Gounod’s Mireille is a bit of a rarity and with good reason. It’s got everything that modern audiences find hard to take in 19th century French opera. It’s revoltingly wholesome with a bit of the supernatural, some patriarchal nastiness and a whole lot of Catholic schmaltz thrown in culminating in a final scene where the dying heroine (of course the heroine dies!) is carried off to heaven by angels while everybody else is suitably pious. It also has some pretty good tunes and a fiendishly difficult soprano lead part.
I got a last minute invite to a workshop of Lisa Codrington and Kevin Morse’s WIP A Modest Proposal at Tapestry yesterday evening and I am really glad I could drop everything and go. It’s based on the Swift essay; updated to a modern city where the mayor fears defeat at the upcoming election if something isn’t done about the poor who are swarming the streets. It’s kind of reminiscent of when Toronto was “terrorized” by squeegee kids. Anyway the mayor’s staff come up with the response that you’ve already guessed and the first victim is the pregnant beggar who has been bugging the mayor. There’s also a street meat salesman who is having an affair with the mayor, of which more later. Fast forward a year to where the newly reelected mayor is giving a press conference and eating tasty baby treats provided by the succesful babybites entrepreneur and former street vendor that she’s doing in the loading bay. There’s one of those giant cheques for ten grand (of the kind that Sick Kids, ironically, is so fond of) for the public spirited former beggar and child donor. The former beggar is, unsurprisingly, not happy about the situation and when the mayor is discovered to be carring Mr. Babybites’ child and disgraced she is the one who shops her as a poor person in posession of an illegal baby…
Apocalypsis was actually my second show yesterday. Earlier in the day I was at an opera “meet up” organised by Alaina Viau of LooseTEA Music Theatre. This was held at a bar on Bloor Street (actually inside the Intercontinental Hotel) and featured a performance of Love in the Age of AutoCorrect; an adaptation by Alaina and Markus Kopp of Mozart’s Bastien et Bastienne which first saw the light at Rosemarie Umetsu’s last August.
It was an interesting experience. Being in a bar not closed off for the event meant that people wandered in from the hotel not expecting to be caught up in an opera performance (and they did look like typical weekend denizens of a luxury hotel). It also meant that the performances were not exactly listened to with Mahlerian dedication. There was a fair amount of chatter and it can’t have been easy for the trio of Greg Finney, Keenan Viau and the ridiculously cute Whitney Mather. The acoustic wasn’t great either but these three were very funny and sang rather well and the piece is more fun Mozart’s original!
It’s a pretty cool idea really and I enjoyed it. I wonder if it would work in a pub with decent beer rather than a bar with overpriced cocktails and crap wine?
I suppose it’s appropriate that R Murray Shafer’s Apocalypsis should be in part based on the Revelations of St. John. Is Revelations divinely inspired genius or the drug addled ravings of a half starved monk? I find myself asking similar questions about Shafer’s massive stage piece.
Soundstreams, Toronto’s contemporary music specialists, have pointed out that one can use their “Pick 3″ subscription package to get a discount on all three of their vocal offerings in 2015/16. The three shows are:
- A concert with Adrianne Pieczonka and Kristina Szabó in a varied, indeed fascinatingly eclectic, programme on September 29th 2015.
- Boesmans’ opera Julie which runs November 17th to 29th 2015.
- A choral concert with Scottish composer James MacMillan including his Seven Last Words from the Cross. This one is on March 8th 2016.
Subscription packages start at $135 and are available at soundstreams.ca
Aribert Reimann’s Lear is a pretty good example of how to create a thoroughly modern opera within a thoroughly traditional framework. It’s a classic story of course. Here librettist Claus Henneberg has taken the classic German translationof the Shakespeare play and condensed it in a highly intelligent fashion; retaining all the emotional drama while sacrificing some fairly peripheral narrative. Reimann’s score is modern though not strictly twelve tone. He creates a distinct musical voice for each character; speech/Sprechstimme for the Fool, weird coloratura for General etc. This is reinforced by many of the characters having a tone row that serves as a sort of leitmotiv. Atonality and quarter tones are used for varying effects from the violence of the Blasted Heath scene; apparently inspired by the composer’s experience, as a nine year old, of the bombing of Potsdam, to the shimmering, ethereal quarter tones of Lear’s final monologue. For anyone with even a vague tolerance for “modern” music it’s a fascinating listen.
Friday night I went to see Teiya Kasahara and Stephanie Yelovich’s recital at First Unitarian. Unusually for a voice and piano (Mark-Anthony Del Brocco) recital it was essentially all bel canto; a mix of Bellini and Verdi songs with some Donizetti opera excerpts (plus a duet from Norma as an encore). It would be unusual programming for almost anyone and I was frankly a bit surprised because I don’t think of either singer as a bel canto specialist and, Teiya’s Lucia aside, a bel canto singer at all really.
I know that the event was a fundraiser to help pay for their summer in Italy studying mainly this rep and I guess, wherever one is headed as a singer, being able to sing bel canto well is an asset. So maybe, to use a rugby analogy, it wasn’t so surprising that this felt a bit more like the training field than a competitive game; especially when the duets were both mezzo/soprano pieces being sung by two sopranos.
Both these young ladies have big voices. Teiya in particular has real power, as well as coloratura chops, so perhaps she’s on the way to being that rare voice that can sing Norma and the Tudor queens. Who knows? Stephanie’s future probably lies north of the Alps though and it’s potentially a bright one. I’ve seen these two ladies separately and together in contemporary works and they were really, really good. Bel canto‘s not my sweet spot so maybe that’s part of the problem but I’m really not convinced it’s theirs either.