Sirènes is an album of pieces by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović. The first pice, which gives the album its title, is written for six unaccompanied female voices. It’s performed here by the vocal ensemble of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre conducted by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. The six ladies in question are Danika Lorèn, Shannon Mercer, Magali Simard-Galdès, Caitlin Wood, Andrea Ludwig, and Krisztina Szabó. It’s an interesting piece and very Sokolović. The text is bent and twisted into sound fragments which are “sung” using an array of extended vocal techniques. The overall effect is of a shimmering, fluttery and quite absorbing sound world.
All families, they say, have secrets. Few perhaps are as lurid as what came to light at 29 Kintyre Avenue, Toronto (about 2km from here) in the summer of 2007 when a contractor renovating the house discovered the mummified body of an infant wrapped in a 1925 newspaper. Incredibly, the CBC was able to track down the last surviving member of the household from that era, a 92 year old woman living in a retirement home in up-state New York. Her recollections, which formed the subject of a short two part radio documentary, provided a lot of context and background but few hard facts. Who the baby was and how it came to be under the floorboards remains very much a mystery.
The Killing Flower is an opera by Salvatore Sciarrino. Both Italian and English versions exist and it was the latter that was given, in semistaged form, at Walter Hall as part of the Toronto New Music Festival last night. It’s a very distinctive work and not easy to form a full appreciation of on a single hearing. The plot is straightforward enough. There’s a duke and duchess. She falls in love with a guest. They are betrayed by a servant. He kills the guest and then her. But all this happens in a highly abstracted way (made even more abstract by not being fully staged). As the composer puts it:
My theatre is ‘post cinema’ theatre, beginning with the way the scenes are laid out – they proceed by dry blocks that ‘subtract’ in order to get the point across.
Got that? Nor me but what I saw was a succession of scenes in which two characters exchanged fragments of text repeated multiple times. This was actually quite useful as there were no surtitles and it made it easier to grasp what the (very few) words actually were.
We are moving into busy season for the next two or three weeks. Next week, Tuesday sees a lunchtime recital in the RBA by Phillip Addis with song cycles by Maurice Ravel and Erik Ross. Wednesday sees a concert staging of Salvatore Sciarrino’s The Killing Flower (Luci mie traditrici). It tells the story of Carlos Gesualdo’s murder of his wife and lover. Performers include Shannon Mercer, Geoffrey Sirett, Scott Belluz and Keith Klassen. It’s at Walter Hall at 7.30pm with a pre-show with the composer at 6.30pm. Sciarrino is involved in other events connected with the New Music Festival all week. Thursday is opening night for the COC’s Götterdämmerung at the Four Seasons Centre with an early kick off time of 6pm. Alternatively the TSO are doing the Fauré Requiem with Karina Gauvin and Russell Braun on both Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
UoT Faculty of Music have just announced their 2016/17 season. It’s the usual broad range of performances so I’ll highlight the opera and vocal music contributions.
UoT Opera is offering four shows. The fall main production is Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld with new English dialogue and stage direction by Michael Patrick Albano. Choreography i by Anna Theodosakis and Russell Braun makes his podium debut. There are four performances November 24th to 27th. Spring sees a Handel rarity; Imeneo. Tim Albery directs and Daniel Taylor is in charge of the music. This one runs March 16th to 19th. Both shows are in the MacMillan Theatre.
Hubert Parry’s 1888 work Judith got its North American premiere yesterday in a performance by Pax Christi Chorale at Koerner Hall. It’s a typical English high Victorian oratorio, commissioned by the
Leeds Choral Society Birmingham Festival (Wikipedia strikes again). It’s got some very grand choruses and some tuneful solos (one was later used for the hymn tune Repton setting the words “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”). If one like’s that sort of thing, and Peter Simple’s Alderman Footbotham of the Bradford Tramways and Fine Arts Committee would certainly have approved, it’s very enjoyable. And if that’s not enough, there’s human sacrifice, seduction and murder to keep one’s interest.
Calgary once again offers three main stage performances. The season opens with Delibes’ Lakmé. It’s a Tom Diamond production so probably not very Regie. Aline Kutan, seen as Queen of the Night in Toronto not so long ago, sings the title role with Andrea Hill as her sidekick Mallika. Lakmé’s paramour, the handsome British officer Frederic, is sung by Canadian opera’s current answer to Rudolph Valentino, Cam McPhail. Gordon Gerrard conducts. There are three performances on November 21st, 25th and 27th.
Chris Paul Harman’s La selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) had its premier at the Four Seasons Centre at lunchtime today. It’s a setting of some very beautiful texts from Lorca’s Suites scored for mezzo, harp, piano/celeste, flute, clarinet, cello, percussion and tape. The tape consists of sections of the texts read by Martha de Francisco. Sometimes the text comes from the tape, sometimes it’s sung by mezzo, sometimes it’s spoken by the mezzo and at other times they overlap. The accompaniment is mostly very spare but occasionally becomes surprisingly dense with lots of work for tuned percussion. There are also some unconventional roles for the instruments, especially the flute, and there is a whistled passage for the singer near the end. All in all it’s very 21st century; decidedly modern but quite approachable. And did I say the texts are gorgeous? Continue reading
Today saw the premiere of the Canadian Art Song Project’s second annual commission (My review of last year’s effort). This time it was Norbert Palej’s Small Songs; a setting of ten texts from Jan Zwicky’s Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. It’s an ambitious piece drawing on a wide range of vocal and piano colours and occasionally on non-standard technique. That said, although sounding like a work from the 21st century it’s really quite accessible to anyone with any familiarity at all with modern art song. Some passages were really lovely. I especially like the haunting and clever setting of Small song on being lost which evokes the loneliness of the sea and the self. The piece that followed; Small song for the moon in the daytime was also rather special ending movingly on “the wind is nowhere to be found”. All in all, great integration of text and music as art song should be. The composer “warned” us up front that the music was extremely difficult to perform because he was writing it for two very fine musicians. They didn’t disappoint. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford used all of his range; dynamically, colourwise and pitchwise to give a very text sensitive reading and he was very well accompanied by long time collaborator Steven Philcox at the piano.
Today’s free lunchtime concert in the RBA was given by Topher Mokrzewski wearing his pianist hat; as opposed to his conductor, accompanist, music director, vocal coach or tap dancing hat.