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.
Yesterday lunchtime in the RBA soprano Lauren Eberwein and the Rosebud String Quartet (Sheila Jaffé, Aaron Schwebel, Keith Hamm and Rachel Desoer) entertained us with a program of Haydn and Schoenberg. First up was an arrangement of Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos. We got the recitative, Teseo mio ben, and the two arias, Dove sei and Ah! che morir vorrei. It’s basically a cantata with tessitura that sits very nicely for Lauren’s voice. It was an elegant performance all round with some passion in the concluding aria. And it’s always good to hear a Haydn vocal work.
The St. Lawrence String Quartet opened this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival with a really interesting programme. They kicked off with the Haydn String Quartet No. 25 in C Major. This very much belied the idea that Haydn is a skilful but not especially inventive composer. It’s full of invention; especially rhythmic and really suited the intensely physical style of the St. Lawrences; especially the hyperkinetic first violin, Geoff Nuttall, who also contributed a rather extraordinary pair of socks to the evening’s festivities. Watching, too, is a different experience from listening and here pointed up the extent to which chamber music like this is a conversation between the players rather than a regimented or choreographed thing.
Tomorrow (Sunday) is a busy day. There’s a matinée of Götterdämmerung at the COC with a few tickets still available. UoT Opera is doing their annual student composer piece. This year it’s called Prima Zombie and it’s based on the premise that a cabal of disgruntled music critics, disenchanted with the current state of opera, unearth and electrify the corpse of the celebrated 19th century diva Nellie Melba. Mayhem ensues. This one is in the MacMillan Theatre at 2.30 pm and it’s free.
VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert has announced details of their upcoming season. There are four shows:
October 30th sees Shakespeare 400, featuring music using and inspired by Shakespeare’s texts. Solists are Michael Nyby, Holly Chaplin, Gena van Oosten, Diego Catalá, Stephanie Kallay, Anthony Rodrigues and Mikhail Shemet witrh pianist Narmina Afandiyeva and chorus.
On November 20th it’s more bard (sort of) with Bellini’s I Capulet e i Montecchi. Anita Krause sings Romeo, Caitlin Wood is Juliet and Tonatiuh Abrego plays Tybalt with Raisa Nakhmanovich at the piano.
Onto the new year and it’s Haydn’s L’isola disabitata on February 5th. This, for me, is the one to go for. Haydn’s operas are greatly underrated and this is the piece that gets Kevin Mallon and the Aradias in the pit rather than just piano. The cast includes Valérie Bélanger, Marjorie Maltais and Alexander Dobson.
The season finishes up with Mussorgsky’s epic Khovanshchina, presumably in much reduced form. Voicebox:OIC Sunday afternoons rarely run much over two hours and Khovanshchina is well over three. The soloists include Emilia Boteva, Andrey Andreychik and Dion Mazerolle with Narmina Afandiyeva at the piano.
All performances are at 2.30pm in the St. Lawrence Centre’s Jane Mallett Theatre.
For those of you who were wondering “whatever happened to Opera 5?” they are back, and with some pizzazz (and possibly some pizza). Their upcoming show is an “immersive” version of the Johann Strauss classic Die Fledermaus. In act 2 patrons will be encouraged to interact; to dance with the cast, gamble at the tables, snort coke with Prince Orlofsky (ok I made that up) etc. The cast includes Michael Barrett, Rachel Krehm, Julie Ludwig and Erin Lawson with drag queen Pearle Harbour as Ivan and emceeing. Aria Umezawa and Jessica Derventzis direct with Patrick Hansen conducting. It plays at 8pm on June 8th to 11th at 918 Bathurst Street. Tickets at www.opera5.ca.
Last night at Roy Thomson Hall Barbara Hannigan made her North American conducting debut with the TSO. And, of course, she sang too. She kicked off with Luigi Nono’s Djamila Boupacha for solo voice. It’s a short but haunting piece inspired by a woman activist from the Algerian War. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a solo, unaccompanied, voice in that hall and the effect is eerie. It’s also a hell of a sing and to navigate it with utter precision is quite some feat. As the last note died away (precisely on pitch) the violins came in with the opening Haydn’s Symphony no. 49 “La Passione”. It starts off with an Adagio that’s curiously similar in mood to the Nono piece and Hannigan was conducting without score or baton. In fact it was more like an interpretive dance than conventional conducting. She has amazing arms and hands; the arms and hands of a ballerina in fact and as she summoned the strings to a sort of shimmering sound I couldn’t help but reminded of Swan Lake. Corny perhaps but very real and quite disturbing. And the orchestra, quite a small subset of the TSO, responded. This was four movements of really lovely, chamber music like playing.
There was no doubt that the Four Seasons Centre was the place to be at noon today. Few opera fans would willingly miss a free recital by Sir Thomas Allen and I doubt that anyone who attended was disappointed. Perhaps the voice doesn’t have the bloom it had twenty years ago but it’s still exceptionally fine and the craftsmanship and sheer stage presence was little short of amazing. Above all, perhaps, it’s the humanity of the man that shone through for the hour and a bit he entertained us.
Haydn’s Orlando Paladino is a “heroic comedy” based, of course, on Ariosto. In this version Angelica, queen of Cathay, and her lover Medoro have fled to a remote castle to get away from Orlando who is in love, of course, with Angelica. There’s a shepherd and shepherdess, a sorceress, a squire and Rodomonte, the king of Barbary thrown into the mix and various misadventures ensue until the sorceress, Alcina, dips Orlando into the waters of Lethe causing him to forget being in love with Angelica and it all ends happily. There are also a bunch of non-singing characters who, I think represent the “dangerous” people of this remote country. For reasons I haven’t quite fathomed they include a bishop and a bearded air hostess.
This afternoon’s Off Centre concert at the Glenn Gould Studio was structured around three pairs of composer friends; Mozart/Haydn, Schumann/Brahms and Wolf/Mahler. It was a mix of lieder, opera excerpts and piano pieces and was pleasantly varied.
Things kicked off with Russell Braun singing a number of songs from Schumann’s Liederkreis accompanied by his partner, Carolyn Maule on the piano. This was maybe the third time that I’ve heard Russell in recital and he really is impressive. He has a really good command of a wide range of dynamics and tone colour and lovely floaty high notes. If I was being hyper critical I’d say I think there’s a point in the middle voice though that can’t quite sustain the volume he sometimes tries to get. He has quite an operatic approach to lieder (compared to, say, DFD) but that’s quite fun in its own way.