Yesterday at noon Ileana Montalbetti, currently appearing in the COC’s Götterdämmerung and pianist Rachel Andrist gave a recital in the RBA. It was five years to the day since they last performed together in that space. Then she was a promising young singer, now she comes over as a considerable interpretative artist. The voice is even bigger (and for a piano recital in the small and not very friendly to dramatic sopranos RBA(*) that was a bit of a challenge) but what’s notable is how much more drama and meaning there is in each number.
Thursday seems to be the big day next week. Ileana Montalbetti and Rachel Andrist have a lunchtime recital in the RBA. There’s Strauss and Mozart and Beethoven and more. Ileana has been a really impressive Gutrune in Götterdämmerung so I’m excited to see her in recital. That evening there’s a choice of the annual COC Ensemble Studio performance at the Four Seasons Centre where the Ensemble members will be offering staged scenes, with full orchestra, from Mozart’s La finta giardiniera, Bellini’s Norma and Handel’s Ariodante. The alternative is Tapestry Songbook VII featuring Krisztina Szabó, Keith Klassen and Stephen Philcox performing numbers from Tapestry’s extensive back catalogue. That’s at the Ernest Balmer Studio at 7.30pm. There are repeat shows on Friday at 7.30pm and 10pm. Looks like both 7.30pm shows are sold out but late night Friday is still available. Operaramblings’ extensive spy network (not Louise Mensch) suggests that patrons may also learn something to their advantage. The day before, Wednesday at 7.30pm, there’s a Don Giovanni in concert at Royal St. George’s Chapel. Actually seeing as how dancer Bill Coleman is involved it may not be entirely straight “in concert”. The cast includes Alexander Dobson in the title role, Katherine Whyte, Colin Ainsworth, Taiya Kasahara, Vania Chan and Matthew Li plus a “special guest”. Tickets at www.opera-is.com or on the door. There is still time to catch the COC’s winter offerings. The Magic Flute plays today, tomorrow and Friday with the last Götterdämmerung next Saturday. That last seems to be sold out but the usual rush and standing room deals may apply.
Last night the COC began its run of Götterdämmerung, the last and longest opera in Wagner’s epic tetralogy at The Four Seasons Centre. It’s very different from Die Walküre and Siegfried. The visual elements that tied them together; tottering Valhalla, disintegrating world ash, gantries, dancers, heaps of corpses are mostly gone. In Tim Albery’s production the visuals are spare almost to abstraction. The Gibichung Hall is a CEO suite with computer monitors and red couches, both Brünnhilde’s rock and the Rhinemaidens’ hang out look improvised, almost like squatters’ camps. Costuming, apart from an occasional flashback, as in Waltraute’s scene, is severely modern business; grey suits, black dresses. Only Siegfried himself in tee shirt and leather jacket stands out from the corporate crowd. Dancing flames are replaced by red lights. Everything that can be understated is and the world ends not with an overflowing Rhine and collapsing Valhalla but a stately pas de quatre between Brünnhilde and the Rhinemaidens.
Readers of this blog will likely know that Peter Grimes is a very special opera for me. I’ve watched it live and on recordings a lot. I think about it a lot troo so the chance to see it live is rather special. It’s even more special when it’s done as well as at the Four Seasons Centre last night in the opening performance of a new run of Neil Armfield’s much travelled production, revived here by Denni Sayers.
It will come as no secret to regular readers that I am something of a Peter Grimes completist. Until recently this blog was probably the only place one could find detailed reviews of all the available video recordings of that great work. Now the recent La Scala production has been released on Blu-ray and I am no longer complete. Fear not though, the disk is in the mail as they say and the divine order will shortly be restored.
In other Grimes news, the Aldeburgh Festival is staging the work on the beach. The estimable Chris Gillett, Horace Adams both there and at La Scala, is blogging about it in his usual inimitable style. In some ways I really wish I could go but I know that coast. Even on a good day the wind will freeze one’s soft bits off. Definitely a challenging place to perform or even watch opera. It’s also just off the A12 and I still have the after effects of 24 stitches on my face from a rather unfortunate encounter on that highway in my youth. I shall patiently await Ben Heppner, Alan Held, Ileana Montalbetti et al at the Four Seasons Centre in the fall.
Last night saw the third performance in the current run of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Canadian Opera Company.
It’s a peculiar work. It was Offenbach’s first and only foray into grand opera and he didn’t live to complete it. This leaves all sorts of performance issues regarding orchestration, sequence of the acts and spoken dialogue vs accompanied recitatives among others. The COC version uses the conventional act order; Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta, and recitatives with orchestral accompaniment which makes for a long night but is probably the best fit with director Lee Blakeley’s take on the piece, previously seen at Vlaamse Opera in 2000.
It’s that time of year again. With a few months left in the opera season in Toronto today saw the first “farewell” concert by a departing member of the COC Ensemble Studio. It was a solo recital by dramatic soprano Ileana Montalbetti, quite possibly the best sounding thing ever to come out of Saskatoon. Ileana is the only full on dramatic soprano I’ve seen in the few years I’ve been following the Ensemble Studio and, as ES boss Liz Upchurch pointed out, they are rare so it’s always interesting to see another one come along. Fair to say too, I think, that it’s not the voice type that is treated most kindly by a piano recital in a fairly intimate space. That said, it was a very enjoyable performance.
Ileana kicked off with O Sachs! Mein Freund! from Die Meistersinger. Any reservations I have about dramatic sopranos and piano recitals come redoubled in spades where “big” opera arias are concerned. The kind of volume and tone needed to sing against a large orchestra in a big theatre tends not to sound too lovely when throttled back with only a piano for support and, honestly, I don’t think this piece was a great idea.
Things improved enormously in the next section though. This was the song cycle Ekho Poeta; Pushkin texts set by Benjamin Britten and written for the Rostropoviches. It’s a rarity; a Britten song cycle I don’t recall hearing before, and it’s very good. It was a much better vehicle for Ileana who displayed plenty of power, well controlled vibrato and pleasing and varied tone colours especially in the middle register. Her high end was much sweeter here than in the Wagner too. Where she needed a lot of attack, as in the rather spiteful Epigramma she could certainly produce it. Being Britten, the piano part in these pieces was really quite demanding too so kudos to pianist Rachel Andrist for excellent and sympathetic musicianship.
The second half of the programme was all Strauss. It started with Arabella’s final aria, which I enjoyed more than the Wagner but about which I have similar reservations as a recital piece. Then we got a selection of songs from Op. 37, Op. 48 and Op. 32 before finishing up with Zueignung from Op. 10. This was all good stuff with more excellent control and very good German diction. The final number was particularly lovely. For an encore we got a spirited rendering of Sweet Polly Oliver in the Britten setting.
I think Ileana is a very considerable talent and I’m sure she’ll do well in the wider operatic world. Liz Upchurch and the COC certainly seem to think so. Liz “leaked” that Ileana will be back in an as yet unannounced major role. Putting two and two together and making something like e^iπ and adding in a dose of wishful thinking I’m wondering if there is any connection between Ileana’s first piece today and the long rumoured Toronto debut of a certain ex-pat Canadian baritone.
Also, à propos not much, it was nice to see a certain world famous dramatic soprano in sneakers and sans make up watching from the standing room section.