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.
Joyce DiDonato’s latest CD In War and Peace is a compilation of baroque arias on the theme of war and peace, apparently prompted by the terrorist attacks in Paris. The arias are divided, apparently, into the two categories and while I get that Handel’s Scenes of Sorrow, Scenes of Woe from Jeptha is “war” I’m not at all sure how Purcell’s Dido’s Lament finds itself on that side of the balance sheet. No matter there’s lots of Handel; very well done, and quite a bit of Purcell, some of it quite little known; even better, with some Leo, Jommelli and Monteverdi along the way.
Opera Atelier’s production of (mostly) Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas opened last night at the Elgin. I say “(mostly) Purcell” because director Marshall Pynkoski had decided to add a Prologue. As he explained in his introductory remarks nobody reads Virgil’s Aeneid anymore so it was necessary to play out the back story in a prologue. I find this pretty patronising. It’s not a particularly convoluted story and I would have thought that the gist of the story is well enough known to most opera goers and, you know, some of us have read the Aeneid. Besides, even without detailed knowledge of the back story there’s nothing remotely hard to understand. FWIW the dumbing down carried over into the surtitles with, for example, “Anchises” rendered as “his father”. Anyway we got a prologue spoken by Irene Poole while the orchestra played other Purcell airs followed by a bit of extraneous ballet and poor Chris Enns (Aeneas) and Wallis Giunta (Dido) running around making the stock baroque “woe is me” gesture. I guess it made the piece (plus Marshall’s speech) long enough to justify an intermission, which was taken after what is usually Act 2 Scene 1, but the prologue was neither necessary nor welcome and I think the ensuing intermission was an unnecessary break in the flow of the action.
There’s a lot on today. Handel’s Ariodante opens at the COC at 2.30pm. There’s also a concert featuring Russell Braun with the Amici Ensemble at 3pm in the Mazzoleni Concert Hall at the Conservatory. The Elmer Iseler Singers and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir also have concerts. Thursday sees the opening of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at Opera Atelier with Wallis Giunta and Chris Enns as the lovers which promises both eye and ear candy. That’s at the Elgin at 7.30pm. Then on Saturday there’s Singing Stars of Tomorrow, the result of a Sondra Radvanovsky intensive, at the Alliance Française at 7.30 pm. The line up is Valerie Belanger,soprano; Stephanie De Ciantis, soprano; Natalya Gennadi, soprano; Beth Hagerman, soprano; Jessica Scarlato, soprano; Sara Schabas, soprano; Caitlin Wood, soprano; Danielle MacMillan, mezzo-soprano; Marjorie Maltais, mezzo-soprano; Asitha Tennekoon, tenor. Quite a mix, from people I’ve never heard of to one who has already made her COC debut.
In other news, the COC and Show One Productions have announced a gala concert to take place at the Four Seasons Centre on April 25th next year. It’s billed (modestly) as Trio Magnifico: The Ultimate Opera Gala and the big draw is the Canadian debut of Anna Netrebko. She will appear with her husband tenor Yusif Eyazov and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. They will be accompanied by the COC Orchestra conducted by Jader Bignamini. Given that Dima alone turned Koerner Hall into a frenzy of screaming Russian grannies, this could get interesting.
The one thing Daniel Taylor did not explain in his introduction to The Coronation of King George II, presented by Toronto Summer Music Festival, last night was how on earth he, and whatever friends and substances were involved, came up with the concept. It’s not immediately apparent that interweaving some of the music from the 1727 coronation service with snippets from the liturgy while throwing in some earlier music that might have been used in earlier coronations and, to cap it all, Tardising in some Parry and Tavener makes any sense at all but in a weird way it did. There was even a real priest brought in to play the Archbishop of Canterbury (looking disturbingly like the Bishop of Bath and Wells) and an actor playing the king. Oddly it made for an hour or so of rather good music mixed with just enough levity to offset the mostly extremely lugubrious text of the liturgy.
Opera Atelier has announced its 2016/17 season. The fall production will be Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. It isn’t clear whether this is a new production or a revival. The company has done the piece before; at the MacMillan Theatre in 1989 and 1994, in 2005 at the Elgin and in sundry tour venues. It’s not paired with anything so it’s either a very short show or there is a lot of interpolated dance. Wallis Giunta and Chris Enns play the lovers with a supporting cast that includes Meghan Lindsay, Laura Pudwell, Ellen McAteer, Karine White and Cory Knight. Nice to see Karine getting a chance on a professional stage. There are six shows at the Elgin between October 20 and 29, 2016.