To quote a quite different opera, “it is a curious story”. In 1967 a production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, heavily influenced by Herbert von Karajan  who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for the performances, opened the very first Osterfestspiele Salzburg. 50 years later it was “remounted” with Vera and Sonja Nemirova directing. I use inverted commas because it’s actually not entirely clear how much was old and how much new. It might be more accurate to describe it as a homage to the earlier version. In any event, it was recorded, in 4K Ultra HD, no less and released as one of the very first opera discs in that format.
Off I went to the Four Seasons Centre to see Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer perform some Schubert. Sadly Sam was indisposed so what we got was a hastily, but very well, constructed program featuring some of the other singers in the Ensemble Studio.
Things kicked off with the increasingly impressive Anne-Sophie Neher in an accomplished rendering of Mozart’s “show off” piece Exsultate jubilate, in which she showed very decent control in the rather fiendish runs. She was back later with “The Presentation of the Rose” from Der Rosenkavalier which sounded suitably Straussian and sufficiently girlish at the same time. Nicely done. She made a third appearance with one of Adèles’s arias from Le comte Ory. This didn’t quite do it for me but it was fun to hear Stéphane playing around with the very Rossiniesque accompaniment.
No big surprises in the announcement of new members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It’s the three prize winners from last year’s Centre Stage; tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian and mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote. Also joining is pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway. Cairns and Groote are UoT grads and are well known to many Toronto opera goers through their appearances in UoT productions and elsewhere. Gabrielian is a Toronto native but studied at the Curtis so is not so well known. It will be interesting to get to know him.
New COC Ensemble Studio members (l – r): tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian, mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote, pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway
Here are a few more February items of interest in addition to those mentioned here. Tapestry’s new piece Hook Up opens on January 30th at Theatre Passe Muraille and runs for most of February. Then on Sunday 3rd February at 2.30 pm VOICEBOX have a performance of Schubert’s rather rare opera Fierrebras. Kevin Mallon conducts the Aradia Ensemble for this one. Also there’s Opera Pub as usual on Thursday 7th February.
On February 16th at Gallery 345 at 8pm there will be an Against the Grain presentation of Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine. The “twist” here is that Elle becomes Lui and will be sung by tenor Jacques Arsenault. Topher Mokrzewski at the piano. Aria Umezawa directs the first in what is planned as a series of “twisted” concerts.
In free concert news there’s the Quilico Prize competition on February 11th at 5.30pm in the RBA. Once again the members of theEnsemble Studio compete for cash. At the nnon hour there’s Susan Bullock and Liz Upchurch on the 19th with a programme of Wagner, Strauss and Duparc and on the 20th there’s Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer with an all Schubert programme. Then on the 21st there’s Lauren Eberwein and Rachel Kerr with a Messiaen and Ravel show. Given that it’s the Jessye Norman Gala on the 20th as well I think I’ll just schlep my sleeping bag over to the Four Seasons Centre.
Also at the COC of course Elektra continues until February 22nd with Così fan tutte opening on February 5th and running until the 23rd.
My first chance to take a look at this year’s UoT Opera Program came up on Sunday night in a concert staged jointly with the UoT Symphony and the MacMillan Singers. It was a series of opera orchestral pieces and ensembles kicking off with the overture from Die Zauberflöte, where the orchestra was Klemperer sized but the tempo distinctly quicker. The evening proceeded via more Zauberflöte, Don Pasquale, Cavelleria Rusticana, Die Meistersinger and Carmen to the party scene in La Traviata.
The full Ensemble Studio was on display yesterday for an all Russian lunchtime concert. First up was Megan Quick with a couple of Rachmaninov songs. Megan’s timbre is very dark and it seems to be a natural fit for those Russian vowels. She was followed by Bruno Roy with a couple of Tchaikovsky numbers. He’s come on a lot in his time in the Studio. There’s some heft to the voice now and some quite impressive top notes. Good stuff.
Today’s lunchtime recital in the RBA was really quite exceptional. Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer offered up a really well chosen program and executed it extremely well. Grieg’s Sechs Lieder is a lovely and varied setting of six German texts. Poulenc’s Banalités sets texts by Apollinaire in a way that reflects their essential weirdness. Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder are as good examples as one can get of how the Second Vienna School, despite its scary reputation, is really all about lush and approachable and the closing set of Frank Bridge songs showed that he was a heck of a lot more than Britten’s composition teacher.