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 Actéon paired 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.
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Schoenberg’s reductions of Mahler’s two great orchestral song cycles; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Das Lied von der Erde, were made for his “Society for Private Musical Performance” which flourished briefly in post WW1 Vienna. Essentially the orchestral score is reduced to one instrument per part with a few other minor changes. The results are intriguing. Unquestionably some of the grandeur of Mahler’s massive orchestration is lost. This is especially noticeable in Das Lied von der Erde. On the other hand the instrumental textures are greatly clarified and there is much less sense of the singers straining to make themselves heard against a large orchestra. There are still fifteen instrumentalists so the singers are pushed well beyond lieder singing but it does allow for a somewhat more nuanced approach to the text.
Rocking Horse Winner; music by Gareth Williams and libretto by Anna Chatterton, opened last night at the Berkeley Street Theatre. It’s based on the short story by DH Lawrence and is a co-commission of Tapestry Opera and Scottish Opera. There are some changes from the original story. Here Paul is a developmentally challenged adult (on the autism spectrum) rather than a child. The gardener is replaced by his personal care worker who moonlights as a caller at the local racetrack. This has a couple of advantages. It provides something of a rationale for Paul hearing the “voice” of the house and for his apparently inexplicable intuition about race winners and it also means that Paul can be cast as a tenor rather than having to make an awkward choice between a boy soprano or a pants role. As Paul is one of, perhaps the main, character, this simplifies casting considerably. The work is also gently updated. So gently in fact that it’s barely perceptible.