I just listened to my new copy of An AIDS Quilt Songbook:Song for Hope and I’m in a bit of a state of shock. It’s nearly 80 minutes of music featuring many of America’s best singers and musicians singing songs inspired by AIDS along with some poetry readings. Participants include Yo Yo Ma, Joyce DiDonato, Tony Deane-Griffey, Matthew Polenzani, Isobel LeonardSharon Stone and many more. All profits go to amFAR; the Foundation for AIDS Research. www.amfar.org
‘Tis the season to Hallelujah in Toronto and Handel’s Messiah is everywhere. Last night was the first performance of the biggest of them all, the Toronto Symphony and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Roy Thomson Hall. Traditionally this is Toronto’s equivalent of John Barbirolli and the Huddersfield Choral Society so I was surprised to see a set up for a rather small orchestra. In fact about thirty instrumentalists were used, playing modern instruments of course, with about 150 choristers. It was something of a sign of things to come as conductor Grant Llewellyn took us through the piece quite briskly and rhythmically with even some ornamentation in the da capo repeats. It’s becoming more common I think for conductors to get something approaching an HIP sound out of a modern orchestra as we’ve seen with Harry Bicket in various opera houses. The orchestra and chorus responded pretty well to the less staid approach with the sopranos sounding particularly spritely and incisive.
Despite having seen many Magic Flutes and pretty much every Bergman movie it’s only now that I’ve got around to watching his famous film of the Mozart opera, or rather Bergman’s version of the opera, because it differs in important ways from Shikaneder’s libretto. The basic concept is that Pamina is Sarastro’s daughter, who he has removed from the evil influence of her mother. He intends Pamina to inherit his kingdom and leadership of the Brotherhood but only after he’s found a suitable chap to keep her out of trouble which is, of course, where Tamino comes in. So whatever else has changed, the misogyny is intact. There are other changes too. Monostatos is almost written out of the script and a good deal of dialogue is changed or omitted, as are some musical numbers. The whole thing comes in at 135 minutes so maybe 30 minutes of material have been cut. None of this seems very radical today but must have raised a few eyebrows in 1975.
OK, here are some proper production photos of Against the Grain Theatre’s Uncle John. All photo credits are Darryl Block.
Against the Grain Theatre opened their new show last night on the worst day of the winter so far. Over 15cm of snow fell and the TTC was in utter chaos. It’s becoming a habit. Last year’s Messiah opened in weather almost as bad. Uncle John is the latest modern, Toronto based, adaptation of the Mozart/da Ponte trilogy. It follows on from last season’s smash hit Figaro’s Wedding and was created and produced with support from the COC and the Banff Centre. It will be followed by A Little Too Cosy next season. The formula is basically the same. It;s ataged in a non traditional spave; in this case a rock concert venue on Queen West. The libretto is in English and differs in detail from da Ponte while respecting the basic spirit of the original. It’s also very Toronto and a little bit Toronto opera scene insiderish. Much of the recitative is replaced by spoken dialogue. There’s no chorus and accompaniment to the singers is provided by piano and string quartet. It’s a musical solution I like. It adds enough weight and colour that one hardly misses the full orchestra while being, of course, much more affordable. It all works really well and if you can you should see it. I’m putting my more detailed thoughts under the cut because they contain lots of spoilers which you may not want to read if you are going.
Conductor Brian Current and the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble presented three pieces, one of them a world premiere, today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The performances were prefaced by a really rather informative and informal chat by Brian on “how to listen to contemporary music”. It was engaging and totally non-patronising.
And so to the music. The first piece was Marco Stroppo’s 1989 piece élet… fogytigian, dialogo immaginario fra un poeta e un filosofo; a piece evoking an imaginary dialogue between a Hungarian poet and an Italian philosopher who never actually met, or so the composer told us. The first movement was bright and aggressive, very much in the European manner of the 70s and 80s with the second even more explosive before, in the third movement, settling into an exploration of string colour. The composer explained this as being like three walls of a house, painted different colours, slowly rotating. It’s the kind of piece one needs to hear more than once.
Jennifer Rivera has a very interesting interview with Roy Niederhoffer who is leading a project to put NYCO back in business. On the fsace of it, all the necessary lements seem to be there. Full interview.