Saturday evening’s Cinq à Sept concert in the 21C Festival at the Royal Conservatory was intriguing. The first half of the programme was a new song cycle, After the Fires, with words by Liza Balkan and music by Lembit Beecher. It set seven pieces about the 2020 fires on the central California coast and their aftermath based on interviews with local residents. It’s a really interesting piece scored for piano, clarinet, soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone. It’s very “text first”. Although the accompaniment is often intricate it never overpowers the words and there’s a real harmony between words and music. The mood varies but, given it’s about really awful events, it’s more elegiac and lyrical and even funny than angry or sad. It got a fine, nuanced performance from Henry From (piano), Zachary Gassenheimer (clarinet), Xin Wang (soprano), Andrea Ludwig (mezzo-soprano) and Korin Thomas-Smith (baritone). Continue reading
It was March 2017 and I was interviewing composer Brian Current over lunch. He mentioned having seen Geoff Sirett bouldering on the wall of the Royal Conservatory atrium and how he had an idea for a site specific opera based on the life of Glenn Gould. Eventually this became Gould’s Wall with a libretto by Liza Balkan. Announced and rescheduled more than once due to COVID it premiered last night under the auspices of Tapestry Opera and the conservatory’s 21C series.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA consisted of four pieces for voice, tuned percussion and assorted other instruments by percussionist and composer Bob Becker. Apparently the tonal palette for all four was taken from the North Indian rag; Rag Chandrakosh. This is the sort of information I wouldn’t even be able to process without the help of the Wunderlemur.
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.
Humans seem to have a deep need to classify things. Why else would one try to summarise the totality of human failings into a sevenfold taxonomy but Pope Gregory’s list of “Deadly Sins” seems to have the enduring ability to inspire artistic endeavour. Weill’s ballet chanté and Anthony Powell’s description of a louche evening at Stourwater (The Kindly Ones) being but two of the most memorable.
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.
Opera 5 opened a run of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at the Factory Theatre last night. It’s arguably the most conventional thing Opera 5 have done. It’s a (very) mainstream piece. There was no accompanying themed food or drink (a glass of Rotsina?). There was no audience participation. There weren’t even Aria Umezawa’s characteristically minimalist touches. What there was a carefully constructed Barber for reduced forces directed by new Artistic Director Jessica Derventzis and conducted by Evan Mitchell.
New comic operas are rare. New comic operas that are actually funny are vanishingly rare. The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring is such a beast. It’s a new piece with music by James Rolfe and a libretto by Morris Panych derived from his twenty year old stage adaptation of Gogol’s short story. Originally commissioned by Tapestry Opera, the Toronto staging was under the joint auspices of that company and Canadian Stage with the work also to be staged by co-producer Vancouver Opera as part of their summer festival.
Casting has now been announced for The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring; an opera by Morris Panych and James Rolfe based on Gogol’s short story by way of Panych’s 1990s theatrical version. The opera is a co-production of Vancouver Opera, Tapestry Opera and Canadian Stage and will premiere in Toronto’s Bluma Appel Theatre (March 29th to April 14th) before heading to the Vancouver Playhouse (April 28th to May 12th).
The decision by Toronto Masque Theatre to pair Purcell’s miniature opera, Dido and Aeneas, with James Rolfe and André Alexis’ piece on the lovers’ inner thoughts, Aeneas and Dido, paid off last night. It produced an evening of just the right length with two contrasting but complementary pieces working really well together.