This was the seventh time I’ve seen Soundstream’s Electric Messiah. It’s different every time of course but some things stay, more or less, as features. The biggest change this year is the shift from the Drake Underground to Crow’s Theatre. It’s staged as a conventional proscenium arch type show with the audience sitting in tiered rows facing the stage rather than being set up night club style. There’s no bar in the actual performance space but you can still take a drink to your seat. The drinks are cheaper than at the Drake too!
Sunday, at Grace Church on the Hill, Soundstreams presented Celebrating R. Murray Schafer. It felt like a cross between a concert and a memorial service. There were no prayers but there were eulogies and Eleanor James drew the parallel between Schafer’s sources of inspiration and Pentecost; that feast of the Church having been chosen deliberately for the event.
There was lots of music of course. The afternoon was bookended by two of Schafer’s ceremonial wilderness pieces for voice and trumpet. Meghan Lindsay and Michael Fedyshyn welcomed us with the Aubade for Two Voices and bid us farewell with Departure. Both were made the more haunting from the performers being out of sight. Choir 21 with conductor David Fallis sang two sets. First came the three hymns from The Fall into Light which appropriately set texts drawn from the Manichaean tradition. There was some wonderfully precise singing here. The second set was perhaps more light hearted with Epitaph for Moonlight which was written for amateur performance and the playful Fire which, besides singing, involves banging rocks together.
Soundstreams’ on-line concert, Lovesongs, recorded in Koerner Hall and streamed (access codes are PWYC, min $7) features three works; two by and one “in homage” to Claude Vivier with an intro by Lawrence Cherney and David Fallis who conducts on the first and third pieces.
The sixth iteration of Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah unsurprisingly morphed from a live show in the intimate setting of the Drake Underground to a streamed video recorded on location in various places in Toronto. There is much that was the same as previously and some interesting differences. The selection of arias and choruses is very similar to previous years starting with “Comfort Ye”; arranged for all four singers and finishing up with “Hallelujah”.
It’s the fifth year that Soundstreams has put on Electric Messiah which I guess means it’s pretty much becoming a holiday tradition. This iteration may just be the best yet. This version seemed quite stripped down compared to some years and all the better for it. It’s centred around rearranged (and shortened) excerpts from the Handel work supplemented with some personal touches for the cast. This time the “band” was Wesley Shen on harpsichord, Joel Visentin on keyboards and electric organ, Joel Schwartz on assorted acoustic and electric guitars and Adam Scime directing from the (laptop) keyboard which controlled lots of effective electronics. SlowPitchSound was there on turntables with Lybido dancing.
…let me explain is a new CD of Canadian art song (mostly) from soprano Christina Raphaëlle Haldane. The first set consists of three arrangements of Acadian folk songs by by Carl Philippe Gionet. The three are quite different. L’Escaouette is fast, high, rhythmic and very high energy. Tout Passe is much more elegiacal while Wing Tra La is very playful. They are sung quite beautifully with piano accompaniment from the arranger. Ahania’s Lament is a longish piece in which Blake’s text is set by Samy Mousa. It’s a tough sing with a lot of high exposed passages against a minimal accompaniment. It’s a piece that it’s easy to get drawn into. It’s a good vehicle for Haldane’s crystalline upper register. Piano accompaniment by M.Gionet again.
I really wasn’t at all familiar with Berlioz’ Béatrice at Bénédict before last night’s opening of a production by Metro Youth Opera at the Daniels Spectrum. All I knew was that it had something to so with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and a reputation for being rather tedious. For the record it’s basically the Shakespeare play shorn of all the darker elements; no Don John, no fake funeral, resulting in a RomCom in which the title characters, after much verbal sparring, are finally brought to admit that they are in love and get married along with Claudio and Héro. Further compressed a little (Somarone is axed) for this production it runs a pleasingly untedious two hours or so.
Chéreau’s Siegfried is even less obviously “industrial” than his Die Walküre. There’s a forge of course but there rather has to be. Other than that we get workshop, forest and lair pretty much as one might imagine until, of course, we end up back at the ruin where Brünnhilde waits. Brian Large injects lots of smoke at every opportunity.
The second instalment of Patrice Chéreau’s 1980 Bayreuth Ring cycle is set, like Das Rheingold, in a sort of industrial bourgeois late 19th century. One would almost say steampunk if that were not an anachronism. Actually the “industrial” side is much less evident than in the earlier work. There’s a sort of astrolabe/pendulum thing in Valhalla but that’s about it. Setting aside, the story telling is very straightforward; so much so that it takes a real effort of the imagination to get into a mindset where this production could ever have been considered controversial. It’s quite literal; Brünnhilde has a helmet and breast and back plates (worn over a rather severe grey dress), Wotan has a spear, Siegmund has a sword. There’s not an assault rifle or light sabre to be seen. It is though dramatically effective.
So much has been written about Patrice Chéreau’s centenary production of the Ring cycle at Bayreuth that I approached reviewing it with some trepidation. I have decided to write about it “as is”; i.e. to write about what I see on the DVD and leave the undoubted historical significance, perhaps even revolutionary impact of the production, to others. Also, it’s apparent that what’s on the DVD, filmed in an empty house as was contemporary Bayreuth practice, must differ from what was seen on the Green Hill in certain key ways. This is a review of what;s seen and heard on the DVD.