Only the Sound Remains is a chamber opera by Kaija Sariaho based on two Noh plays translated by Ernest Fenellosa and Ezra Pound. The piece was premiered in Amsterdam in 2016 by Dutch National Opera, where it was recorded. It’s a co-pro with Teatro Real, Finnish National Opera and the COC so Toronto audiences will likely get a look at it eventually. Which is good because it’s really hard to figure out much of it from the video recording. As he so often does, peter Sellars directs for both stage and camera and while I like his stage work here I find his video direction quite annoying, especially in the first piece.
Last night Philippe Jaroussky appeared with Les Violins du Roy and conductor Matthieu Lussier in a mostly Handel program at Koerner Hall. It was a very good evening. Les Violons du Roy is a pretty small band; less than twenty including continuo, but they manage to produce quite a big sound while remaining elegant and flexible in a thoroughly idiomatic baroque way. The instrumental component consisted of a Handel overture, Fux’ Ouverture in D minor and Johann Gottlieb Graun’s (not the better known Carl Graun who was apparently his brother) Symphony in B Flat Major. It was a pretty good sampling of what one might have heard in the courts of Germany in the early 1700s and rather enjoyable.
March was a curiously quiet month. April starts to look busier, at least once we get past Easter. Tonight, Against the Grain have their monthly pub night at The Amsterdam Bicycle Club. Snow is forecast so you should all stay away and then maybe I’ll be able to get in. On Saturday at 4pm there’s a free (or PWYC) recital in Ernest Baumer Studio featuring soprano Stephanie Nakagawa and pianist Peemanat Kittimontreechai. They will be performing arias from contemporary Canadian operas. On Thursday 13th Philippe Jaroussky and Les Violins du Roy will be appearing at Koerner Hall. It’s at 8pm and features mainly fairly obscure Handel material.
Katie Mitchell’s production of Handel ‘s Alcina recorded at Aix-en-Provence in 2015 is extremely interesting. It’s almost complete with maybe twenty minutes of the ballet music cut. None of the ballet is actually staged as such. It’s also a Mitchell special multi-space set (like Written on Skin) with the lower level having Alcina/Morgana’s boudoir, drawing room or whatever at any given moment flanked by two smaller spaces which are the “personal” spaces of the two sisters. When the ladies withdraw from the public/enchanted space they are replaced by actresses who look decades older. Only late in the piece as Alcina’s magic fades do the two worlds get confused. The upper level of the set is taken up with the giant machine that turns Alcina’s victims into taxidermied animals. The overall aesthetic is upscale modern with lots of actors as very competent servants.
Handel’s Giulio Cesare is pretty well served in terms of video recordings. The very fine Glyndebourne and Copenhagen versions get some serious competition from the 2012 production that inaugurated Cecilia Bartoli’s reign as director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. The production is by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. It’s set in somewhere like Iraq in an immediately post-war period. It’s quite dark, probably darker than Negrin’s in Copenhagen and world’s away from McVicar’s almost RomCom version. There’s a lot of violence and some pretty sleazy sex. A lot of this centres around Tolomeo who is portrayed as beyond revolting. There’s a scene where he rips guts out of a statue of Caesar and starts to gnaw on them and there is a fair bit in that vein. Caesar and Cleopatra are portrayed ambiguously too. Sure they are the “heroes” of the piece but Cleopatra’s delight in flogging off her country’s oil wealth to the Romans shows a degree of cynicism. This is not a production for the Konzept averse but I think all the choices made have a point and the overall effect is coherent. It’s not without humour either. Cleopatra sings V’adore pupille in a 70s blonde wig while riding a cruise missile with Caesar watching through 3D glasses.
The Royal Conservatory announced the concert line up for the 2016/17 season last night. As usual it’s a very eclectic mix with over 100 concerts in a rather staggering variety of genres. The one loose them is the Canada Sesquicentennial with 70% or so of the line up having some CanCon. Here are the highlights for the classical vocal music fan.
Koerner Hall will feature recitals by Deb Voigt (November 11th) and Natalie Dessay (May 2nd) plus Phillippe Jaroussky with Les Violins du Roy (April 13th).
The GGS fall opera is Viardot’s Cendrillon with Peter Tiefenbach as music director in Mazzoleni Hall (November 18th and 19th). The big spring production, at Koerner, will be Piccini’s La Cecchina with Les Dala conducting (March 15th and 17th). No word on directors yet. There’s also the GGS Vocal Showcase in Mazzoleni Hall on February 4th.
Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse is in many ways it’s a classic opera seria. The good guy roles are written for castrati but the baddies here too go to high voices; a castrato and a tenor. But what sets this apart is that it was written for Rome where it premiered in 1730. At that time women were not allowed on stage in the Papal States so the two female roles were played by castrati en travesti. In recreating it in 2012, l’opéra national de Lorraine chose to cast all five castrati roles with countertenors, producing a cast like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard.
Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea was the “shabby, little shocker” of the 17th century. It’s about lust, obsession, murder and revenge. So, it’s a bit surprising that all too often it comes off as elegant but deadly dull. That’s rather the case with Pierre Luigi Pizzi’s production filmed at the Teatro Real in 2010. Despite having Danielle di Niese, something of a specialist Roman sex kitten, in the title role it’s all rather bloodless. It starts off OK with the gods and goddesses of the prologue being wheeled about on platforms but after that he gets rather static. Sets and costumes are almost unrelieved grey/silver tones (including a rather fetching pair of silver lamé booty shorts for Damigella) although Nerone himself seems to be dressed as a giant black chicken in Act1 (know you of such a bird, Baldrick?). The only real breaks in the (literal) monotony are the bright red robe Ottone borrows from Drusilla for the attempted murder and the sparkly gold outfits that appear for Nerone and Poppea at the end. It’s also rather dark most of the time.
Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso is based, like so many operas, on an episode in Ariosto’s work of the same name. In this case it relates the events that take place during Orlandos stay on the enchanted island of the sorceress Alcina. There are two love triangles, enchantments and Orlando goes mad before order is restored, the island is disenchanted and Alcina, as befits a woman who gets uppity in an eighteenth century opera, is restored to her rightful place in the Outer Darkness. Structurally it’s pretty typical of the period with a lot of showy arias in a variety of forms plus a couple of decent choruses.