It’s not easy to figure out how to stage Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. On the one hand it’s a gritty story of violence and poverty and hopelessness. On the other hand it’s got classic Broadway elements; romance, glitzy song and dance numbers etc. It’s also, cleverly and deliberately, musically all over the place with just about every popular American musical style of the period incorporated one way or another.
Here are a couple more listings for March. VOICEBOX are doing Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny on March 30th at 8pm and March 31st at 2.30pm. The cast includes Beste Kalender, Michael Barrett and Elizabeth DeGrazia. It will be piano accompaniment with Narmina Afandiyeva at the keyboard.
Toronto City Opera are performing Verdi’s La Traviata at the Al Green Theatre on March 28th and 29th at 7.30pm and the 31st at 2,30pm. Alaina Viau directs with a musical team of Ivan Jovanovic and Jennifer Tung. The cast is headed up by Beth Hagerman, Kijong Wi and Handaya Rusli. Apparently it’s a “modern, Toronto setting”. I’m curious to see how the ideas of “a fallen woman”, “family honour” and “arranged marriage” play out.
What better way to celebrate Kurt Weill’s birthday than listening to his songs, cabaret style, with a beer or three. Well that’s what we did on Saturday as Blitzkrieg Cabaret opened a new run of Saturday afternoon shows at the Dakota Tavern.
We got three singers; Danie Friesen, Hilary June Hart, Jackson Welchner supported by Nick Donovan (drums), Colin Frotten (piano), and Andrew Downing (bass) with Hilary also chipping in on the accordion on occasion. While Danie is a classically trained singer, Hilary and Jackson sound more comfortable in a jazzier idiom. That, plus the make up of the band meant that the show tended to the “Sinatraesque” version of Weill rather than, say, the grittiness of Pabst’s Dreigroschenoper movie. This was reflected in both choice of translation and performing style. I think this works for some of Weill’s stuff but it doesn’t work for me so well with the Brecht lyrics. I’ll go for Marx over McCarthy anytime! Other people may feel differently.
This year’s fall production by UoT Opera is Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. It’s a tricky piece in many ways. It’s part opera, part Broadway musical. The moods range from light comedy to something very much darker and lurking treacherously at its core is a sentimental streak that can easily overwhelm its merits. Michael Patrick Albano’s production, coupled with Anna Theodosakis’ energetic and varied choreography, managed to keep the focus on the strengths of the piece and deliver a very satisfying evening at the theatre.
Things are starting to liven up again in the Toronto scene. Here’s a look ahead to the balance of September and the first half of October. This week sees a performance of Weill’s Little Mahagonny by VOICEBOX at Gallery 345. That’s on Tuesday 25th at 7.30pm and will be followed by a wine and cheese reception. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.
The COC season opens on the 30th with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin featuring Gordon Bintner, Joseph Kaiser and Joyce El-Khoury. There are eight performances ending on 3rd Novemeber. The companion work is the premier run of Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian which opens on October 13th. It’s a starry cast including Thomas Hampson and Karita Matilla. There are seven performances ending October 27th.
VOICEBOX:Opera in Concert announced their 2018/19 season last night. There are three main stage shows. Two of them, alas, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for; Massenet’s Werther (November 25th 2018) and Schubert’s Fierabras (February 3rd 2019). The first features Goethe’s version of Fotherington-Thomas and the latter is one of the most confused and implausible messes ever to “grace” an opera stage. I’m much more up for the third show; Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (March 30th/31st 2019). No details on casting or anything else but I assume the first two will be piano score and the last a chamber ensemble. There are also two shows at Gallery 345; Little Mahagonny: a Tribute to Weill (September 25th 2018) and Viva Verdi (April 3rd 2019).
Yesterday’s RBA concert was titled Celebrating the Invictus Games. Now the Invictus Games is a sporting competition for athletes disabled on military service. It has royal patronage and has clearly become part of the official pageantry of celebrating all things military, as witnessed by the presence of the Lieutenant Governors of Ontario and Alberta at yesterday’s concert. For me it raises all kinds of questions about why we put the military on a pedestal and how we do it and that is very tied up with the choice of rep at a concert like yesterdays. I’ll come back to that at the end of this piece, after reviewing what we actually heard.
Last night’s Decades series concert featured three works from the 1930s plus a sesqui. The sesqui, Andrew Balfour’s Kiwetin-acahkos; Fanfare for the Peoples of the North was definitely one of the more interesting of these short pieces. There were elements of minimalism combined with a nod to Cree/Métis fiddle music. Quite complex and enjoyable. It was followed by Barber’s rather bleak Adagio for Strings and the Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. It’s familiar enough fare and was well played by the orchestra under Peter Oundjian. I particularly enjoyed some of the weird percussion/celesta effects in the third movement of the Bartók. But really I was there for the second half of the program.
I went to the first show of Soup Can Theatre’s presentation of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera at the Monarch Tavern yesterday. It was an interesting take. Three performers took all the roles in a much shortened concert version. Quite a few numbers were cut and the dialogue was replaced by a very compressed spoken linking narrative. This was a fund raiser and I think it’s fair to say that there was probably minimal if any rehearsal involved which showed in a presentation that had some nice individual touches but not a lot of cohesion.
Clémentine Margaine prowled the RBA like an exotic and rather dangerous feline. A total stage animal, she created a stunning series of female personae, from the virginal to the very much not, to bring to life a well curated selection of Spanish and French pieces. She started with the 7 Canciones populares Españoles of de Falla which set the tone as they communicate a wide variety moods and temperaments in a very short space of time. Each little song was fully invested with its own drama. And her eyes. Incredible! Granados’ La maja dolorosa followed. By this point I was really beginning to understand why Ms. Margaine is so sought after. It’s a big, dark, sexy voice. I would probably have realised the sheer size of the voice more on Wednesday if I hadn’t been comparing her to the absolutely enormous sound of Anita Rashvelishvili. It’s a wonderfully expressive instrument perhaps lacking a really strong upward extension but, overall, lovely to listen to.