Der Messias is the German version of Handel’s Messiah as arranged by Mozart. The translation dates from 1775 and is by Klopstock and Ebeling drawing heavily on the Lutheran Bible. My German isn’t good enough to say how “archaic” it sounds to a modern German speaker but it certainly seems to be quite singable. In any event it was presented in Salzburg during this year’s Mozartwoche in a staged version by Robert Wilson. The arrangement adds a substantial wind section and changes the voice parts in places. For example Doch wer mag entraten (But who may abide) is given to the bass rather than one of the high voices.
The libretto of Massenet’s Cendrillon is much more ambiguous than Rossini’s straightforward La Cenerentola and given that we all “know” the Cinderella story exploiting those ambiguities is likely to prove attractive to a director. Fiona Shaw, whose Glyndebourne production was revived in 2019 under the revival direction of Fiona Dunn, finds rather more than. most.
Robert Wilson’s take on Turandot is interesting. It’s symbolic, even ritualistic and it’s perhaps best seen as a performance of a performance. It’s certainly not in any way naturalistic. Throughout the characters are “abstracted” by colour scheme in costume and make up and they move in highly stylized patterns. This is especially apparent in Act 3 where when Liù dies nothing happens. She just stands in a pose. She and Timur then walk back and forth across the stage a few times before slowly processing into the wings. It’s the same with the final scene with Calaf and Turandot. They never even touch each other which makes Calaf’s rather lurid description of what he’s going to do to Turandot seem even rapier than usual. The words and the music (the IMHO overblown Alfano completion) seem at odds but maybe make sense in a ritualistic way. The approach does make for some very striking stage pictures though.
I Will Fly Like a Bird is a chamber opera for two voices and six instruments composed by John Plant to a libretto by J. A. Wainwright. It deals with the story of Robert Dziekanski, a young Pole who was fatally tasered by police at Vancouver Airport in 2007. It’s not dramatic or angry. It’s more of an elegy recounting the hopes and aspirations of Robert and his mother who waits for him in Kamloops. It’s often very beautiful and very, very sad,
The two characters; Robert and his mother, are sung by baritone and soprano with support from string quartet, piano and clarinet. The music is tonal but quite modern in feel. There are certainly no concessions to musical theatre but it does have a few “songs” notably a drinking song. The music really feels apt for the story and is geared more to allowing the singers to convey the text than show off.
September starts the slow ramp up to the new season. The first thing in my calendar is Mysterious Barricades on September 14th from 1pm to 2pm in Walter Hall. This is a series of coast to coast, dawn to dusk concerts in aid of Suicide Awareness. Russell Braun, Monica Whicher and Nathalie Paulin are all involved. It’s free but ticketed. Check the link for details.
The line up for Voicebox: Opera in Concert has been announced for the 2019/20 season. There are four shows:
The season opens on Sunday, October 20, 2019, with a double bill by Maurice Ravel, L’enfant et les sortileges and L’heure Espagnole. It’s a common pairing and often a very funny one. It’s piano score with Suzy Smith playing., The cast includes Holly Chaplin, Anika-France Forget, Danlie Rae Acebuque and Joshua Clemenger.
Sunday, December 1st, 2019 sees some welcome Janáček. We don’t see near enough of his work in Toronto. This time its Katya Kabanova. It’s not the jolliest of pieces but it’s musically and dramatically top drawer. The cast includes Lynn Isnar, Emilia Boteva, Michael Barrett and Cian Horrobin with Jo Greenaway at the piano.
There’s a remount of Charles M. Wilson’s Kamouraska, premiered by OiC in 2009, on Sunday, February 16th, 2020. It’s based on Anne Hebert’s novel about a tumultuous love triangle that plays out near a village in Quebec, with tragic consequences. The cast includes Jennifer Taverner , Aaron Dimoff and Matt Chittick. Robert Cooper leads the orchestra, cast and chorus.
The season closes on Sunday, April 5, 2020, with snobbery with violets in the form of Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. The cast includes Sally Dibblee, Romulo Delgado aand Geneviève Lévesque Narmina Afandiyeva at the piano.
I managed to catch the fourth performance of the COC’s current run of Verdi’s Otello last night. It’s a David Alden production that first aired at ENO and it’s a very dark take on an already dark story. It’s set maybe circa 1900 and the sets are stark but the lighting is dramatic with lots of contrasts and giant moving shadows. The overall Zeitgeist seems to be of a society that has seen too much war; a sort of collective PTSD. This comes over in a number of ways. The scenes that usually lighten things up a bit; the victory celebrations in Act 1, the children and flowers in Act 2, don’t here. In fact they are downright creepy. There’s also a female dancer, used rather as Christopher Alden used Monterone’s daughter in Rigoletto, who clearly doesn’t expect good things from returning soldiers.
Paul Curran’s production of Tosca, seen in 2008 and 2012, opened at the COC yesterday afternoon. It didn’t feel like a routine revival production of a warhorse. In fact it felt much fresher and focussed than last time around. Perhaps Mr. Curran, who is again directing, found some new insights or, more likely, the chemistry between the principals is better this time. The result is a very satisfactory show.
Gluck’s Alceste is not as well known as Orfeo ed Eurydice or the Iphigénie operas but in some ways it’s an even better example of what Gluck meant by “reform”. It’s simple, restrained and elegant. The plot has some similarities with Orfeo. The good king of Thessaly, Admète, is doomed to die unless someone else volunteers in his place. Naturally enough, this being opera, his wife Alceste volunteers. There is much dignified lamenting. She descends to Hades. Husband and wife reproach each other for their selfishness in being the one to die. Hercules shows up and, in gratitude for earlier hospitality, saves the day. There is (dignified) rejoicing. It;s an easy score to listen to with plenty of good tunes but no blockbuster, memorable, numbers.
Christopher Alden’s recent productions in Toronto; Rigoletto and Der Fliegender Holländer, were controversial, rather cerebral affairs that delighted his fans but tended to puzzle, and even infuriate, the more conservative critics and opera goers. His Die Fledermaus, which opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre, has something for everybody. There are two main threads uniting the three acts. The first is the piece as an allegory of Austrian bourgeois society from an insecure pre WW1 period through a period of unbridled hedonism in the 1920s to the beginnings of Fascism. The second is a much more explicit depiction of Falke as the ringmaster of the whole circus. He goes from manipulative Freudian psychiatrist in Act 1 to Orlofsky’s confidante in Act 2 to, bat costumed, sitting astride the giant watch that hangs above the stage; the only character aloof from the takeover of the drama by the sinisterly Fascistic Frosch. All this is strung together by prefiguring later elements in earlier scenes. In Act 1 the party goers from Act 2 invade the scene via the fractured wall of Rosalinde’s bedroom as Gabriel imagines the delights to come. A silent but frenetic Frosch appears on stage at various points in the first two acts although his identity isn’t apparent until the coup de theâtre that carries us into Act 3. Additionally Alden does not shy away from bat imagery, including it’s darker overtones. There are bat shadows on the backdrop during the overture, Falke first appears as a Dracula look alike, the ‘ballet’ are batgirls and we close out with Falke, again dressed as a bat, overseeing the denouement. There’s a lot going on and I shall be very happy to see this again and delve deeper (a recurrent theme with Alden productions). Continue reading →