Lagrime di San Pietro is the final masterpiece of Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso. It sets 21 poems by Luigi Tansillo on the general theme of Peter’s regret at betraying Christ and his lifelong regret for that. They also deal with the end of life when the nearness of death and the pain of living make one long for death. There’s even one poem where Peter regrets that he, who has seen Christ raise the dead and heal the lame, can no longer remember it happening. Unsurprisingly they were banned by the Catholic Church and so di Lasso can have had no expectation that the work, composed in the last weeks of his life would ever be performed. Structurally the work is seven part polyphony sung a capella. There are 20 eight line madrigals plus a motet.
February always seems to be a busy month and the first half is shaping up that way. Things kick off on the 1st with the Sellars staging of di Lassus’ Lagrime di San Pietro at Koerner. On the 3rd Danika Lorèn is curating a concert at Heliconian for UoT Music. It’s called A Few Figs from Thistles, it’s at 7.30pm and it’s free. We are promised new songs by Danika based on poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Tekahionwake (E. Pauline Johnson) and Lorna Crozier.
The second half of January kicks off with the COC’s revival production f Rossini’s Barber of Seville, this time starring Emily D’Angelo as Rosina. There are eight performances running to February 7th.
. Sunday 26th at 2pm there’s a concert in the Mazzoleni Songmasters series. It’s called Sirens and features Leslie Ann Bradley, Allyson McHardy and Rachel Andrist in a suitably watery and alluring program.
John Adams’ 2005 opera Doctor Atomic, about the development of the first atomic weapon, comes over very effectively on CD. I think this is because, in essence, it’s more oratorio than opera. There’s very little action in the stage version. So little in fact that Peter Sellars staged the original production rather the way he stages oratorios with lots of stylized movement by the chorus and the introduction of dancers. There are definite advantages to having the music without the distraction of the visuals.
There are a few interesting items in the initial announcement of the RCM’s 2019/20 season:
The Amici Chamber Ensemble with Russell Braun and the Elmer Iseler Singers offer a celebration of the 150th birthday of Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet. That’s on October 25th 2019.
Karina Gauvin and the Paciifica Baroque Orchestra have a programme called Russian White Nights: Opera arias from 18th century St. Petersburg. That’s on November 1st 2019.
Phillipe Sly and Le Chimera Project are presenting a staged version of Schubert’s Winterreise with chamber ensemble. That’s on January 17th 2020.
Perhaps the biggest deal of all is Peter Sellars directing the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a staged performance of Orlando di Lasso’s final work, Lagrime di San Pietro; 27 madrigals sung a cappella in seven parts by 21 singers. That’s on February 1st and 2nd 2020.
And after all the fancy stuff there is a classic Liederabend with Matthias Goerne and Jan Lisiecki in an all Beethoven programme on April 24th 2020.
Only the Sound Remains is a chamber opera by Kaija Sariaho based on two Noh plays translated by Ernest Fenellosa and Ezra Pound. The piece was premiered in Amsterdam in 2016 by Dutch National Opera, where it was recorded. It’s a co-pro with Teatro Real, Finnish National Opera and the COC so Toronto audiences will likely get a look at it eventually. Which is good because it’s really hard to figure out much of it from the video recording. As he so often does, peter Sellars directs for both stage and camera and while I like his stage work here I find his video direction quite annoying, especially in the first piece.
I found it a bit shocking that John Adam’s Nixon in China wasn’t released on DVD until after the MetHD broadcast in 2011. I was even more shocked when I found out that the original 1987 Houston production had been recorded and broadcast on PBS. Just recently, thanks to a kind reader of this blog, I’ve been able to watch that original broadcast. It’s TV from 1988 recorded on VHS and then digitized so the picture quality isn’t state of the art but the sound is surprisingly good. Continue reading →
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
John Adams’ El Niño was conceived as an oratorio but thoughts turned to it being staged early in the creative process. The final result, as staged at Paris’ Châtelet in 2000, defies easy characterization. There are singers and dancers on stage but they don’t represent unique characters. So, for example, at one moment Willard White is Herod and at another Joseph. To further complicate matters video is constantly projected onto a screen above the stage space. It was specially created for the piece being shot on location in Super 8. There’s no clear narrative either. To some extent it tells the Christmas story but it’s at least as much about the feminine experience of giving birth as anything from Isiah or the Gospels. It also uses a very eclectic mix of texts; from the Bible, from the Apocrypha, from female Latin American poets, from Hildegard of Bingen and so on. There are lots off Sellars’ trademarks in the staging too; semaphore and so on. Does it work? I don’t really know as it’s really hard to tell from the video recording (see para 3).
Maybe this should be titled “The bear and lemur freak show”. Anyway, no surprise to anyone who knows us or reads this blog, the classic 19th century Italian rep is not our sweet spot. Give us Handel or Berg or Britten over Rossini or Verdi (let alone Donizetti) most days. (We’ll make an exception for Don Carlos!). So, last night as the Four Seasons Centre erupted in frenzied applause I couldn’t really share the wild enthusiasm, fine as the performance was, but what startled me was when I heard a smug, female voice to my left say “Well that makes up for Hercules”. I restrained an urge to remonstrate violently (I’ve been taking lessons from Peter Sellars) but I did leave the theatre puzzled and a bit upset; a feeling shared by the lemur and subject of much conversation on the subway home.