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!
Soundstreams last night presented an intriguing double bill of works in Indigenous languages on Indigenous themes at, appropriately, the Daniels Spectrum. First up was Pimoteewin; music by Melissa Hui, words by Tomson Highway. This piece uses English narration with the singing in Cree. It tells the story of the Trickster and the Eagle going to find out where people go when they die. To quote him “Why are my people always disappearing like this?” The Trickster’ tries unsuccessfully to bring the spirits back to the land of the living and finally realises that that’s not such a good idea. Musically it had almost a liturgical or meditative quality with a lot of fairly hushed choral singing behind strong solo performances by Bud Roach and Melody Courage.
Tongue in Cheek’s latest show, Democracy in Action, took place at the Lula Lounge last night. The concept was pretty straightforward. There were eight (almost) singers and a pianist. Each singer offered up five numbers ranging from opera through art song to musical theatre and pop. Advanced on-line polling had selected one song per singer. Polling of the audience in the house produced the other two. The in house polling was supported by really rather well done videos in which the “composers” tried to persuade the audience to vote for their stuff.
So, by a perhaps odd coincidence, various singers from Kathy Domoney’s stable are involved in productions of Rossini’s Le comte Ory at assorted Canadian houses in the near future; either as principals or understudies, so why not pull together some sort of performance of the work? That happened last night at Trinity St. Paul’s in a “narrated production” by François Racine. I had some ida what to expect as I had talked to François earlier in the week.
How, collectively, we remember is a cultural act defined by both choices and the general milieu in which the remembering takes place(*). Sometimes this results in stories being distorted and “misremembered”. The story of Shanawdithit, the last survivor of the Beothuk people is, perhaps, one such story. Her life and death, the final act in the campaign of genocide against her people is still “remembered” in Newfoundland culture but how much do we really know? The “evidence” boils down to a handful of sketches by Shanawdithit, annotated by one William Cormack; pretty much the only white person to show her any kindness or to display any interest in her people. Dean Burry and Yvette Nolan’s new opera; a co-production of Tapestry Opera and Opera on the Avalon asks what we know and how we know it. I attended a workshop presentation of the incomplete work yesterday.
So back to Walter Hall at 4pm for the last of the Regen concerts featuring song. This time Renee Fajardo and Jinhee Park kicked things off with a very fine set starting with Herr Schumann’s sinister Die Soldat and Frau Schumann’s Die Lorelei. This was all smoothly and elegantly sung bar a slight tendency to push high notes. There was some very impressive pianism here too. The set concluded with Schoenberg’s Galathea; a bold and interesting choice, where Renee managed to create an almost cabaret timbre without ever sacrificing accuracy. Nicely done!
So it was back to Walter Hall at 7.30pm for Saturday’s second instalment. This time the programme kicked off with the Schumann Piano Quartet in E flat Major Op. 47 before the singers. The first singer up was mezzo Danielle Vaillancourt with pianist Jing Lee Park. They gave us just two songs. The first was Fauré’s Il pleure dans mon coeur followed by Duparc’s Au pays où se fait la guerre. Vaillancourt has excellent French diction, a really interesting timbre and plenty of power. This was pretty fine singing. Jing Lee Park made the most of her chance to shine in the rather lovely piano part in the Duparc. Continue reading →