Sunday, at Grace Church on the Hill, Soundstreams presented Celebrating R. Murray Schafer. It felt like a cross between a concert and a memorial service. There were no prayers but there were eulogies and Eleanor James drew the parallel between Schafer’s sources of inspiration and Pentecost; that feast of the Church having been chosen deliberately for the event.
There was lots of music of course. The afternoon was bookended by two of Schafer’s ceremonial wilderness pieces for voice and trumpet. Meghan Lindsay and Michael Fedyshyn welcomed us with the Aubade for Two Voices and bid us farewell with Departure. Both were made the more haunting from the performers being out of sight. Choir 21 with conductor David Fallis sang two sets. First came the three hymns from The Fall into Light which appropriately set texts drawn from the Manichaean tradition. There was some wonderfully precise singing here. The second set was perhaps more light hearted with Epitaph for Moonlight which was written for amateur performance and the playful Fire which, besides singing, involves banging rocks together.
Ian Cusson and Colleen Murphy’s Fantasma opened at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre last night. It’s billed as an opera for younger audiences though I think there were more composers than kids in the theatre last night! It’s a ghost story. Two fifteen year old girls and their mother are visiting an old fashioned carnival which is struggling financially. There’s a “ghost” who is employed to scare patrons and generate social media coverage. Then the girls find a real, rather sad, little ghost and things happen. Or maybe they don’t. And the opera ends. Or maybe it doesn’t. It’s surprisingly complex for a 45 minute piece for kids and raises issues about what we see and what we think we see; why adults do and don’t believe kids and so on. When the (virtual) curtain came down rather abruptly I didn’t think I’d be thinking so much about it the next morning. But I am.
Vladimir Soloviev as Dante and Vartan Gabrielian as Tino
There’s not exactly a flood of events in my calendar for march yet but there are a few. Running March 1st to 20th at Crow’s Theatre is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ satirical play Gloria about a Manhattan magazine staff seeking fame and glory as the internet turns the industry upside down. It’s not an opera but it’s directed by the very talented André Sills which is reason enough for me.
Last night saw the first performance of a run of eleven in Against the Grain Theatre’s revival of their 2013 hit Figaro’s Wedding. It’s essentially the same show. Director/librettist Joel Ivany has made a number of tweaks and updates but the main differences lie in what the singers bring to their characters.
The current Tapestry Briefs is one of the most satisfying I have attended. Briefs is the performance edition of the LibLab; an intense where composers collaborate with librettists to create new opera scenes. Some of these disappear and some go on to be the starting point for new operas. The current crop is strong. There were eleven scenes in the show; sung by various combinations of Teiya Kasahara, Stephanie Tritchew, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray with Jennifer Tung at the piano and other keyboards. As a bonus, at intervals Keith appeared to sing a parody of a famous aria describing the tasty little tapas which were offered around.
The last two ReGENERATION concerts featuring song took place in Walter Hall yesterday at 1pm and 4pm. Both featured four singers doing a set with piano, a vocal piece with chamber accompaniment and a chamber piece. All the members of the Artsong Academy programme appeared at least once. First up was tenor Joey Jang with Frances Armstrong at the piano with a set of Schubert and Schumann. He sounded OK, if a bit underpowered, in Liebesbotschaft with its fairly fast rhythmic lines but technical issues showed up in the slower pieces requiring real legato.
Yesterday’s Amici Ensemble concert in Mazzoleni Hall was an all Richard Strauss program featuring an array of guests. First up was the Duett Concertino where regulats Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello) and Serouj Kradjian (piano) were joined by violinists Timothy Ying and Jennifer Murphy, violist Keith Hamm, Theodore Chan on bass and Michael Sweeney on bassoon. It’s a program piece in which the clarinet represents a princess and the bassoon, a bear, who eventually, of course, transforms into a handsome prince. There are lots of dance rhythms from the strings and some sly quotations from Der Rosenkavalier along the way. It’s fun and it was very well played. I almost wonder if it was too smooth. The bear certainly seemed very suave and his transformation was not terribly abrupt. Still, bear!
My second concert of the day was a Halloween themed recital given by soprano Jennifer Taverner at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu. Now previously I had only heard Jennifer sing operetta, at which she is very good, so I had little idea what her range is. Last night I found out. The first part of the program was pretty normal recital fare. Ombre pallide from Handel’s Alcina was knocked off with flair and some bravura in the repeat. Then came some French chansons of spookiness including Saint Saens’ Danse macabre where Jennifer and pianist Andrea van Pelt were joined by Jennifer Murphy on violin. All nicely done with fine diction.
Aaron Gervais’ and Colleen Murphy’s Oksana G. finally made it to the stage last night after a most convoluted journey. It’s being produced by Tapestry at the Imperial Oil Theatre with Tom Diamond directing. The wait, I think has been worth it. The story, set in 1997, of a naive country girl from the Ukraine who gets caught up in sex trafficking is dramatic and the it convincingly depicts the sleazy underworld of southern and eastern Europe created by the collapse of the USSR, the civil wars in the Balkans and the pervasive official corruption in countries like Ukraine, Greece and Italy. It’s gritty and, at times, not at all easy to watch.
A couple of days ago I sat down to chat with Natalya Gennadi who will sing the title role in Tapestry’s upcoming premiere of Oksana G by Aaron Gervais and Colleen Murphy. It’s a story about a Ukrainian girl who gets caught up with a sex-trafficking ring; an all too real phenomenon in Eastern and Central Europe as the Soviet system disintegrated. For Natalya it’s a very personal piece. She is Ukrainian and much the same age as Oksana would be. It’s her era and Oksana is, she feels, a similar sort of person from a similar background and there but for…
Thankfully, Natalya’ “career path” has been rather different. She didn’t set out to be a singer. In fact she trained in linguistics before applying to, and being accepted by the Moscow Conservatory though she never studied there. Instead she moved to Ottawa with her husband where she began to study music formsally. With a degree from the University of Ottawa she came to Toronto to study for her masters. Along the way she appeared in a number of student productions and since graduating has been keeping busy with roles mainly with opera companies and orchestras in the Toronto suburbs(*); most recently in the title role of Suor Angelica with Cathedral Bluffs and the countess in Le nozze di Figaro with the Brott Festival. The latter representing something of a vocal shift from Puccini and the like to lighter rep. This is something that she sees as an important (if slightly unusual) career direction. There have also been competitions and the Karina Gauvin scholarship and a “career blueprint” award from the IRCPA.