sirenes cover smallSirènes is an album of pieces by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović.  The first pice, which gives the album its title, is written for six unaccompanied female voices.  It’s performed here by the vocal ensemble of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre conducted by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. The six ladies in question are Danika Lorèn, Shannon Mercer, Magali Simard-Galdès, Caitlin Wood, Andrea Ludwig, and Krisztina Szabó.  It’s an interesting piece and very Sokolović.  The text is bent and twisted into sound fragments which are “sung” using an array of extended vocal techniques.  The overall effect is of a shimmering, fluttery and quite absorbing sound world.

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Farewell Queen of Puddings

Lorca-horizontalChris Paul Harman’s La selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) had its premier at the Four Seasons Centre at lunchtime today.  It’s a setting of some very beautiful texts from Lorca’s Suites scored for mezzo, harp, piano/celeste, flute, clarinet, cello, percussion and tape.  The tape consists of sections of the texts read by Martha de Francisco.  Sometimes the text comes from the tape, sometimes it’s sung by mezzo, sometimes it’s spoken by the mezzo and at other times they overlap.  The accompaniment is mostly very spare but occasionally becomes surprisingly dense with lots of work for tuned percussion.  There are also some unconventional roles for the instruments, especially the flute, and there is a whistled passage for the singer near the end.  All in all it’s very 21st century; decidedly modern but quite approachable.  And did I say the texts are gorgeous?  Continue reading

Yet more shows

The Toronto opera/recital calendar just keeps on giving.  Late April and May are always a bit crazy with the usual three operas on at the COC but there’s a stack more stuff going on.  The latest additions to my calendar are a new Queen of Puddings Music Theatre commission La Selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) by Canadian composer Chris Paul Harman.  This vocal chamber work setting texts by Lorca will be performed by Krisztina Szabó and an ensemble of 6 instruments as part of the free lunchtime concert series at the Four Seasons Centre at noon on April 30th.  Sadly this will be the last work from Queen of Puddings who are winding up this summer.  Next is Ruth, a new opera by Jeffrey Ryan, which will be workshopped by Tapestry at the Distillery on May 4th. Finally there is a Talisker Players show called On the Wing featuring Erin Bardua and Vicki St. Pierre in a birdsong themed programme.  It’s playing on May 7th and 8th at the Trinity St. Paul’s Centre.

Best of 2011

Herewith a personal take on the best things that came my way operatically in 2011.

Live performances

It was a pretty good year for live opera in Toronto. I’m certainly not going to complain about two Robert Carsen productions in the same calendar year. Good though the Gluck was though top honours in the fully staged opera in a real theatre go to the COC’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Neil Armfield’s production was fairly conventional but the music making was superb. Adrienne Pieczonka, Jane Archibald and Alice Coote headlined with strong support from Richard Margison and a whole bunch of past and present Studio Ensemble members. The orchestral playing too was absolutely first class and Sir Andrew Davis conducting looked like he was enjoying it as much as the audience. Later in the year I think we had a bit of “a star is born moment”. Christopher Alden’s Rigoletto was challenging enough that I wanted to see it a second time so took the chance to get a cheap ticket for the B cast. Thus I got to see the extraordinary chemistry between two very fine young singers; David Lomeli and Simone Osborne. Go see them if you get a chance. Actually, nothing at the COC seriously disappointed in 2011 (well maybe the The Magic Flute had a bit of a 200th performance of my career feel to it.) It looks like we are moving at last into an era when Toronto gets consistently high class singers and conductors in decent or better productions. It’s a shame there are only seven productions per year.

As for smaller venues, highlights included Against the Grain’s funky La Boheme in the highly outlandish setting of the Tranzac Club and Queen of Puddings’ world premiere of Ana Sokolov’s Svadba – Wedding; an hour long piece for six unaccompanied female voices. There were also any number of excellent free lunchtime concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.


The surprise highlight of the year for me was the restored print of the 1961 Rosenkavalier from Salzburg. Everything about it is surprising and wonderful and undermines a great deal of received wisdom about opera in that era. Other personal discoveries were the Salzburg King Arthur (who knew Germans could be funny?) and Calixto Bieito’s truly disturbing Wozzeck starring Franz Hawlata at his very considerable best.

Personal epiphany

I started the year thinking I didn’t really like John Adams much. I had hated the Met broadcast of Doctor Atomic and while I liked some of the non-operatic stuff rather more I wasn’t a fan. After watching Nixon in China twice in 24 hours (COC on the Friday night followed by the Met broadcast on the Saturday) and attending a lunchtime concert of arias introduced by the composer and sung by Peter McGillivray and Betty Wayne Allison I was converted. I even went back and watched the Amsterdam production of Doctor Atomic on DVD. I still think Doctor Atomic has its weaknesses but Nixon in China is pretty much a masterpiece.

On-line stuff

I started this blog as a way of keeping up writing analytically while I wasn’t working. It’s helped keep me sane. Through this and Twitter and other on-line stuff I’ve met some really cool people in 2011; some in meatspace including Lydia of Definitely the Opera, Cicely Carver from COC, couturier Rosemary Uhmetsu and up and coming soprano Simone Osborne. On-line folks who have helped this year along are really too numerous to mention individually but thanks anyway!

Other stuff that happened

I met Lawrence Brownlee and Leonardo Vordoni in the cinema at a MetHD broadcast! I discovered that baritone Brett Polegato (one of the funniest people in opera) has a little grey cat called Lady Jane Grey just like my little grey monster.


Last night was the world premiere of Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba-Wedding performed by Queen of Puddings Music Theatre at the Berkeley Street Theatre. The 400 or so seat theatre was packed and I had the splendid company of lemurcatta and sabotabby.

Svadba is an interesting work. I guess one can call it an opera. It lasts about an hour and is sung a cappella in Serbian by six singers. The seven scenes take place the night before Milica’s wedding as her best friends prepare her. There isn’t really a linear narrative but the scenes do unfold with a certain coherence. Similarly, although all the characters are named, only the bride to be Milica has any definable identity. The other five sing mostly ensemble and to someone who hasn’t seen the score seem essentially interchangeable.

The music draws on Serbian folk motifs but also has a lot of play with pure sound elements. That much it had in common with the other Sokolovic piece I’ve seen which was a short opera about mobile telephones. It’s not the sort of music one comes away humming but it is quite accessible and very interesting

The production, by Dairine Ni Mheadhra and John Hess, was quite spare but effective. Fabric drapes at the back of the stage are lit for various effects, a flexible piece of mirror serves multiple roles , most notably as Milica’s bath, and long strios of translucent material unroll to represent water. On occasion some Klieg lights make an onstage appearance and there is a ladder that serves as a sort of throne for Milica in the final scene. It’s all quite unfussy and interesting.

The highlight of the show though is the performers themselves. We got to see and hear six of Toronto’s best young singers and they were excellent. Jacqueline Woodley sang Milica and was wonderful. She seems to improve every time I hear her sing. The “friends” consisted of sopranos Laura Albino (last seen as Mimi at the Tranzac), Carla Huhtanen and Shannon Mercer with mezzos Andrea Ludwig and Krisztina Szabo. The nature of the piece makes it impossible to single out individual performances. What we got was crisp, rapid fire ensemble work covering some pretty challenging material nicely held together by Dairine Ni Mheadhra who conducted.

All in all, it’s a really good piece beautifully performed. It runs until July 2 and there five more performances.