Talisker Players latest show, High Standards, was a bit different from previous efforts of theirs that I have attended. This was all about the music. There were no prose or poetry readings. The music was a selection from what might be considered the “golden age” of the Broadway musical. The time period covered being the four decades from 1933 to 1973 or, roughly, Showboat to A Little Night Music. I’m not an expert in Broadway theatre but I was struck by how the music remained remarkably similar over that period while the lyrics got, generally, more sardonic. That’s pretty curious when one reflects on the changed in classical music, and even popular music over that time period. Where the music did seem to be rather different was when there was an “intervention” from someone with a foot in another camp. There were selections here from Gershwin and Bernstein that did sound different. The latter in particular playing with tonality in a way that seemed very daring by comparison, though tame of course by classical music standards. I’m sure proper musicologists would have much more to say about this. Continue reading
I got a last minute invite to a workshop of Lisa Codrington and Kevin Morse’s WIP A Modest Proposal at Tapestry yesterday evening and I am really glad I could drop everything and go. It’s based on the Swift essay; updated to a modern city where the mayor fears defeat at the upcoming election if something isn’t done about the poor who are swarming the streets. It’s kind of reminiscent of when Toronto was “terrorized” by squeegee kids. Anyway the mayor’s staff come up with the response that you’ve already guessed and the first victim is the pregnant beggar who has been bugging the mayor. There’s also a street meat salesman who is having an affair with the mayor, of which more later. Fast forward a year to where the newly reelected mayor is giving a press conference and eating tasty baby treats provided by the succesful babybites entrepreneur and former street vendor that she’s doing in the loading bay. There’s one of those giant cheques for ten grand (of the kind that Sick Kids, ironically, is so fond of) for the public spirited former beggar and child donor. The former beggar is, unsurprisingly, not happy about the situation and when the mayor is discovered to be carring Mr. Babybites’ child and disgraced she is the one who shops her as a poor person in posession of an illegal baby…
Talisker Players’ first concert of the season was an interesting mix of material around the general theme of travel; the music neing intersperse with related texts read most pleasingly by Derek Boyes. First up was soprano Virginia Hatfield with a French baroque rarity; Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s Le Sommeil d’Ulisse. This piece is scored for flute, violin and harpsichord continuo and the violin part in particular, very well played here, takes an important role. The piece, which is largely recitative, was sung stylishly, beautifully and, as always, extremely accurately by Ms. Hatfield. One quibble though. If one is expecting the audience to use the provided translation of the text it might be advisable to leave the lights up enough to allow them to be read!
This evening at 7.30pm at Trinity St. Paul’s The Talisker Players have their first concert of the season entitled Songs of Travel. Virginia Hatfield will be performing the French baroque work Le Sommeil d’Ulisse by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and the rarely performed Algoma Central by Louis Applebaum. Also featured is baritone Geoffrey Sirett in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel and Vally Weigl’s Songs of Love and Leaving. Also on tomorrow.
Want a Christmas CD with a difference? Christmas at Casa Diva may be what you are looking for. It’s a collaboration between Canadian opera singers lyric soprano Virginia Hatfield, dramatic soprano Joni Henson and mezzo Megan Latham with collaborative pianist Pieter Tiefenbach. While some of the tracks are fairly traditional sounding versions of standards like White Christmas most are clever, almost cheeky, arrangements or even mash ups. Born is the King, for example, is a really cool mash up of Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, The First Noël and Silent Night that had me grinning like a loon when I heard it at the CD release party (OK the rather good mulled wine probably helped). Most of the tracks are also quite “modern” sounding. The arrangements make no concessions to the sort of soupy sentimentality found on so many seasonal offerings.
The music making throughout is unashamedly the work of serious, classically trained musicians (albeit SCTMs with a sense of humour) so it might not be an ideal gift for friends/relatives who are allergic to that kind of thing. For most readers of this blog though that will hardly be a deterrent. I have never heard a Christmas record remotely like this and it’s growing on me with each listening. You can buy the CD at Atelier Gregorian or online at jonihensonsoprano.com
Opera/concert season is pretty much done in the big smoke though there is the Toronto Summer Music Festival (see below). Attention moves to various more rural venues and to some seriously eclectic programming. Out in Northumberland County there’s the Westben Festival with concerts in a barn ranging fro Irish trad to Richard Margison. The highlight, for me, here would be a recital by Suzy Leblanc and Julius Drake featuring French mélodies, Strauss lieder and English songs by Christos Hatzis. That one is on July 30. Westben also has the UBC Opera Ensemble doing Carmen and, for those so inclined, a programme of Broadway tunes from the ever reliable Virginia Hatfield, Brett Polegato and James Levesque. No word on whether Brett’s cat is also performing.
Meanwhile, back in the smoke there is the Toronto Summer Music Festival which kicks off on July 16th with the Trio Pennetier Pasquier Pidoux in an all French programme. The highlights for me are the Gryphon Trio with Bob Pomakov on the 18th and Philippe Sly with Julius Drake on the 23rd.
Three shows that might be worth a look are coming up in the GTA. Essential Opera are doing a show called Two Weddings and a Funeral which pairs Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi with Donizetti’s Il campanello. It’s at Heliconian Hall on March 15th at 7.30pm. It will be semi-staged with piano accompaniment. Soup Can Theatre are also presenting a double bill of Barber’s A Hand of Bridge and Sartre’s No Exit (in English translation). The former will be accompanied by a 14 piece band and the latter, no doubt, by wailing and gnashing of teeth. The show runs March 28th to 30th at the Tapestry Opera Studio in the Distillery district. Finally, Opera Hamilton are presenting Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles at the Dofasco Theatre in Hamilton. This is a fully staged show with full orchestra and features Virginia Hatfield and Brett Polegato. There are four shows from March 9th to 16th. At time of writing no sopranos had been injured by falling scenery.
It’s pretty Grimm in Toronto these days. Friday will see the 500th performance of Dean Burry’s 1999 opera for children The Brothers Grimm. Now, 500 performances for any recent opera is pretty remarkable. 500 performances for a Canadian work is extraordinary. Anyway, in the lead up to Friday there are a number of events scheduled including a concert yesterday lunchtime in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre with a Grimm theme.
Eric Domville introduced the music. He gave us a disquisition on the Grimm brothers, philology, the Great German Dictionary, folk tales and the oral tradition, his childhood, Romanticism as a reaction to Enlightenment, the plot of several folk tales in their English, French and German incarnations and a potted summary of the cultural, political and religious state of Germany in the mid 19th century. It was perhaps just a teeny bit more than one resally needed to explain three arias from Hansel and Gretel and one from Königskinder. Continue reading