It was the best of times…

UoT Opera Division’s production of Arthur Benjamin’s A Tale of Two Cities, currently playing at the MacMillan Theatre, is really rather good.  Its partly the work itself which surely deserves to be better known.  It’s a 1950 work to a libretto by Cedric Cliffe.  It was written for the Festival of Britain and was considered a success at the time.  It is in many ways typical of mid 20th century English opera (though Benjamin was a peripatetic Australian rather than a Brit).  It’s colourful and uses a large orchestra with lots of brass and percussion and combines lyricism with some fairly heavy dissonance.  It also includes a few good arias, notably one for Lucie Manette, the romantic female interest.

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Dr. Manette (Burak Yaman), Lucie Manette (Emily Rocha)

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Mathis der Maler

My guess is that Paul Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler is an opera most opera amateurs have heard of but which comparatively few have actually seen.  The video release of a 2012 production at Theater an der Wien directed by Keith Warner is therefore very welcome.


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Mahler; arr. Schoenberg

mahlerschoenbergsongsThis review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.

Schoenberg’s reductions of Mahler’s two great orchestral song cycles; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Das Lied von der Erde, were made for his “Society for Private Musical Performance” which flourished briefly in post WW1 Vienna. Essentially the orchestral score is reduced to one instrument per part with a few other minor changes. The results are intriguing. Unquestionably some of the grandeur of Mahler’s massive orchestration is lost. This is especially noticeable in Das Lied von der Erde. On the other hand the instrumental textures are greatly clarified and there is much less sense of the singers straining to make themselves heard against a large orchestra. There are still fifteen instrumentalists so the singers are pushed well beyond lieder singing but it does allow for a somewhat more nuanced approach to the text.

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Wonky androids

I’m a pretty Regie friendly guy but I confess to being quite bemused by the 2006 Salzburg production of Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba.  Some of the production concept I totally get.  Removing the unaccompanied recits and replacing them with two actors speaking a summary (in German) makes all kinds of sense.  It reduces a sprawling pastorale with minimal plot to something half the length while keeping all the good music.  The wonky android chorus, the hero apparently with severe motor neuron disease and Aceste shunting Silvia about in a wheelbarrow I had more problems with.  The Gumbie chorus seemed particularly odd and the costumes, well see for yourself.

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Chuck’s back

crEarlier this week I fired up iTunes in search of the latest Melvin Bragg “In Our Time” episode and noticed that two podcasts were downloading.  The other one turned out to be a new episode of Charles Reid’s “This Opera Life”.  Now, Charles’ podcast had been on hiatus for months and I really missed it so I was delighted at this turn of events.  I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until I was heading to the market at stupid o’clock this morning.  Anyway, to cut to the chase, after an explanation of the hiatus, Charles goes on to say nice things about this blog and the Big COC Podcast.  Which is awfully kind of him.  Charles’ podcasts are mostly interviews with the ordinary working stiffs of the opera world.  Occasionally he hooks a “big name” but mostly not and it’s all the more interesting because of it.  I think his archive now has 59 episodes, curiously numbered two to sixty!  The latest features director Jonathon Loy.  I recommend it highly.

You can find Charles Reid’s podcasts at or on iTunes.