The Academy Program is an important part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. It allows selected young artists; singers, collaborative pianists and chamber/orchestral musicians, to work with experienced professionals in an intensive series of coachings, masterclasses etc culminating in a concert series. This year the mentors for the vocal/collaborative piano component were pianist Craig Rutenberg, who has worked everywhere and with everybody, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; a last minute replacement for an indisposed Anne Schwannewilms. I didn’t make it to any of the masterclasses, though word on the street is that they were exceptional, but I did make it to yesterday’s lunchtime concert in Walter Hall.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a one off performance of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at The Winter Gardens, the upstairs part of the Elgin Theatre that I had never before been in. The production originated in a Banff Centre/Against the Grain/COC joint project directed by Paul Curran but was recreated here in semi-staged form by Anna Theodosakis. It was on the “quite close to staged” end of the spectrum so, although the band was on stage behind the action and there was no scenery or curtain it came off as much more than a concert in costume.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened last night with a predominantly strings concert. The theme this year is “London Calling” so we got a programme of iconic 20th century English works. Things got off to a good start with the Festival Strings under conductor Joseph Swensen giving a lively and witty account of Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite with some excellent solo work by concert master Shane Kim.
Rossini’s last opera, Guillaume Tell, was written for Paris and is an extremely ambitious piece of great musical sophistication. It’s also very long. Performed uncut, a rarity, it runs something like four hours including ballets. It’s also hard to cast with the role of Arnold Melcthal in particular making unusual demands. It’s a high tenor role combining the flexibility needs of a typical Rossini role with something much more heroic. The soprano role of Mathilde has some of the same issues; signature Rossini coloratura is combined with the sort of dramatic heft one might more associate with early Wagner.
There are actually some up coming concerts and so on to talk about. The big event is, of course, the Toronto Summer Music Festival. This starts on July 14th and it seems incredible that it’s four months since I previewed it. There are a couple of additional TSMF events worth noting, notably an interview with Ben Heppner in Walter Hall on August 4th at 2pm. There are also master classes including one with Anne Schwanewilms on July 19th from 2pm to 5pm, also in Walter Hall.
Summer Opera Lyric Theatre has also announced its performance line up. There are three operas on offer:
There is a premiere of Davies and Benson’s A Tale of Two Cities, based on the Dickens novel. That’s on July 29th and August 6th at 8 pm and July 31 and Aug 6th at 3 pm.
Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann is on July 30th and August 7th at 3 pm and August 2nd and 4th at 8 pm.
Handel’s Julius Caesar is on July 30th, August 3rd and 5th at 8 pm and August 3rd at 3 pm.
All performances are at the Robert Gill Theatre, 214 College St. Three-performance subscription packages are $60; single tickets at $28, $22 (students & seniors). For tickets call 416-366-7723 or visit www.stlc.com.
Handel’s Giulio Cesare is pretty well served in terms of video recordings. The very fine Glyndebourne and Copenhagen versions get some serious competition from the 2012 production that inaugurated Cecilia Bartoli’s reign as director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. The production is byMoshe Leiser sand Patrice Caurier. It’s set in somewhere like Iraq in an immediately post-war period. It’s quite dark, probably darker than Negrin’s in Copenhagen and world’s away from McVicar’s almost RomCom version. There’s a lot of violence and some pretty sleazy sex. A lot of this centres around Tolomeo who is portrayed as beyond revolting. There’s a scene where he rips guts out of a statue of Caesar and starts to gnaw on them and there is a fair bit in that vein. Caesar and Cleopatra are portrayed ambiguously too. Sure they are the “heroes” of the piece but Cleopatra’s delight in flogging off her country’s oil wealth to the Romans shows a degree of cynicism. This is not a production for the Konzept averse but I think all the choices made have a point and the overall effect is coherent. It’s not without humour either. Cleopatra sings V’adore pupille in a 70s blonde wig while riding a cruise missile with Caesar watching through 3D glasses.
The influence of the myth that Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was written for a girls’ school seems to have had a long lasting influence on performance practice resulting in presentations that are very short and uncomplicated. In reexamining the work for the Opéra de Rouen Haute-Normandie, Vincent Dumestre of Le Poème Harmonique and stage directors Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek come to different conclusions and, accordingly, present the work quite differently. They argue that the work was written for the court of Charles II though quite possibly never performed there owing to the death of the king and the turmoil that followed. They further argue that existing score fragments show numerous places where dance movements should be inserted and that this indicates something akin to Lully’s tragédies lyriques, especially as Lully was much in vogue in London at the time.