Yesterday I finally managed to do something bike related in conjunction with Bicycle Opera Project’s current tour of Sweat. I got an early train out to Aldershot, biked to Hamilton and joined up with the bike tour of historic Hamilton organised by the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre to complement the opera, before seeing the afternoon performance of Sweat at WAHC. I’ll add some bikey/historical observations at the end but since this is an opera blog let’s cut to the chase.
Toronto Masque Theatre have announced their 2016/17 season. There are two main stage productions and three salon concerts. First of the main stage shows is a double bill of Handel’s dramatic cantata Apollo and Daphne with Jacqueline Woodley and Geoffrey Sirett and dancer Stéphaie Brochard, directed and choreographed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière paired with Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden based on the epic poem by Tennyson, performed by actor Derek Boyes and pianist Angela Park. This one is at 8:00 pm on November 17th, 18th and 19th with a pre-show event at 7:15 pm each evening at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse.
It’s been four years since the initial Canadian Art Song Project concert in the RBA. Since then they’ve commissioned a number of works and started a recital series that has included innovative presentations such as the performance of Brian Harman’s Sewing the Earthwormgiven in November. A work premiered that night; Erik Ross’ The Living Spectacle formed the conclusion to yesterday’s concert but first came a series of works performed by students from the University of Toronto.
I find it somewhat ironic that while “traditionalists” want to return to the opera house experience of the 1950s, there are younger, more radical, groups that look more to the opera audience experience of the 1750s. The argument goes “Young people don’t come to the opera house because of the experience. It’s a stuffy crowd. You have to sit still and quiet for hours in the hushed, darkened auditorium. You can’t get trashed, just maybe a glass of wine at the interval if you are lucky”. Thank you Mahler and Wagner with your Holy Temple of the Arts! Whatever happened to going to the opera house to hang out with your friends, play cards and bonk that rather cute countess in the discretely dark recesses of her box?
Toronto Masque Theatre’s season features an intriguing mixture of old and new. First up is a contemporary show. It’s Dean Burry’s take on the mumming tradition in his native Newfoundland. The Enoch Turner Schoolhouse is the venue for this retelling of the St George legend with soprano Shannon Mercer as the saint. It tells of his encounters with a rival knight and dragon (both played by mezzo soprano Marion Newman) and romance with the mysterious Princess Zebra (tenor Christopher Mayell). I think you get the general idea. The Mummers’ Masque is on at 8:00pm, 17th-19th December 2015 with a pre-show event at 7:15 pm each evening.
The recently announced death of Jon Vickers has had me thinking a lot about connections. Vickers sang the title role in the second opera I saw live; Peter Grimes at Covent Garden in July 1975. Oddly, the first was The Rhinegold, at ENO, conducted by Reginald Goodall who also conducted the premiere performance of Peter Grimes in 1945. The summers of 1975 and 1976 were the first real chance, and the last for a while, that I had to see opera live. I worked those summer vacations in banks in central London which meant that I could use my lunchbreak to get a rush ticket for the evening performance. Living thirty miles out with a train to catch meant it wasn’t something I could do often but I did catch a couple of performances in each of those summers and, as I look back, there are so many beginnings and endings and connections.
Shelter; music by Juliet Palmer, libretto by Julie Salverson, has been ten years in the making. It premiered in Edmonton a couple of years ago, finally, got its Toronto premiere at the Berkeley Street Theatre last night under the auspices of Tapestry. It’s a complex and eclectic piece dealing with what it is to be human in a nuclear age. There are two parallel plots which intersect in a way that makes dramatic sense but violate conventional notions of synchronicity. This is, after all, a piece rooted in post Einsteinian physics. The first concerns Austrian Jewish physicist Lise Meintner, one of the discoverers of nuclear fission. She has been forced into exile by the Anschluss and is seen here refusing to work on the Manhattan project. The second plot concerns a highly stereotypical 1950s American couple Thomas and Claire who meet at a social, marry and quickly produce a child; Hope. Their “American Dream” is shattered when it turns out that the baby glows! Fast forward 21 years and Hope is demanding her freedom in a world from which she has thus far been sheltered. Reenter Meintner, engaged by Thomas to be Hope’s tutor, and still obsessing about the Manhattan project. The final twist comes with the arrival of the Pilot, in WW2 Army Air Corps uniform, who uses a Geiger counter to find his prey. He fails to convince Meintner to change her mind but does persuade Hope to fulfill her destiny as He pilots the Enola Gay to 31,000 feet and a clear sky. It’s weird, disturbing and powerful.
There are a few operatic events coming up in June although, as usual things are slowing down a bit.
On June 1st at 7pm, Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has a recital at Koerner Hall singing works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Medtner and Liszt. Ivari Ilja will accompany on piano.
Brian Current’s new opera Airline Icarus will open at 8pm on June 3rd at Ada Slaight Hall in the Daniels Spectrum complex. The piece stars Krisztina Szabó and Alexander Dobson, among others. Tim Albery directs. The show runs until June 8th. Tickets are $20-$75 and are available here.
Britten’s Albert Herring is mysteriously under represented in the DVD catalogue. The work is performed quite often being relatively inexpensive to mount and suitable for smaller venues but the many productions haven’t led to many recordings. I have only been able to find one and that dates back to 1985 when it was recorded at Glyndebourne. That’s appropriate enough as that’s the house the piece premiered in in 1947. At least it’s a fair and effective representation of the work. Peter Hall’s production takes few liberties with the libretto and is a rather literal and effective, if necessarily somewhat caricatured, representation of life in a Suffolk village. The sets and costumes are evocative; especially the hall of Lady Billows’ house which really evokes a 17th century Great Hall and, as the view through the window tells us, is set in or close to the village, not in an isolated park. There’s quite a lot of that kind of attention to detail in this production.
There is, finally, a recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes on Blu-ray. It’s a Richard Jones production with a largely British cast, recorded at La Scala in 2012. The sound and picture quality are first rate. Unfortunately the production and performances aren’t so much.
Richard Jones has chosen to set the piece in the 1980s and to portray the inhabitants of the Borough as a sort of inbred hive mind fuelled by prejudice, alcohol and drugs. Actually it’s not a bad concept but it comes off as exaggerated with cast and chorus repeatedly making more or less coordinated middle aged disco moves. He also portrays the nieces as the sort of permanently stoned bubble heads one wants to avoid on the last train home. There are some neat touches. The Moot Hall, The Boar and Grimes’ hut are all formed by box like spaces that are tilted and rotated to good effect. The lighting is effective too. Unusually for a modern production Jones doesn’t provide any staging for the interludes, leaving the theatre dark with the curtain down. Overall, it’s a production I’d want to take a second look at but I suspect it’s just painted too broadly to be really effective.