Deutsche Grammophon has just re-released the recital by Bryn Terfel and Llyr Williams that was recorded live at the Verbier Festival in 2011. It’s a generous package. It kicks off with a couple of exquisitely sung Schubert songs which are followed by Schumann’s Liederkreis Op.39. This is gorgeous lieder singing with the voice sounding very fresh, the diction spot on and lovely accompaniment.
After the interval there’s Ibert’s Chansons de Don Quichotte and Quilter’s Three Shakespeare Songs. These too are beautifully done. Then it’s on to the lighter stuff that Bryn always seems to throw in on these occasions and which does help making listening to the recording seem more like being at a live concert. Among other things there’s a lovely Ar Hyd y Nos and The Green Eyed Dragon. You have to admire a singer who can manage four languages with such clarity and feeling and still be personable and funny.
The Royal Conservatory of Music did a partial reveal of their classical and jazz programming for Koerner Hall in the 2022/3 season. It’s a pretty typical mx; heavy on piano, strings and chamber music, but there are a few interesting classical vocal concerts. Here are the highlights:
There’s not exactly a flood of events in my calendar for march yet but there are a few. Running March 1st to 20th at Crow’s Theatre is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ satirical play Gloria about a Manhattan magazine staff seeking fame and glory as the internet turns the industry upside down. It’s not an opera but it’s directed by the very talented André Sills which is reason enough for me.
Opera Atelier’s new film Angel premiered last night. It consists of six scenes which, we are told, can be performed as a sequence or individually. There’s a basic theme of “angels” and the texts are drawn from Milton and Rilke (in translation). The score is by Edwin Huizinga and Christopher Bagan with some of the dance music being actual baroque works.
Opera Atelier’s webstream of Handel’s The Resurrection premiered on Thursday evening and will be available until this coming Thursday. It’s ticketed and you can buy an access code from the RCM box office. It’s the first Opera Atelier show conceived for webstreaming as opposed to filming a stage performance. The action was filmed in St. Lawrence Hall and the music was recorded at Koerner.
Presto Classical lists over 100 recordings of Schubert’s Winterreise for (almost) every voice type accompanied on pianoforte, fortepiano, string quartet and probably more. It’s also frequently performed live and I’ve certainly seen it done multiple times in settings ranging from the most formal of Liederabend to staged with projections and all manner of things. So why bother with another new recording? Well it’s largely because I’m a fan of English baritone Roderick Williams who has just had a Winterreise recording, with Iain Burnside at the piano, released on the Chandos label.
Tapestry Opera’s original 2019/20 season was to have included a remount of Gareth Williams’ and Anna Chatterton’s Rocking Horse Winner which premiered to positive reviews in May 2016. This is quite unusual as all too often, new Canadian operas, even the successful ones pretty much disappear after an initial run. Needless to say the staged show didn’t happen but, happily, Tapestry decided to make an audio recording instead.
Three of the four principals from 2016; Asitha Tennekoon, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray reprise their original roles while Lucia Cesaroni replaces Carla Huhtanen as Ava. This time around the house is represented by Midori Marsh, Alex Hetherington, Stephen Bell and Korin Thomas-Smith.
This new recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes was recorded from semi-staged performances in the Grieghallen in Bergen in November last year. It’s very good indeed. Of course, there are many good audio and video recordings of this piece going back to the composer’s own version with Peter Pears in the title role; recorded in 1959 and many fine singers have recorded the title role. To stand out from the field, a new recording needs an outstanding Grimes and in Stuart Skelton this version has one. He manages to encompass both the brutal, gritty side of Grimes as well as the more ethereal side. Pears did the latter brilliantly but could never quite manage the grit. Vickers, who practically owned the role in the 1970s, was brutal but didn’t have the voice or the stage skills to bring out the gentler side. Perhaps the first person to really portray the full complexity of the character was the late Philip Langridge and there’s much about Skelton’s portrayal that reminds one of him. It shades toward the delicate most of the time with some lovely singing in “Now the Great Bear” and in the mad scene. But when Skelton needs to be brutal he’s downright scary.
I was browsing the latest Naxos marketing material and was really intrigued by what claimed to be a disk of Tennyson and Housman settings by Sir Arthur Sullivan. It sounded too good to be true and it was. The music was by Sir Arthur Somervell; whose Housman settings I had previously encountered.
The longest work on the disk is called Maud and consists of settings of thirteen of the poems from Tennyson’s monodrama that was extremely popular in the late 19th century. I don’t get Tennyson. I get that he was popular (but then so were Dickens and cholera) but it’s an aesthetic; morbid and sentimental more than dark, that just doesn’t do it for me. Somervell’s settings are not inconsistent with the mood of the text but they are, frankly, dull and predictable. There’s an attempt to elevate the music above the level of contemporary parlour ballads but Somervell doesn’t seem to have either the melodic or rhythmic invention to really pull it off.
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.