Muse 9 Production’s new show Bon Appétit: A Musical Tasting Menu couples three short operas about food and was, appropriately enough, presented at Merchants of Green Coffee on Matilda Street. Perhaps “opera” isn’t the right term as, although each piece was fully staged, they featured only one singer each. “Opera” or “staged song”? I don’t really care as they were fun.
They just keep coming in! There’s another new kid on the block in the admirable tradition of young Toronto artists creating performance opportunities. This one is called Muse 9 and it’s a collaboration between stage director Anna Theodosakis and collaborative pianist Hyejin Kwon. Both of them are very talented with a track record in the Toronto indie opera scene. Their first production, From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, is a theatrical art song performance featuring the music of Dominick Argento and Amy Beach paired with excerpts from Woolf’s novels, letters, and diaries. It is an artistic exploration into the life and mind of Virginia Woolf through the performances of mezzo soprano Victoria Marshall, actor Keshia Palm, and dancer Renee Killough. It’s playing at the Ernest Balmer Studio on April 13th at 8pm. That’s the opening night of the COC’s The Nightingale so I won’t be there but I would be if I could. Proceeds from the event will go to CAMH. Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com under From the Diary of Virginia Woolf. https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3351476
Today we said goodbye to Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon as members of the Ensemble Studio. They went out on a high note (indeed quite a few high notes….) with a very fine performance of Schubert’s epic cycle Die schöne Müllerin. Charles was in fine voice for the whole 65 minutes or so. He was delicate and floaty where he needed to be and fierce when warranted. It was lovely and text sensitive and proof, if anyone still needed it, of what a fine singer he has become in the last couple of years. Hyejin was equally accomplished. The limpid delicacy of the intro to Wohin was just gorgeous but she also summoned up real power and volume when needed. She was, as always, tremendous fun to watch. We writers tend to focus on the singer and not give due weight to the pianist’s contribution. Today we were reminded of how wrong that is.
I hope both of them stick around the Toronto scene and I look forward to seeing them in future endeavours. Thanks guys!
May continues to be a busy month. There are a couple of interesting concerts at noon in the RBA next week. On Wednesday 17th there is the unveiling of the annual Canadian Art Song project commission. This year it’s extremely ambitious. It’s a cycle of sixteen songs by Ana Sokolović setting texts drawn from right across Canada. It’s called dawn always begins in the bones and will be performed by Danika Lorèn, Emily D’Angelo, Bruno Roy and Aaron Sheppard with Liz Upchurch at the piano. (You can also hear this work in the Temerty Theatre at the Conservatory at 7.30pm on Thursday May 25th along with Andrew Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier and Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem). On Thursday 18th tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon bid farewell to the COC Ensemble Studio with a performance of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. It should be a real treat.
Not a relation of JS, CPE or PDQ but the venue for today’s lunchtime presentation of two JS Bach cantatas by mezzo Lauren Eberwein and organist Hyejin Kwon with violinists Liz Johnston and Rezan Onen-Lapointe, violist Keith Hamm, cellist Paul Widner, bassist Robert Speer and oboeist Mark Rogers. The two pieces were Ich habe genug, BWV 82 and Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust BWV 170; both works about the approach of death and the soul’s yearning for rest and salvation.
Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA featured three current members of the COC Ensemble Studio. First up was tenor Aaron Sheppard making his adieux with Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation; a setting of texts by Thomas Hardy. It’s an interesting cycle; quite spare with, despite its lack of density, an intricate piano part that reveals some interesting chromaticism. The vocal line calls for great delicacy and control with occasionally injections of power. We got all that in a very fine performance by Aaron, and by Stéphane Mayer at the piano. It was probably the best performance I’ve heard from Aaron. He’s always had a rather beautiful, but perhaps too delicate voice. Here the control, phrasing and emphasis was all there but so was some oomph when needed. His performance was very true to the texts which have that same quality that Houseman exudes; Merry England with Death just peeking in from around the corner when one least expects it. Good stuff.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured mezzo Lauren Eberwin, soprano Danika Lorèn and pianists Hyejin Kwon and Stéphane Meyer. Lauren and Hyejin were first up with Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben. I’ve rarely seen this sung by a singer so obviously “in” the story. There was a real sense of first person storytelling as well as rather good singing. I thought Lauren sounded surprisingly sopranoish in the first seven numbers but they are optimistic and happy and a bright coloured voice seems apt. She certainly darkened it nicely for the final grim song. Hyejin was a most sympathetic partner.
The Christina and Louis Quilico Awards are a singing competition for members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. This year’s edition took place early yesterday evening in the RBA. Only five members of the Ensemble Studio were competing. Megan Quick and Sam Pickett were not for reasons that I don’t think were announced and Aaron Sheppard was sick. So it was a pretty brief affair. The format as usual was that each contestant offered three arias and got to sing the one of their choice with the judges choosing which of the other two they should sing.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA was dedicated to the late Stuart Hamilton, founding director of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Current members, mezzo Emily D’Angelo and baritone Bruno Roy, each gave us two sets of French songs accompanied respectively by Hyejin Kwon and Stéphane Mayer. Ms. D’Angelo gave us Débussy’s Chansons de Bilitis and the curiously Débussy like Trois Mélodies by Messiaen. Both sets are quite meditative and impressionistic and Ms. D’Angelo’s very beautiful voice suited them well. There’s more there than beauty of tone. She’s showing some interesting, very mezzoish, colours in the voice now and there’s clearly plenty of power in reserve as she showed on a couple of occasions. It’s so easy to forget how young she is when a performance is this accomplished. Ms. Kwon was a sympathetic accompanist.
And so to the boys who gave us Poulenc’s La fraîcheur et le feu and Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. The Poulenc piece rather races along with the piano part, impressively played by Mayer, often much more interesting than the vocal line. Roy was at his best in the more hectic passages where his diction and command of French were at a premium. When the music became more expansive he didn’t quite seem able to expand with it; the voice lacking bloom in both upper and lower registers and with no real sense of some underlying power. This was more of a handicap in the Don Quichotte songs. Roy managed some decent physical and vocal acting, especially in the drinking song, but there just wasn’t enough heft to put in the swagger required in these pieces.
Prior to the performances, the COC’s Janet Stubbs made a short speech in memory of Stuart which managed, in a very brief span, to convey both the impact he had on the Canadian and wider opera scene and a sense of his more endearing eccentricities.
Tomorrow (Sunday) is a busy day. There’s a matinée of Götterdämmerung at the COC with a few tickets still available. UoT Opera is doing their annual student composer piece. This year it’s called Prima Zombie and it’s based on the premise that a cabal of disgruntled music critics, disenchanted with the current state of opera, unearth and electrify the corpse of the celebrated 19th century diva Nellie Melba. Mayhem ensues. This one is in the MacMillan Theatre at 2.30 pm and it’s free.