Opera pub night

I’ve seen opera in a lot of venues in Toronto, including several pubs, but last night was my first time at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club; the occasion being the first pub night hosted by Against the Grain Theatre.  There was a pretty decent crowd and, somewhat to my surprise, a couple of decent beers on tap.  There was also singing with Topher Mokrzewski at the keyboard of a piano almost as grotty as the one he made his AtG debut on.  Perhaps unsurprisingly the line up was pretty impressive; Clarence Frazer, Stephanie Tritchew, Aaron Durand, Cait Wood and John Brancy plus a bonus drop in by no less than Krisztina Szabó.  Rossini, Puccini, Donizetti, Bernstein and others all got a look in.  It was loud, it was fun and the audience, not all of whom I suspect knew what they were in for, stayed.  Further sessions are planned for the first Thursdays in November and December at the same venue.

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Another take on The Rape of Lucretia

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.

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A Little Too Cozy

So the cat’s out of the bag.  The long awaited where, when and who of Against the Grain’s Toronto run of A Little Too Cozy have been revealed.  A Little Too Cozy is the third and final instalment in a trilogy of Mozart “transladaptations” developed by AtG, which place the works in appropriate, non traditional opera, venues and which use English language librettos by Joel Ivany bringing the stories into a contemporary context.  The first two instalments; Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn, sold out their Toronto runs.

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Eros and Thanatos

Against the Grain’s Death/Desire opened last night at the Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery.  It’s structured around Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin cycle with the songs of Messiaen’s Harawi: Chants d’amour et de mort interpolated, though not in the usual order.  Thus there are two characters; The Man, singing the Schubert; who is very much the conventional questing lover of 19th century poetry, and The Woman, singing the Messiaen (mostly) who is something very different from the young girl of Wilhelm Müller’s texts.  The piece is staged with both characters on stage most of the time and interacting in ways that reflect the music and don’t.

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Doundou tchil

Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a preview of Against the Grain’s upcoming show Death and Desire.  It’s a staged mash up of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin and Messiaen’s Harawi: Chant d’amour et de mort; a settong of texts, rather weird ones at that, by the composer.  As director Joel Ivany said, mixing Messiaen and Schubert might seem “a bit bizarre” but these two texts seem to work together remarkably well and the juxtaposition seems almost inspired.  I’m glad too that the original intention of performing the two pieces back-to-back has been replaced by a mash up.  Today we got to see and hear the first half of the show.

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Calgary Opera announces 2015/16 season

calgaryCalgary 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.

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The one we’ve all been waiting for

unclejohnSo Toronto’s hottest indie opera company, Against the Grain Theatre, has finally announced a 14/15 season.  Not entirely unexpectedly they are bringing #UncleJohn; a transladaptation (©Lydia Perovic) of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to Toronto after it’s successful appearance in Banff this summer.  With a new English libretto by Joel Ivany, #UncleJohn will be staged at The Black Box Theatre at 1087 Queen St. West’s vintage rock venue, The Great Hall. .

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Young artists

The prizewinnersThe Canadian Opera Company has announced the addition of three singers and a pianist to the Ensemble Studio for next season.  The singers, unsurprisingly, are the three prize winners from November’s Centre Stage; Soprano Karine Boucher, tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and bass-baritone Iain MacNeil,  The pianist is Jennifer Szeto.  The COC also announced the setting up of an orchestral equivalent of the Ensemble Studio in which a number of young musicians will work with Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra.  Names were announced on Wedneday night but I can’t find them in any of the press releases. Continue reading

AtG’s Messiah

Expectations could hardly have been higher for last night’s first performance of Against the Grain’s new production of Handel’s Messiah.  By and large they were met.  It’s become quite the thing to stage Handel’s oratorios and, for the most part, that’s fine.  They are really operas in disguise and work well when liberated from the concert setting.  Messiah is trickier.  Rather than a linear narrative there are a series of Biblical texts selected by librettist Charles Jennens to promote a literal and conservative evangelical Christianity.  There is no obvious staging solution.  One possibility is to invent a narrative and spin the story around it as Claus Guth did at Theater an der Wien in 2009.  AtG’s Joel Ivany’s solution is to stage it as a choreographed performance and use movement to bring depth to the words.  Here he is aided and abetted by choreographer Jennifer Nichols who has created a movement language tailored to the abilities and limitations of the singers.

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The knot is tied – Figaro’s Wedding at The Burroughes

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Photo credit: Roger Rousseau

Figaro’s Wedding music by W.A Mozart, libretto by Joel Ivany, opened last night at The Burroughes.  A full house, many dressed as if attending a wedding as requested, saw an extremely effective realisation of another ambitious project from Against the Grain Theatre.  This isn’t just another low budget production of a well known opera. Figaro’s Wedding is a complete rework of the piece.  The music is the familiar Mozart in a very effective piano quintet arrangement by Topher Mokrzewski, albeit with cuts to suit the new libretto,  The libretto is in English, cuts the chorus (and Barbarina) and reshapes the story around a wedding in today’s Toronto.  Gone are aristocrats, servants and hangers on.  Instead we have a young couple – Susanna and Figaro, his boss and boss’ wife – Alberto and Rosina, and the various arrangers and functionaries connected with the wedding.  Oh yes, and there’s a lesbian grad student called Cherubino living in Alberto and Rosina’s basement.  The story unfolds in a way that’s close enough to da Ponte for the twists and departures to add a little extra amusement for those who know the libretto well.  It’s very smart, extremely funny and surprisingly singable.

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