Wagner’s Parsifal both attracts and repels. It has gorgeous music but a problematic plot that, on the surface, is a weird mash up of Christian symbolism, medieval romance and (more than likely) anti-Semitism. With reference to the latter it’s no great surprise that an Israeli conductor taking on the work would want to take an approach that deals with that aspect head on. That’s what Omer Meir Wellber does, with the willing collaboration of director Graham Vick in a production staged and recorded at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo in 2020.
I’m rarely disappointed by a Pierre Audi production and his Tristan und Isolde for Teatro dell’opera di Roma, recorded in 2016, was far from that. It’s a bit of a slow burn but then so, really, is the work itself. It’s starkly simple. The sets contain few elements and no fuss. Costuming is almost drab but the direction of the singers is compelling and it builds to a brilliant staging of the Liebestod with Isolde silhouetted, motionless in a kind of frame and absolutely nothing happening which, paradoxically, is riveting.
For some reason the Metropolitan opera decided, in 2014, to give an HD broadcast to Otto Schenk’s 1993 version of Dvorák’s Rusalka with revival direction by Laurie Feldman. This production must have seriously old fashioned even then and actually looks and feels like it was created fifty years before the opera was written. It’s not just the dark, dreary, over detailed Arthur Rackham like sets and costumes or even the the stock acting and the lame choreography. The biggest problem is that it completely ignores that Rusalka is essentially about sex and its pathologies. Does Schenk think that Rusalka wants to hold hands with the Prince at the cinema or take the Foreign Princess to the ball instead of Rusalka? You would think so from this Disneyfied version. Has the man even heard of Freud (let’s be clear Dvorák had)? The result then is stultifyingly dull and actually just rather silly. I’ve seen panto with more psychological depth.
The line up for this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival, the first with Jonathan Crow as Artistic Director has been announced. It’s the usual mix of orchestral, chamber, piano and small scale vocal music for the most part. This being the sesquicentennial year it’s heavy on CanCon and, as in previous years, there are academy programs for both singers and instrumentalists.
Sir Andrew Davis is in town conducting his own orchestration of Handel’s Messiah. In the modern world this is probably as close as it gets to Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Huddersfield Choral Society. He conducts the TSO with brass and woodwinds that Handel never saw and lots of percussion including snare drum, sleigh bells, tambourines and marimba. He also has the not inconsiderable heft of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
I was back at the Four Seasons Centre last night for another look at Duke Bluebeard’s Castle or, perhaps more accurately, another listen. I really enjoyed the production again and I don’t have much to add to my earlier review. It was the music that had much more impact this time. I often find that with “modern” scores I get much more out of them on a second listening and that was true here. First time round I felt so battered by the loud bits, especially the section where the fifth door (Bluebeard’s empire) is opened with it’s extra brass and JohnWilliams on acid crescendos, that my brain somewhat discounted the quieter bits. Last night I was struck mainly by the meditative nature of much of the music. The influence of Débussy, especially Pelléas et Mélisande, seems clear. The little repeating figures for the woodwinds; there’s one that’s usually given (I think) to the flutes and or oboes) and another descending figure in the bassoons, are quite haunting. It’s really quite lovely when it’s not being brutal.
I also appreciated the relationship between Bluebeard and Judith more. This isn’t Perreault’s tale of a brute and an innocent. Gubanova’s rather fierce Judith is running the show. Maybe there is an element of hubris in this Judith. Relyea’s Duke by contrast is almost an observer and commentator; acquiescing in what must be. Some of this, of course, is in the libretto. Bluebeard isn’t killed and Judith shares the fate, whatever it is, of the other wives. But here she seems to do so willingly.
Robert Lepage’s 1993 double bill production of Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung was the iconic director’s first foray into opera and it has been argued tht it put the COC “on the map” as a serious international opera company. It was revived last night with François Racine directing.
This evening at 7.30pm at Trinity St. Paul’s The Talisker Players have their first concert of the season entitled Songs of Travel. Virginia Hatfield will be performing the French baroque work Le Sommeil d’Ulisse by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and the rarely performed Algoma Central by Louis Applebaum. Also featured is baritone Geoffrey Sirett in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel and Vally Weigl’s Songs of Love and Leaving. Also on tomorrow.
There a few things coming up in Toronto over the next week or two that might be worth a look.
Tomorrow at noon in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre Lauren Segal and Robert Gleadow accompanied by Sandra Horst are giving a free concert featuring Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs, de Falla’s Siete canciones populares Españolas, Ibert’s Chansons de Don Quichotte and Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel.
Russell Braun as Don Giovanni – Photo Credit Javier del Real
Yesterday evening saw the announcement of the line up for the COC’s 2014/15 season. The usual rather prosaic press conference was replaced with a glitzy reception and main stage show featuring Brent Bambury of the COC interviewing Alexander Neef, Johannes Debus and others plus piano accompanied performances by Simone Osborne, Russel Braun, Robert Gleadow, Charlotte Burrage and Aviva Fortunata.
There were few surprises, in itself no surprise given the number of official and unofficial “leaks” this time around. There are three productions new to Toronto, all COC copros, and three revivals so it’s an “all COC” season with no rentals or other imports. Here’s what’s coming up: