Ian Cusson, soon to be composer in residence at the COC, is one of Canada’s most interesting composing talents. Yesterday we got to see both sides of his heritage; Métis and French-Canadian, displayed in a lunchtime concert in the RBA. The first piece up was Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dupont. I had heard some of these in a version for piano and voice before but this was the first time I had heard the whole piece in an arrangement for voice and piano quintet. Marion Newman was again the singer with the composer on piano and Amy Spurr, Sarah Wiebe, Emily Hiemstra and Alice Kim on strings. I really like this piece. I find Dumont’s spiky, bitterly ironic poems very thought provoking and moving (though clearly not designed to be sung). Cusson’s accompaniment is fascinating. My overall impression is that he doesn’t write notes that don’t need to be there. If the instrumental playing is sometimes dense, at others it’s sparse to non-existent. He’s especially restrained with the piano. There’s a lovely passage at the beginning of “Helen Betty Osborne” where the low strings create an atmosphere before the violins and then the voice come in. The vocal line is singable, just, which is in itself skilful given how difficult to set the words are. The performances were terrific by all concerned. Look at the words for yourself. At the end of this post I’ve reproduced the words of the first poem; “Letter to Sir John A. MacDonald”.
So, by a perhaps odd coincidence, various singers from Kathy Domoney’s stable are involved in productions of Rossini’s Le comte Ory at assorted Canadian houses in the near future; either as principals or understudies, so why not pull together some sort of performance of the work? That happened last night at Trinity St. Paul’s in a “narrated production” by François Racine. I had some ida what to expect as I had talked to François earlier in the week.
Mercadante’s I due Figaro(1) is one of a number of operas that continue the story of Figaro, Almaviva etc into a third instalment. It sets a libretto by Felice Romani based on Les deux Figaro by Honoré-Antoine Richaud Martelly. It premiered in Madrid in 1835 but was lost for many years before being rediscovered in 2009 and given at the 2011 Ravenna Festival. Yesterday in got its Canadian premier at VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert.
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.
Last night ten singers who had taken part in an intensive class/coaching with Sondra Radvanovsky showed us what they could do. The program was organised and presented by the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists at the Alliance Française. It says quite a lot about the current state of supply and demand in the opera world that nine of the ten singers were female and seven were sopranos. We were given one aria per singer and a lot, inevitably I suppose, of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini with one aria apiece for Verdi and Puccini.
Last night was the one of only two chances to see Bicycle Opera Project in Toronto this year. (The other is tonight). It was a show in collaboration with Toy Piano Composers’ Collective called Travelogue and featuring four new works around the broad them of travel. The show was run without an interval but with each composer introducing their own work by reading, e.g., post cards from their travels or, hilariously, in the case of the absent Tobin Stokes, recordings of the voicemails he left apologising for not having finished the piece yet. Staging was, in the BOP way, minimalist but effective.
It’s getting a bit busier again. This afternoon there are a couple of concerts. At 2pm in Mazzoleni Hall you can catch Mireille Asselin and Brett Polegato with Peter Tiefenbach and Rachel Andrist in a painting themed program of lieder, artsongs and chansons called Le travail du peintre. At 4.30pm at Metropolitan United Church Bach’s Mass in B Minor meets German film maker Bastian Clevé’s film The Sound of Eternity. The soloists are Marjorie Maltais, Geoff Sirett, Jennifer Krabbe and Charles Sy plus the Orpheus Choir, Chorus Niagara and the Talisker Players. I suppose it would just about be possible to do both…
As previously revealed the line up for last night’s Centre Stage; the COC’s gala competition cum Ensemble Studio final audition featured four mezzos, two sopranos and two baritones. Not a tenor to be had. As was the case two years ago the competition was split into two parts; a late afternoon session for an invited audience and an early evening public session separated by a cocktail reception. Each singer presented one aria in each session. Accompaniment was provided by the COC Orchestra with music director Johannes Debus.
So we now know who will be singing at Centre Stage, the COC’s gala competition for aspiring young singers with both cash prizes and places in the Ensemble Studio up for grabs. There are, I think, only two that I’m at all familiar with; soprano Eliza Johnson who was a finalist last year and baritone Zachary Read who was a rather good Sid in UoT Opera’s Albert Herring a couple of years ago. The other six are mezzo-sopranos Emily D’Angelo, Lauren Eberwein, Marjorie Maltais and Pascale Spinney, soprano Samantha Pickett and baritone Bruno Roy. Wow! Four mezzos so the mezzo mafia will likely be ecstatic. No tenors but with four already in the Ensemble Studio that’s probably a good thing. Centre Stage is on November 3rd at 5.30pm at the Four Seasons Centre with a cocktails (well wine mostly) and rather good snacks before the competition itself. Tickets are $100 from the COC box office or coc.ca.