Alburnum is a record of contemporary American art song from baritone Brian Mulligan (Torontonians may remember him as Enrico in the COC’s 2013 Lucia di Lammermoor) and pianist Timothy Long. There are two substantial pieces; each about 26 minutes long. The first is Walden by Gregory Spears and it sets four prose extracts from Thoreau’s work with an extremely minimalist piano accompaniment. I’m not really sure about turning prose into song and I’m not a huge Thoreau fan. Perhaps if I were I would have found this more interesting. It’s pleasant enough; it’s tonal and somewhat melodic and Mulligan has a pleasant voice but I wasn’t excited.
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is an opera I really have trouble with. Done “straight” it’s just a horrible mixture of cultural appropriation and just plain ick. It does have some good music though and opera companies insist on doing it roughy every five minutes so it would be really nice to find a production that worked dramatically. The lake stage at Bregenz is just about the last place I’d expect to find that so I was pleasantly surprised that Andreas Homoki’s 2022 production is maybe the most interesting I’ve seen.
The annual Student Composer Collective opera at UoT is, as far as I know, unique. A libretto is written. The work is divided up and student composers write music for their assigned section(s). The finished work is presented fully staged with orchestra. In recent years the libretto and direction has come from Michael Patrick Albano, as was the case with this year’s effort presented in the MacMillan Theatre yesterday afternoon. Who Killed Adriana riffs off Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Adriana Amaro, a very divaish diva, is making her Covent Garden debut as Adriana. In the first half of the show, set backstage between Acts 2 and 3, we see her waspishly putting down all the other characters before making her grand entrance. This time though the poisoned violets of the final scene are just that and the second part is a whodunnit search for the murderer. Along the way no stock opera joke is left unused. Tenors are neurotic, understudies insecure, managers harassed, fans obsessive, there are fake Italians and so on. But in typical Albano style it works and provides a coherent, and at times very funny, plot line for the composers to work with. And some of the jokes were new. Adriana’s chauffeur, Umlaut, is revealed as the answer to every Austrian’s prayer; the inventor of musical strudel.
David Alden chooses to set his production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, currently playing at Canadian Opera, in Victorian Scotland in a rather decayed country house. It’s all set up as classic Gothic schtick. The angle is that Lucia herself is very young and is being sexually abused by her brother Enrico. OK, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a better solution than the idea that women are all just inherently unstable and liable to go from shrinking violet to shrieking murderess at the drop of a forged letter. So, it’s an interesting idea but it poses real problems about the nature of her relationship with her “fiance” Edgardo. If he’s the hero of this thing what is he doing having a clandestine relationship with a girl who’s not yet out of the schoolroom? (We can tell this by how she’s dressed). This is a major Victorian taboo. Respectable men don’t go after girls until they are “out”. Are we then to see Edgardo as as a big a cad as Enrico? Maybe. The trouble with that concept is then why do we care what happens to him? Edgardo kills himself. Goodbye paedophile creep. So what! So bottom line, I can take the groping and the creepiness that some critics have complained about but I wonder what Alden is really trying to tell us about the piece.