It’s one of the nicer things about Toronto that from time to time a visiting star at the COC will agree to do a free lunchtime recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Today was the turn of American coloratura Anna Christy who is currently singing the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor. It was an exceptionally fun sixty minutes.
I was a little worried when she and accompanist Liz Upchurch just took their places and started. I need not have been. We got a set of three bel canto art songs that were full of virtuosity and personality. The sheer technical skill was obvious but so was the range of tone colour. Those doomandgloomists who think modern singers can’t act with the voice should listen to Ms. Christy. It’s all there. After that opening she did open up and explain the middle part of her set; pieces by Bolcom and Copland that she sees as natural successors to bel canto. Sung with exquisite attention to the texts one can see her point. She was also very funny and very human. I do like modern divas so much more than the one’s who get in a snit because the caviar isn’t the right temperature.
She finished up with arias by Rossini, Handel and Donizetti, all sung stylishly and with tasteful ornamentation. It was really classy. And to round things out her parents were there and it was her dad’s seventieth and there are no prizes for guessing how things finished up.
The latest edition of Opera Canada is out and I have an article in it. This is not exactly my first foray into print but it is the first time I’ve published anything about opera. (Previous articles have appeared in various political and business journals and the current WIP is aimed at the Journal of Oncology Practice). Anyway, my piece is a review of a semi-staged performance of Handel’s Orlando. The real reason to buy the thing though is Lydia Perović’s (She of Definitely the Opera) article on the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra.
Peter Sellar’s production of Handel’s Theodora has long been one of my favourite video recordings of opera. It’s brilliant in so many ways and I don’t think I’ve ever made it through the whole thing without tearing up. It’s now been remastered from the original tape and reissued on Blu-ray. The video and sound quality are distinctly better than previous DVD releases though not, inevitably, in the same class as the best modern recordings. It’s also still a depressingly bare bones release with no extras and minimal documentation but don’t let that put you off.
My original review is here. I thought about rewriting it but for the most part I stand by my original comments. The only judgement I’d change is that, on greater experience, I do think this is one of Handel’s best works.
Christof Loy’s production of Handel’s late oratorio Theodora was a critical and popular success at the 2009 Salzburg Festival and deservedly so. That said, certain decisions seem a bit perverse. The G minor organ concerto HWV 310 is interpolated in Part 3, which is fine, but why cut a fine number like “Bane of virtue” in Part 1 or “Whither, Princess,do you Fly?” in Part 3? There are a bunch of other, rather odd, cuts in Part 3. Still it doesn’t do serious damage to a fine performance of an interesting production.
Last night Peter Sellars, in town directing Tristan und Isolde at the COC, made an appearance at the Toronto Reference Library. It was billed as an interview with The Star‘s Richard Ouzounian but bar a couple of questions at the end and a brief set up by Ouzounian it was pretty much a 75 minute monologue by Sellars. Like the man himself it was fascinating but very hard to pin down.
Peter Sellars at the Four Seasons Centre last week (CBC)
It’s a rare and valuable experience when a performance makes one reconsider a perhaps overly familiar work. That’s the effect that Claus Guth’s 2009 staging of Handel’s Messiah had on me. I don’t think that there is any piece I’m more familiar with than Messiah. I feel like I’ve known it all my life. I’ve sung it. I own a vocal score (rare indeed for me!). I couldn’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard it. And yet here it came up entirely fresh and had me thinking about it in completely new ways.
With a month or so to go before the Canadian Opera Company officially announces its 2013/14 season it’s surely time for some uninformed speculation.
There are three big anniversaries in 2013; the bicentenaries of Verdi and Wagner and the centenary of Benjamin Britten. One would think all would be represented but maybe not. We know Verdi will be. Gerald Finley announced at the Rubies that he would make his role debut in the title role in Falstaff at COC in 2013/14 so we can ink that one in. Britten seems probable. There’s a Houston/COC co-pro of Peter Grimes, directed by Neil Armfield that is due to to come to Toronto. I think we can pencil that one in. No idea on casting but I would love to see Stuart Skelton myself. Wagner, I’m not so sure. Maybe February’s run of Tristan und Isolde will be COC’s sole nod to Wagner. Certainly the next most likely candidate; the Lyon/Met/COC Parsifal is, apparently, not expected before 2015.
Handel’s Orlando is pretty classic opera seria stuff. It’s based on an episode in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Orlando, a great soldier in Charlemagne’s army has lost his ardour for military glory because he has fallen desperately in love with the pagan princess Angelica, who is in turn in love with another man, Medoro. Orlando cannot accept this and he is driven to madness, prevented from causing absolute carnage only by the magician Zoroastro (who eventually restores his sanity). There’s also a shepherdess, Dorinda, who is also in love with Medoro, but comes to accept her lot. It’s all a bit daft and screams for a strong production concept. In his 2008 Zürich production Jens-Daniel Herzog finds one. He relocates the action to a military psychiatric hospital during, or just after, WW1. Orlando is suffering from battle fatigue or PTSD and Zoroastro is a psychiatrist. Angelica is still a princess but Dorinda has become a nurse. It all works rather well.
There’s been a bit of jokey banter in comments on posts about various Historically Informed Productions about Historically Informed Audiences. The serious point being that we don’t watch opera in the same way the audience did in Handel’s day and, of course, we don’t perceive it in the same way. There’s nothing one can do about the perception but it did occur to me that the way I watch DVDs is, in some ways, more like Handel’s audience than the way I watch/listen when I am at a live performance. This struck me yesterday as I was watching a rather good production from Zürich of Handel’s Orlando. I’ll be writing more about that later. Continue reading →
A series of blog posts discussing time, perceptions of time and historically informed performance (HIP) plus seeing Opera Atelier’s Der Freischütz got me thinking along some curiously convergent lines and arriving at the conclusion that HIP isn’t and can’t be what it is often purported to be; a fairly faithful attempt to reproduce a work as it would have been seen by its first viewers or “as the composer intended” or something like that. Not, of course, that even if it was, we would see and hear it as the original audience did but that perhaps is a topic for another day.