How to present a mostly forgotten composer to a modern audience is an interesting conundrum. Reviving a four hour opera seria about Marcus Aurelius likely isn’t the answer and just sticking a few pieces in an otherwise mainstream program is unlikely to have much impact either. Better by far, I think, is the approach Ivars Taurins has taken in Tafelmusik’s current run of concerts of music by the Venetian Agostino Steffani (1654-1728) at Trinity St.Paul’s.
Handel’s Alexander’s Feast is an oratorio to a text by Newburgh Hamilton based closely on an earlier Dryden St. Cecilia’s Day ode. The basic plot is that Alexander is feasting in captured Persepolis with his mistress Thaïs. Inflamed by the music of Timotheus he decides to burn down the city in revenge for his fallen soldiers. Cecilia descends from Heaven and substitutes music for the king’s barbarous intentions. There are solo and choral numbers and a couple of duets and there are two concerti; one for triple harp representing Timotheus’ lyre playing and an organ concerto for St. Cecilia. It’s all quite tuneful and interesting if not as inspired as some of the better known oratorios.
Sometimes it takes some time away from home to be able to see things clearly again. That’s rather how I felt about last night’s Messiah performed by Tafelmusik at Koerner Hall. In the last few years I’ve seen choreographed and fully staged versions, the Andrew Davis version with sleigh bells and whoopee cushions and Soundstreams eclectic Electric Messiah, all of which helped bring a conventional small scale performance with period instruments into focus.
There’s not that much Handel on offer in Toronto so it seems really rather odd that Alcina should get two productions within eighteen months. The attraction of the piece for Opera Atelier was obvious. It’s Handel’s only opera that incorporates dance. Why the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory should think it’s a good choice for a student production is less clear. Dance aside, it’s classic Handel; written for an audience who expected great virtuosity from the star singers (in this case Giovanni Carestini and Anna Maria Strada) plus the very latest in analogue SFX. Neither of these could reasonably be expected at Koerner Hall.
Back to relative quiet! The main event in the coming week is the GGS spring production. They are doing Handel’s Alcina. The cast includes Meghan Jamieson, Irina Medvedeva, Christina Campsall, Lillian Brooks, Joanna Burt, Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Lam. Leon Major directs and Ivars Taurins conducts. The publicity material suggests a 1920s setting. Anyway it’s at Koerner Hall at 7.30pm on Wednesday and Friday.
There are a couple of kid friendly March break concerts in the RBA. Tuesday sees what seems to have become an annual event; Kyra Millan’s Opera Interactive. This year she is joined by Tina Faye and Charles Sy. Then on Thursday Cawthra Park Chamber Choir and conductor Bob Anderson, one of the GTA’s leading school choirs, present various choral traditions and styles from the Renaissance to contemporary Canadian works. Charles Sy, a Cawthra Park alumnus also features in this one. Both at noon of course.
Then at the Newmarket Theatre on Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm opera Luminata are performing. This is a rather odd spectacular thing with taped orchestra and pyrotechnics. I haven’t seen them but they got a rather more positive reception than I expected last time around. www.operaluminata.com for details.