Last night Thomas Hampson, his son in law Luca Pisaroni and pianist Vlad Intifca appeared at Koerner Hall. It was a curious program. The first half was made up of opera arias and excerpts. There was a sequence of Conte/Figaro and Leporello/Don G numbers. They were, of course, very well sung. Both singers are noted exponents of these roles but I really didn’t see the point. They were pieces I’m sure pretty much every audience member has seen with orchestra, on stage, multiple times. With piano accompaniment it all seemed a bit pointless. There followed two longish scenes; the Riccardo/Giorgio confrontation from I Puritani and the scene from Don Carlo where Posa pleads with the king for a change in policy in the Netherlands. These worked better; perhaps because they are less familiar but more likely the fact that each featured Pisaroni in a genuine bass role. This allowed for more variation of timbre and colour than the Mozart pieces.
I went into last night’s Glenn Gould School performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Koerner Hall with all kinds of questions buzzing around in my head; partly because of an earlier conversation with director Joel Ivany and partly, well, Magic Flute – that most enigmatic of operas. If only one could go back (more than forty years) to seeing it for the first time!
I sat down a couple of days ago with Joel Ivany to discuss his upcoming production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Conservatory. Here are some of the things we talked about.
What’s Die Zauberflöte “about”?
This opera has had whole books written about it but no-one seems to agree on what’s at the core of it. Is it a simple fairy tale? Is it an allegory of Reason versus The Church? Is it a Coming of Age story? Unsurprisingly we didn’t come to firm conclusions here but it’s clear that Joel wants to particularly explore some of the aspects of gender raised by the piece; especially the apparent misogyny of the piece. There’s potentially more to Pamina than being the bait to trap Tamino or, alternatively, his completion. What is her roles in the Trials? What happens to either of them if they fail? If Tamino needs to be “completed” what are we to make of the unpartnered Sarastro? But, if Pamina has strength what kind of agency does she have? The other female character are equally problematic. How does one humanize the Queen of the Night? Who, or what, is Papagena? Neither of us think there are easy answers here and I’m looking forward to seeing how Joel’s take pans out. What we could agree on is that even if the simple equation of male = good/rational and female = irrational/disposable worked in 1791 (if, indeed, it did), it won’t work in 2019.
There are a few interesting items in the initial announcement of the RCM’s 2019/20 season:
The Amici Chamber Ensemble with Russell Braun and the Elmer Iseler Singers offer a celebration of the 150th birthday of Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet. That’s on October 25th 2019.
Karina Gauvin and the Paciifica Baroque Orchestra have a programme called Russian White Nights: Opera arias from 18th century St. Petersburg. That’s on November 1st 2019.
Phillipe Sly and Le Chimera Project are presenting a staged version of Schubert’s Winterreise with chamber ensemble. That’s on January 17th 2020.
Perhaps the biggest deal of all is Peter Sellars directing the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a staged performance of Orlando di Lasso’s final work, Lagrime di San Pietro; 27 madrigals sung a cappella in seven parts by 21 singers. That’s on February 1st and 2nd 2020.
And after all the fancy stuff there is a classic Liederabend with Matthias Goerne and Jan Lisiecki in an all Beethoven programme on April 24th 2020.
The 2018 Ashkenaz Festival opened last night at Koerner Hall with a concert titled Yiddish Glory. The background can be found in my preview post about it. So last night four vocalists and an assortment of instrumentalists performed nineteen numbers from the collection. They date from 1942; when the outcome of the Great Patriotic war was far from certain, to 1947; when it was already won. The bulk date from 1944/5; when the outcome was clear though maybe not the costs still to be borne.
OK so it’s a bit off the Operaramblings beaten path but there’s a concert coming up at Koerner Hall on August 28th that intrigues me. It’s called Yiddish Glory and it resurrects anti-fascist music that documents Nazi atrocities and Jewish resistance/partisan activities in the Soviet Union after the German invasion of 1941. They were collected by a team of Jewish Soviet ethnomusicologists led by Moisei Beregovsky during the war, but shortly afterwards, during Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge, the members were arrested, their work confiscated, and they died thinking the music was lost to history. In the early 2000s, a lucky coincidence brought University of Toronto Professor Anna Shternshis to Kiev, where she learned that the music had actually survived in the intervening decades following the researchers’ arrests, and in the years since, has led the research project to restore these songs. There’s also a CD. I’ve listened to a few tracks. The music is clearly Jewish and very much of the time. It’s redolent of horror and resistance and ultimately, hope. I find it deeply moving.
Most music lovers have probably heard the music from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat in either orchestral or chamber arrangement but it’s rare for the work to be given in its full staged form but that’s how it was presented (more or less) last night at Koerner Hall by the Toronto Summer Music Festival in association with LooseTEA Music Theatre. That form includes a narrator, an actor (originally three actors, nowadays usually just a single actor/narrator) and dancer. Plus, of course, the band; violin and bass, clarinet and bassoon, cornet and trombone, piano.