InfinityPoster.Black.Flat.12-12-2017-01_previewThe first performance of Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound took place at the Jackman Studio at the COC.  It’s the first public airing of the piece in piano score, as a workshop, so it’s not the finished product.  The performance was followed by a lively discussion about the work’s potential and future avenues to explore.

I think it’s fair to say that Bound ventures into more serious territory than we have yet seen from this company, dealing as it does with the fraught relationship between the state and the individual in an age when the state, egged on by the right wing media, uses fear of terrorism to suppress “dissidents”.

The space where the audience assembles before the show is liberally decorated with propaganda for The State of the “fear anything that looks different” variety.  In the performance venue itself the audience is ranked either side of a space that contains the piano and, at intervals around the large empty floor, seven chairs; one for each detainee.  The detainees are all being held for things which aren’t actually crimes but bring them under suspicion; wearing a hijab, having a Nazi great-uncle, wanting to emigrate to Sri Lanka, converting to Islam, having a terrorist brother, protesting immigration restrictions, being transgendered.  They are posed essentially unanswerable Kafkaesque questions by the State interrogator (Martha Burns) sitting off in one corner with a microphone.  The only answer is to express frustration and despair and, occasionally, defiance and hope in arias using Handel’s music and words by either Handel’s librettist or Joel Ivany.  Some of the music has been somewhat reshaped by Kevin Lau who also wrote/arranged the final ensemble number.

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AtG season announcement

Against the Grain Theatre have announced the line up for their 2017/18 season.  First up is a workshop of a Handel mash up called BOUND.  It’s a collaboration with composer Kevin Lau and will explore aspects of the refugee crisis through Handel’s music as well as contemporary real life stories.  It’s the beginning of a three year concept to production cycle.  The workshop cast will include soprano Danika Lorèn, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritone Justin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and soprano Miriam Khalil. It will play at the COC’s Jackman Studio on December 14, 15, and 16, 2017.


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Les adieux

Today’s lunchtime concert at the Four Seasons Centre was the farewell recital for three departing COC Ensemble Studio members; Michael Uloth (bass), Wallis Giunta (mezzo) and Anne Larlee (piano).

Michael started the show with Brahms’ Vier Ernste Gesänge, accompanied by Liz Upchurch. The piece is a bit of a downer but it was nicely, expressively sung. A bit of an odd choice for this sort of recital though I thought. Wallis picked a fairly eclectic mix of songsranging from Gretchen am Spinnrade to Send in the Clowns via some rather odd Spanish pieces but all very stylishly sung.

Perhaps surprisingly, the two of them had managed to find a couple of duets for mezzo and bass; As-tu souffert? from Thomas’ Mignon and Iradier’s El Arreglito, which apparently, was what gave Bizet the idea and most of the music for the Habañera in Carmen. Both pieces were really good though it has to be said that Wallis acted Michael (admittedly suffering from a bad neck) off the stage.

Michael is off to the young artists programme at Seattle Opera and Wallis is joining the Lindemann Young Artists program at the Met in New York. I expect Wallis to do really well. She has a more than adequate voice, can act, is good looking and has tremendous stage presence; in short, the modern opera package.

News is that their replacements will be soprano Mireille Asselin and baritone Philippe Sly.

Quilico Awards

Last night we went to the Quilico Awards competition. The prize was set up in honour of Canadian baritone Louis Quilico to support various aspects of vocal competition and performance and it has been competed for and awarded in different ways over the years. This year it was a vocal competition featuring the ten young singers of the COC Ensemble Studio. It was held in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons centre and Alexander Neef (COC), David Spears (Opera Hamilton) and John Hess (Queen of Puddings Music Theatre) were the judges. It was a free gig but held at 5.30pm with minimal publicity on a week day so it perhaps wasn’t surprising that the audience was a bit thin. The format was that each singer prepared three arias. S/he sang one of his/her choice then the jury selected one of the other two. The third was held in reserve in case of a tie (which didn’t happen). Liz Upchurch was the accompanist throughout which was rather impressive in itself.

The standard was really very high. I’ve heard all these singers before, either in recital and/or on stage at the Four Seasons Centre. They are all good and getting better. Repertoire was quite varied. There was lots of Mozart (unsurprising since the Ensemble Studio’s last two productions have been Idomeneo and Die Zauberflöte) but we also got Barber, Purcell, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Handel, Verdi, Wagner, Floyd, Smetana, Korngold, Britten and Barber. Quite a variety really.

One of my top picks would have been Met bound Wallis Giunta (mezzo) who sang “Parto, parto” from La Clemenza di Tito which I’ve heard her do before and the very different “Nobles seigneurs, salut!” from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. Wallis’ musicality (as well as technical ability) was very evident in the way she tackled the tricky rhythmic flexibility of the piece. (You can check out what I mean about tricky rhythms here).

The other would have been baritone Adrian Kramer who goes from strength to strength. He gave us “Pierrot’s Tanzlied” from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt and what has rather become his party piece, Sid’s aria “Tickling a trout” from Britten’s Albert Herring. Watch out for this guy. He has a very good voice and wicked comic timing but showed he also has a lyrical side in the Korngold.

Had I been a judge I would have found picking a third winner close to impossible. There was so much to like. So what did the judges decide?

In third place they had tenor Chris Enns (a fine Tamino earlier this season). Last night he gave us Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin and “Here I Stand” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. I particularly liked the Tchaikovsky which showed off a nicely developing lyrical tenor voice very well.

Second was dramatic soprano Ilieana Montalbetti. Ileana is a bit of an anomaly. The other girls in the programme are your modern lyric, look the part, sort of modern soprano/mezzos (one of them moonlights as a fashion model). Ileana is the one truly dramatic voice and can we say she looks a bit more like the popular image of a dramatic soprano (actually she’s not really that big but…). She gave us “Come in quest’ora bruna” from Simon Boccanegra and “Einsam in trüben Tagen” from Lohengrin. The RBA is not a huge space and it was piano accompaniment so I don’t think she was close to maximum power (I’ve heard her sing much louder!) but the impression of lots of gas in the tank was definitely there along with a good deal of control and attractive tone colour.

The winner was Adrian Kramer. No surprise there.

Fortunately for us we will get to see most of these singers next month on stage in various roles. Ambur Braid is singing Amore in Orfeo ed Euridice, where Simone Osborne is understudying Isabel Bayrakdarian’s Euridice. Rihab Chaleb will sing Tisbe and Ileana will sing Clorinda in La Cenerentola. Ariadne auf Naxos has a slew of Ensemble Studio members in the cast. Simone Osborne sings Naiad, Adrian Kramer is the Wigmaker, Chris Enns is Scaramuchio and Michael Uloth is Truffaldino and it seems like everyone is understudying something!

There are good things in Toronto. How many places can you see ten first rate singers perform for two hours in a beautiful, acoustically excellent setting, for free?