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.
After the madness of November, December is much quieter. Messiahs aside there are only a handful of events of note. On Saturday at 7.30pm at Runnymede United Church the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir have a concert of seasonal music which includes Kim André Arnesen’s Magnificat with Adanya Dunn as soloist. On Tuesday 5th the noon recital in the RBA features Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer. The program hasn’t been published yet but I’m told it includes the Berg Seven Early Songs and a number of songs by Frank Bridge. On Thursday evening at 9pm it’s Opera Pub Night at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The theme is Messiah Pariah. You have been warned. The operatic event of the month is Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound. This uses a mash-up of Handel’s music to explore issues related to the current worldwide refugee crisis. It plays December 14th, 15th and 16th at the COC’s Jackman Studio. As of now, it’s sold out except for the final 9pm performance on the 16th. Toronto Consort have a Spanish themed Christmas show Navidad, featuring motets by Victoria and Guerrero plus villancicos and dances from Latin America. This one is on December 8th and 9th at 8pm and 10th at 3.30pm. Trinity St. Paul’s of course. Also this weekend, more performances of Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts (see last post).
The Opera Division’s fall production this year is Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Marilyn Gronsdal. Let’s start with the production. The sets are all paper and boxes with a few props and the costuming is 1940s. The aesthetic is film noir. There are trilbies and Don Ottavio is packing a piece in a shoulder holster. It set, for me and my companion at least, an expectation that this would be a “film noir production” but although there were nods in that direction; Leporello as the comic sidekick, statuette of the Commendatore as the murder weapon for example, the idea wasn’t really developed at all. Instead we got a very straightforward narrative with the a few twists. Gronsdal included a chorus of silent women who comment on the action (didn’t she do this in Saskatoon as well?) and Don Giovanni isn’t dragged down to Hell.
I went to Walter Hall last night to see a couple of Mahler works in chamber reduction played by the Faculty Artists Ensemble conducted by Uri Mayer. I think I like Mahler in chamber reduction a lot. With one instrument to a part complex textures become clearer. No doubt there are conductors that can produce that clarity with a big orchestra but there are also, sadly, too many who reduce it to a grisly stew of unidentified body parts. It also allows singers to be heard without screaming. The only time I want to hear a tenor sounding like a goat being slaughtered is in that Dean Burry piece. I guess chamber reduction might not work for, say, the 8th Symphony but for the orchestral song cycles, the 4th Symphony, and, I’d hazard a guess, the 2nd Symphony I like it just fine.
Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured four members of the Ensemble Studio. Megan Quick and Stéphane Mayer gave us Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen followed by Sam Pickett and Rachel Kerr with Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. The first set was interesting in that I was so engrossed by Stéphane’s playing that at times I almost drifted away from the singing. He really is a bit remarkable. Few collaborative pianists have that effect. Megan continues to develop as a singer. She has a big, dark mezzo that’s actually so operatic I’m not sure it’s heard to best advantage in lieder with piano accompaniment. Still, she’s developing interpretive skills and her German diction has improved out of all recognition in the past eighteen months. It’s now very good. She took the first song, Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit, really slowly but had the control to pull it off and there was some real lyricism in Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz.