Last night saw the first of two performances of Haydn’s rarely performed 1791 work Orfeo: L’anima del filosofo. I know how much effort and indeed passion went into creating this production and the singing is pretty good. I wish I could say I enjoyed it but I can’t. There were just too many issues.
Let’s start with the opera itself. Maybe it was never completely finished as it was shut down by the authorities during rehearsals in London. Maybe that’s why it feels horribly unbalanced. The first half (two acts) tell us of Eurydice being betrothed, against her will, to her father, King Creonte’s, rival Arideo. She runs off into the forest where she is about to be devoured by beasts when the news is brought to Orfeo who then sings at length before “rushing” off to rescue Euridice.
On May 26th and 27th in the MacMillan Theatre there’s a chance to see Haydn’s rarely performed Orfeo: L’anima del filosofo. It was composed for London in 1791 but was shut down during rehearsals because the Lord Chamberlain’s office thought it subversively supportive of enlightenment values at a time when Pitt’s government was cracking down brutally on pro French Revolutionary sentiment in the UK.
It finally made it to the stage in 1951 in Florence with Maria Callas as Euridice. It’s had a few runs in Europe since, including Cecilia Bartoli’s Covent Garden debut, but can scarcely be called a “staple of the repertoire”. Now it’s being given its North American premiere by a collaboration between the music schools at University of Toronto and McGill University led by Dr. Caryl Clarke. Continue reading →
Here are a few things I’ve noticed on the web recently:
There’s a workshop from the Isabel Bader Centre at Queens called Echo:Memories of the World which looks at cultural memory and cultural transmission from both a Western and an Indigenous perspective. It features Marion Newman and the Gryphon Trio among others. It’s fascinating but I found parts of it quite triggering. I don’t know how ong this is going to be available. For now it’s free. Note that while the Vimeo version of the performance works the Youtube doesn’t.
The Domoney Artists Youtube channel has new Opera Breaks from Natalya Gennadi and Asitha Tennekoon.
Also on Youtube there’s a new piece from Opera Revue which may be even dafter than their previous efforts, which set a pretty high bar for daftness.
The most substantial offering I’ve seen this week is a concert from Toronto Summer Music that aired last night. It was a song recital by four of the Toronto’s better known young singers with Steven Philcox on piano. Simona Genga sang some Mahler and some interesting songs by the Basque composer Jésus Gurudi (new to me!). Clarence Frazer gave us excerpts from Die Schöne Müllerin plus three songs by Butterworth. No prizes for guessing which three but they were well done. Jamie Groote sang a set of Jake Heggie songs plus Strauss’ Beim Schlafengehen. Always excellent to hear Strauss sung well. Asitha Tennekoon rounded things off with a set from Wolff’s Mörike Lieder and songs by Holman (Fair Daffodils; obligatory CanCon), Gurney and Finzi. It’s all high class stuff and there’s about 90 minutes of singing. The platform is Vimeo and it looks and sounds good. It’s free and available here.
Little did I suspect on March 12th 2020, as I attended UoT Opera’s Mansfield Park, that I would not review another live concert until July 14th 2021 but that’s how the COVID crumbled. Today I made it to one of Tapestry’s Box Concerts at CAMH on Queen Street. It was much more fun than my last visit which was for a meeting on infection control in the basement of the dreary old building, now demolished.
Do you remember back when real live musicians used to perform for a real live audience? Well some mad dudes are trying to revive it. Tapestry Opera have some shows in conjunction with Canadian Stage coming up in High Park. July 10th, 11th, 17th and 18th you can catch the show “Box Concerts” that Tapestry have been taking around health care facilities and offering for private booking. It’s PWYC. Booking is via Canadian Stage. Also on the 17th at 3pm there’s an extended program including excerpts from Rocking Horse Winner where Asitha Tennekoon will be joined by Midori Marsh and Lucia Cesaroni. That’s $50 booked at the same page.
There’s an interesting new project on Youtube from Natalya Gennadi and Catherine Carew. It’s called HBD! Project and the idea is to produce a short themed video each month featuring composers whose birthdays fall in that month. The February pilot is online and it’s a bit different from other “shows” in similar vein that I’ve come across. This one features a song by Alban Berg sung by Natalya with a fluffy puppy, music for cello and piano by Jean Coulthard played by Alice Kim and Hye Won Cecilia Lee and Rodney Sharman’s Tobacco Road sung by Catherine. So what’s new you ask (apart from the puppy)? It’s the graphics with Mozart in a party hat, animated Emily Carr paintings and a look for the Sharman that could double as the witches’ scene in Macbeth. Yes it’s a bit weird but oddly compelling.
There was a really interesting announcement from the COC earlier today. To cut a long story short it announced that the four principals of Amplified Opera; Teiya Kasahara, Marion Newman, Asitha Tennekoon and Aria Umezawa, would become “Disruptors in Residence”. I think this is a very positive move. Many of us have been following the various conversations about evolving opera beyond being the preserve of (almost) dead white people to being an art form that more fully reflects the diversity of our communities. I have to admit to being somewhat sceptical about how much of the energy and goodwill that has been generated will survive the return to some sort of post-covid normality. It.’s surprisingly hard to make change in large, hierarchical organisations go viral.
Amplified Opera was created by Teiya Kasahara and Aria Umezawa to promote the values of equity, diversity and inclusion in and through opera. They have produced shows like The Way I See It, showcasing blind soprano Laurie Rubin and visually impaired pianist Liz Upchurch in a show about visual impairment and its challenges in the opera world (and anyone who nows me will realise how near the bone that cut). They’ve also produced Teiya’s The Queen in Me (which I missed but which was based on the earlier show Queer of the Night); both shows exploring the pressures placed on a gay diva by the opera world.
Last night various bits of the early music side of the UoT Faculty of Music, plus guests, put on a performance of Purcell’s King Arthur at Trinity St. Paul’s. I’m pretty familiar with the piece from both audio and video recordings (though this was my first time live) but it was clear last night that most people really don’t know the work and I suspect that the way the work was presented was not especially helpful for them.
The program contains detailed notes by director Erik Thor about his thoughts on presenting a “problem piece” without really explaining why King Arthur is a problem or why he made the choices he made. We are told it’s about conquest and erasure but not how and why it differs from what most people seem to expect when they see the title King Arthur. In short, it’s a highly fictionalised version of the very old Welsh stories about the resistance of the (Christian) Britons to the (Pagan) Saxons. Forget Geoffrey of Monmouth, Tennyson, TE White and Monty Python. Oddly, Merlin, perhaps the one character anyone would recognise, is cut here. The work itself is also a bit incoherent largely because Dryden (the librettist) tried to recast what was originally a court spectacular to the glory of Charles II as something that would work in the theatre and pass the censorship under William and Mary!