Ian Cusson, soon to be composer in residence at the COC, is one of Canada’s most interesting composing talents. Yesterday we got to see both sides of his heritage; Métis and French-Canadian, displayed in a lunchtime concert in the RBA. The first piece up was Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dupont. I had heard some of these in a version for piano and voice before but this was the first time I had heard the whole piece in an arrangement for voice and piano quintet. Marion Newman was again the singer with the composer on piano and Amy Spurr, Sarah Wiebe, Emily Hiemstra and Alice Kim on strings. I really like this piece. I find Dumont’s spiky, bitterly ironic poems very thought provoking and moving (though clearly not designed to be sung). Cusson’s accompaniment is fascinating. My overall impression is that he doesn’t write notes that don’t need to be there. If the instrumental playing is sometimes dense, at others it’s sparse to non-existent. He’s especially restrained with the piano. There’s a lovely passage at the beginning of “Helen Betty Osborne” where the low strings create an atmosphere before the violins and then the voice come in. The vocal line is singable, just, which is in itself skilful given how difficult to set the words are. The performances were terrific by all concerned. Look at the words for yourself. At the end of this post I’ve reproduced the words of the first poem; “Letter to Sir John A. MacDonald”.
Looking at a (perhaps inadequate) sample of video recordings from La Scala I begin to come to the conclusion that there is a pretty strong pattern in what they do well, and not so well. 1800-1920 Italian classics with strong casts in visually attractive but not overly deep productions seems to be the sweet spot. Stray far from this and the wheels tend to come off. Fortunately this week I’ve seen two of the good ones recorded 30 years apart. A couple of days ago I posted a review of the recent I due Foscari and now I’ve jumped in the Tardis to watch a 1986 recording of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The similarities are striking.
Over 200,000 women from across Asia were conscripted into sexual slavery by the Japanese army in WW2. They were euphemistically described as “comfort women”. In 2009 playwright Diana Tso met some of the survivors, heard their stories and wrote a play based on their testimony. The result was Comfort, currently playing at the Aki Studio in a production directed by William Yong with music by Constantin Caravassilis.
I went to the first show of Soup Can Theatre’s presentation of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera at the Monarch Tavern yesterday. It was an interesting take. Three performers took all the roles in a much shortened concert version. Quite a few numbers were cut and the dialogue was replaced by a very compressed spoken linking narrative. This was a fund raiser and I think it’s fair to say that there was probably minimal if any rehearsal involved which showed in a presentation that had some nice individual touches but not a lot of cohesion.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened last night with a predominantly strings concert. The theme this year is “London Calling” so we got a programme of iconic 20th century English works. Things got off to a good start with the Festival Strings under conductor Joseph Swensen giving a lively and witty account of Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite with some excellent solo work by concert master Shane Kim.
I found it a bit shocking that John Adam’s Nixon in China wasn’t released on DVD until after the MetHD broadcast in 2011. I was even more shocked when I found out that the original 1987 Houston production had been recorded and broadcast on PBS. Just recently, thanks to a kind reader of this blog, I’ve been able to watch that original broadcast. It’s TV from 1988 recorded on VHS and then digitized so the picture quality isn’t state of the art but the sound is surprisingly good. Continue reading →
Laurent Pelly’s 2013 production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Liceu is one of those productions that’s a bit hard to take in at first go. Part of it is the performing edition used (Michael Kay and Jean-Christophe Keck) which seems to have added a lot of dialogue compared to any version I’ve seen before and includes Hoffmann killing Giulietta in Act 3. This produces a constant sense of “where they heck are we in the piece”. It doesn’t help that the DVD package contains no explanatory material at all. There are no interviews on the disks and the documentation is sub-basic.