I finally got to see Rufus Wainwright’s new opera Hadrian, to a libretto by Daniel Macivor, at the Four Seasons Centre last night. There’s been a lot of hype around it and I was interested; the few bits of music from it that I had heard intrigued me but I’m no fan of his earlier work Prima Donna. One thing was certain. The piece does not lack ambition. There are four acts totalling something like 160 minutes. There’s a large cast, a large orchestra, a large chorus and an epic storyline. It’s clearly an attempt to produce a “grand opera” for our times. Does it succeed?
The 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”.
The last major concert of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival was a recital by Finnish soprano Karita Mattila and pianist Bryan Wagorn. Talk about ending on a high note. This was an exceptional performance by a mature artist at the height of her powers. In her mid-fifties, she is starting to transition to older roles. For example she will sing Kostelnička, rather than the title role, in her next Jenůfa. She has really acquired an ability to darken her voice which she used to great effect, especially in the set of Sallinen songs she sang after the interval but she hasn’t lost the vocal qualities that made her a star.
There may not be a lot of opera per se in Hogtown during the summer but there’s a fair amount of music of interest to the likes of us.
Toronto Summer Music Festival has some interesting offerings. The opening night concert, Americans in Paris, features Measha Brueggergosman in works by Gershwin, Bolcom and copland as well as instrumental pieces. And pretty much closing the festival out is a Karita Mattila recital with Bryan Wagorn on piano, on August 7th in a recital that includes works by Strauss, Sibelius and Sallinen. Details at www.torontosummermusic.com.
For those of you who won’t be glued to the underwater cycling at the Pan-Am games there is actually music on in Toronto over the summer. The tenth Toronto Summer Music Festival features a wide range of events in many genres. The ones likely to be of most interest to AR readers follow.
Robert Carsen’s producton of Janáček’s Kat’a Kabanová is typically simple and elegant. Recorded at the teatro Real in Madrid it features a flooded stage with a large number of wooden pieces, like palettes, that are rearranged to form the set. At the beginning of Act 1 the pieces form a pathway through the water simulating the banks of the Volga. Later they are rearranged int a square at centre stage to represent the claustrophobic Kabanov house. All this rearrangement is done by the ladies of the chorus who roll around in the water in white shifts. No breaks are needed between scenes, just the intermezzi the composer provided for the purpose. A mirror at the back of the stage reflecting the water and an elegant and effective lighting plot complete the staging.
There aren’t too many examples of the French version of Verdi’s Don Carlos on DVD. The one reviewed here is a 1996 Luc Bondy production from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. It’s billed as the original 1867 five act version but I think some of the 1883 cuts are made. There’s no useful documenation so I can’t be sure. It features a very strong cast. Robert Alagna sings the title role, Thomas Hampson is Posa, Karita Mattila (looking very young!) is Elisabeth de Valois, José van Dam is Philip, Eric Halfvarson sings the Grand Inquisitor and, rather unexpectedly, Waltraud Meier is Eboli. Anthony Pappano conducts the Orchestre de Paris.
The set designs (Gilles Aillaud) are slightly stylized but essentially literal, simple and easy on the eye. Costumes (Moidele Bickel) are a sort of historical eclectic. There are nods to the 16th century but the women’s gowns could be any period or none, the Flemish deputies wear the sort of collar the vet puts on your pet after surgery and Alagna looks like he’s stepped out of Pirates of the Caribbean. That sounds negative but it’s actually just undistracting. There’s no high concept here so the whole thing turns on the Personenregie and, of course, the music. Bondy gets pretty impressive performances out of his players, creates some interesting stage pictures in the crowd scenes and doesn’t over egg the auto da fe. It’s not fancy but it works.
Musically this is a really good performance. All of the singers (except Halfvarson) tend to the light but beautiful end of the spectrum for their voice type and it all makes for an experience that seems especially apt for the french text. The revelation for me was Mattila. I’ve seen her only in heavier roles and I really had no idea she could sing so beautifully too. She is especially ravishing in the final scene where “Toi qui sus le néant” brought the house down. The chemistry between Hampson and Alagna is excellent and their voices blend well. Halfvarson is a stentorian and truly creepy Inquisitor. Meier seems a bit mannered at times but she pulls off the big moments fairly spectacularly. Pappano gets lovely playing from the orchestra but the voices are balanced quite a long way forward so we don’t get the full effect. All in all, it’s pretty compelling to watch.
Yves André Hubert is the video director. He does a good job. There isn’t a lot going on on stage other than the interaction between the principals most of the time so close ups there are fine and he does pull back when there’s something to pull back for. Picture quality (16:9) anamorphic is OK but not HD by any means. There are two sound options. I started with the Dolby 5.1 which I found lacks clarity and depth. The Dolby 2.0 alternative, while not of the highest quality, is much better. The whole 210 minutes with two soundtracks is crammed into 7.4 GB on a single DVD9 so top quality is hardly to be expected. There are English, French, Spanish and Japanese subtitles and documentation is minimal. Extras are limited to a cast list and synopsis.