Last night various bits of the early music side of the UoT Faculty of Music, plus guests, put on a performance of Purcell’s King Arthur at Trinity St. Paul’s. I’m pretty familiar with the piece from both audio and video recordings (though this was my first time live) but it was clear last night that most people really don’t know the work and I suspect that the way the work was presented was not especially helpful for them.
The program contains detailed notes by director Erik Thor about his thoughts on presenting a “problem piece” without really explaining why King Arthur is a problem or why he made the choices he made. We are told it’s about conquest and erasure but not how and why it differs from what most people seem to expect when they see the title King Arthur. In short, it’s a highly fictionalised version of the very old Welsh stories about the resistance of the (Christian) Britons to the (Pagan) Saxons. Forget Geoffrey of Monmouth, Tennyson, TE White and Monty Python. Oddly, Merlin, perhaps the one character anyone would recognise, is cut here. The work itself is also a bit incoherent largely because Dryden (the librettist) tried to recast what was originally a court spectacular to the glory of Charles II as something that would work in the theatre and pass the censorship under William and Mary!
I can’t believe an October preview post already. But here it is. So what’s on? Against the Grain’s Opera Pub kicks off again on the 5th at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. It’s the usual 9pm start but come really early if you want a table. The 10th to the 12th sees Amplified Opera’s series of three shows at the Ernest Balmer Studio. The 11th is the first Toronto date for Against the Grain’s La Bohème tour. That’s 7.30pm at the Tranzac. Other dates and other city information here. The 12th is opening night for Dvořák’s Rusalka at the COC. Full details on dates, cast, tickets etc here. On the 19th UoT’s Early Music programme are doing Handel’s Acis and Galatea at the Heliconian Club at 2pm.
There was a two part session with Barbara Hannigan at UoT yesterday. The first part consisted of an open rehearsal/masterclass for the Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Wallace Halladay with Maeve Palmer as soloist of Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre. The piece is a mash up of three areas for the character Gepopo from the opera Le Grand Macabre. The basic premise is that Gepopo, the head of the secret police, is trying to warn her boss that the Earth is about to be hit by a comet. Unfortunately Gepopo has spent so long in the underworld of spooks and spies that she’s utterly paranoid and can only speak in broken fragments and secret codes. It’s weird and surreal and often funny in a disturbing way. It’s a piece very much associated with Hannigan who has sung it many times and worked on it with the composer.
The Vocalis series from the UoT’s graduate students tends to fly under the radar a bit. Perhaps because it’s usually lost in the abundance of free university linked concerts in Walter Hall. Sunday night’s performance though was at the Extension Room; always an interesting venue, with more room for actor/singers to move around and interact with the audience. The theme was Mother Earth, and our responsibility to nurture the planet that nurtures us. Coal Barons and Big Oil can switch off now.
This year’s featured composer in UoT’s New Music Festival is Toshio Hosokawa. Last night saw performances of two of his one act operas in Walter Hall in productions by filmmaker Paramita Nath, with the composer in the hall. The first was a monodrama setting of Poe’s The Raven featuring Kristina Szabó and a student ensemble conducted by Gregory Oh. It’s an interesting piece. Hosokawa’s sound world combines the European avant-garde with Japanese elements so it’s unlike anything I’ve heard from a North American composer. It’s dramatic and atmospheric and works really well with fevered nature of Poe’s text. He also writes well for the voice with a variety of demands from whispering, through speech to full on singing. All of this coped with admirably by Szabó who, as ever, seemed perfectly at home with whatever the composer threw at her.
It’s 100 years since the beginnings of the Faculty of Music at UoT. There’s a pretty fair line up of concerts to celebrate it. The Opera Division, as ever has two main stage productions in the MacMillan Theatre, November 22nd to 25th 2018 sees Weill’s Street Scene with Sandra Horst conducting and Michael Patrick Albano directing. March 14th to 17th 2019 sees performances of Mozart’s rather too often seen La finta giardiniera conducted by Russell Braun and, again, directed by Albano. Given that on October 17th Albano is giving a public lecture titled The Concept Ceiling: Has avant-garde operatic production reached it’s zenith? I’d expect both of these to be on the decidedly conventional end of the scale. Albano and Horst are in tandem again for the Opera Student Composer Collective’s Who Killed Adriana?; a riff off Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur on January 20th 2019. The OSSC’s piece is almost always one of the highlights of the Opera Division year. There are also some other “excerpts” shows in the calendar.
Iain Scott has a bunch of opera courses coming up. Links are there if you are interested
At the U of T’s School of Continuing Studies
5 Thursday afternoons (3:00 – 5:00 p.m.)
Starting 13th September.
“FIVE ITALIAN OPERAS FOR PARIS”
(416) 978 2400