Crowded, dirty, dangerous

The Ward Cabaret, which opened at Harbourfront last night, is an exuberant celebration of the Ward; a Toronto neighbourhood that once covered the area bounded by Queen and College and Yonge and University.  From the mid 1800s until well into the 20th century it was far from the highly respectable quartier it’s become.  It was the first landing place for immigrants; Irish, Jews, Chinese, fugitive slaves, Italians.  A neighbourhood of low rent housing, cheap restaurants, the factories that fed Mr. Eaton’s catalogue and a bunch of rather more dubious businesses.  The City Fathers hated it but it had a life of its own that David Buchbinder (he of Yiddish Glory) and his team have turned into a spectacular evening of theatre/cabaret.

The Ward-Cabaret-04682 photo by Ed Hanley

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Schubert to Mercury to Beethoven

The main stage concert for TSM at Koerner Hall last night was given by the Art of Time Ensemble with vocalists John Southworth and Sarah Slean.  It’s my first encounter with Art of Time have been around for about ten years and specialise in cross genre collaborations inspired by their founder, pianist Andrew Burashko.

TSM July 25-Dale Butterill

Last night was classical meets singer songwriter.  There was an introductory piece by Christos Hatzis, some Schubert, plenty of Gershwin and lashings of Leonard Cohen plus much more (there was no set list and I didn’t take notes).  It’s rather out of my usual zone but I enjoyed.  Southworth is a really quirky vocalist, exemplified by a rather weird version of The Old Folks at Home; which needed to be weird!  Slean is quite a performer; good voice, very funny, great mover.  The ensemble was terrific across the board.  I’m sold.  There are lots of reasons to stretch the boundaries of classical performance.  Larry Beckwith does it very well with his Confluence series.  Here’s another example.

TSM July 25-Photo Dale Butterill

The late show, also at Koerner, featured Jonathan Crow, Katya Poplyansky, Minkyoung Lee and Allison Rich in a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in B-flat Major Op. 130 but with a twist.  They played the full original version in which the Grosse Fuge Op. 133 forms the finale.  So, basically, an hour long string quartet!  It was very well done though I confess late Beethoven at 10.30 pm was straining the grey matter.

Photo credit: Dale Butteril

reGENERATION week 2

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.

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reGENERATION week 1

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

Norcop Prize recital

Walter Hall at lunchtime today saw the annual recital for the winners of the Norcop Prize in song and the Williams Koldofsky Prize in Accompanying.  The winners this year were baritone Korin Thomas-Smith and pianist Joy Lee.  It was a very well constructed recital.  It was all English language and consisted of three sets of highly contrasted moods.

norcoprecital

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The aria finals

And so the final act.  First on stage was Emily D’Angelo; the only lady left in the competition.  It was an accomplished and varied set.  She started with a characterful and technically proficient Una voce poco fa followed by an appropriately lyrical Must the winter come so soon?  Coeur sans amour from the Massenet Cendrillon showed off excellent French before a suitably dramatic rendering of the Komponist’s aria from Ariadne.  Pretty much all the mezzo bases covered there and covered very well.

GrandFinale-2

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The aria competition heats up

So I guess I wasn’t that impressed with the first session in the aria competition; too much loud, technically correct, but dull singing.  Things were much better in the evening though.  First up was Russian mezzo Alexandra Yangel.  She was very personable and fun to watch but a bit wayward vocally.  Nobles seigneurs, Salut! from Les Huguenots was dramatic and lyrical in places but her upper register gets quite squally.  This was even more noticeable in the aria from La Cenerentola that followed.  I liked the passion and the vocal acting ability in her Smanie, implacabili though.

QuarterFinalsAria(III)-2

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Artsong ReGENERATION 2

Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival.  In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming.  There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital.  Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well.  They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless.  Three of the four sopranos on show tried.  None of them succeeded completely(*).  So it goes.  And so to the details.

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Artsong ReGENERATION 1

Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists.  The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox.  On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists.  Eight singers and four pianists were on show.  The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers.  The pianists were all new to me.

Art Song reGENERATION July 15

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