This year’s GGS School fall opera was a presentation of three short works influenced by Dada and surrealism. The first was Martinů’s Les larmes du couteau. It’s a hard work to describe. Here’s what naxos.com has to offer:
Eleanor longs to marry someone like the Hanged Man, whose body is suspended over the stage. Satan appears, professing love for Eleanor, who rejects him, still longing for the Hanged Man, to which Satan now marries her, an event she celebrates by dancing a tango. A Negro Cyclist appears and Satan assumes the latter’s form. Eleanor seeks to attract the Negro/Satan, while her Mother makes gymnastic gestures at the back of the stage. Eleanor kisses the Negro, whose head bursts open, revealing Satan. Eleanor, terrified, stabs herself and the Hanged Man starts to dance to a foxtrot, as his head and limbs are detached, for him to juggle with. He comes to life and embraces Eleanor, but when she kisses him his head bursts open and the face of Satan is seen. She gives up her pursuit of love, while the Mother claims to know how to win Satan’s love, only to be rejected.
Les Larmes du couteau is very short in duration and offered obvious problems in staging, to be solved, it has been suggested, by the use of film.
Kateryna Khartova and Rachel Miller in Tears of the Knife
The Royal Conservatory has announced its concert programme for 2018/19. It’s not massively exciting from a classical vocal point of view although there are a few goodies and the odd surprise in the package. The most exciting is saved for the very end of the season when Thomas Hampson and son-in-law Luca Pisaroni have a recital at Koerner. That’s on 30th April 2019. The most surprising is the season opening gala, also at Koerner, on 2nd October 2018 which features Kathleen Battle. I’ll be honest, I thought she retired years ago.
Today’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured Lucia Cesaroni and Alysson McHardy with Rachel Andrist at the piano and Iain Scott narrating in a program that wasn’t, as expected, all Rossini. Rather it was music written by and for six of the women in Rossini’s life in a program inspired by Patricia Morehead. So what we got was plenty of Rossini, some Bellini, some Clara Schumann and music composed by the ladies themselves. I’m moderately familiar with the music of Pauline Viardot (younger sister of Maria Malibran) but I had never heard anything composed by Malibran, Isabella Colbran, Pauline Sabatier, Giuditta Pasta or Adelina Patti. As it turns out all were perfectly competent song composers and it was good to hear some rather rare material.
It’s that mid point of the academic year when the GGS puts on a recital programme that features a fairly full selection of the available singing talent at the Conservatory. This means one sees everything from first year undergrads to singers in the final stages of a master’s degree, who may already be singing professionally, so it’s a constant exercise in recalibration. It wasn’t helped last night by the fact that I had serious TTC problems causing me to miss the first three numbers on the programme plus feeling a bit frazzled for the rest. So, in no particular order, I’m going to write about what I particularly enjoyed. Omission should not be over-interpreted.
Yesterday’s Amici Ensemble concert in Mazzoleni Hall was an all Richard Strauss program featuring an array of guests. First up was the Duett Concertino where regulats Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello) and Serouj Kradjian (piano) were joined by violinists Timothy Ying and Jennifer Murphy, violist Keith Hamm, Theodore Chan on bass and Michael Sweeney on bassoon. It’s a program piece in which the clarinet represents a princess and the bassoon, a bear, who eventually, of course, transforms into a handsome prince. There are lots of dance rhythms from the strings and some sly quotations from Der Rosenkavalier along the way. It’s fun and it was very well played. I almost wonder if it was too smooth. The bear certainly seemed very suave and his transformation was not terribly abrupt. Still, bear!
Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured Russell Braun and Caolyn Maule in a generous and varied program anchored on Schumann’s Dichterliebe; a setting of sixteen poems by Heine. It was framed by three Mendelssohn songs and a varied and intriguing second half program.
Russell is a singer at the height of his powers. He has a lovely instrument and perfect control of pitch, dynamics and tone colour. He’s also a sensitive and musical human being. Throw all that at text and music as rich as Dichterliebe and the result is inevitably quite wonderful. One could just luxuriate in an emotional journey through the highs and lows of romantic love and a physical one up and down that magical river, the Rhine. The Mendelssohn was rather lovely too.
The Glenn Gould School’s fall opera production this year is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel given in Brent Krysa’s English language, highly condensed version, originally created for the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour. It really is condensed. There’s no chorus and it comes in at just over the hour mark. The main plot elements are retained but I think quite a bit of the darkness, and most of the religiosity, are gone, though the latter isn’t eliminated entirely. After all, the Evening Prayer and the final chorus are musical highlights and pretty much have to be there. It doesn’t leave any room for the director to explore ideas like child abuse or addiction and pretty much forces, for better or worse, a straightforward emphasis on the basic story.