This year’s fall offering from UoT Opera is three short comic operas presented at the MacMillan Theatre in productions by Michael Patrick Albano. The first is Paul Hindemith’s Hin und Züruck; a twelve minute musical joke which manages to send up a lot of operatic conventions in a very short time. It’s a musical and dramatic palindrome. A man discovers his wife has a lover and shoots her. The paramedics arrive and attempt to revive her. In this staging this includes a giant syringe and no prizes for guessing where that goes. The remorseful husband shoots himself. An angel (Ben Done) appears and explains that the usual laws of physics don’t apply in opera and the entire plot and score is replayed backwards. It was played effectively deadpan by Cassandra Amorim and Lyndon Ladeur while Jordana Goddard, as the elderly deaf aunt, sat through the whole thing entirely oblivious. Good fun.
Last night’s TSO concert was a collaboration with Barbara Hannigan’s Equilibrium Young Artists project with EQ providing the quartet of soloists for Mozart’s Requiem. But before we got to the Requiem there was a performance of Mozart’s Symphony no. 39 in E-flat Major. It was enjoyable. A somewhat reduced scale TSO played as well as they usually do when Sir Andrew Davis is on the podium and he took us through an irreproachable reading of the works essential tuneful and easy to listen to four movements. It made a pleasant “overture”.
The second set of reGENERATION concerts of the Topronto Summer Music Festival took place yesterday at Walter Hall. The song portion, unusually, consisted of 100% English language rep, mirroring the Griffey/Jones recital earlier in the wee. The first concert kicked off with tenor Eric Laine and pianist Scott Downing with five songs from Finzi’s setting of Thomas Hardy; A Young Man’s Exhortation. It was good. Laine has a nice sense of style and very good diction. The high notes are there though sometimes, especially at the end of a line, they don’t sound 100% secure. There was some quite delicate accompaniment from Downing too.
Your Daughter Fanny is a 45 minute long chamber opera with music by Alice Ho and libretto by Lisa Moore based on letters written by WW1 Newfoundland VAD nurse Frances Cluett (which can also be found in book form). It was performed yesterday at Heliconian Hall by soprano Caroline Schiller with Duo Concertante, Nancy Dahn (violin) and Timothy Steeves (piano).
I really liked the music. It was the first time I’ve heard a piece by Alice Ho that didn’t include traditional Chinese elements and it was stylistically interesting; rich textured, sometimes astringent, sometimes very lyrical with a very decent, singable vocal line.
Last night, at Walter Hall, the Canadian Art Song Project presented their latest commission; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan. The overall standard of the CASP commissions since Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox launched the endeavour has been very high. The Ryan piece maintains that.
I’m not really sure that it’s a good idea to take Rameau too seriously, especially a work like Les Indes galantes but that’s what Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui does in his production for the 2016 Münchner Opernfestspiel. As written, the piece has five separate parts; an allegorical prelude and four scènes, each telling a love story in an “exotic” setting; Turkey, Peru, Persia, among les sauvages of North America. It’s a spectacle but it uses the exotic settings to poke fun at certain aspects of Western culture in Rameau’s usual irreverent way. There’s no linking narrative and the characters in each scène (the goddesses Amour and Bellona aside) only appear once.
Deborah Voigt appeared with Brian Zeger at Koerner Hall last night. I guess I was expecting something rather more ebullient from Ms. Voigt but what we got was a perfectly decent, slightly low key, recital with a heavy emphasis on American repertoire and very little banter, though she did unwind a bit toward the end of the program.
American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, 2013 winner of Cardiff Singer of the Year, sang at Koerner Hall last night with veteran Bradley Moore at the piano. Her first set; Joaquin Turina’s Homenaje a Lope de Vega gave us a pretty good idea of the basic value proposition. She has a fantastic instrument. There is power to burn, a pleasing dark tone, accuracy and musicianship. She never sounded remotely strained even while pushing out a very impressive sound. The rest of her first half programme; Chausson’s Three Melodies and four of Schubert’s Goethe settings showed that there was more than just a big accurate voice. Basically, it’s all there. She can vary colours and scale vibrato up and down. There’s some agility. She can float quiet high notes and she can tell a story. Her diction was clear in all three languages. I would say at this point the only question mark I had was around her ability to engage the audience. If I were to judge by the very highest standards, and I’m think Bryn Terfel or Karita Mattila, there was something just the merest shade cold and technical. The second half would see whether she could, as it were , lighten up a bit.
“The god-damn son of a bitch is dead”. So says one of John A. Macdonald’s henchmen on checking his watch to see that the scheduled time of Louis Riel’s execution has passed; at least in Harry Somers’ 1969 operatic version of the story. Louis Riel, on the face of it is a historic narrative about the leader of the 1869 and 1885 Métis opposition to the expansion of the Dominion of Canada. But it’s deeper than that. It’s a complex work dealing with fundamental questions of identity and belonging and of the relation between people and state. Written during a weird combination of the orgy of cultural nationalism that greeted the centenary of Confederation and Canada’s most turbulent political violence it transcends the Canadianness of its story and clear parallels could be found in many countries, including Canada, today. This is really about “culture wars” in all their complexity and horror.