In 2017 Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists, the Monteverdi Choir and a rather distinguished group of specialist baroque singers toured semi-staged versions of the three main Monteverdi operas, which were also recorded for video. Being a bit skeptical about the idea of videoing semi-staged performances I decided to take a look at L’incoronazione di Poppea (because it’s my favourite of the three) before committing to the trio. Bottom line, despite some stylish singing, good acting and excellent playing I can’t really see the point. There are good fully staged versions of all three operas available on video and, for me, especially watching at home, it’s hard for a semi-staged version to fully engage my attention.
There’s an interesting new project on Youtube from Natalya Gennadi and Catherine Carew. It’s called HBD! Project and the idea is to produce a short themed video each month featuring composers whose birthdays fall in that month. The February pilot is online and it’s a bit different from other “shows” in similar vein that I’ve come across. This one features a song by Alban Berg sung by Natalya with a fluffy puppy, music for cello and piano by Jean Coulthard played by Alice Kim and Hye Won Cecilia Lee and Rodney Sharman’s Tobacco Road sung by Catherine. So what’s new you ask (apart from the puppy)? It’s the graphics with Mozart in a party hat, animated Emily Carr paintings and a look for the Sharman that could double as the witches’ scene in Macbeth. Yes it’s a bit weird but oddly compelling.
The main purpose of yesterday’s RBA concert was to showcase the prodigious talents of the five members of the COC’s Orchestra Academy; Isabel Lago and Ah Young Kim (violins), John Sellick (viola), Mansur Kadirov (cello) and Peter Eratostene (bass). The first half of the programme was the Allegro from Dvorák’s String Quintet No. 2 in G Major. This was very nicely done and served as a satisfying prelude to the main event.
The second set of reGENERATION concerts of the Topronto Summer Music Festival took place yesterday at Walter Hall. The song portion, unusually, consisted of 100% English language rep, mirroring the Griffey/Jones recital earlier in the wee. The first concert kicked off with tenor Eric Laine and pianist Scott Downing with five songs from Finzi’s setting of Thomas Hardy; A Young Man’s Exhortation. It was good. Laine has a nice sense of style and very good diction. The high notes are there though sometimes, especially at the end of a line, they don’t sound 100% secure. There was some quite delicate accompaniment from Downing too.
There were three reGENERATION concerts in Walter Hall yesterday at 1pm, 4pm and 7.30pm. It made for a long but interesting day. As last year, each concert was a mix of vocal and chamber music. The vocal program was not announced in advance so I’m working from notes and there could be the odd error. Pleasingly, there were surtitles for the songs. This is a huge improvement on a sheet of tiny print to be read in the dark! Continue reading →
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.