Cantilena is a CD of art songs by various composers arranged for soprano, harp and cello. It’s an interesting twist on music that one is likely to be fairly (sometimes very) familiar with in the usual voice and piano format. It’s a generous disk with nineteen songs in all. The composers featured are Debussy, Duparc, Fauré, Massenet, Tosti, Tedeschi, Richard Strauss, Gregory and Villa-Lobos. The performers are soprano Gillian Zammit, harpist Britt Arend and cellist Frank Camilleri. Arend and Camilleri are principals with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.
Most opera singers come to the profession through fairly well defined pathways; music degree, post graduate degree or conservatory training, young artists program, and so on. Occasionally one comes across someone with a very different background. The English (well Scouse) mezzo Jennifer Johnston read law and practiced at the bar before becoming a professional singer. Burkhard Fritz studied medicine before committing to singing. Yesterday Mexican-American tenor Joshua Guerrero, in town to sing the Duke of Mantua, used his lunchtime recital in the RBA to tell us his story in words and music.
Yesterday afternoon’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured local tenor Andrew Haji and Welsh baritone Jason Howard in a program somewhat loosely linked to England. Neither singer was, I think, 100% well (Haji’s cold was announced, Howrad’s merely obvious!) but both battled through manfully and gave us some fine singing. There were some interesting contrasts especially in the first half of the program. Andrew kicked off with Francesco Santoliquido’s I canti della sera. I’m no expert on Italian art song but these did sound like songs rather than opera arias, at least in the hands of Andrew and Rachel Andrist. In contrast, Jason’s set (Tosti’s L’ultima canzone, Respighi’s Nebbie, Tosti’s L’ideale and Verdi’s In solitaria stanza), with Robert Kortgaard sounded distinctly operatic and suited Jason’s darkish voice rather well.
The TSO’s season opener on Wednesday night featured Renée Fleming in one of her rare visits to Toronto. As one might expect for a crowd friendly season opener it was largely a collection of “lollipops” though the all Ravel first half of the program perhaps had higher ambitions. The orchestra kicked off with Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso; a rather vulgar piece full of castanets, twiddly Spanish tunes and solo bassoon standing in for a clown. I guess one could at least say that Peter Oundjian and the orchestra were well into the spirit of the thing. It was followed up with Schéhérazade. I’m not sure what the score markings on this are… perhaps “très langueurezzzzz”. It was a very Renée performance with beauty of tone (even in the soprano killing acoustic) dominating over drama or diction (though again I’m cognisant that the hall swallows words). It was a bit understated and I heard comments in the interval from people less well seated than myself that “they couldn’t hear a thing”.