Bandits in the Valley opened yesterday at Todmorden Mills. It’s a site specific comic opera with words by Julie Tepperman and music by Benton Roark. The time is 1880. Sir George Taylor is the owner of the most productive paper mill in the British Empire but he wants more. Specifically he wants to convert the entire Don Valley to paper thus depriving the pesky bandits thereof of cover. He also wants Lily Pollard, the comely soprano lead of the travelling company he has engaged to stage The Pirates of Penzance as part of the mill’s 25th anniversary celebrations. He’s not the only one after Lily. She’s also the target of the female head of the troupe, Henri, and of Jeremiah, the bandit chief who is trying to obtain his inheritance. He in turn is pursued by the house maid (and his cousin) Birgitta and, in a purely brotherly way of course, another bandit, Freddy. In proper comic opera fashion a birthmark, naturally enough on Jeremiah’s buttock, is involved. Mayhem ensues.
Franco Faccio’s 1865 work Amleto disappeared from the opera repertoire after the disastrous opening night of its 1871 revival at La Scala only to be “rediscovered” in recent years and featured at the 2016 Bregenz Festival. It was Faccio’s second, and last opera, though he enjoyed a career as a conductor, that included eighteen years as Music Director at La Scala before being institutionalized due to the effects of syphilis. So, one naturally asks, is it any good? The answer is an emphatic “yes”. It’s not only good but seems quite advanced for an Italian opera of that date. It’s closer in spirit to Puccini than bel canto. Indeed the soliloquy Essere o non essere sounds curiously like E lucevan le stelle. It’s similar to later Verdi and, indeed, Puccini in that it’s through sung with recitative like passages and set piece arias and ensemble numbers and it’s more conventionally tonal than its contemporary Tristan und Isolde. Arguably the orchestral writing is more interesting than that for voice (Ophelia’s funeral march is very fine) and certainly the weakest parts are the ensembles. It’s probably also fair to say that there is no big hummable melody. Still, Faccio was twenty five when he wrote it and there aren’t many better operas by twenty five year olds.
The Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre has now been unveiled, as has the UoT’s concert programme for 2017/18. As usual the RBA programme is a treasure trove with a great deal of interest in the vocal series and beyond. The season brochure is here. Highlights include:
Multiple appearances by members of the Ensemble Studio
Krisztina Szabó with the Esprit Orchestra singing the Berio Folksongs on October 3rd
Various returning former members of the Ensemble Studio including Mr. and Mrs. Bintner with Liz Upchurch on October 19th, Claire de Sévigné with Rachel Andrist on February 14th and Owen McCausland with Stephen Hargreaves on April 17th
Lauren Eberwein with String Quartet on October 31st
Other singers in town for main stage shows also appearing in the RBA include Erin Wall (Oct 24th), Joshua Guerrero (Jan 23rd), Jane Archibald (Feb 20th), Meredith Arwady (Apr 19th), Sondra Radvanovsky (May 1st) and Keri Alkema (May 22nd)
There are previews from UoT Opera’s The Golden Age of Opera (Oct 10th), Against the Grain with Bound (Dec 13th), CCOC with The Monkiest King (Mar 8th), and Opera Atelier with The Return of Ulysses (Mar 29th)
Jeremy Dutcher with Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (Our Maliseet Songs) on April 10th
There’s lots more! All the concerts mentioned above are at noon and are free. Generally one needs to be there early to get a decent seat.
Opera Canada magazine, to which I’m a contributor, has a new Editorial Director. Gianmarco Segato, formerly with the COC, is taking over from Wayne Gooding who has been doing the job for an amazing 20 years. I think it’s a great choice. Anyhow, one of the goals going forward for OC is to build it’s on-line presence. That’s a long term project but there are things on social media that one can check out already. They are:
Damiano Michieletto’s production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell at the Royal Opera House in 2015 was controversial because of the replacement of the Act 3 scene where Austrian soldiers force Swiss girls to dance with them with something far more explicit. It is a tough scene to watch but it’s absolutely consistent with a very thoughtful overall approach to the piece. After all what do occupying troops do with village girls? The director, rightly I think, sees the piece as being about the brutality of military occupation and colonialism but also recognises that the Tell legend, especially in its Schiller version is overlaid with euphemising Romanticism. Michieletto’s production both strips away and draws attention to the Romanticisation. He sets the piece in a roughly contemporary setting. To me, the civilians look 1950s but Gesler’s men look more modern. The actual action is played out unsentimentally, indeed brutally, in this time period. The ballets, one of the principal euphemising agents, are all replaced by more realistic action. To draw attention to how the legend has been transmitted two devices are introduced. Tell’s son Jemmy has a comic book version of Schiller which he consults at key points and there’s a silent character; medieval Tell, straight out of the legend with feathered cap etc who appears whenever the morale of actual Tell or the Swiss in general needs a boost. It sounds a bit corny but it really does the job.
No, it’s not an opera about how Toronto city council and staff and their contractors managed to turn a minor realignment of a cycle path into a multi-year, multi-million dollar project. That one is still to be written. This one is a Tapestry production at Todmorden Mills. A local bandit group that strangely doesn’t include John Tory, aided by a troupe of travelling Gilbert & Sullivan players attempt to steal a mysterious object from a wealthy citizen’s home in the Don Valley. The cast is much more talented and better looking than Mr. Tory and includes Keith Klassen, Jennifer Taverner, Jacques Arsenault, Alex Dobson, Sara Schabas, and (monkey girl) Stephanie Tritchew. It plays weekends in September at various lunch to afternoonish times and tickets are free but must be booked in advance here.
If you are planning to bike to the show you can either take the city’s official lethal Lower Don bypass or the actual Lower Don Trail ignoring the “closed” signs. A friend tells me it’s perfectly feasible.
There have been a few announcements over the last week or two. First up is a fund raiser for the music and social outreach programmes at St. Andrew by the Lake. St. Andrew by the Lake is the Anglican church that serves Toronto Islands and as everyone in Toronto knows this has been a tough summer for island dwellers and, among other things it’s messed up the usual summer music program at St. Andrew. The fundraiser is at Christ Church Deer Park on Thursday 24th August at 7.30pm. The concert features the Canzona Chamber Players with Evan Mitchell conducting and Rachel Krehm as soprano soloist in performances of Mozart, Gounod, Charpentier and Brahms. More details and tickets at http://www.standrewbythelake.com