Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden is a rather odd opera. It’s set in some sort of idyllic pre-Christian Russia where the tsar is approachable, just and benevolent and the people spend most of their time drinking and having sex. Into this world comes Snow Maiden, the fifteen year old daughter of Winter and Spring. Her parents have various things to do and so decide to park the girl with the local peasantry. Various romantic complications ensue involving a rather nasty, rich merchant Mizguir and the mysterious Lel, who may be a shepherd but likely isn’t mortal either. The mating behaviour of the locals confuses Snow Maiden as she is incapable of falling in love. Eventually Spring grants her that faculty and she gives herself to Mizguir, while really wanting Lel, but the rays of the sun on the first day of summer melt her. The natives ignore her death and get on with singing and dancing.
Collectìf’s latest show for the Toronto Summer Music Festival at Walter Hall last night was called Beyond Perception: What Haunts Us Now. It presented three new multimedia works each curated and directed by one of the trio of singers. The first piece, by Whitney O’Hearne featured arrangements of French works; both folk and classical that deal with the idea of La Dame Blanche; by turns sorceress or virgin bride. Turning the idea of male defined female transgression upside down to celebrate women’s agency, O’Hearn combined arrangements of the chosen music for combinations of three voices and piano with soft focus atmospheric video rather reminiscent of Collectìf’s Winterreise show at Heliconian Hall. The singing was beautiful and the concept intriguing. Top notch accompaniment by Trevor Chartrand.
Stéphane Mayer’s Les Adieux recital yesterday in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre was definitely out of the ordinary. Rather than a concert or recital format we got a fully staged and costumed version of two Oscar Wilde related works. First up was Saint Saëns’ version of The Nightingale and the Rose with Matt Pilipiak reading the story, Danika Lorèn as the Nightingale and Stéphane at the piano. It was well done and a reminder of what a truly lovely voice Danika has.
Liz Upchurch has now been head of the COC Ensemble Studio for twenty years. To put that in perspective, Alain Coulombe was an Ensemble Studio member back then. So Liz has deeply influenced a whole generation of Canadian singers and it was fitting that there should be a concert in her honour in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s named for the man who brought her to the COC and it’s been the venue for countless concerts by the Mama Bear’s cubs.
So May Day greetings and hello again. And here are some things you might care to see this month during your eight hours for “what you will”. It’s a bit belated for reasons previously announced but it’s here and I’m back.
Tonight at Lula Lounge at 7pm Tongue in Cheek productions have Democracy in Action. Several noted singers (Krisztina Szabo, Julie Nesrallah, Natalya Gennadi, Teiya Kasahara, Asitha Tennekoon, Romulo Delgado, Alexander Hajek and Stephen Hegedus) will perform pieces based on audience voting.
This was baritone Sam Chan and pianist Stéphane Mayer’s farewell to the Ensemble Studio. It was an all Schubert program; Poetisches Tagebuch (Schulze), the Impromptu in G flat and the Goethe Lieder. It was a very classy performance by any standards. There was no need here to make allowances for “young artists”. One would have been happy to pay Koerner Hall prices to hear a recital of this quality.
Stéphane Mayer and Samuel Chan performing in the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, photo: Dan Truong
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.