Last night’s TSO concert was a collaboration with Barbara Hannigan’s Equilibrium Young Artists project with EQ providing the quartet of soloists for Mozart’s Requiem. But before we got to the Requiem there was a performance of Mozart’s Symphony no. 39 in E-flat Major. It was enjoyable. A somewhat reduced scale TSO played as well as they usually do when Sir Andrew Davis is on the podium and he took us through an irreproachable reading of the works essential tuneful and easy to listen to four movements. It made a pleasant “overture”.
A comparatively rare excursion into purely instrumental music for me last night but the prospect of Sir Andrew Davis conducting Beethoven’s seventh symphony was irresistible.
The “garage piece” was the overture to King Stephen. Probably the most notable thing about this is that it was composed for a play by von Kotzebue who had just turned down Beethoven’s idea of writing the libretto for an opera on the life of Attila the Hun. It’s not a fabulous piece but it was efficiently despatched.
This year the TSO used the Mozart arrangement for Handel’s Messiah (though, naturally enough, with the original English text). I have mixed feelings about it. It’s not hugely different in sound to whichever of Handel’s versions one is used to and it’s definitely not one of those 20th century versions for 100 piece orchestra and massed choirs but I’m hard pressed to see what the point is other than it’s Mozart.
Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting. So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019? Let’s look at it by categories.
Fully staged opera with orchestra
The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me. David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years. The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested. Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world. The other winner was Elektra in January. The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.
So what do the first couple of weeks of 2020 hold. First up Toronto Operetta Theatre their traditional Mew Year run. his year it’s Johann Strauss’ The Gypsy Baron and there are five shows between December 28th and January 5th. The cast includes Michael Barrett, Meghan Lindsey and Beste Kalender. It plays at the St. Lawrence Centre.
If you can even contemplate the thought of another late night drinking Against the Grain’s Opera Pub is on at 9pm on January 2nd at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The following night tenor Zach Rioux has a free recital of mostly Italian rep in Mazzoleni Hall at 7.30pm (ETA CANCELLED).
Explore the score is an initiative from the TSO. It’s a session where we, the audience, get to see Gary Kulesha rehearsing the orchestra in four new short pieces selected for the occasion. Each piece gets about half an hour of work with an opportunity for the composer to have his/her input.
December is not just Messiah though heaven knows there are plenty of those…
On Sunday 1st Voicebox is presenting Janáček’s Katya Kabanova. It has a strong cast including Lynn Isnar, Emilia Boteva, Michael Barrett and Cian Horrobin. We don’t see nearly enough Janáček in Toronto. That’s at 2.30pm at the St. Lawrence Centre.
Against the Grain’s remount of Figaro’s Wedding runs December 3rd to the 20th at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse at 8pm. Music direction this time is by Rachael Kerr and the cast includes Bruno Roy, Miriam Khalil, Ally Smither, Phillip Addis, Lauren Eberwein, Jacques Arsenault, Maria Soulis and Greg Finney. Review of the 2013 original.