I met with Alaina Viau, Artistic Director of Loose TEA Theatre, earlier today to discuss her upcoming show Dissociative Me; a transladaptation™(*) of Gounod’s Faust. We started by exploring the reasons why one might choose transladaptation rather than either a “straight” production or simply a radical restaging à la Herheim or Tcherniakov. The starting point for Alaina, one that I completely share, is that certain works are so problematic that they can’t realistically be presented “straight” and still do the things that “art” is supposed to do; stimulate, challenge etc. If a work contains elements that have so radically changed meaning since the original composition that one must treat it as a museum piece or intellectually disengage to make a piece tolerable then, we both believe, something has to be done. I realise that there are those who can enjoy, for instance, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; a squalid tale of paedophilia and sex tourism, at a superficial level but count me out there.
The recording of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten made at the Salzburg Festival in 1992 is very much Sir Georg Solti’s show. The conducting is superb and the Vienna Philharmonic, of course, respond for Solti. From the opening, shattering cords through the various orchestral interludes to the final ensemble and chorus Solti is utterly convincing in his command of tempi and dynamics.
I’ve always been a fan of those BBC Radio 4 programs where people have to do silly things so I was naturally drawn to LooseTEA’s fundraiser “Whose opera is it anyway?” in which a select band of singers (Greg Finney, Whitney Mather, Michael York, Charlotte Church, Fabian Arcineagas and Kijong Wi) got to do silly things bid on by the audience. Some of the silly things even involved members of the audience. Asa Iranmehr was on the keyboards and comedian Andrew Johnston, despite almost total ignorance of anything operatic, MC’d.
It was great fun and much funnier than the average bel canto “comedy”. Highlights included Sit, Stand Lie where Michael, Greg and Fabian had to perform La mia Dorabella with one of them in each position at any one time, Moving People where Greg and Whitney were “manipulated” by Aria Umezawa, Michael Mori, Katja “polkadots” Juliannova and Rachel Krehm while singing the Papageno/a duet. The best/weirdest singing was probably a couple of “in the style of”s. I was really impressed by Whitney’s Deh vieni non tardar in the style of Miranda Sings. It takes real talent to sing that badly! Greg’s Catalogue Aria in the style of (a very lugubrious) Vladimir Putin was a hoot too. My sunglasses came in handy in “Props”.
The snacks were decidedly better than they often are at these events too. Really good pizza! So, a good time was had by all. More people should come to these things. Have a few drinks, meet fun people, see just how multi-talented some of our singers are and have fun. Why not?
Sorry about the photo quality. Taken by me on my phone.
It’s good to see a company like Opera by Request doing contemporary Canadian work. Better still when it’s a comedy. So I was very eager to see what they would do with John Metcalfe and Larry Tremblay’s A Chair in Love, presented last night at The Array Space. The work itself is, shall we say, “unusual”. An avant-garde film director falls in love with a chair and, despite the warnings of his jealous dog that the world isn’t ready for human/furniture relationships, makes a film about it. He is duly condemned by critical and popular opinion and despairs. The doctor prescribes her experimental Lovekiller pills. He, apparently kills his dog and is sentenced to the electric chair (what else?). Fortunately this whole episode turns out to be a hallucination brought on by the untested medication. Meanwhile the chair has run off with the film critic who condemned such things and man and dog are reconciled. Got that?
This was a really interesting morning. The TSMF runs a “fellow” program for singers and collaborative pianists and this morning, as part of that program, there was a masterclass with Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski. There were eight singers and four pianists with seven German songs (Strauss, Schubert and Wolff) and one in Finnish prepared (and preparing a Finnish piece for an Isokoski masterclass reminds me of that Youtube thing of the kitten walking down a line of Alsatian guard dogs). It was classic masterclass format. Each singer sang their piece and then went over fine points; diction, legato, phrasing, breathing, emotion, colour, at Ms. Isokoski’s direction. It was fascinating.
There Toronto Summer Music Festival, inevitably Americas themed this year, opened with a concert called Americans in Paris featuring music by Copland, Gershwin and Bolcom. It was a pretty mixed bag. It opened with Copland’s Appalachian Spring played by 13 members of the TSMF Ensemble and conducted by Tania Miller. It’s not a work I’m particularly fond of but here it was particularly unfocussed and soporific.
Schumann’s Genoveva is a rarity. It premiered in 1850 and quickly slipped into obscurity. Recently it has been championed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt who has gone so far as to call it “the most significant opera of the second half of the 19th century”; a slightly eye popping claim. So what’s it about? On the face of it it’s a pretty typical german opera of the period, set during the wars against the Moors in Spain. Siegfried (Graf in the libretto but mysteriously translated as Duke in the disk subtitles) is recently married but must lead his men off to the war leaving behind his young, beautiful, pious and virtuous bride Genoveva. He leaves Golo; a knight but a bastard so apparently not OK for active service, to guard his lands and wife. Golo has the hots for Genoveva but when she rejects his advances he concocts, with the aid of a witch, a plot to make it appear that she’s having an affair with an elderly retainer. She’s locked up by the servants and word is sent to Siegfried; returned from Spain but recovering from wounds in Strasbourg, of what has transpired. He gives Golo his sword and ring and tells Golo to kill Genoveva. Instead gold tries to get her to run away with him but she refuses and he disappears. The servants too are happy enough to humiliate Genoveva but pretty slow about killing her. This gives time for Siegfried to arrive, having learnt of his wife’s innocence, and save the day. All sing a hymn of praise to God. Along the way there’s a magic mirror, a ghost, a magic potion and a whole lot of cloying sentimentality and piousness.