Back to the Tranzac last night for the first Toronto performance of Against the Grain’s national tour of the Joel Ivany transladaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème which started it all back in 2011. The Tranzac has changed a lot and so, of course, has Against the Grain. The room is way smarter, they brought in a proper piano to replace the one that Topher plonked the first performance out on (and which memorably accompanied Jonathan MacArthur’s rather startling Hitler a few years later). And not in any way to knock that first cast it’s a sign of AtG’s rising stature that this time they are fielding a cast that would not be out of place in most regional houses in Canada.
Toronto City Opera has been around for a while but its previous performance location at the Bickford Centre was quite sufficient to keep me away. The Miles Nadal JCC is quite another matter. The basic idea of TCO is that the chorus is open to, essentially, anybody and that their subscriptions, plus fund raising, allow the company to do a couple of staged shows each year with young professional soloists, director, conductor and pianist. So, in theory it’s a chorus centric endeavour so the choice of Le Nozze di Figaro seems a bit odd since it has less than ten minutes of chorus and that is usually covered by a small group of eight or so ladies. That said, Nozze is their first of two productions this season and I saw the last show in the run this afternoon.
Die Fledermaus offers a lot scope for reinterpretation. Like so many works involving spoken dialogue there is a tradition of reworking that dialogue to work in contemporary humour and geographic relevance to the point where there is no canonical version though there’s probably a set of general expectations. Joel Ivany’s production for the Glenn Gould School, which opened last night at Koerner Hall, goes further than most to create a “play within a play” dynamic riffing to some extent on the difficulty of staging an opera in a concert hall. He also makes the decision to use English dialogue but have the sung text in the original German (except for the finale).
It’s that mid point of the academic year when the GGS puts on a recital programme that features a fairly full selection of the available singing talent at the Conservatory. This means one sees everything from first year undergrads to singers in the final stages of a master’s degree, who may already be singing professionally, so it’s a constant exercise in recalibration. It wasn’t helped last night by the fact that I had serious TTC problems causing me to miss the first three numbers on the programme plus feeling a bit frazzled for the rest. So, in no particular order, I’m going to write about what I particularly enjoyed. Omission should not be over-interpreted.
I was at a really rather nicely programmed recital at Rosedale Presbyterian yesterday afternoon. Rachel Andrist, who played piano throughout, had lined up a really interesting selection of singers. Some were known to me, some were new. Some were fresh out of college and some had quite a bit of experience. The programme was in two halves. In the first half each of the six singers got to do two or three songs while in part two there were some opera numbers and some seasonal stuff arranged for various combinations of voices.
The Glenn Gould School’s fall opera production this year is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel given in Brent Krysa’s English language, highly condensed version, originally created for the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour. It really is condensed. There’s no chorus and it comes in at just over the hour mark. The main plot elements are retained but I think quite a bit of the darkness, and most of the religiosity, are gone, though the latter isn’t eliminated entirely. After all, the Evening Prayer and the final chorus are musical highlights and pretty much have to be there. It doesn’t leave any room for the director to explore ideas like child abuse or addiction and pretty much forces, for better or worse, a straightforward emphasis on the basic story.
Niccolò Piccinni’s La Cecchina or La buona figliuola is an opera buffa in two acts written for the Teatro delle Dame in Rome where it premiered in 1760. The libretto is by Carlo Goldini and, while said to have been inspired by Richardson’s Pamela, is actually a fairly straightforward masters and servants story of a similar nature to Pergolesi’s La serva padrona or even Mozart’s La finta giardinera; all, of course, firmly rooted in the conventions of the commedia dell’arte. Being written for Rome it was, originally, played by an all male cast. Last night at Koerner Hall the Glenn Gould School Opera presented it with female singers in the high roles.
Kendra Dyck as Sandrina and Asitha Tennekoon as the Marchese
The GGS Vocal Showcase is an opportunity to take a look at the vocal talent on offer at the Royal Conservatory. It’s a tricky exercise as the students range from the equivalent of first year undergrad to second year masters so one is constantly recalibrating expectations. We got to hear one bass, two baritones, three tenors, one mezzo soprano and fourteen sopranos in a variety of arias, art songs and ensemble numbers.
So, in no particular order my favourites and “ones to watch”. Lets start with the obvious. Gabriel Sanchez-Ortega is a genuine bass. We only heard him in some Haydn trios last night but he seems to have heft and genuine low notes and quite a wide range. He’s also still quite young. Singing with him was soprano Joanna Burt who also gave us an aria from La Cecchina. She has real potential as a dramatic soprano which is the one part of the tweeter market that isn’t flooded. She has some nice dark colours as well as weight. The trios were rounded out by tenor Zachary Rioux. He held his own with two pretty big voices so we’ll see.
The Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music opened a two performance run of Viardot’s Cendrillon last night at Mazzoleni Hall. The conceit was that we and the performers were all guests in Mme, Viardot’s salon and to this end we were all given a slip of paper with our character name on it but I promptly lost mine and it wasn’t actually needed for anything, Cute idea though. It also allowed for a production that fitted with the acutely limited staging resources of Mazzoleni. The piece is heavy on dialogue and it was presented in English, in an updated translation that had its moments. I doubt the Viardot household had ever heard of “organic, non GMO, fair trade” coffee.