The final concert of this year’s Toronto Bach Festival took place at Eastminster United Church yesterday afternoon. It offered two of the cantatas Bach wrote in Leipzig in 1723; Die Elenden sollen essen and Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes Each is written in two parts which, originally would have bookended a sermon (mercifully absent yesterday). Each begins with a choral setting of a biblical verse and proceeds via recits on arias on related texts. The second half of each starts with a Sinfonia and finishes with a chorale based on a Lutheran hymn.
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Last night Confluence Concerts streamed their latest offering; a tribute to Henry Purcell, preceded by a pre-show interview between Larry Beckwith and Andrew Parrott. There was beautifully played instrumental music from Victoria Baroque, songs from Lawrence Williford and Lucas Harris recorded at the Elora Festival and a couple of interesting takes on If Music Be the Food of Love plus Two Daughters of this Aged Stream featuring Daniel Taylor, Rebecca Genge and Sinéad White plus instrumentalists from the UoT Faculty of Music Historical Performance Department. I was less taken with Duo Serenissima (Elizabeth Hetherington, soprano and David Mackor, theorbo). I can’t tell whether it was the recording acoustic or a diction issue but the words were pretty much unintelligible which is a big problem with Purcell!.
I’m always a bit surprised that there aren’t more sci-fi themed operas. It seems like a natural fit for the medium. I’ve seen a couple. A few years ago the UoT composer collective opera was an EM Forster based piece called The Machine Stops. There’s also Aaron Gervais’ The Harvester which I’ve seen twice in workshop and which may one day see the light. Now another has come to my attention but, alas, it’s in London, England so I wont be able to go. It sounds interesting though. It’s by Alastair White, it’s called Wear and it’s about fashion and the apocalypse.
The publicity material describes it as “A sci-fi fashion opera at the wild, impossible edges of contemporary art music: Waiting for Godot meets Lulu for the post-truth generation.”
Mark Berry (whose opinion I generally find reliable and insightful) reviewing an earlier incarnation said “spellbinding…an opera of rare imagination – and success”.
It’s getting it’s first fully staged outing next month directed by Gemma Williams. It will run for two nights at the Bridewell Theatre on the 23rd and 24th of August with special post-show events, as part of the festival ‘Opera in the City.’
If anyone can go and would like to review I’ll happily guest blog it.
Cavalli’s Il Giasone is a bit of a rarity but perhaps, like the rest of his opus, it’s getting more attention than it used to. The latest video recording of it was made at the Grand Theâte Genève in 2017. There’s a summary of the rather convoluted plot in my review of an earlier version from Vlaamse Opera. Oddly in this version Isifile’s final aria omits the weird section about her cold dead breasts.
Alban Berg’s Wozzeck seems to attract just about every possible treatment from directors other than a straightforwardly literal one. Krzysof Warlikowski’s approach, seen at Dutch National Opera in 2017, is to go back to the original story on which the Büchner play, in its turn the source for the opera, is based. Wrapped around that are several interesting ideas which I can’t fully unpack but which make for a rather creepy but compelling production. Alas, the disk package has nothing to say about the production so, interpretively, one is on one’s own.
Whose Opera is it Anyway? November edition
Last night’s Whose Opera is it Anyway? from LooseTEA Theatre featured Alana Viau MCing, Natasha Fransblow on keyboards, Rachel Krehm, Michael York, Gillian Grossman and Amanda Kogan improvving and a thirteen year old kid called Alex (or possibly Alice) stealing the show. The format was the usual. Games where the audience supplies some key element e.g. a place – a launderette and designated cast members turn it into a sketch. Best of the night I think was the “breakfast food” sketch with Michael and Amanda which went from a surprisingly filthy “left over pizza” to “left over pizza backwards” to “left over pizza in the Dark Ages”, mostly in Pig Latin. There was also a very creepy “execution” sketch where Rachel gleefully cut body parts off a recumbent Michael. Do not upset this chick!
There was lots more and of course it’s very silly. That’s the point! But it’s good fun and worth a look. The next edition is at Bad Dog Theatre at 8pm on December 20th.
Artsong ReGENERATION 2
Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming. There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital. Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well. They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless. Three of the four sopranos on show tried. None of them succeeded completely(*). So it goes. And so to the details.
Artsong ReGENERATION 1
Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists. The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox. On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists. Eight singers and four pianists were on show. The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers. The pianists were all new to me.
Rusalka à la Freud
Stefan Herheim’s 2012 production of Dvořák’s Rusalka for Brussels’ La Monnaie Theatre is predictably ambitious and complex. He takes an explicitly Freudian (by way of Lacan) view of the piece(*). The female characters are representations of male views of the female and, sometimes it seems, vice versa. It’s seen most clearly in Act 2 and I found unpacking Act 1 much easier after seeing it so I’m going to start there. We open not with bucolic, if coarse, peasants preparing for a wedding feast. We are on a street in a scruffy part of, I guess, Brussels. The gamekeeper and kitchen boy are replaced by a priest and a policeman. The traditional dismembered game animals become a female chorus, many of them nuns, with exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics. There is, essentially, an orgy. Clearly the human world that Rusalka cannot enter is about sex in its most physical aspects not meaty Central European banquet platters! Rusalka and the Foreign Princess are dressed and wigged identically. They are quite freely interchanged. Lines that are canonically addressed to one are addressed to the other and so forth. It’s pretty clear that each represents, albeit imperfectly, the Prince’s ideal woman. Rusalka is the unattainable feminine ideal; flawed in that she cannot engage in fully satisfying sexual activity. The foreign Princess is sexually satisfying but falls short precisely by not being unattainable. Some less clear male duality is suggested by the appearance of the Vodnik dressed as the Prince. It just gets weirder from there with the ballet of nuns, prostitutes, fish, squid and heaven knows what else spilling over into the auditorium while the Prince and Foreign Princess watch from a box and Rusalka and the Vodnik get caught up in the action. At the conclusion of the act it’s Rusalka not the Princess that he begs for help.
UoT Opera’s Orpheus in the Underworld
French operetta is notoriously difficult to get right. The genre treacherously combines a kind of humour that doesn’t always translate well in time or language, difficult music to sing and a need to be as “naughty” as the original seemed without being crass. It’s a huge credit to Michael Patrick Albano and his student cast that they pretty much pulled off all of that last night with their new production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. One could nit pick details (I shall) but overall it was a well paced show with some good singing and acting and it was genuinely funny. Unsurprisingly the audience lapped it up. Continue reading