Studio.  There’s one thing I think is vital to understand about the Ensemble Studio Competition.  The judges have been working with the singers for a week.  The audience gets to hear them sing one aria.  It’s easy to see why there isn’t always concurrence between the hall and the judging table.  (That’s my excuse anyway).

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The contestants with Alexander Neef and Johannes Debus

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A first look at UoT this year

The students of the post graduate program at UoT Opera were on show in the RBA yesterday with a show made up of staged opera excerpts curated and directed by Michael Patrick Albano.  It’s right at the beginning of the academic year and these sorts of concerts are a bit of a calibration exercise for those of us who follow the progress of young singers.  The starting point this year is decidedly high.

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Centre Stage line up

The Canadian Opera Company’s ninth annual Ensemble Studio Competition is being held on October 30, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The 2019  finalists are: sopranos Kirsten LeBlanc (Moncton, NB), Midori Marsh (Cleveland, Ohio), and Charlotte Siegel (Toronto, ON); mezzo-soprano Sarah Bissonnette (Boucherville, QC); tenor Marcel d’Entremont (Merigomish, NS); bass-baritone Alex Halliday (St. John’s, NL); and bass Brenden Friesen (Langham, SK).

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UoT’s La finta giardiniera

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.

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Who killed Adriana?

whokilledadrianaThe annual Student Composer Collective opera at UoT is, as far as I know, unique.  A libretto is written.  The work is divided up and student composers write music for their assigned section(s).  The finished work is presented fully staged with orchestra.  In recent years the libretto and direction has come from Michael Patrick Albano, as was the case with this year’s effort presented in the MacMillan Theatre yesterday afternoon.  Who Killed Adriana riffs off Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur.  Adriana Amaro, a very divaish diva, is making her Covent Garden debut as Adriana.  In the first half of the show, set backstage between Acts 2 and 3, we see her waspishly putting down all the other characters before making her grand entrance.  This time though the poisoned violets of the final scene are just that and the second part is a whodunnit search for the murderer. Along the way no stock opera joke is left unused.  Tenors are neurotic, understudies insecure, managers harassed, fans obsessive, there are fake Italians and so on.  But in typical Albano style it works and provides a coherent, and at times very funny, plot line for the composers to work with.  And some of the jokes were new.  Adriana’s chauffeur, Umlaut, is revealed as the answer to every Austrian’s prayer; the inventor of musical strudel.

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Don Giovanni at UoT Opera

The Opera Division’s fall production this year is Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Marilyn Gronsdal.  Let’s start with the production.  The sets are all paper and boxes with a few props and the costuming is 1940s.  The aesthetic is film noir.  There are trilbies and Don Ottavio is packing a piece in a shoulder holster.  It set, for me and my companion at least, an expectation that this would be a “film noir production” but although there were nods in that direction; Leporello as the comic sidekick, statuette of the Commendatore as the murder weapon for example, the idea wasn’t really developed at all.  Instead we got a very straightforward narrative with the a few twists.  Gronsdal included a chorus of silent women who comment on the action (didn’t she do this in Saskatoon as well?) and Don Giovanni isn’t dragged down to Hell.

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