Last night’s late, late concert at the Conservatory was basically a preview of Bicycle Opera Project’s 2015 season. It’s a bit hard to say what the final show will be like as we got mainly excerpts last night and it just feels really different to be in a formal concert hall compared with the usual venues for BOP.
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a preview of Against the Grain’s upcoming show Death and Desire. It’s a staged mash up of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin and Messiaen’s Harawi: Chant d’amour et de mort; a settong of texts, rather weird ones at that, by the composer. As director Joel Ivany said, mixing Messiaen and Schubert might seem “a bit bizarre” but these two texts seem to work together remarkably well and the juxtaposition seems almost inspired. I’m glad too that the original intention of performing the two pieces back-to-back has been replaced by a mash up. Today we got to see and hear the first half of the show.
The on/off saga of the Ensemble Studio’s promised Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared came to an apparent conclusion yesterday. It had been postponed at least once and even this morning the COC website is advertising a complete performance with two soloists and a small chorus.
It didn’t happen. What we got was a recital by Owen McAusland singing some excerpts from the Janáček plus Vaughan William’s The House of Life and Britten’s Les Illuminations. It was his last performance as a member of the Ensemble Studio during which time, among many other things, he sang several main stage performances as Tito covering for a sick Michael Schade.
Yotam Haber’s album Torus is a bit off the beaten track for me but there’s some art song on it (for some value of art song) and it has Mireille Asselin singing on one track so I thought I’d check it out. There are five pieces, written between 2007 and 2014, on the album. The first two are vocal numbers. We were all is a setting (for some value of setting) of Cherries by Andrea Cohen. It’s unlike conventional art song in that fragments of text are broken up, repeated and interwoven in driving repetitive pattern something like some of Steve Reich’s music. The other vocal piece is rather different. On Leaving Brooklyn is a setting of Julia Kasdorf’s After Psalm 137. It has a declamatory vocal line set over a sort of minimalist accompaniment. This is the one with Mireille singing.
There may be cheerful songs in Russian but I’m not sure I have ever heard one. Certainly there were none on offer at the Four Seasons Centre today when Ekaterina Gubanova and Rachel Andrist offered up a recital of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky works. There’s a reason why one of three Russian words I can recogine is “Schmert”. Depressing as the texts may have been these were truly wonderful performances. Gubanova has a dark, very Slavic colour though she can brighten it when she chooses and she’s utterly fearless singing with great passion and, yes, there was a high C in there.
The Ensemble Studio got to do their thing last night with their annual main stage performance; this year, of course, Joan Font’s production of The Barber of Seville. This year only one role was split; Andrew Haji singing Almaviva in Act 1 with Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure coming off the bench for the second half. The other main roles went to Clarence Frazer as Figaro, Charlott Burrage as Rosina, Iain McNeil as Doctor Bartolo, Gordon Bintner as Don Basilio and Karine Boucher as Berta. Ringer Jan Vaculik sang both Fiorello and the Officer.
Following on the indie opera theme, Bicycle Opera Project have announced details of their 2015 season. Things kick off with a preview concert at 10pm at Mazzoleni Hall on May 21st as part of the 21C festival. It will feature works from this summer’s tour program Shadow Box and the singers will be Alexander Dobson and Graham Thomson along with regulars Stephanie Tritchiew and Larissa Koniuk. Featured works will include The Blind Woman by James Rolfe and David Yee; The Yellow Wallpaper by Cecilia Livingston and Nicolas Billon; (What rhymes with) Azimuth? by Ivan Barbotin and Liza Balkan; “The Dreaming Duet” from The Bells of Baddeck (world premiere) by Dean Burry and Lorna MacDonald; and, what else?, Bianchi: A five-minute bicycle opera by Tobin Stokes. They will also be premiering a new commission; Ride of the Bicycle Bells by Christopher Thornborrow. This mashes together the operatic overture with a special bike-y twist – it’s scored for 11 bicycle bells and one bike horn!