Aaron Gervais’ and Colleen Murphy’s Oksana G. finally made it to the stage last night after a most convoluted journey. It’s being produced by Tapestry at the Imperial Oil Theatre with Tom Diamond directing. The wait, I think has been worth it. The story, set in 1997, of a naive country girl from the Ukraine who gets caught up in sex trafficking is dramatic and the it convincingly depicts the sleazy underworld of southern and eastern Europe created by the collapse of the USSR, the civil wars in the Balkans and the pervasive official corruption in countries like Ukraine, Greece and Italy. It’s gritty and, at times, not at all easy to watch.
The Canadian Art Song Projects sesqui commission premiered today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s a piece by Ana Sokolović for soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone and pianist and today, as was always intended, it got its first outing from members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It was billed as a “song cycle” and, while it’s certainly a setting of poems to music, that description really doesn’t do it justice. Sokolović’s music always seems to have dramatic potential and here that was realised extremely effectively by Anna Theodosakis to create a piece of performance art with many dimensions.
May continues to be a busy month. There are a couple of interesting concerts at noon in the RBA next week. On Wednesday 17th there is the unveiling of the annual Canadian Art Song project commission. This year it’s extremely ambitious. It’s a cycle of sixteen songs by Ana Sokolović setting texts drawn from right across Canada. It’s called dawn always begins in the bones and will be performed by Danika Lorèn, Emily D’Angelo, Bruno Roy and Aaron Sheppard with Liz Upchurch at the piano. (You can also hear this work in the Temerty Theatre at the Conservatory at 7.30pm on Thursday May 25th along with Andrew Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier and Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem). On Thursday 18th tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon bid farewell to the COC Ensemble Studio with a performance of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. It should be a real treat.
Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA featured three current members of the COC Ensemble Studio. First up was tenor Aaron Sheppard making his adieux with Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation; a setting of texts by Thomas Hardy. It’s an interesting cycle; quite spare with, despite its lack of density, an intricate piano part that reveals some interesting chromaticism. The vocal line calls for great delicacy and control with occasionally injections of power. We got all that in a very fine performance by Aaron, and by Stéphane Mayer at the piano. It was probably the best performance I’ve heard from Aaron. He’s always had a rather beautiful, but perhaps too delicate voice. Here the control, phrasing and emphasis was all there but so was some oomph when needed. His performance was very true to the texts which have that same quality that Houseman exudes; Merry England with Death just peeking in from around the corner when one least expects it. Good stuff.
Yes it is and here’s what’s coming up. Sadly Natalie Dessay’s Koerner gig tonight has been cancelled. Get well soon and please come back! Tomorrow at 8pm the TSO has a concert with Carla Huhtanen featuring Morawetz’ Carnival Overture, Boulez’ Le soleil des eaux and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherezade. On Sunday Lyndsay Promane has a recital at 3pm at Islington United Church with works by Dowland, Faure, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Strauss. Admission is by donation
Next week there are a bunch of free concerts in the RBA at noon. On Tuesday it’s Alysson McHardy and Rachel Andrist with a program of Schumann and Zemlinsky. Wednesday sees Aaron Sheppard and Stéphane Mayer perform Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation. They will also be joined by Sam Pickett and Megan Quick. Finally, on Thursday Lauren Eberwein, who is sounding really good recently, and members of the COC Orchestra will perform two J.S. Bach cantatas; Ich habe genug and Vergnügte Ruh.
Last night saw the Ensemble Studio’s big main stage performance. Rather than perform one of the COC’s current productions (hard to imagine how they could cast one from the current line up) we got scenes from three operas; two of them from the COC’s current season. They were performed with the orchestra on stage in front of the backdrop to the opening scene from the current Die Zauberflöte and in concert dress rather than costume (more or less, there were some nods to the roles in question) and with some blocking as far as limiting movement to the front of the stage permitted.
What are we to make of Handel’s Ariodante? The plot centres on the notion that female chastity is the be all and end all of life. It’s not a notion that would find much support in 21st century Toronto, even among a Sunday afternoon audience at the Four Seasons Centre. Ginevra, princess of Scotland and heir to the king, is betrothed to Ariodante. Ariodante has a rival, Polinesso who is loved in a besotted kind of way by Ginevra’s maid, Dalinda. Polinesso claims to have slept with Ginevra and offers to prove it to Ariodante. He drugs Ginevra and gets Dalinda to put on Ginevra’s clothes and invite him into her room. Ariodante disappears, apparently having committed suicide in a fit of despair. On the flimsiest of evidence Ginevra, who has no idea what happened, is condemned to death. Her accusers, including her father, don’t even bother to ask who the man in her room was. Polinesso tries to remove the now inconvenient Dalinda from the scene but fails and when Ariodante shows up again she spills the beans. Polinesso is killed by Ariodante’s brother in a duel but not before confessing. All is forgiven and everyone carries on as if nothing in the least traumatising just happened. So, what to do with this?
I’ve seen opera in a lot of venues in Toronto, including several pubs, but last night was my first time at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club; the occasion being the first pub night hosted by Against the Grain Theatre. There was a pretty decent crowd and, somewhat to my surprise, a couple of decent beers on tap. There was also singing with Topher Mokrzewski at the keyboard of a piano almost as grotty as the one he made his AtG debut on. Perhaps unsurprisingly the line up was pretty impressive; Clarence Frazer, Stephanie Tritchew, Aaron Durand, Cait Wood and John Brancy plus a bonus drop in by no less than Krisztina Szabó. Rossini, Puccini, Donizetti, Bernstein and others all got a look in. It was loud, it was fun and the audience, not all of whom I suspect knew what they were in for, stayed. Further sessions are planned for the first Thursdays in November and December at the same venue.
The tenth season at the Four Seasons Centre opened with the, by now traditional, lunchtime concert by the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Six of the eight singers and one of the two pianists are new recruits which is unusual and more of a chance to level set than see how anyone has developed.
The Toronto production of Against the Grain’s A Little Too Cozy opened last night at Studio 42 at the CBC Centre. It’s the third and final instalment in the series of Ivany/Mokzrewski adaptations of the Mozart/da Ponte operas, following on from Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn. Like the earlier pieces it’s updated, site specific and makes a lot of references to social media. The schtick here is that it’s a reality TV dating show. Dora and Felicity are yet to meet Elmo and Fernando in the flesh though they have become engaged via social media and through the prior episodes of the show. Tonight is the season finale and there is one big test left. Can they be tempted by two strange men? Show host Donald L. Fonzo and girl handler Despina will make sure they are maximally tempted. The rest you can work out.