Against the Grain’s Messiah/Complex is a rewarding, actually quite fascinating, piece of work. It’s condensed to around 80 minutes but most of the well known numbers feature in some form. Each takes the form of a filmed vignette filmed somewhere in Canada. Some locations are urban, some are very much not; from David Pecaut Square to the high Arctic. Twelve soloists and a number of different choirs are used. Some pieces are sung in the original English but five other languages are also used. The non-English pieces are not translations in fact they subvert Charles Jennens’ theology in some really interesting ways. The TSO (or at least a bit of it) conducted by Johannes Debus provides the accompaniment. The performances are good, the filming is excellent and the technical quality is first rate. You can watch it for yourself at this link.
Pretty major announcements from both the COC and the TSO recently; the COC’s reinforced with an on-line Q&A with Alexander Neef last night. The substance of the COC announcement is that the fall season (Parsifal and Marriage of Figaro) is cancelled along with all other in-person performances for the rest of 2020. Parsifal has been rescheduled for the fall season 2022. At this point the rest of the 2020/21 season is still on. Officially at least. However Alexander made it pretty clear that the Four Seasons Centre won’t be reopened until they can sell at least the bulk of the seats which would mean the end of social distancing. I don’t see that happening until a Covid-19 vaccine is generally available and can’t imagine that being soon enough to save the winter season and maybe not the spring season either. Meanwhile the COC is looking at its virtual options.
Yesterday I received seven assorted emails about cancellations in Toronto plus news from the Metropolitan Opera. Essentially all the major orchestras and music theatre organisations in Toronto are shuttered until at least the end of the month. Events are also being called off elsewhere so check your location situation. Here’s a quick run down:
The Four Seasons Centre is closed until the end of the first week of April. So, the ballet is off, as is the free concert series. The COC is still planning to run its spring season but we’ll see.
Tafelmusik and the TSO have cancelled performances until the end of the month.
After tomorrow the UoT and the Conservatory are cancelling public events until the end of the month.
Tapestry Songbook on March 21st is sort of cancelled. There will be no live audience but the show will be live streamed at 8pm and the performers are being paid. Go Tapestry!
Amici Chamber Ensemble’s show on the 29th is off.
The Metropolitan Opera is closed so no Live in HD but they are doing free nightly web casts of the HD back catalogue. Details here.
The TSO has announced its 2020/21 season; the first under new Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. It looks pretty much “steady as she goes”. There is no radical departure from past programming. Is heavy on mainstream romantic rep with a ton of Beethoven as this year’s anniversary boy. There are the usual seasonal, pops and young persons offerings as well.
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.