hymns of heaven and earth is a Centrediscs CD featuring three works by Halifax based Peter-Anthony Togni. I have limited experience with Togni. I thought his Responsio (reviewed for Opera Canada) was inspired but was less impressed with his Isis and Osiris – Gods of Egypt. Perhaps unsurprisingly I found the new CD most interesting when it leaned towards Togni’s liturgical/spiritual side and less so when he seemed to be teetering on the edge of pastiche. The title piece; a string quartet in four movements, is lyrical and rooted in the idea of “light”. It’s essentially tonal with minimalist elements; repeated figures etc, and a distinctly liturgical feel. I enjoyed it a lot and it gets a really good performance from Ilana Waniuk and Suhashini Arulanandam on violins, Rory McLeod on viola and Dobrochna Zubek on cello.
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio is sub-titled “A contemporary response to Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame” and that is exactly what it is. It weaves sections of Machaut’s 14th century mass with sections designated “Response one”, “response two” etc. which are a kind of commentary on Machaut’s music. What’s really interesting though is the way Togni arranges the source material. It’s scored for soprano, mezzo, two tenors and bass clarinet. The use of high voices seems to emphasise the originality of Machaud’s music, which must have sounded pretty radical to its original audience, and facilitates him somewhat twisting and shaping the vocal line to bring out some fairly weird rhythms and harmonies. So unmediaeval did some of these textures sound that I went off in search of the source material. There’s no doubt that Togni has arranged to bring out the strangeness but it is very much there in Machaut’s original score. Then alongside the vocals there is the bass clarinet which, part scored, part improvised provides a rather compelling, even disturbing commentary in a more obviously contemporary vein. The Gloria and the Hosanna sections in particular juxtapose the vocals, already making the familiar words of the mass seem strange, with an insinuating clarinet line in ways that are almost physically jarring. It is a piece of great originality; beautiful, thought provoking and even weird, and quite fascinating.
I caught the second and final performance of Isis and Osiris – Gods of Egypt presented by Voicebox:Opera in Concert yesterday. It’s a new piece with a libretto by Sharon Singer and music by Peter-Anthony Togni. It tells the story of mythical ancient Egypt under the rule of sibling consorts Isis and Osiris and there struggle with their brother Seth who embodies violence and chaos. In the process Seth disposes of Osiris in fourteen pieces but Isis manages to gather up all save the phallus. A golden replacement is made, Osiris is revived and the cosmic order restored. It’s quite a promising premise but it never really comes off.
Voicebox:Opera in Concert closed out their 2014/15 season yesterday afternoon with Charpentier’s Louise (review to come in Opera Canada). Thay also announced their plans for next season. There will be, again, three productions. The first two will be single performances, on November 22nd 2015 and February 7th 2016 of Borodin’s Prince Igor (presumably heavily cut) and Salieri’s Falstaff. The third will be the premiere of Peter Anthony Togni’s and Sharon Singer’s Isis and Osiris which will run from March 29th to April 3rd 2016. All performances are at the Jane Mallett Theatre. The first two works will presumably be performed in Voicebox’s “minimally staged” style. No word yet on staging or musical accompaniment for Isis and Osiris.
According to Schmopera, the line up for 2014/15 for the Voicebox: Opera in Concert season at the Jane Mallett Theatre will be Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve, Weill’s Street Scene, Charpentier’s Louise and the premier of Isis and Osiris by composer Peter-Anthony Togni with a libretto by Sharon Singer, both Canadians. The only one of these I’m at all familiar with is La Vida Breve, which is rather good (DVD review). However there’s plenty of information on Isis and Osiris available here and here. The latter link includes almost 18 minutes of music from the piece.
All in all, as one has come to expect from Voicebox, an interesting line up. More details here as they become available.