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.
Opera Atelier’s current production of Mozart’s Idomeneo is frustrating, especially given their recent run of good form. It, unfortunately, combines a fussy, rather pointless production with histrionic antics and uneven singing. It’s just not good enough.
I got hold of the recent Chandos recording of Berlioz’ L’Enfance du Christ largely because I wanted to take a look at the Super Audio CD format. On that subject my thoughts are here. But it was also a chance to listen to a piece I was entirely unfamiliar with. I’m glad I did. It’s quite beautiful music; lyrical rather than dramatic, except perhaps in the early sections where Herod is having a hissy fit. I can see why it’s not done very often though. It calls for seven soloists plus chorus and a big orchestra.
Opera Atelier has announced its 2019/20 season. As usual there are two main stage shows. The first is a revival of their 2011 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It runs from October 31st to November 9th, 2019, in the Ed Mirvish Theatre. It’s a production that plays up the comedy and the elements of the commedia dell’arte in the piece while pretty much eschewing anything deeper or darker. The cast includes Douglas Williams as the Don with Stephen Hegedus as Leporello, Colin Ainsworth, as Don Ottavio, Meghan Lindsay as Donna Anna, Carla Huhtanen as Donna Elvira, Mireille Asselin as Zerlina, Olivier Laquerre as Masetto, and Gustav Andreassen as Commendatore. beautiful Ed Mirvish Theatre. David Fallis conducts.
I’m not sure how I’ve not come across the music of Howard Skempton before but it took a flyer for a disk with a setting of The Ancient Mariner to get my attention. I’m fascinated by what contemporary composers do with the broadly defined field of art song and Skempton’s piece is really interesting. He sets a mildly abridged version of the Coleridge but there’s enough to last past the half hour mark. The vocal writing is tonal, rhythmic and declamatory; hardly song at all in a way, but it supports the text rather well. It’s sung here by baritone Roderick Williams, for whom the piece was written. He has a clear, bright voice and the setting tends towards the upper end of the baritone range. He also has superb diction in the manner of the best of the “English school”. The result is complete comprehensibility for the text and full value for every word.
Opera Atelier have announced their 2018/19 season. As usual, there are two shows. In the Fall there is a double bill of Charpentier’s Actéonpaired with Rameau’s Pygmalion (Oct. 25 – Nov. 3, 2018). Colin Ainsworth, who has also been named as OA’s first “artist in residence”, features in both title roles with Mireille Asselin as Diana and Amour and Allyson McHardy as Juno and Céphise. The supporting cast includes Jesse Blumberg, Christopher Enns, Meghan Lindsay, Cynthia Smithers and Anna Sharpe. Pygmalion will be prefaced by Opera Atelier’s first Canadian commission for solo baroque violin and contemporary dancing, entitled Inception. It will be performed by composer/violinist Edwin Huizinga and choreographer/Artist of Atelier Ballet, Tyler Gledhill. Following its Toronto dates, the show will tour to the Royal Opera House in Versailles.
Opera Atelier’s remount of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro opened last night at the Elgin. It’s a curious production made up of parts that don’t really fit together, hence the review title. At the core is a rather elegant traditional production. It’s wigs and crinolines and might have been seen almost anywhere almost any time in the last fifty years or so. Most of the excessive baroque gesturing is gone and the acting is stagey but no more so than in many opera productions.
Yesterday afternoon’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured local tenor Andrew Haji and Welsh baritone Jason Howard in a program somewhat loosely linked to England. Neither singer was, I think, 100% well (Haji’s cold was announced, Howrad’s merely obvious!) but both battled through manfully and gave us some fine singing. There were some interesting contrasts especially in the first half of the program. Andrew kicked off with Francesco Santoliquido’s I canti della sera. I’m no expert on Italian art song but these did sound like songs rather than opera arias, at least in the hands of Andrew and Rachel Andrist. In contrast, Jason’s set (Tosti’s L’ultima canzone, Respighi’s Nebbie, Tosti’s L’ideale and Verdi’s In solitaria stanza), with Robert Kortgaard sounded distinctly operatic and suited Jason’s darkish voice rather well.
Season announcements, it seems, are like the King Street streetcar(1). You wait for ages then three come along at once. This time it’s Opera Atelier announcing the 2017/18 season. As ever there are two productions. A remount of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro runs October 26th to November 4th. The cast icludes Douglas Williams, making his Opera Atelier debut, in the title role, with Mireille Asselin (Susanna), Stephen Hegedus (Count Almaviva), Peggy Kriha Dye (Countess Almaviva), Mireille Lebel (Cherubino), Laura Pudwell (Marcellina), Gustav Andreassen (Bartolo), Christopher Enns (Basilio/Don Curzio), Olivier Laquerre (Antonio), and Grace Lee (Barbarina). This one will be sung in English.
Patrick Jang, Carla Huhtanen and Phillip Addis in “The Marriage of Figaro” (2010). Photo by Bruce Zinger.