Last night at Mazzoleni Hall we were entertained by the Royal Conservatory’s Rebanks fellows. The programme was, to say the least, varied and very enjoyable. It began with a movement from Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor played by Isobel Howard – violin, Caleb Georges – viola, Joanne Yesol Choi – cello and Sejin Yoon – piano. It was a pleasant, if conventional, start to the evening. There were rather more fireworks in the “Allegro ma non troppo” from Strauss’ Violin Sonata in E flat major. There was some seriously virtuosic playing here from Aaaron Chan – violin and Ben Smith – piano.
Two years ago Charlotte: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music was presented in workshop form (more or less) at Luminato. It felt incomplete and rather muddled then and I didn’t write about it. I saw the latest version yesterday at Hart House Theatre and it feels like a finished piece; indeed a rather accomplished one.
It’s a genre defying work. Perhaps it’s closer to musical theatre than anything else but it’s not miked and there are some “operatic” moments worked into the plot. Indeed there are some very funny musical moments and much cleverness in Aleš Březina’s score and Alon Nasman’s libretto.
I’m not going to get to see this (obv!) but I am intrigued as it’s a concept I’ve not come across before. Next Saturday (November 10th) Mexican-American composer, Nathan Felix, will use headphones to present his new opera titled, The War Bride, at Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival in San Antonio Texas. There will be two performances starting at 7:30pm and 8:30pm in Hemisfair Park. Felix is known for his guerilla style approach in presenting classical music in unconventional spaces and The War Brideis given no exception, with a performance outside along the riverwalk at Hemisfair Park.
The War Bride is based on the memoir of Felix’s late grandmother, Jean Groundsell-Contreras, who married Joe Contreras during World War II in Great Britain. Joe, from Mexico, gained naturalization via serving in the US Army and after the two exchanged vows Joe remained in Germany, as Jean crossed the Atlantic pregnant and alone on the S.S. Saturnia in 1945. Jean eventually settled along the border in Nuevo Laredo with Joe joining her in late 1946. Felix recounts Jean’s tale by using the riverwalk to depict her journey across the Atlantic ocean, the Mississippi river and the Rio Grande river but he also uses the river as a metaphor for hope, division and to shed light on immigration. Jean will be played by sopranist, Elise Miller alongside baritone, Jeremiah Drake and tenor, James Dykman. Drake and Dykman will play a multiple characters in the opera including former British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain and former US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Continue reading
Yesterday afternoon’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured local tenor Andrew Haji and Welsh baritone Jason Howard in a program somewhat loosely linked to England. Neither singer was, I think, 100% well (Haji’s cold was announced, Howrad’s merely obvious!) but both battled through manfully and gave us some fine singing. There were some interesting contrasts especially in the first half of the program. Andrew kicked off with Francesco Santoliquido’s I canti della sera. I’m no expert on Italian art song but these did sound like songs rather than opera arias, at least in the hands of Andrew and Rachel Andrist. In contrast, Jason’s set (Tosti’s L’ultima canzone, Respighi’s Nebbie, Tosti’s L’ideale and Verdi’s In solitaria stanza), with Robert Kortgaard sounded distinctly operatic and suited Jason’s darkish voice rather well.
Here’s a round up of upcoming performances of interest over the next week or so. Sunday at 3.15pm TIFF are showing Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s films Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” and Moses and Aaron. The films will be preceded by a live performance of a Schoenberg piece by Adanya Dunn and Topher Mokrzewski. More details here.
Making a film of an opera rather than filming an opera involves interesting choices and one of the strengths of the DVD of Penny Woolcock’s film of John Adams’ and Alice Goodman’s The Death of Klinghoffer is that includes 47 minutes of Woolcock, Adams and others discussing just how one takes a rather abstractly staged opera (the original staging was, inevitably, by Peter Sellars) and turn it into an essentially naturalistic film. Of course, naturalism will only go so far with opera but this goes a long way in that direction. The soloists are filmed mainly on location and they sing to the camera. The choruses, mainly backed by documentary footage, and the orchestra were recorded in the studio but the actors sing ‘live’. The one concession to “being operatic” is having a mezzo voice one of the Palestinians though he is played by a male actor.
David Pountney’s 1986 ENO production of Dvorak’s Rusalka is set in an Edwardian nursery. The action is all a dream or a figment of Rusalka’s imagination in which her grandfather, in a wheelchair, becomes the Water Gnome, her sisters water sprites, her governess the witch Jezibaba and so on. In Act 1 it works reasonably well. Clearly we are looking at a metaphor of Rusalka escaping the nursery for adult life with all the risks and discoveries that involves. It starts to get pretty strained in Act 2. There’s some not very subtle loss of virginity imagery but that’s about it. By Act 3 Pountney seems to have run out of ideas and the final denouement is played out pretty straightforwardly. Certainly there’s nothing in the ending to bring closure to the concept which seems like a cop out.
The performances, in English this being ENO, are mostly OK but not stellar. Elaine Hannan has a clear bright voice which suits the idea of Rusalka as a young girl but she doesn’t have the range of colour or dynamic range of, say, Renee Fleming. John Treleaven is rather good, if a bit stiff, as the Prince. You can definitely hear heldentenorish qualities in the voice. It’s a shame that, with his ‘tache and sideburns, he looks like a 1970s lounge lizard. Ann Howard is vocally competent as the governess/witch/Jezibaba but while she’s be fairly scary in a schoolroom she isn’t really the stuff of nightmares the part needs. Rodney Macann is a straightforwardly effective grandfather/Water Gnome but he doesn’t really dominate. The other parts are all quite well sung tough far from thrilling.Mark Elder conducts a rather routine sounding reading from the ENO Orchestra and Chorus. To be fair, part of the problem may be the sound, see below.
The video direction by Derek Bailey needs to be taken on its own terms for a record of what’s happening on stage it isn’t. There are lots of superpositions and some weird camera angles. It does reinforce the “dream” aspects of the production so I think it can be considered a valid approach.
Technically this is not a great disk. The 4:3 picture is 1986 TV to DVD quality. I suppose that, in a way, reinforces the dream quality too. The sound is very average Dolby 2.0. At times it’s worse than that. At the end of Act 1 it sounds like Treleaven is singing from the bottom of a well and nowhere does it do the orchestra any favours. There are no subtitles and the less than vivid sound makes it even harder than it otherwise might be to figure out the words. Documentation is limited to a track listing.
Given that Robert Carsen’s fascinating Paris production; strongly cast and well recorded, is also available on DVD it’s a bit hard to see why anyone would bother with this one.