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.
Today’s free lunchtime concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre was a preview of Against the Grain’s upcoming Figaro’s Wedding. Its got a brand new English libretto by director Joel Ivany very much along the lines of the La Bohème they did at the Tranzac a few years back; setting the story in today’s Toronto but keeping the basic plot line roughly similar. Today’s show featured excerpts from the piece plus interviews with the characters by Joel. I don’t want to do spoilers but let’s just say it’s very clever and very funny. It’s got a great cast of young local singers and it’s been arranged for piano and string quartet by the amazing Topher Mokrzewski. This is going to be really, really good and I’ve never heard anything get such an enthusiastic reception in the RBA.
The full show is going to play at a real wedding hall, The Burroughes Building at 639 Queen Street West on May 29-31 and on June 2. There’s no show on June 1 because the venue is booked for a wedding! Tickets and more details are available at http://www.againstthegraintheatre.com. Be warned, opening night is already sold out and I expect the remaining nights will also sell ahead of time. This is going to be a hot ticket.
Sorry about the iPhone photo. Expect better ones in due course.
Last night, for the second time (the first was in 2011) the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio competed for the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards; a prize competition created by Christina in memory of her husband, baritone Louis. It was the usual competition format; the singers offer three arias, they sing one and then the judges choose which of the remaining two they will sing. It being the Ensemble Studio on show the standard was extremely high. Nine singers and eighteen arias is too much to report in detail so I’ll concentrate on the winners.
Alan Walker of the Ontario Arts Foundation, Christina Quilico and the Ensemble Studio
John Terauds may have proclaimed the death of the art song recital in Toronto, and he may even have a point about recitals with high ticket prices, but the line up outside the Four Seasons Centre yesterday for a recital of French chansons rather suggests that the taste for the form has not gone away. The admirably chosen programme of songs, mainly by Poulenc with some Ravel and Milhaud thrown in, was performed by members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio.
Chris Paul Harman’s La selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) had its premier at the Four Seasons Centre at lunchtime today. It’s a setting of some very beautiful texts from Lorca’s Suites scored for mezzo, harp, piano/celeste, flute, clarinet, cello, percussion and tape. The tape consists of sections of the texts read by Martha de Francisco. Sometimes the text comes from the tape, sometimes it’s sung by mezzo, sometimes it’s spoken by the mezzo and at other times they overlap. The accompaniment is mostly very spare but occasionally becomes surprisingly dense with lots of work for tuned percussion. There are also some unconventional roles for the instruments, especially the flute, and there is a whistled passage for the singer near the end. All in all it’s very 21st century; decidedly modern but quite approachable. And did I say the texts are gorgeous? Continue reading →
So, apparently Toronto has three opera singers from the otherwise unremarkable town of Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Today they (Michael and Peter Barrett and Adam Luther) together with Doug Naughton on guitar, Andrew Grimes on bhodran and, the definitely not from Newfoundland, Sandra Horst on piano produced a fun recital of arrangements of more or less traditional songs from Newfoundland and the British Isles together with a few pieces that aren’t actually traditional but people think they are. And actually, of course, a lot of the time differentiating between a traditional Newfoundland song and a traditional British song is a bit fraught.
The Toronto opera/recital calendar just keeps on giving. Late April and May are always a bit crazy with the usual three operas on at the COC but there’s a stack more stuff going on. The latest additions to my calendar are a new Queen of Puddings Music Theatre commission La Selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) by Canadian composer Chris Paul Harman. This vocal chamber work setting texts by Lorca will be performed by Krisztina Szabó and an ensemble of 6 instruments as part of the free lunchtime concert series at the Four Seasons Centre at noon on April 30th. Sadly this will be the last work from Queen of Puddings who are winding up this summer. Next is Ruth, a new opera by Jeffrey Ryan, which will be workshopped by Tapestry at the Distillery on May 4th. Finally there is a Talisker Players show called On the Wing featuring Erin Bardua and Vicki St. Pierre in a birdsong themed programme. It’s playing on May 7th and 8th at the Trinity St. Paul’s Centre.
Today saw the premiere of the Canadian Art Song Project’s second annual commission (My review of last year’s effort). This time it was Norbert Palej’s Small Songs; a setting of ten texts from Jan Zwicky’s Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. It’s an ambitious piece drawing on a wide range of vocal and piano colours and occasionally on non-standard technique. That said, although sounding like a work from the 21st century it’s really quite accessible to anyone with any familiarity at all with modern art song. Some passages were really lovely. I especially like the haunting and clever setting of Small song on being lost which evokes the loneliness of the sea and the self. The piece that followed; Small song for the moon in the daytime was also rather special ending movingly on “the wind is nowhere to be found”. All in all, great integration of text and music as art song should be. The composer “warned” us up front that the music was extremely difficult to perform because he was writing it for two very fine musicians. They didn’t disappoint. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford used all of his range; dynamically, colourwise and pitchwise to give a very text sensitive reading and he was very well accompanied by long time collaborator Steven Philcox at the piano.
It’s March break in Toronto which means lots of children friendly activities. Yesterday’s lunchtime concert at the Four Seasons Centre was one of them. It was a session/performance by soprano/educator Kyra Millan together with sidekicks baritone Jesse Clark and pianist Christina Faye. There were lots of kids, mostly quite young, there. Some had even brought their parents.