The TSO has announced its 2020/21 season; the first under new Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. It looks pretty much “steady as she goes”. There is no radical departure from past programming. Is heavy on mainstream romantic rep with a ton of Beethoven as this year’s anniversary boy. There are the usual seasonal, pops and young persons offerings as well.
Baritone Quinn Kelsey, currently singing Germont père in La Traviata at the COC stepped down off the big stage today to give a recital, with Rachel Andrist at the piano, in the more intimate RBA. As befits the venue, he gave us a more intimate program. Ralph Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel and the less frequently heard Gerald Finzi cycle, Let Us Garlands Bring sandwiched three songs by Brahms.
The Vaughan Williams is a pretty well known work, almost a recital warhorse. Kelsey showed considerable sensitivity in, mostly, dialling his big voice back for it. He is extremely expressive, occasionally I thought maybe just a touch too much so, and he has a surprisingly wide range of colours at his disposal. The contrast between the light, bright tone he used for The Roadside Fire and the much darker (and louder) approach to Youth and Love was quite striking. And that’s just an arbitrary comparison of two songs that follow one another. The rest of the set was equally varied. This guy is a lot more than “just” a big, Italianate Verdi baritone! And Rachel Andrist is so much more than “just” an accompanist. She brings a complimentary personality to every song with some real detail in the piano part that makes it seem quite fresh.
There’s a lot to like in the COC’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata that opened at The Four Seasons Centre last night. Arin Arbus’ production; a co-production with Chicago Lyric Opera and Houston Grand Opera avoids the cloying sentimentality of many productions of this piece and, without being in any way gratuitous, deals very directly with the world Verdi wanted us to see; a world of hypocrisy, sex for sale and early, pointless death.
There are a couple of biggies coming up next week. On October 7th and 8th the amazingly talented and apparently fearless Barbara Hannigan is singing with and conducting the TSO. For all I know she’ll be tap dancing and doing hand stands as well. It’s her conducting debut with this orchestra. The programme features works by Nono, Haydn, Mozart, Ligeti and Stravinsky. 8pm Roy Thomson Hall.
The Canadian Opera Company has just announced the 2015/16 season line up for the free lunchtime concert series in Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Now under the curatorship of Claire Morley there’s the usual incredible array of chamber music, dance, piano, jazz and world music as as well as, of course, the vocal series.
First a disclaimer, I’m not a huge Massenet fan and even among his works Don Quichotte would rate pretty low with its cheesy melodies and faux Spanoiserie. However, a good production has the potential to liven it up and a stellar cast is always a plus. The run that opened at the Canadian Opera Company last night certainly had the latter in Ferruccio Furlanetto, Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili. Unfortunately Linda Brovsky’s production looked and felt like one of Mr. Peter Gelb’s attempts to get the Broadway audience into the Met. It was cluttered, unfocussed, pretty much devoid of ideas and didn’t even really make best use of the acting talents of the principals though Rashvelishvili did her best to inject some life into it. It’s exactly what I feared when I heard they were going to use a real horse and donkey (later replaced by a mule in one of the more recent of the season’s casting problems at COC). For me, one of those productions almost best listened to with eyes closed.
The 2009 Florence recording of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen is bright, colourful, straightforward and fun but it doesn’t quite have the magic of the older Théâtre du Châtelet version. Laurent Pelly’s production is quite straightforward with attractive sets and costumes and interesting choreography from Lionel Hoche.
English National Opera’s new season includes two Christopher Alden productions that originated at COC. Die Fledermaus is brilliant and a must see. Rigoletto may be a bit more of an acquired taste though it certainly has its strong points. The London cast for Fledermaus doesn’t look as strong (to me) as the Toronto cast but the Rigoletto has the estimable Quinn Kelsey in the title role, Barry Banks as the Duke and Anna Christy as Gilda.
Last night I went back to the Four Seasons Centre to take another look at Christopher Alden’s Rigoletto. I was up in Ring 5 this time so quite a different viewpoint and it was the opening night cast singing. I now have a better understanding, I think, of what Alden is driving at and some of the stage action that was just puzzling first time around made more sense. Certainly the role played by Giovanna (Megan Latham) makes much more sense seen as the count’s procuress. The interpretation of Sparafucile is also interesting; part commedia perhaps and reminiscent of the quack in L’Elisir d’Amore with a sinister twist. If we take as valid Alden’s assertion that Rigoletto’s separation of personal and public life is a delusion then having all the action played out in “public” makes a certain kind of sense, though then I have to ask why, uniquely, the scene where Gilda confesses to her father what we (and he) already know, that she has been debauched by the duke, has to be between the two of them is a bit of a mystery. So, all in all, I still think it’s an interesting and very beautiful but not quite “of a whole” production. I much prefer that the COC take some chances even if not everything comes off 100% and I shall look forward to Mr. Alden’s next production here.
Musically there wasn’t a lot to choose between this cast and the one I saw on Friday. Quinn Kelsey is a very powerful Rigoletto and he was a little more restrained in the acting department than Lester Lynch. All in all a very fine performance. Dmitri Pittas was solid as the duke but I think David Lomeli has a more Italianate sound. Ekaterina Sadovnikova is a rather different Gilda to Simone Osborne. Her voice is lighter coloured and perhaps more classically suited to this role and there were none of the top end insecurities that some commented on on opening night. She did seem a bit underpowered in the duets with Kelsey but was fine singing solo. Once again I was pleased/surprised by how good the sound is up in the nosebleeds.
Bottom line, I still think this is a production worth seeing. The house wasn’t full either night I went and, in particular, there were plenty of seats last night in Ring 5. I got a second row dead centre seat as a “rush” ($22) and there were still OK seats available for that price half an hour before curtain.