Tanya’s Secret is a queer-trans adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. It’s a production by Opéra Queens who seem to be a Montreal based group created during the pandemic and doing their first show in Toronto; in this case at the Betty Oliphant Theatre. Actually it’s not a particularly radical adaptation compared to, say, some of Against the Grain’s transladaptations. It’s sung in Russian (with some Ukrainian interpolations including a Lysenko art song) with subtitles on screens either side of the stage). The plot isn’t really changed at all though the ball scene in Act 3 gets a sort of drag queen competition element. The big change is that some roles are assigned to the “wrong” gender. Tatiana is sung extremely well and acted even better by Mike Fan. Catherine Carew is a strongly sung and impressive Gremin doubling as the very different Madame Larina. Christina Yun’s Lensky is ardent and she makes a nice fist of “Kuda, kuda”. (Who needs tenors?) Oddly this doesn’t really come across as all that radical. The necessary transpositions occasionally create the odd awkward high note but it’s very singable and generally well sung.
The 2018 Wirth Song Prize winner tenor Marcel d’Entremont gave the customary recital in the RBA at noon yesterday accompanied by Dakota Scott-Digout. It was an interesting choice of material; nicely balanced between old and new worlds. He started with Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques. I guess these set the tone for the recital. Marcel has a very operatic voice. It’s big with quite a lot of vibrato. The Ravel was loud but nicely characterized and sung in perfect French. He followed up with a rousing. but not overly subtle, Kuda, kuda. I was beginning to find things a bit one dimensional.
Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame is a rather odd opera. It’s not just that the main plot turns on a pretty bizarre tale of the supernatural but that it also contains a significant number of big set piece numbers that don’t advance the plot at all; the “military children” in Act 1, the Pastoral in Act 2 and the bizarre “Glory to Catherine” chorus in Act 3 aren’t the only ones. One assumes that they are there so that the composer could interpolate some suitably “Russian” bits because without them it’s just any other opera that happens to be in Russian.
Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA was given by soprano, Vanessa Vasquez and pianist Miloš Repický. It was a well constructed programme though there were few surprises. The first set was three Strauss standards; Ständchen, Breit’ übermein Haupt and Befreit; the last dedicated to Vanessa’s teacher who died recently. They were all well sung with appropriate emotional emphasis and, best of all, both performers appeared to be enjoying themselves.
Things are starting to liven up again in the Toronto scene. Here’s a look ahead to the balance of September and the first half of October. This week sees a performance of Weill’s Little Mahagonny by VOICEBOX at Gallery 345. That’s on Tuesday 25th at 7.30pm and will be followed by a wine and cheese reception. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.
The COC season opens on the 30th with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin featuring Gordon Bintner, Joseph Kaiser and Joyce El-Khoury. There are eight performances ending on 3rd Novemeber. The companion work is the premier run of Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian which opens on October 13th. It’s a starry cast including Thomas Hampson and Karita Matilla. There are seven performances ending October 27th.
It’s September and the long, slow awakening after the annual aestivation begins. There’s not a lot on yet but what there is is interesting. The middle of the month sees Native Earth’s production of I Call myself Princess at the Aki Studio; previews from 9th to 12th September with official opening on the 13th and then shows until the end of the month. My interview with playwright Jani Lauzon is here. Also opening on the 13th is Tapestry Briefs at the Ernest Balmer Studio. Hear the product of the LibLab, hear Stephanie Tritchew, Teiya Kasahara, Peter McGillivray and Keith Klassen and eat tapas. It runs until the 16th.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened last night at Koerner Hall with a concert by the Escher Quartet who came in at quite short notice for the venerable Borodins who had to pull out due to illness. The theme of this year’s festival is “Reflections of Wartime” as perhaps befits the 100th anniversary of the Great War. That said, I’m not sure how last night’s programme fitted the theme. None of Schumann’s Quartet no.1, Shostakovich’s Quartet no. 9 nor Tchaikovsky’s Quartet no. 1 have any obvious war references.
This afternoon I saw Gerry Finley and Julius Drake in recital at Koerner Hall. In other words, two supreme exponents of the art of lieder at the top of their game in a hall with near perfect acoustics. They performed Beethoven and Schubert settings of Goethe texts, some Tchaikovsky and some Rachmaninoff, which gave Julius ample opportunity to show off. They finished up with settings of folky things by Copland, Barber, Respighi and Britten. The last was The Crocodile; a very silly and funny piece I hadn’t heard before. The encore was by Healey Willans and Gerry gave a very nice plug for the Canadian Art Song Project. Insert standard list of adjectival phrases describing top notch singing and accompaniment. My humble scribing is not worthy.
Last night was the fifth concert in memory of Rachel Krehm’s sister Elizabeth. This year it was held in the rather cavernous and imposing Christ Church Deer Park, an Anglican church at Yonge and St. Clair. The concert opened with an elegiac piece for strings written by Jean Coulthard for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Then Rachel gave us a beautiful and moving account of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. Um Mitternacht(*) is a particular favourite of mine and seemed especially fitting here. It was the full orchestral setting with Evan Mitchell conducting his extraordinary orchestra. They were back after the break for a thoroughly compelling account of Tchaikovsky’s great sixth symphony Pathétique. What’s remarkable is that this isn’t an orchestra that has a permanent basis. It’s a group of musicians who come together for these concerts and make great music on modest rehearsal time. It’s especially impressive that these things always seem to happen in huge churches with churchy acoustics rather than a concert hall and they still sound terrific. As in previous years, this was a fund raiser for the ICU at St. Mike’s and once again it looked like mission accomplished as there was a very decent audience in the church.