No, not Flanders and Swann but rather a well constructed new recording from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It contains music by four composers exemplifying that lush territory that lies emotionally, if not always temporally, between Wagner and the Second Vienna School. The two central works were both inspired by Richard Dehmel’s Verklärte Nacht. The first is a 1901 setting of the text for mezzo, tenor and orchestra by Oskar Fried. It’s lushly scored and rather beautiful. The sound world is not dissimilar to Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. Gardner gets a lovely sound from his players and some really gorgeous singing from Christine Rice and Stuart Skelton. The second Verklärte Nacht is the more familiar Schoenberg piece for string orchestra. It’s curious how without voices and with only strings it manages to sound almost as lush as the Fried.
I’m never quite sure what I really think about an operetta like Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns. I quite like the music, even if it can be a bit cheesey but I’m put off by the casual cultural appropriation (though it’s not nearly as bad as Puccini!). I’m not sure what the best directorial approach is either. Does one play it for froth? Does one try and mine some deeper meaning? Interestingly Andreas Homoki’s approach for his Zürich production filmed in 2017 is to play it straight and let whatever is there appear or not. It works rather well. It;s a typically lavish Zürich production with lots of colour and movement and he creates some spectacular visual effects. But he also allows for a sinister element to appear in the Chinese scenes. It may be over-interpreting but I think one can see shades of proto-Fascism here. It’s reinforced by the score that really has some rather sinister elements that I hadn’t noticed before. I think there’s even a nod to Siegfried’s Funeral March. All in all, quite interesting without being wildly unconventional.
Toronto Operetta Theatre have released preliminary information on their 2018/19 season. There are three main stage productions at the Jane Mallett Theatre. First up is Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss which runs December 28th, 2018 to January 2nd, 2019. There’s been no shortage of Fledermice in Toronto in recent years with Christopher Alden, Aria Umezawa and Joel Ivany all contributing quite individual productions. I imagine Guillermo Silva-Marin’s treatment will likely be designed to appeal more to the traditionalists!
Today’s noon recitalists in the RBA were Andrew Haji and Liz Upchurch. We had been promised Britten’s Serenade but an absence of non-knackered horn players due to the COC’s Götterdämmerung run scuppered that and instead we got a very varied program of songs and arias on the theme of love and its travails. Four Brahms songs kicked things off and produced some very fine lieder singing. Beautiful throughout with fine phrasing, characterisation and diction there was more. The final “wonnewoll” of Wie bist du, meine Königin was a thing of floaty beauty and there was a real sense of ecstasy in Mein Liebe ist grün.
It’s that time of year which marks the passing of the baton at the COC Ensemble Studio which is traditionally marked by a lunchtime farewell concert by some of the graduates. Today’s Les Adieux featured soprano Sasha Djihanian, baritone Cameron McPhail and pianist Michael Shannon.
Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns must have seemed old fashioned even when it opened in 1929 in a Berlin that had already seen Wozzeck and Die Dreigroschenoper. With its waltzes and gentle chinoiserie it looks back rather than forward musically and makes few demands on its listeners. Similarly, the plot; a bittersweet romance between an Austrian aristocrat and a Chinese prince had nothing in it to disturb contemporaries though modern audiences might find the cultural appropriation a bit hard to take. However, if Turandot doesn’t bother you this likely won’t either.