Electric Messiah – 2022 edition

This was the seventh time I’ve seen Soundstream’s Electric Messiah.  It’s different every time of course but some things stay, more or less, as features.  The biggest change this year is the shift from the Drake Underground to Crow’s Theatre.  It’s staged as a conventional proscenium arch type show with the audience sitting in tiered rows facing the stage rather than being set up night club style.  There’s no bar in the actual performance space but you can still take a drink to your seat.  The drinks are cheaper than at the Drake too!

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Philippe Jaroussky and the Ensemble Artaserse

I suppose it’s fair to say that Philippe Jaroussky is a singer who divides opinion; you either love his light bright “soprano” sound or you prefer something more muscular (Sesto vs. Cesare perhaps).  He has a cult following and he knows it.  That side of things was very much on display at Koerner Hall last night when he appeared with the Ensemble Artaserse in a programme of arias from18th century Italian opera.  It was clear that a goodly section of the audience had travelled from out of town for the concert and knew exactly what to expect.  This was exemplified by the three encores leading up to Handel’s “Lascio ch’io pianga” which the hard core fans had been shouting for and weren’t going to go home without hearing!

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Giulio Cesare at Grauman’s

The 2021 production, by Keith Warner, of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto at the Theater an der Wien uses Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre as a framing device.  Sometimes the action is clearly the actors, producers, cigarette girls etc involved in the screening of a silent German movie version of “Caesar and Cleopatra”.  Other times they are performing the action of the film/opera.  Sometimes the cinema screen shows clips from the movie.   Other times it shows pictures of the characters on stage.  For example, at the beginning of Act 2 Tolomeo, whose other persona is some kind of sleazy mafioso movie exec, is shooting up.  There’s a B&W picture of him on the screen that slowly changes to bright colours and then becomes more and more a depiction of a pretty heavy trip.

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Saul in Vienna

Handel’s Saul gets another “fully staged” treatment in this recording of a Claus Guth production at the Theater an der Wien in 2021.  Inevitably it invites comparison with Barrie Kosky’s Glyndebourne version.. They are quite different though each is very enjoyable n its own way. Those not familiar with the piece might find the introduction to the earlier production helpful as I’m not going to repeat the outline of plot etc here.

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Leaping (or not) ahead to March

gloriaThere’s not exactly a flood of events in my calendar for march yet but there are a few.  Running March 1st to 20th at Crow’s Theatre is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ satirical play Gloria about a Manhattan magazine staff seeking fame and glory as the internet turns the industry upside down.  It’s not an opera but it’s directed by the very talented André Sills which is reason enough for me.

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Electric Messiah 2020

The sixth iteration of Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah unsurprisingly morphed from a live show in the intimate setting of the Drake Underground to a streamed video recorded on location in various places in Toronto.  There is much that was the same as previously and some interesting differences.  The selection of arias and choruses is very similar to previous years starting with “Comfort Ye”; arranged for all four singers and finishing up with “Hallelujah”.

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Messiah/Complex

Against the Grain’s Messiah/Complex is a rewarding, actually quite fascinating, piece of work.  It’s condensed to around 80 minutes but most of the well known numbers feature in some form.  Each takes the form of a filmed vignette filmed somewhere in Canada.  Some locations are urban, some are very much not; from David Pecaut Square to the high Arctic.  Twelve soloists and a number of different choirs are used.  Some pieces are sung in the original English but five other languages are also used.  The non-English pieces are not translations in fact they subvert Charles Jennens’ theology in some really interesting ways.  The TSO (or at least a bit of it) conducted by Johannes Debus provides the accompaniment.  The performances are good, the filming is excellent and the technical quality is first rate.  You can watch it for yourself at this link.

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Something Rich and Strange

Opera Atelier’s fall show Something Rich and Strange was originally conceived as a show that could be given before a (limited) live audience as well as via web stream. That’s obviously constraining compared to a show that is created without a fourth wall and can include location filming. All the other constraints of these strange times had also to be observed. Despite this there was much to like in a show that presented a number of scenes from the 17th and 18th century repertoire plus a couple of “neo-baroque” pieces composed by Edwin Huizinga.

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Der Messias

Der Messias is the German version of Handel’s Messiah as arranged by Mozart.  The translation dates from 1775 and is by Klopstock and Ebeling drawing heavily on the Lutheran Bible.  My German isn’t good enough to say how “archaic” it sounds to a modern German speaker but it certainly seems to be quite singable.  In any event it was presented in Salzburg during this year’s Mozartwoche in a staged version by Robert Wilson.  The arrangement adds a substantial wind section and changes the voice parts in places.  For example Doch wer mag entraten (But who may abide) is given to the bass rather than one of the high voices.

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