To Heliconian Hall last night for a short concert of songs by Danika Lorèn. It was thoroughly enjoyable. The songs were split up into sets of one or two and sung/accompanied by UoT grad students. The standard of performance was pretty decent but it was very noticeable that when Danika and Stéphane Mayer inserted themselves into the proceedings everything got turned up a couple of notches. As Danika said to me “not a student anymore” while hinting at a significant numerological event.
February always seems to be a busy month and the first half is shaping up that way. Things kick off on the 1st with the Sellars staging of di Lassus’ Lagrime di San Pietro at Koerner. On the 3rd Danika Lorèn is curating a concert at Heliconian for UoT Music. It’s called A Few Figs from Thistles, it’s at 7.30pm and it’s free. We are promised new songs by Danika based on poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Tekahionwake (E. Pauline Johnson) and Lorna Crozier.
Back to the Tranzac last night for the first Toronto performance of Against the Grain’s national tour of the Joel Ivany transladaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème which started it all back in 2011. The Tranzac has changed a lot and so, of course, has Against the Grain. The room is way smarter, they brought in a proper piano to replace the one that Topher plonked the first performance out on (and which memorably accompanied Jonathan MacArthur’s rather startling Hitler a few years later). And not in any way to knock that first cast it’s a sign of AtG’s rising stature that this time they are fielding a cast that would not be out of place in most regional houses in Canada.
Collectìf’s latest show for the Toronto Summer Music Festival at Walter Hall last night was called Beyond Perception: What Haunts Us Now. It presented three new multimedia works each curated and directed by one of the trio of singers. The first piece, by Whitney O’Hearne featured arrangements of French works; both folk and classical that deal with the idea of La Dame Blanche; by turns sorceress or virgin bride. Turning the idea of male defined female transgression upside down to celebrate women’s agency, O’Hearn combined arrangements of the chosen music for combinations of three voices and piano with soft focus atmospheric video rather reminiscent of Collectìf’s Winterreise show at Heliconian Hall. The singing was beautiful and the concept intriguing. Top notch accompaniment by Trevor Chartrand.
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.
Stéphane Mayer’s Les Adieux recital yesterday in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre was definitely out of the ordinary. Rather than a concert or recital format we got a fully staged and costumed version of two Oscar Wilde related works. First up was Saint Saëns’ version of The Nightingale and the Rose with Matt Pilipiak reading the story, Danika Lorèn as the Nightingale and Stéphane at the piano. It was well done and a reminder of what a truly lovely voice Danika has.
Liz Upchurch has now been head of the COC Ensemble Studio for twenty years. To put that in perspective, Alain Coulombe was an Ensemble Studio member back then. So Liz has deeply influenced a whole generation of Canadian singers and it was fitting that there should be a concert in her honour in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s named for the man who brought her to the COC and it’s been the venue for countless concerts by the Mama Bear’s cubs.
Sirènes is an album of pieces by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović. The first pice, which gives the album its title, is written for six unaccompanied female voices. It’s performed here by the vocal ensemble of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre conducted by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. The six ladies in question are Danika Lorèn, Shannon Mercer, Magali Simard-Galdès, Caitlin Wood, Andrea Ludwig, and Krisztina Szabó. It’s an interesting piece and very Sokolović. The text is bent and twisted into sound fragments which are “sung” using an array of extended vocal techniques. The overall effect is of a shimmering, fluttery and quite absorbing sound world.
So it looks like January is finally over and that means we can look ahead to next month. Things are definitely winding down. There’s the last Opera Pub of the season on the 3rd at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The Vancouver Symphony is appearing with Bramwell Tovey at Roy Thomson Hall on the 26th with the highlight being Marion Newman singing Ancestral Voices; a piece Tovey wrote for her. Also that evening the Canadian Children’s Opera opens a two performance run of Alice Ping Yee Ho’s new piece The Monkiest King. That’s at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
The COC’s revival of Robert Lepage’s 2009 production of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, revived by Marilyn Gronsdal, is a delightful mix of witty and clever stagecraft coupled with some fine music making. It’s very much a work of two contrasting halves. The first is a carefully constructed program of shorter Stravinsky vocal and instrumental works; all from the period 1911-1919 and all with a sound world reminiscent of The Firebird or Petrouchka rather than The Rite of Spring or the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto. The full line up was:
- Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet No.1
- Berceuses du chat
- Two Poems of Konstantin Balmont
- Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet No.2
- Four Russian Peasant Songs
- Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet No.3
- The Fox