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.
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
The 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.
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.
The TSO’s opening concert of the season at Roy Thomson Hall was quite boldly conceived. Basically hand the evening over to the powerhouse duo of soprano/conductor Barbara Hannigan and violinist/conductor John Storgårds and see what they come up with. It was an excitingly eclectic programme which produced some great performances but a sadly disappointing turn out.
Last evening I attended a session with Barbara Hannigan under the auspices of the IRCPA. The format was an interview with William Littler followed by audience Q & A. In many ways it was typical Hannigan. She came across as smart, incredibly driven, analytical and with quite a wicked sense of humour. This I have seen before and there wasn’t much about her work methods that added to the information in I’m a Creative Animal.
September starts the slow ramp up to the new season. The first thing in my calendar is Mysterious Barricades on September 14th from 1pm to 2pm in Walter Hall. This is a series of coast to coast, dawn to dusk concerts in aid of Suicide Awareness. Russell Braun, Monica Whicher and Nathalie Paulin are all involved. It’s free but ticketed. Check the link for details.
George Benjamin’s latest opera Lessons in Love and Violence debuted at Covent Garden last year. It was broadcast on the BBC and is still available on the web from Arte and has also been released on DVD and Blu-ray. This review is based on the Blu-ray version.
Stravinsky LSO is a video release on the LSO’s own label of a 2015 concert at the Barbican featuring music by Berg, Webern, Ligeti and Stravinsky conducted by Simon Rattle. It opens with Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra Op.6. Rattle produces a transparent, clearly articulated and structurally coherent account of this short work.
A new opera by Australian Brett Dean based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet premiered at Glyndebourne this summer. A recording of it was broadcast on BBC television on 22nd October. I’ve now had a chance to watch it in full. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it get somewhat mixed reviews. I was impressed. Very impressed. First off, Matthew Jocelyn, who wrote the libretto, and Dean know how to turn a play into an opera. They understand that it’s not just about taking a bunch of dialogue and giving it a soundtrack. What they do is very clever. All the text is Shakespeare but it’s split up and moved around. There’s repetition and sometimes words are reassigned to different characters. Characters sing parallel lines. Then, of course, there’s a chorus. A good example is when the players appear before performing The Death of Gonzago. They get lines taken from various of Hamlet’s soliloquies chopped up and rearranged. It’s effective and allows the main elements of the story to be told in under three hours of opera. The main bit that’s missing is the whole Fortinbras and the Norwegians thing but that often gets cut anyway.
Barbara Hannigan made her much anticipated Koerner Hall debut last night in an all German program accompanied by Reinbert de Leeuw. The first half of the program consisted of three sets; Schoenberg’s Vier Lieder Op. 2, Webern’s Fünf Lieder nach Gedicten von Richard Dehmel and Berg’s Sieben Frühe Lieder. All of these cycles were composed between 1899 and 1907 and there are many similarities. They are highly lyrical and essentially tonal and they mostly set poetry of a fairly pastoral nature. It would be churlish to complain about a performance of the utmost artistry (by both performers) of important works that likely no-one else would program in a major Toronto recital. That said, it was all quite lovely but it was a bit samey. Occasionally, especially in the Webern, some slightly different moods would emerge e.g in the third stanza of Ascension where it gets a bit more dramatic or in Heile Nacht, where there are echoes of Perrot Lunaire, but generally it was all rather in one place musically and emotionally.