Creepy Wozzeck

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck seems to attract just about every possible treatment from directors other than a straightforwardly literal one.  Krzysof Warlikowski’s approach, seen at Dutch National Opera in 2017, is to go back to the original story on which the Büchner play, in its turn the source for the opera, is based.  Wrapped around that are several interesting ideas which I can’t fully unpack but which make for a rather creepy but compelling production.  Alas, the disk package has nothing to say about the production so, interpretively, one is on one’s own.

1.dancers

Continue reading

As promised, thoughts on art song recitals

gerhaherhuberThe imminent death of the art song recital is perhaps an even more prevalent trope than “opera is dying” doomandgloomery.  It reached something of a crescendo in Toronto when the Aldeburgh Connection shut up shop after thirty years.  Oddly enough there still seem to be plenty of recitals of various kinds but unquestionably there has been something of a shift away from “two dudes in tails with a piano”.

Continue reading

Best of 2014

Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year.  It was a pretty good year overall.  On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs.  The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC.  It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant.  Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts.  Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl.  Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production.  I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.

Hercules2a Continue reading

From Severn to Somme

maltmanLast night at Walter Hall, as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival,  Chris Maltman and Graham Johnson gave a recital that explored the experience of war through song.  It was a long and varied programme with twenty two songs in four languages commemorating most of the great empires that went to war in 1914 though many of the songs were from earlier periods.  At the core of the programme were early 20th century settings of English pastoral poems.  Butterworth’s settings of Houseman were there but, sneakily, we got Somervell’s much less well known setting of Think no more lad.  In a similar vein there were Gurney and Finzi.  The Americas were represented in a characteristically rambunctious Ives setting of a horribly jingoistic McCrae poem; He is there. McCrae may be the only well known war poet who managed to survive until 1918 without developing any sense of irony.  Beyond the English speaking world there were songs by Mussorgsky, Mahler, Fauré, Schumann, Wolf and Poulenc.

Continue reading

How can peace come from so much pain?

Making a film of an opera rather than filming an opera involves interesting choices and one of the strengths of the DVD of Penny Woolcock’s film of John Adams’ and Alice Goodman’s The Death of Klinghoffer is that includes 47 minutes of Woolcock, Adams and others discussing just how one takes a rather abstractly staged opera (the original staging was, inevitably, by Peter Sellars) and turn it into an essentially naturalistic film.  Of course, naturalism will only go so far with opera but this goes a long way in that direction.  The soloists are filmed mainly on location and they sing to the camera.  The choruses, mainly backed by documentary footage, and the orchestra were recorded in the studio but the actors sing ‘live’.  The one concession to “being operatic” is having a mezzo voice one of the Palestinians though he is played by a male actor.

1.palestine Continue reading

Toronto Summer Music Festival

Toronto Summer Music will run from July 22 to August 12. There’s a wide variety of programming but the highlights for opera and song fans are as follows:

Sondra Radvanovsky is in concert on Thursday, July 31 at 7:30 p.m. at Koerner Hall. The programme is “favourite Italian opera arias”.. Whether it’s orchestral or piano accompaniment I don’t know.

Christopher Maltman accompanied by Graham Johnson will be at Walter Hall on Wednesday, August 6 at 7:30 p.m.with a programme titled The Soldier:  From Severn to Somme which will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War. It will include songs by Mahler, Mussorgsky, Butterworth, Ives, Finzi and Poulenc.

On Thursday, August 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Walter Hall, Peter McGillivray and pianist David Louie will join TSO principals Jonathan Crow and Etsuko Kimura (violin), Eric Nowlin (viola), David Hetherington (cello) and Yao Guang Zhai (clarinet) to perform a Viennese programme featuring Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer and Waltzes by Strauss, all in arrangements by Schoenberg and Berg.

The annual TSM Academy Art of Song Recitals will take place on Friday, August 8th (my birthday, send cake) at 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. at Walter Hall. These are the showcase recitals for the 12 young singers who were awarded TSM Academy scholarships and who will have prepared with French baritone François Le Roux and pianist Graham Johnson. Naturally, no programming has yet been announced.

Festival, Weekly and Flex passes ($202 -$592) are on sale as of April 3, 2014. Individual concert tickets ($20 to $99) will be on sale as of April 17, 2014. To purchase festival passes and single tickets visit www.torontosummermusic.com , call 416-408-0208 or visit the Weston Family Box Office at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The Rape of Lucretia

Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, which premiered at Glyndebourne in 1946, is an interesting work in a number of ways.  Musically it marks a distinct break from Peter Grimes and anticipates the later operas in a number of significant ways.  It’s written for much lighter forces than Grimes; string quintet, wind quintet plus harp, percussion and piano and there’s no chorus (in the conventional sense).  It’s also not a “numbers” piece.  There are no set pieces here.  The orchestral writing is spare and somewhat dissonant with that absolute clarity that is so characteristic of Britten.  Sometimes this almost distracts from the drama on stage.

1.chorus Continue reading