So finally to see a show I’ve been thinking about a lot; TapEX:Augmented. It’s simultaneously a show about technology and about using technology in the opera house. The plot concerns the product launch of Elysium; a cloud based afterlife using machine learning to curate (and augment) the customer’s best memories and create their ideal eternity.
David McVicar’s production of Dvořák’s Rusalka opens with a prelude while the overture plays. We see the Foreign Princess and the Prince. She appears to be upbraiding him and he is drinking hard. Are we seeing a failed/forced marriage that in reality the Prince made rather than some preferred alternative? Is what we see over the next three and half hours some dream version of what might have been? In this most Freudian of operas, why not?
Wouldn’t that make a really good title for a pipe tune? But that aside Peter Oundjian is marking the end of his long run as Music Director of the TSO with a series of three Beethoven 9ths with Kirsten MacKinnon, Lauren Segal, Andrew Haji, Tyler Duncan and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir joining the TSO. I caught the second yesterday evening. It’s always a bit odd listening to a piece one has been familiar with for years. Will I hear or learn something new tonight? Will this performance probe the nature of the piece like I have never heard it probed? The Tafelmusik performance and recording of this piece did just that. I felt I was hearing it for the very first time. Alas, the only new thought I had last night was about how repetitive certain sections are. So there it was, an OK run through but no more. The soloists were fine, though perhaps possessing a weight of voice better suited to Tafelmusik at Koerner than the TSO in full cry in the unforgiving sonic deserts of Roy Thomson. I did think Ms. MacKinnon and the sopranos of the choir managed the fiendishly high setting of their part (probably a good job that Beethoven didn’t have to listen to complaints from his sopranos) very well. Nice work from the piccolo accompanying them too. Otherwise it was a bit unremarkable though that didn’t stop the obligatory idolatry from the RTH audience. Heaven knows what would happen if they ever heard a truly great performance…
I got a last minute invite to a workshop of Lisa Codrington and Kevin Morse’s WIP A Modest Proposal at Tapestry yesterday evening and I am really glad I could drop everything and go. It’s based on the Swift essay; updated to a modern city where the mayor fears defeat at the upcoming election if something isn’t done about the poor who are swarming the streets. It’s kind of reminiscent of when Toronto was “terrorized” by squeegee kids. Anyway the mayor’s staff come up with the response that you’ve already guessed and the first victim is the pregnant beggar who has been bugging the mayor. There’s also a street meat salesman who is having an affair with the mayor, of which more later. Fast forward a year to where the newly reelected mayor is giving a press conference and eating tasty baby treats provided by the succesful babybites entrepreneur and former street vendor that she’s doing in the loading bay. There’s one of those giant cheques for ten grand (of the kind that Sick Kids, ironically, is so fond of) for the public spirited former beggar and child donor. The former beggar is, unsurprisingly, not happy about the situation and when the mayor is discovered to be carring Mr. Babybites’ child and disgraced she is the one who shops her as a poor person in posession of an illegal baby…
M’dea Undone; music by John Harris , libretto by Marjorie Chan, opened in the Holcim Gallery at the Evergreen Brickworks last night in a production by Tim Albery. My review, still a WIP, will appear in Opera Canada in due course though it has triggered some more general thoughts about “new opera” that I might explore here. It’s worth seeing just to experience the unconventional performance space. There are three more performances tonight, tomorrow and Friday. Here’s a photograph.
Lauren Segal performs in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo: Chris Hutcheson
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was given by mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal and bass-baritone Robert Gleadow with Sandra Horst at the piano. The programme was titled Gypsy Songs, Travel Songs. First up was Robert, who looks considerable less rakish without a beard, with three songs from Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. All three; The Roadside Fire, Bright is the Ring of Words and Whither Must I Wander are familiar recital fare but sung as well as this are a joy to hear. Gleadow has a big, full sound with quite a range of colour but he can also float very beautiful high notes. It was very impressive.
Lauren came next with Dvorák’s Cigánské melodie. These songs cover a wide range of moods, all vividly captured by Segal. Her voice is dark toned and very mezzo; no soprano 2 here! Onewould think her perfectly suited for gloomy Slavic rep until, as she did later, she cut loose on de Falla’s Siete canciones populares Españolas. Here she was every bit the dark eyed Spaniard singing with fiery passion of love and loss. Both sets ended with fierce, bravura numbers brought off with panache. The lady knows how to work a crowd!
Last night, the COC opened its 2014/15 season with Verdi’s Falstaff; a work I was not familiar with and one that turned out to be a bit of a surprise. It’s not your usual Verdi. It’s his last opera, composed when he was 80, and is not at all typical of his earlier work. There are hardly any “big tunes” or even conventional arias. The odd chorus harks back to an earlier style but much of the music is quite dark; heavy use in places of the lower pitched instruments, especially for a “comedy”. Don’t take that as a criticism though. It’s a musically and dramatically tight, even compact, work that is both incredibly funny and also something more disturbing. Perhaps it’s as much about mortality as love.
The Canadian Opera Company has just announced the 14/15 line up for the free lunchtime (mostly) concerts in the very beautiful Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. Highlights, from my point of view, include recitals by Jane Archibald, Krisztina Szabó, Lauren Segal, Colin Ainsworth, Joshua Hopkins, Robert Gleadow, Barbara Hannigan and Ekaterina Gubanova. There will also be ten concerts by the Ensemble Studio plus the Quilico competition. The Canadian Art Song Project will showcase Allyson McHardy in a new song cycle by Marjan Mozetich. There’s also a themed series of concerts to commemorate anniversaries of the First and Second World Wars, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This will comprise six concerts drawn from the Vocal, Chamber Music and Piano Virtuoso programs.
So what was I most impressed with on the opera and related scene in in 2013?
Big house opera
The COC had a pretty good twelve months. I enjoyed everything I saw except, maybe, Lucia di Lammermoor. Making a choice between Christopher Alden’s probing La Clemenza di Tito, the searing opening night of Peter Sellars’ Tristan und Isolde; the night when I really “got” why people fly across oceans to see this piece, Robert Carsen’s spare and intensely moving Dialogues des Carmélites or Tony Dean Griffey’s intense and lyrical portrayal of the title character in Peter Grimes is beyond me. So, I shall be intensely disloyal to my home company and name as my pick in this category the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Wernicke’s production is pure magic and Anna Schwanewilms was a revelation.
Yesterday afternoon saw the final concert of the season for Off Centre Music Salon; the concert series organised by Boris Zarankin and Inna Perkis at the Glenn Gould Studio. This one, as the title suggests, celebrating philanthropy in music by putting together a concert of works by composers who were supported by patrons. It was very much salon style with many short sets by various combinations of performers. There was some instrumental music; an impressive performance of Khachaturian’s Toccata in E flat minor by twelve year old William Leathers, reprised later on accordion by Michael Bridge. Jacques Israelievitch and Boris Zarankin collaborated on a bravura rendition of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne and Zarankin and Perkis gave their traditional one piano/four hands performance, this time an arrangement of Beethoven’s Egmont overture, which was received with enthusiasm.