Sometime I Sing is a CD of music for tenor and guitar by Alec Roth performed by Mark Padmore and Morgan Szymanski. The most substantial work is My Lute and I which sets nine poems by 16th century poet and courtier Sir Thomas Wyatt. There’s a definite attempt here to evoke the lute with the result that the guitar part is quite muted, The texts are fairly conventional love poetry of the period and there’s a fair bit of melodic invention in the vocal line. For some reason “How?” is largely set to the tune of “The Seeds of Love”. Padmore sings very clearly and beautifully in a characteristically English way. So pleasant to listen to but not very exciting.
Having enjoyed the performance in the Toronto Music Garden of Alec Roth’s Songs in Time of War I downloaded the CD of the original version with violin rather than erhu. There are actually three pieces on the CD. There’s the complete Songs in Time of War with tenor Mark Padmore, guitarist Morgan Szymanski, harpist Alison Nicholls and violinist Philippe Honoré, there are two solo guitar pieces Canción de la Luna and Danza de la Luna (Szymanski) and Padmore and Szymanski collaborating on Chinese Gardens; a setting of four Vikram Seth poems inspired by the Ming dynasty gardens at Suzhou.
The season finale for the Music Garden this summer was a performance of Alec Roth’s Songs in Times of War. These are settings of poems by Du Fu translated by Vikram Seth. Du Fu was a Chinese court poet who lived through times (8th century CE) when millions died or were displaced by rebellion and civil war. Although more allusive than direct (most of the time), the poems are grim but have an elusive beauty which is reflected in Roth’s setting. Originally scored for tenor, guitar, harp and violin we got to hear a new version (by the composer) with violin replaced by erhu; a two stringed bowed instrument. Tnere’s no doubt in my mind that the erhu adds a really effective cross-cultural timbre that the violin version can’t quite match.
David Fallis’ last show after 28 years as Artistic Director of the Toronto Consort is, perhaps appropriately, the earliest opera in the repertoire; Monteverdi’s Orfeo. The first performance of three was last night at Trinity St. Paul’s. It’s a concert performance with surtitles and some interesting orchestration. The expected strings and woodwinds are supplemented here by the sackbuts and cornettos of Montreal based La Rose des Vents as well as triple harp and an assortment of keyboards including, I think, two different organs. Continue reading
Andrew Ager’s Führerbunker is a short chamber opera depicting the events leading up to Hitler’s suicide in April 1945. It’s a tautly constructed work in which many short scenes are woven into a seamless and compelling whole. It flies by and its 45 minute length seems even shorter. The score is spare, even brutal, as befits the subject matter. The composer told me he had initially envisioned something Wagnerian but feared that that must descend into pastiche. He made the right decision. So, the piano line is minimalist with elements of serialism and very little support for the singers. It’s a style that has perhaps been largely discarded (in north America at least) but here it was startlingly effective. Perhaps the crappy Tranzac Club piano contributed to the effect!
Last night I went to see Essential Opera’s cheap and cheerful production of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. It was a semi staged production in the relatively small Heliconian Hall. Semi-staged in this case meant sung in costume from music stands with very basic blocking. Accompaniment was by Cathy Nosaty on piano and accordion which actually suited the music pretty well.
The singing was good, sometimes very good. Probably the stand out was Laura McAlpine’s Jenny. Of all the singers on display she was the one who seemed most immersed in the sound world of the piece and could vary style and technique appropriately. Erin Bardua’s Lucy Brown was really quite idiomatic too. The others were more consistently operatic which sounded a bit odd in places but worked surprisingly well in, for example David Roth and Heather Jewson’s rather refined refined and bourgeois Peachums. Obviously this approach also worked for the character who are usually sung operatically; Macheath, Brown and Polly for example. The ensembles were all also very effective.