Last night’s concert at Koerner Hall was a celebration of the life and work of Armenian composer and song collector Komitas on the occasion of his 150th birthday. Unsurprisingly Koerner was packed with members of Toronto’s Armenian community. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable at events like this; unable to really appreciate what the music means in its home culture, but last night what I felt was joy and inclusion. It was an extremely well curated concert of rather beautiful music extremely well performed.
Ivor Novello’s Perchance to Dream opened in London in April 1945. It’s fluffy, romantic and nostalgic. It has a ridiculous plot, some great tunes (A Woman’s Heart, We’ll Gather Lilacs etc) and lots of eye candy. It’s probably exactly what people needed after nearly six years of an exceptionally weary, dreary war. It ran for a thousand performances. Approached in the right frame of mind it’s still a very enjoyable, escapist way of spending a couple of hours.
In my April Round up I inadvertently omitted Toronto Operetta Theatre’s upcoming production of Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène which plays April 27th to 29th at the Jane Mallet. It’s a good looking cast including Beste Kalender, Adam Fisher and Lynn Isnar. Guillermo Silva-Marin directs and Peter Tiefenbach conducts. Those few days at the end of the month are insane but it’s probably worth trying to fit this one in.
Die Fledermaus offers a lot scope for reinterpretation. Like so many works involving spoken dialogue there is a tradition of reworking that dialogue to work in contemporary humour and geographic relevance to the point where there is no canonical version though there’s probably a set of general expectations. Joel Ivany’s production for the Glenn Gould School, which opened last night at Koerner Hall, goes further than most to create a “play within a play” dynamic riffing to some extent on the difficulty of staging an opera in a concert hall. He also makes the decision to use English dialogue but have the sung text in the original German (except for the finale).
It’s that mid point of the academic year when the GGS puts on a recital programme that features a fairly full selection of the available singing talent at the Conservatory. This means one sees everything from first year undergrads to singers in the final stages of a master’s degree, who may already be singing professionally, so it’s a constant exercise in recalibration. It wasn’t helped last night by the fact that I had serious TTC problems causing me to miss the first three numbers on the programme plus feeling a bit frazzled for the rest. So, in no particular order, I’m going to write about what I particularly enjoyed. Omission should not be over-interpreted.
Barbara Hannigan gave a masterclass for four students last night at Mazzoleni Hall. I’ve been to quite a few masterclasses and it’s the second one of Hannigan’s that I have sat in on. Like everything else she does her teaching style is unique, fascinating, incredibly illuminating and, at the same time, slightly terrifying. Part of me wants to review like an “event” and part of me wants to be very subjective and impressionistic. I think I’m going to do a bit of both.
Lynn Isnar – wearing one of the dresses she wore yesterday
Calixa Lavallée’s main, perhaps only, claim to fame is that he wrote the music for O Canada! He also wrote an operetta, The Widow. Yesterday I saw it at Toronto Operetta Theatre in a production by Guillermo Silva-Marin. It’s pretty silly. The plot turns on a scheming widow who pretends to drown herself while most of the rest of the characters pretend either to be someone else, or to be married to someone else, or both. Still, it’s fast paced and quite funny and the various sillinesses work out more or less logically. The music is pleasant and well crafted but not strikingly original. I don’t think I actually recall a single tune. So, a worthwhile enough piece but hardly an undiscovered masterpiece.
The production, in variations on concert wear for the most part, was quite kinetic with lots of rushing about and some dance elements. There are probably more entrances and exits than a Brian Rix farce (and for much the same reasons) so that helps. Performances were pretty good. Julie Nesrallah struck the right note as the somewhat overripe Spanish widow Donna Paquita de something-something-something. She sang well and her knowing, almost wink-at-the-audience, approach was just shy of over the top. It made a good anchor. The vocal star was Lynn Isnar as Nanine. It’s classic operetta soubrette territory and her bright tone, easy top and controlled coloratura were just right. She has a nice sense of timing too. Her aria which opened the second act was the vocal highlight of the afternoon. The rest of the cast was made up of TOT regulars and young singers. Everyone sang well and the acting was also good. The young lovers, of both flavours, were appropriately decorative and there was a bumbling ineffectual aristo for Greg Finney to play. Michael Rose accompanied perfectly competently at the piano. So, basically, all operetta boxes ticked.
All in all, a pleasant enough way to spend a really gloomy November Sunday afternoon.
Niccolò Piccinni’s La Cecchina or La buona figliuola is an opera buffa in two acts written for the Teatro delle Dame in Rome where it premiered in 1760. The libretto is by Carlo Goldini and, while said to have been inspired by Richardson’s Pamela, is actually a fairly straightforward masters and servants story of a similar nature to Pergolesi’s La serva padrona or even Mozart’s La finta giardinera; all, of course, firmly rooted in the conventions of the commedia dell’arte. Being written for Rome it was, originally, played by an all male cast. Last night at Koerner Hall the Glenn Gould School Opera presented it with female singers in the high roles.
Kendra Dyck as Sandrina and Asitha Tennekoon as the Marchese
The GGS Vocal Showcase is an opportunity to take a look at the vocal talent on offer at the Royal Conservatory. It’s a tricky exercise as the students range from the equivalent of first year undergrad to second year masters so one is constantly recalibrating expectations. We got to hear one bass, two baritones, three tenors, one mezzo soprano and fourteen sopranos in a variety of arias, art songs and ensemble numbers.
So, in no particular order my favourites and “ones to watch”. Lets start with the obvious. Gabriel Sanchez-Ortega is a genuine bass. We only heard him in some Haydn trios last night but he seems to have heft and genuine low notes and quite a wide range. He’s also still quite young. Singing with him was soprano Joanna Burt who also gave us an aria from La Cecchina. She has real potential as a dramatic soprano which is the one part of the tweeter market that isn’t flooded. She has some nice dark colours as well as weight. The trios were rounded out by tenor Zachary Rioux. He held his own with two pretty big voices so we’ll see.