Last night’s Decades series concert featured three works from the 1930s plus a sesqui. The sesqui, Andrew Balfour’s Kiwetin-acahkos; Fanfare for the Peoples of the North was definitely one of the more interesting of these short pieces. There were elements of minimalism combined with a nod to Cree/Métis fiddle music. Quite complex and enjoyable. It was followed by Barber’s rather bleak Adagio for Strings and the Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. It’s familiar enough fare and was well played by the orchestra under Peter Oundjian. I particularly enjoyed some of the weird percussion/celesta effects in the third movement of the Bartók. But really I was there for the second half of the program.
Six years ago a bunch of unknowns calling themselves “Against the Grain Theatre” put on Joel Ivany’s English language, updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème in the back room of the Tranzac club. I was there. I reviewed it on my LiveJournal because it would be another six months before I started this blog. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Tranzac has been tarted up quite a bit since La Bohème 1.0, though even by 2011 it had become a lot smarter than when the Nomads hung out there and the wall featured a photo of Sorbie with the McCormick cup. Lets face it anywhere would be more sedate without Neil (RIP mate). Oh yeah, and the original AtG crowd have become quite respectable, even famous perhaps. The singers are all Equity members and get paid properly. There are sets and props that weren’t borrowed from Topher’s mum. Topher and Joel have done the conducting and directing thing for major companies in real opera houses. And I’ve been writing this stuff most every day for six years.
Last night I saw the alternate cast of the COC’s Magic Flute. Owen McCausland swaps First Armed Man for Tamino with Andrew Haji, Kirsten MacKinnon comes in as Pamina, Phillip Addis is Papageno and Matt Boehler is Sarastro. The changes don’t really affect things much at all. All the new faces are very good. MacKinnon is a very perky Pamina which works well with Addis who has maybe a bit more of the “cheeky chappy” than Hopkins. Fans of Owen McCausland and Andrew Haji will see exactly the differences in timbre and vocal technique one would expect but the interpretation is pretty much the same. Overall, I would say that someone not very familiar with these singers would scarcely notice any differences. What I did notice is how much better this production looks from Ring 3 than from the Orchestra. Getting something of a “plan view” makes the antics during the overture look less cluttered and frantic and the trials scene is much more effective. And the sound is better too.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a one off performance of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at The Winter Gardens, the upstairs part of the Elgin Theatre that I had never before been in. The production originated in a Banff Centre/Against the Grain/COC joint project directed by Paul Curran but was recreated here in semi-staged form by Anna Theodosakis. It was on the “quite close to staged” end of the spectrum so, although the band was on stage behind the action and there was no scenery or curtain it came off as much more than a concert in costume.
Against the Grain Theatre revived their 2013 choreographed Messiah last night Harbourfront Centre. It’s quite heavily reworked from the 2013 edition and I think the changes are an improvement. The creative team of Topher Mokrzewski (Music), Joel Ivany (Stage direction) and Jenn Nichols (choreography) remains the same as does the overall “look and feel”. The soloists are supported here by a 16 strong chorus and 18 instrumentalists.
The on/off saga of the Ensemble Studio’s promised Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared came to an apparent conclusion yesterday. It had been postponed at least once and even this morning the COC website is advertising a complete performance with two soloists and a small chorus.
It didn’t happen. What we got was a recital by Owen McAusland singing some excerpts from the Janáček plus Vaughan William’s The House of Life and Britten’s Les Illuminations. It was his last performance as a member of the Ensemble Studio during which time, among many other things, he sang several main stage performances as Tito covering for a sick Michael Schade.
This morning I went to the COC website to see what Josh Hopkins would be singing at lunchtime. Bottom line, he wasn’t. His recital had been replaced by a hastily put together program of pieces to be sung by Owen McCausland, Karine Boucher and Aviva Fortunata. Given that Liz Upchurch said it was pieces they were looking for an audience for I’d guess it’s audition/competition rep that they are working on and therefore, to some extent, work in progress.
First a disclaimer, I’m not a huge Massenet fan and even among his works Don Quichotte would rate pretty low with its cheesy melodies and faux Spanoiserie. However, a good production has the potential to liven it up and a stellar cast is always a plus. The run that opened at the Canadian Opera Company last night certainly had the latter in Ferruccio Furlanetto, Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili. Unfortunately Linda Brovsky’s production looked and felt like one of Mr. Peter Gelb’s attempts to get the Broadway audience into the Met. It was cluttered, unfocussed, pretty much devoid of ideas and didn’t even really make best use of the acting talents of the principals though Rashvelishvili did her best to inject some life into it. It’s exactly what I feared when I heard they were going to use a real horse and donkey (later replaced by a mule in one of the more recent of the season’s casting problems at COC). For me, one of those productions almost best listened to with eyes closed.
Stephen Lawless’ production of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre. It’s the last of the so called “Tudor Trilogy” and deals, ostensibly, with the last days of the reign of Elizabeth I. Events are loosely based on history. In this case the queen’s relationship with Robert Devereux, earl of Essex; his failure in Ireland, fall from grace, rebellion and execution for treason(1). Here the drama is turned into a simple story of royal jealousy featuring two fictional characters; The duke of Nottingham, Devereux’ bestie, and his wife Sara, confidante of the queen and in love with Devereux. It’s probably best seen as a logical continuation of the anti Tudor theme of the previous operas. There’s a bombastic, lustful monarch more concerned with his/her love life than affairs of state and there’s a scheming arch-Protestant minister responsible for the death of someone who doesn’t deserve for it for reasons of state (here the younger Cecil). The trouble here is that there is no obvious martyr. However one looks at it Devereux, brings about his own downfall.
Thursday lunchtime saw what seems to be becoming a March break tradition; an interactive concert with soprano/edutainer Kyra Millan and her pianist accomplice Christina Faye. This year she was backed up by Danielle MacMillan, Owen McCausland and Timothy Cheung.