Highlights of the 2019/20 season at the Royal Conservatory

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.

All of the above are at Koerner Hall.

It’s pure madness!

That’s what Laurent Pelly said about the idea of a Frenchman directing a French opera adaptation of a Shakespeare play for an English audience during Shakespeare 400.  Maybe he has a point but I think his 2016 production of Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict probably gets as much as there is to be got out of a curiously uneven work.

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Dancing to Così

Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker is a well known, rather avant garde Belgian choreographer and not, perhaps, the obvious choice to direct an opera production but that’s the assignment she took at Opéra nationale de Paris in 2017 with Mozart’s Così fan tutte which was recorded at the Palais Garner.  Her approach is to double each of the six characters with a dancer and develop an elaborate, largely abstract and severely modern choreography for all twelve players though, naturally enough, with the more technical dance elements going to the dancers.  The choreography, as is apparently often the case with De Keersmaeker is explicitly geometric.  The stage is marked with circles and other geometric figures which inform or constrain the choreography.  Much of the time this results in a lot of running round in circles or standing in semicircles swaying backwards and forwards.  Indeed right up to Ah, guarda, sorella that’s pretty much all that happens though as things hot up emotionally the dancers get more to do with most of the big arias being paired with a dance solo and so on.

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Norma at the COC

Kevin Newbury’s production of Bellini’s Norma at the COC (co-pro with San Francisco, Chicago and the Liceu) is perhaps best described as serviceable.  I have seen various rather desperate efforts made to draw deep meaning from it but I really don’t think there is any.  That said, it looks pretty decent and is efficient.  The single set allows seamless transitions between scenes which is a huge plus.  So, what does it look like?  It’s basically a sort of cross between a barn and a temple with a back wall that can raised or moved out of the way to expose the druids’ sacred forest.  There’s also a sort of two level cart thing which characters ascend when they have something especially important to sing.  Costumes were said to have been inspired by Game of Thrones; animal skins, leather, tattoos (which actually don’t really read except up very close), flowing robes.  Norma herself appears to be styled, somewhat oddly, on a Klingon drag queen. The lighting is effective and there are some effective pyrotechnics at the end.  All in all a pretty good frame for the story and the singing.

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Season’s end

The final concert of the year involving members of the Ensemble Studio took place yesterday in the RBA.  First up were Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon with Britten’s Les Illuminations.  This is a formidable challenge for both singer and pianist and we were treated to a performance of real intensity and maturity.  Charles seemed to be sufficiently in technical command of the material to let himself go a bit and have some fun with the more ironic bits of Rimbaud’s rather extraordinary text.  His French diction was more than good enough for this, even in the places where the notes pretty much fall over themselves.  There were some very pretty sounds where needed and real intensity, particularly in Parade.  Hyejin was excellent too.  The piano part is no mere support in this piece.  It’s challenging and demands real partnership with the singer.  All in all, it was a performance that made one forget that these two have only been in the program for a year.

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Requiem come to life?

Joel Ivany’s much anticipated “semi-staged” version of Mozart’s Requiem K. 626 finally saw the light yesterday evening at Roy Thomson Hall.  There were some interesting ideas but, ultimately, I didn’t think I came away with any new insight into the piece or life or death or anything really(*).  I’ll go into the reasons but first I should describe how it was performed.  The mass is prefaced by the slow movement from the Clarinet Quintet.  The lights go down.  The five players enter via the aisles in the audience lower level and take their seats (sadly to applause which we had been asked to refrain from).  As the quintet is played (and it was very beautiful) the players are joined by the rest of the orchestra, the choirs, conductor and soloists enter through the audience and from the wings and deposited slips of paper (I think) on two benches at front of stage left and right.  Names of the dead?  Probably and that’s a nice touch though scarcely original.  The quintet concludes.  More unwanted applause.  At this point the orchestra are seated , more or less conventionally, around the conductor with the choirs around them.  There are lots of fancy chairs.  The soloists are more or less in conventional position in front of the audience.  Everyone, except the mezzo and the soprano, are in black.  The very crowded stage is quite dimly lit in bluish tones.  As the mass progresses, the soloists interact in various ways.  The choirs gesture in rather obvious ways; the text says “king” so we pump our fists, the text talks of “writing” so we make scribbly gestures.  At some point the soloists start to rearrange the pieces of paper with the names of the dead in a sort of game of Dearly Departed Patience.  The soloists exit through the orchestra.  The lights go down.  The End.

TSO Mozart Requiem (Malcolm Cook photo)

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Toronto Symphony 2015/16 season

The Toronto Symphony announced its 2015/16 season line up this morning.  From a choral and vocal music perspective the items of most interest were:

  • A “semi-staged” Mozart Requiem to be directed by Joel Ivany.  That’s scheduled for January 21st to 23rd next year with soloists Lydia Teuscher, Allyson McHardy, Frédéric Antoun and Philippe Sly.  Bernard Labadie will conduct.  I’m very curious to see what Joel does with this.
  • Handel’s Messiah in the extremely non-baroque Andrew Davis orchestration.  He will also conduct.  The soloists are Erin Wall, Liz DeShong, Andrew Staples and John Relyea.  This one is being recorded live for the Chandos label.  It runs December 15th to 20th this year.
  • Barbara Hannigan appears as both soprano and conductor.  On October 7th and 8th she has a program of Nono, Haydn, Mozart, Ligeti and Stravinsky.
  • Russell Braun shows up with Erin Wall for a performance of Vaughan-Williams Sea Symphony on October 21st and 24th and again during the New Creations Festival where he will sing Brett Dean’s Knocking at the Hellgate.
Barbara Hannigan 05 - copyright Musacchio Ianniello Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Barbara Hannigan – copyright Musacchio Ianniello Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

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