What do you get when you take nine multi-talented musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds and give them a Purcell toy box to play in? You get the latest concert in the Confluence series; ‘Tis Nature’s Voice: Henry Purcell Reimagined. It’s an amazingly fun evening that completely blows the cobwebs off the often stuffy Toronto baroque music scene. I can’t do a number by number account because I completely lost track. I was having way too much fun.
I met yesterday with Ryan McDonald and Camille Rogers to discuss their new project, OperaQ, and its upcoming show Dido and Belinda. The driving idea is that opera needs a space for “queer people to tell queer stories to queer people”. Now I’m sure many peopl’s initial reaction would be close to mine along the lines of “surely there’s no shortage of gay people in the opera world?”; which is ,of course, true but not really the point. Gender presentation in opera is highly conventional, both on and off the stage. There are strong stereotypes about “masculine” heroes. Can an overtly gay man get cast as Otello (or even Hadrian)? There are equally strong stereotypes about how female singers should present. Everybody is supposed to be glamorous à la Maria Callas, an attitude that was brilliantly taken apart in Teiya Kasahara’s Queer of the Night. Transgender issues add another layer onto this where, paradoxically perhaps, operas traditions of cross dressing confine rather than create space for transgender expression. So, opera, lots of queers but not much queerness?
The Angel Speaks got its North American premiere last night at the Royal Ontario Museum. It’s a new piece born out of Opera Atelier’s collaboration with the Chapel Royal at Versailles and represents something of a new direction for the company. Structurally I suppose one could describe it as a cantata with dance for baroque instruments. It combines works by Purcell (and a little William Boyce) with two new works by Edwin Huizinga to create a loose plot line around the Archangel Gabriel and the Annunciation of the Virgin. It incorporates Huizinga’s Inception, first seen in Toronto as a sort of entr’acte to OA’s Pygmalion show last October. But at the core of the piece is a new Huizinga composition; Annunciation, for baritone, soprano and small ensemble, setting text by Rilke.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA, the first I’ve been to in a while, featured the five members of the Orchestra Academy; violinists Joella Pinto and Gloria Yip, violist Carolyn Farnand and cellists Erin Patterson and Alison Rich, with Joel Allison and Samuel Chan and Rachael Kerr on keyboards. It was an interesting concert in many ways. We don’t get to see the young instrumentalists much nor do we often see Ensemble members sing with a chamber ensemble. It was also interesting to hear the contrast between Joel’s dark toned bass-baritone, often singing in a very low tessitura, with Sam’s much brighter, lighter baritone which sometimes was well up in tenor territory.
I went to see Whitney Mather sing yesterday afternoon. It was her second masters degree performance at Walter Hall with David Eliakis at the piano. (Probably the first time I’ve heard David play a proper piano!)
It was an interesting and well chosen program that allowed Whitney to demonstrate her musicianship and sensitivity to text. For the most part it avoided overly obvious territory, starting with Purcell’s rarely heard The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation which was followed by the obligatory CanCon. In this case John Greer’s The Red Red Heart; settings of poems by Marianne Bindig. The Purcell allowed some tasteful decoration and an opportunity to display appropriately baroque style. The Greer, like so many modern songs, perhaps had more of interest in the piano line than for the voice but it did allow a brief coloratura flourish.
Next up were Respighi’s Quattro Rispetti Toscani to texts by Arturo Birga. These are rather beautiful songs and should be heard more often. Whitney brought out both the pathos and humour in the rather rustic (Tuscan dialect?) texts.
After the interval we were on more familiar ground with Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. Tiago Delgado played the clarinet part quite beautifully and Whitney managed the crazy pace of the piece very well, managing to maintain a clear sense of shape and line. She wrapped up with Milhaud’s Chansons de Ronsard. These are a bit of a tour de force. Some passages are really fast and much of the music lies high in the soprano range. Whitney may not have the easiest, most beautiful, high notes ever but she does have all the notes and she hit them here with accuracy and without sense of strain. She was particularly impressive in the crazy fast Tais-toi, babillarde.
All in all not a bad way to spend a late Saturday afternoon!
The decision by Toronto Masque Theatre to pair Purcell’s miniature opera, Dido and Aeneas, with James Rolfe and André Alexis’ piece on the lovers’ inner thoughts, Aeneas and Dido, paid off last night. It produced an evening of just the right length with two contrasting but complementary pieces working really well together.
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Divine Karina is a compilation of tracks from previously released Gauvin records on the ATMA Classiques label. There’s Purcell, plenty of Handel, Bach and other baroque composers with ventures into Mozart, Mahler and even Britten. Accompaniment is, mostly, by an assortment of Quebec period bands though the Orchestre Métropolitain with Nézet-Séguin put in an appearance for the Sehr behaglich from Mahler’s Fourth. There’s a previously unreleased track as a bonus; a duet with her Las Vegas based sister in a sort of lounge jazz style.