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”.
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.
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.
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.
If you didn’t catch it live last night there’s a really lovely concert up on the Royal Opera House Youtube channel which should be available for a couple of weeks. Tony Pappano is at the piano with Louise Alder singing Britten, Strauss and Handel, Toby Spence with some Butterworth plus Gerald Finley with Finzi, Turnage and Britten. The boys finish off with the Pearl Fishers duet. Along the way, Morgen is sung by Louise and danced quite beautifully to choreography by Wayne McGregor by Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales. It’s weird, and even eerie, to see a concert from a large empty theatre but there we are. Highly recommended.
Yesterday’s RBA concert was at the unusual hour of 5.30pm and featured bass-baritone Brandon Cedel with Sandra Horst at the piano. It was a nicely balanced programme. Cedel began with Purcell’s Arise, ye subterranean winds from The Tempest. It’s one of those very Purcellian arias for low voice that feature long, not especially fast runs and put a lot of demands on the singer’s technique. Cedel’s is very solid. He can shape a line too and his English diction is excellent. There was some particular fine playing from Sandra Horst here too.
This year the TSO used the Mozart arrangement for Handel’s Messiah (though, naturally enough, with the original English text). I have mixed feelings about it. It’s not hugely different in sound to whichever of Handel’s versions one is used to and it’s definitely not one of those 20th century versions for 100 piece orchestra and massed choirs but I’m hard pressed to see what the point is other than it’s Mozart.
It’s the fifth year that Soundstreams has put on Electric Messiah which I guess means it’s pretty much becoming a holiday tradition. This iteration may just be the best yet. This version seemed quite stripped down compared to some years and all the better for it. It’s centred around rearranged (and shortened) excerpts from the Handel work supplemented with some personal touches for the cast. This time the “band” was Wesley Shen on harpsichord, Joel Visentin on keyboards and electric organ, Joel Schwartz on assorted acoustic and electric guitars and Adam Scime directing from the (laptop) keyboard which controlled lots of effective electronics. SlowPitchSound was there on turntables with Lybido dancing.
Yesterday Matthew Cairns and Rachel Kerr performed an unusually wide range of songs in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s part of Matthew’s prep for his CBC recording session which was part of the prize at last year’s Centre Stage and which will be broadcast in the new year. They kicked off with a contrasting pair of Duparc song’s. First came the almost dreamy L’invitation au voyage with it’s arpeggio accompaniment followed by the much more dramatic Le manoir de Rosemonde. These really set the tone for the recital. There was power where it was needed but also considerable delicacy from both singer and pianist.
Handel’s Arminio was written for Covent Garden and while admired by the cognoscenti at the time it wasn’t a commercial success. It’s a well worked three act opera seria with nothing much to distinguish it from others of its ilk. For what it’s worth it’s set during Augustus’ attempt to conquer the land between the Rhine and the Elbe but its themes of death or glory and love versus duty, all with an impausible reconciliation ending, could easily be set anywhere. Actually it almost wilfully ignores history as the libretto claims it happened in 9AD when the real Arminius (Hermann the Cherusker) decisively defeated Varo (also in the opera) in the Teutoburger Wald ending Roman hopes of extending the Empire beyond the Rhine.(*)