Hockey Noir; music by André Ristic, words by graphic novelist Cecil Castellucci, is a piece presented by Montreal based ECM+ and brought to Toronto in collaboration with Continuum and The Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It’s described as a “graphic opera” which I suppose is OK as far as it goes. I saw it as a theatre piece incorporating, and sometimes parodying, opera, musical theatre, film noir, the graphic novel and animation. It’s set in the 1950s and riffs off the old tropes of Montreal/Toronto hockey rivalry and the entanglement of local government and organised crime in Montreal.
Today’s RBA recital was Allyson McHardy and Rachel Andrist in a program called Women on the Edge. What we got was a sampler from what will eventually be a longer show. First up was Schumann’s Poèmes de Marie, Reine des Écossais. It’s a very late Schumann work and, I think, one of his best vocal works. But there’s some history here. Schumann set German translations of five poems by Mary in French plus a Latin prayer Mary’s Latin is very classically elegant). The original French was subsequently rearrranged by Bernard Diamant for Maureen Forrester and that’s the version Allyson sang today. But wait, there’s a snag. The second piece Après la naissance de son fils is a bit of an anomaly. There is no French text by Mary Stuart or anyone else. The text is Scots and probably not by Mary at all. Some sources suggest it was actually graffiti in Edinburgh castle. How/why did Diamant render it into French? Who knows. Scholarly quibbling aside these are really gorgeous works and beautifully suited to Allyson’s voice. She has a really beautiful voice and it seems to be gravitating to contralto territory as she (tries desperately to find appropriately not ungallant phrase). Anyhow it was very fine.
Yesterday’s recital in the RBA was given by soprano Simone Osborne and the very busy pianist Stephen Hargreaves. The program began with three Mozart songs that I was not familiar with; Oiseaux, si tous les ans, Dans un bois solitaire and An Chloe. They were unfamiliar to me but Mozartian in a pleasing, intimate way; very much songs rather than concert arias. They got a clean, rather dramatic reading with real feeling from both parties. Next came the Ariettes oubliées of Debussy. Here we have texts by Verlaine of a mostly languorous ecstasy variety with a complex, very impressionistic piano part. Indeed they really do sound like pieces composed by someone who prefers writing for the piano and Stephen brought out their somewhat ethereal qualities nicely. Still the soprano gets to spin some very beautiful languorously ecstatic lines and there’s even one piece; Chevaux de bois, where the mood changes and the singer can have some fun. Which Simone did.
Yesterday’s concert in the Songmasters Series at Mazzoleni Hall featured Mireille Asselin and Brett Polegato with Peter Tiefenbach and Rachel Andrist in a program of songs more or less related to painting and painters. The first half of the program was all French; Fauré and Debussy. Mireille and Peter gave us two songs from Fauré’s Cinq mélodies de Venise plus three pieces from Debussy’s Fêtes galantes and Pantomime from Quatre chansons de jeunesse. I thought the Debussy generally suited Mireille’s voice rather better than the Fauré. The first three songs were beautifully and charmingly sung while Pantomime gave full rein to Mireille’s considerable comedic talents. The highlight of the first half for me though was Brett’s singing of the Poulenc work that gave the concert its title. Seven songs by Paul Eluard; each a brief portrait of a painter. Written at the same time as Dialogues des Carmélites, these pieces have the same sort of intensity and drive (and decided non trivial piano parts!). They were most expertly sung with fine diction and legato and a keen sense of the varied moods of each piece.
It has been said that the best music in Richard Strauss’ Intermezzo is in the orchestral interludes that link the various scenes. It’s probably true and certainly the singers don’t get much interesting to sing with the best music given to the orchestra even during the scenes. That said, all of the music is vastly better than the truly cringe-worthy libretto, also by Strauss. It’s in prose, much of it is spoken and there are odd interjections of more vernacular German for the servants, rather in the manner of the random cockney in ancient Ealing films. The plot is based on an, aaparently real life, episode in the married life of the Strausses, here thinly disguised as the Storches, in which Frau Storch gets the wrong end of the stick about suspected infedelity by her husband and threatens divorce. If Frau Strauss ever saw the piece, which is apparently unlikely, she might reasonably have seen the portrayal of herself by her husband as much sounder grounds for dumping him. Christine Storch is the sort of woman one wants to tie up in a sack and drown!
Today’s free concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre was given by the University of Toronto’s Opera Program. It was a semi staged assortment of songs and excerpts from operas, operettas and musicals based on the works of Shakespeare with a distinct leaning to the operetta/musical theatre side of things. That’s understandable enough with young singers but it does make the game we all play (at least I do) of trying to guess who the next Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko is that much harder. Not that I’m very good at it. I’m far more able to predict what a newly bottled Bordeaux will taste like in ten years time than whether the young soprano I’m listening to might go on to sing Siegfried or Turandot at the Met!
Having seen him sing Don Alfonso in the COC’s Così fan tutte three times as well as having attended his RBA lunchtime recital and having interviewed him one would be forgiven for thinking that I might have had my fill of Sir Thomas Allen. But no, Durham University organised a reception on Thursday evening for alumni at which Sir Thomas was the guest of honour in his capacity as Chancellor. It was one of the filthiest nights of a filthy winter and a very nasty walk from the conference I was attending to the Music Room at Hart House but around fifty people turned up. They were mostly Durham grads but the Dean of Music from UoT was there, as was the Chancellor of Queen’s (which was rather a surprise). It was basically a drinks and canapés do but our esteemed Chancellor was prevailed on to sing a few numbers with the help of Rachel Andrist. We got a ballad I didn’t recognise, Dehvieni allafenestra, The Foggy Dew (arr. Britten) and Cole Porter’s Miss Otis regrets. Fun, and a very welcome opportunity to hear something from Don Giovanni from a master of the role.
I had an interesting conversation with Sir Tom and Rachel about music in hospitals and now have a “to do” to sort out who to talk to at Sick Kids. Oh yes, and to cap a filthy night, the lemur and I were engulfed in a tidal wave of filthy slush on our way to the subway and home.
There was no doubt that the Four Seasons Centre was the place to be at noon today. Few opera fans would willingly miss a free recital by Sir Thomas Allen and I doubt that anyone who attended was disappointed. Perhaps the voice doesn’t have the bloom it had twenty years ago but it’s still exceptionally fine and the craftsmanship and sheer stage presence was little short of amazing. Above all, perhaps, it’s the humanity of the man that shone through for the hour and a bit he entertained us.