Most opera lovers will be familiar with the Drottningholm Palace Theatre near Stockholm. Less familiar is the Confidencen Theatre in the Ulriksdal Palace. It’s a small theatre (200 seats?) built in the 1650s and restored in the early 21st century. It now hosts concerts and operas and in August 2021 it played John Blow’s Venus and Adonis in a double bill with Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The operas were recorded and issued on Blu-ray and DVD.
Wednesday’s RBA concert was a preview of Opera Atelier’s upcoming production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Something between a performance of excerpts and a working rehearsal it featured Marshall Pynkoski introducing a series of excerpts for both singers (in rehearsal dress) and dancers (in costume). He provided a good linking narrative situating each excerpt in the context of the work together with some general remarks about the nature and origin of the piece.
We got Meghan Lindsay (Dido) and Mireille Asselin (Belinda) with the opening duet. They wre joined by Colion Ainsworth (Aeneas) for “see, your royal guest appears” followed by the triumphing dance by two members of the OA ballet. There was some serious witchiness from Danielle MacMillan and Cynthia Smithers, more dance and Mireille with “Thanks to these lonesome vales” before a very dramatic account of the final confrontation between the lovers and Dido’s famous lament. Continue reading →
Opera Atelier’s fall show Something Rich and Strange was originally conceived as a show that could be given before a (limited) live audience as well as via web stream. That’s obviously constraining compared to a show that is created without a fourth wall and can include location filming. All the other constraints of these strange times had also to be observed. Despite this there was much to like in a show that presented a number of scenes from the 17th and 18th century repertoire plus a couple of “neo-baroque” pieces composed by Edwin Huizinga.
Last night Confluence Concerts streamed their latest offering; a tribute to Henry Purcell, preceded by a pre-show interview between Larry Beckwith and Andrew Parrott. There was beautifully played instrumental music from Victoria Baroque, songs from Lawrence Williford and Lucas Harris recorded at the Elora Festival and a couple of interesting takes on If Music Be the Food of Love plus Two Daughters of this Aged Stream featuring Daniel Taylor, Rebecca Genge and Sinéad White plus instrumentalists from the UoT Faculty of Music Historical Performance Department. I was less taken with Duo Serenissima (Elizabeth Hetherington, soprano and David Mackor, theorbo). I can’t tell whether it was the recording acoustic or a diction issue but the words were pretty much unintelligible which is a big problem with Purcell!.
Purcell’s King Arthur contains some wonderful music but it also poses real staging issues. How much of the play that the music supports does one include? How to contextualise the unfamiliar version of the King Arthur story? How to deal with the rather crude nationalism? Sven-Eric Bechtolf and Julian Crouch come up with a very interesting approach for their 2017 production at the Staatsoper Berlin.
Yesterday’s RBA concert was at the unusual hour of 5.30pm and featured bass-baritone Brandon Cedel with Sandra Horst at the piano. It was a nicely balanced programme. Cedel began with Purcell’s Arise, ye subterranean winds from The Tempest. It’s one of those very Purcellian arias for low voice that feature long, not especially fast runs and put a lot of demands on the singer’s technique. Cedel’s is very solid. He can shape a line too and his English diction is excellent. There was some particular fine playing from Sandra Horst here too.
‘Tis the season for season announcements. First out of the blocks is Opera Atelier. They have two Toronto shows. The fall show is a tweaked revival of the venerable 1991 production of Mozart’s Magic Flute. It gets new costumes and a new “flying machine” for the Queen of the Night. Colin Ainsworth sings Tamino with Mireille Asselin as Pamina, Douglas Williams as Papageno, Gustav Andreassen as Sarastro, and Holly Flack as the Queen of the Night. That runs October 22nd to November 1st 2020.
Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting. So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019? Let’s look at it by categories.
Fully staged opera with orchestra
The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me. David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years. The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested. Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world. The other winner was Elektra in January. The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.
Last night various bits of the early music side of the UoT Faculty of Music, plus guests, put on a performance of Purcell’s King Arthur at Trinity St. Paul’s. I’m pretty familiar with the piece from both audio and video recordings (though this was my first time live) but it was clear last night that most people really don’t know the work and I suspect that the way the work was presented was not especially helpful for them.
The program contains detailed notes by director Erik Thor about his thoughts on presenting a “problem piece” without really explaining why King Arthur is a problem or why he made the choices he made. We are told it’s about conquest and erasure but not how and why it differs from what most people seem to expect when they see the title King Arthur. In short, it’s a highly fictionalised version of the very old Welsh stories about the resistance of the (Christian) Britons to the (Pagan) Saxons. Forget Geoffrey of Monmouth, Tennyson, TE White and Monty Python. Oddly, Merlin, perhaps the one character anyone would recognise, is cut here. The work itself is also a bit incoherent largely because Dryden (the librettist) tried to recast what was originally a court spectacular to the glory of Charles II as something that would work in the theatre and pass the censorship under William and Mary!