New comic operas are rare. New comic operas that are actually funny are vanishingly rare. The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring is such a beast. It’s a new piece with music by James Rolfe and a libretto by Morris Panych derived from his twenty year old stage adaptation of Gogol’s short story. Originally commissioned by Tapestry Opera, the Toronto staging was under the joint auspices of that company and Canadian Stage with the work also to be staged by co-producer Vancouver Opera as part of their summer festival.
Tan Dun’s Water Passion After St. Matthew, given last night by Soundstreams at Trinity St. Paul’s is very Tan Dun. The work is in nine movements and scored for chorus, soprano and bass-baritone soloists, violin, cello, electronics and lots of percussion. And bowls of water and rocks. The texts broadly follow the Passion story finishing with a final Resurrection movement in which water is the symbol of rebirth, recycling and spiritual completeness. There are also ritual elements. Bowls of water laid out in a cruciform pattern are lit from beneath. The musicians change position and the players, especially the percussionists, perform hieratic gestures with the water bowls and their contents. It also involves a complex and dramatic lighting plot.
The Met’s abridged version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in English, got an HD broadcast in 2006 and a subsequent DVD release. It’s Julie Taymor’s production and it’s visually spectacular with giant sets, loads of very effective puppets and very good dancers (I wish every opera company used dance as effectively as the Met. Too expensive I guess). It’s more something one might expect to see at Bregenz than at the Four Seasons Centre. Costuming is sometimes a bit weird. The Three Ladies have removable heads and the chorus of priests look like origami angels but it’s never less than interesting visually. There’s nothing about the cuts (it comes in at about an hour and threequarters) that changes the plot in any way that makes it obviously kid friendly beyond being shorter and there’s no attempt to make it anything other than a pretty fairy tale. If one wants a Flute with deep meaning this isn’t it.
American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera, with pianist Myra Huang, has recently released a CD of songs by contemporary American composers titled Innocence/Experience. There are four , fairly contrasting, sets of songs by different composers. The first group are settings of texts by Garrison Keillor with music by Robert Aldridge. The texts are predictably sentimental and the music is rather retro. It sounds like it might have come from a musical comedy in the 1940s. It’s not inappropriate for the texts but seems a little out of time. It suits Rivera’s voice though. Her strength is definitely in the lower register where there is a pleasing smokey tone.
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.