Fuoco Sacro

Fuoco Sacro is a film by Jan Schmidt-Garre.  It’s subtitled “A Search for the Sacred Fire of Song” and was inspired by Schmidt-Garre’s passion for Italian singing of a slightly earlier era rekindled when he heard Ermonela Jaho on his car radio.  This led him to explore how certain singers create something more than “just singing”.  In the film he does this by following the lives of three singers; all women (he clearly doesn’t believe that men have this elusive “sacred fire”) and all very different.  They are Ermonela Jaho (of course), Barbara Hannigan and Asmik Grigorian.  Now these are all singers about whom I have strong opinions and that may colour my view of the film.  You have been warned.  What follows concentrates on what I think the film tells us about its three principals.  The film does this more by show than tell with lots of performance and rehearsal footage as well as interviews.


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sehnsuchtSehnsucht is the title of a new CD from Barbara Hannigan and friends.  It features three works in new arrangements for voice and chamber ensemble.  Hannigan sings Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder in an arrangement by Reinbert de Leeuw.  Baritone Raoul Steffani sings the Vier Gesänge Op.2 in an arrangement by Henk de Vlieger. There’s also a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.4 in an arrangement by Erwin Stein.  The eleven member Camerata RCO is conducted by Rolf Verbeek.

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Gimeno and Hannigan

To Roy Thomson Hall last night for the first time in over two years to see Gustavo Gimeno conduct (my first time) with Barbara Hannigan featuring in a major premiere in the first half.  The concert kicked off with a 3 minute piece by Julia Mermelstein; in moments, into bloom.  It was over too quickly to register much of an impression with me.  I certainly enjoyed the Stravinsky Scherzo fantastique that followed.  This seems to be Gimeno’s type of music and he had excellent control of rhythm, dynamics and colour which augured well for The Firebird coming up after the interval.

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let me tell you

Layout 1Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you is a work for orchestra and soprano setting text arranged by Paul Griffith from Ophelia’s lines in Hamlet.  It was written for and dedicated to Barbara Hannigan who recorded it in 2015 (I think) with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Andris Nelsons.

It’s a piece in seven sections of varying moods expressing different aspects of Ophelia; both in the play and in the afterlife of the character in paintings etc.  Generally the music sits on the fractured edge of tonality with a melodic line that owes something to folk music.  Sometimes it’s extremely slow with a bassy, brooding air and other times it’s bright and busy.

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Streaming round up

hanniganyoukaliHere’s a quick list of new (relatively) and upcoming web content (the obvious Youtube channel unless otherwise specified):

  • Massey College have a “Music Salon” up.  It features Ian Cusson and Rebecca Cuddy with Métis musicologistRena Roussin discussing the role of Indigenous art music in the Canadian music scene with a particular focus on the Métis.  In between the talking head sequences there’s the performance of Ian’s Five Songs to Poems by Marilyn Dumont that was webbed by Soundstreams a little while back.  If you are the one reader of this blog who has not yielded to my encouragement to explore these songs please get on with it!
  • Barbara Hannigan has a music video of Weill’s Youkali with theLudwig orchestra. (Alpha Classics channel).  Cool footage of Finisterre which might not exactly evoke Youkali but it’s pretty much my land of dreams.

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Virtual Rubies

Like everything else the 2020 Rubies, Opera Canada‘s awards show, is going virtual this year.  It’s going out as a video, produced by Taylor Long of the COC, which will premier at 8pm on November 23rd.  Joyce El-Khoury hosts and Ben Heppner narrates the honouree videos, and then Barbara Hannigan, Michael Schade and Yannick Nezet-Seguin contribute  ‘acceptance’ speeches. Plus there’s a tribute to this year’s posthumous honouree, tenor Edward Johnson.  There are also performances by Russell Braun, Rihab Chaieb, Midori Marsh and Matt Cairns recorded in the studio with pianist and singer co-located. The show will be shown via OC’s Youtube channel.


There’s much more about the honourees and their careers on the Opera Canada website:

Taking Risks/The Rake’s Progress

This recently released two DVD set focusses on Barbara Hannigan’s first venture into conducting opera; Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in a semi-staged version featuring the young artists of her Equilibrium mentoring programme and the Gothenburg Symphony. One disk contains the opera itself, the other a documentary by Maria Stodtmeier, called Taking Risks, looking at the creation of Equilibrium and the build up to the Gothenburg performances.


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TSO 2020/21

The TSO has announced its 2020/21 season; the first under new Music Director Gustavo Gimeno.  It looks pretty much “steady as she goes”.  There is no radical departure from past programming.  Is heavy on mainstream romantic rep with a ton of Beethoven as this year’s anniversary boy.  There are the usual seasonal, pops and young persons offerings as well.


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Best of 2019

Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting.  So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019?  Let’s look at it by categories.

Fully staged opera with orchestra

19-20-02-MC-D-855The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me.  David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years.  The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested.  Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world.  The other winner was Elektra in January.  The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.

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Hannigan at UoT 2019 edition

There was a two part session with Barbara Hannigan at UoT yesterday.  The first part consisted of an open rehearsal/masterclass for the Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Wallace Halladay with Maeve Palmer as soloist of Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre.  The piece is a mash up of three areas for the character Gepopo from the opera Le Grand Macabre.  The basic premise is that Gepopo, the head of the secret police, is trying to warn her boss that the Earth is about to be hit by a comet.  Unfortunately Gepopo has spent so long in the underworld of spooks and spies that she’s utterly paranoid and can only speak in broken fragments and secret codes.  It’s weird and surreal and often funny in a disturbing way.  It’s a piece very much associated with Hannigan who has sung it many times and worked on it with the composer. 


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