The Glenn Gould School’s fall opera production this year is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel given in Brent Krysa’s English language, highly condensed version, originally created for the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour. It really is condensed. There’s no chorus and it comes in at just over the hour mark. The main plot elements are retained but I think quite a bit of the darkness, and most of the religiosity, are gone, though the latter isn’t eliminated entirely. After all, the Evening Prayer and the final chorus are musical highlights and pretty much have to be there. It doesn’t leave any room for the director to explore ideas like child abuse or addiction and pretty much forces, for better or worse, a straightforward emphasis on the basic story.
Danceworks 40th anniversary show opened at Harbourfront last night. Now contemporary dance isn’t really my thing but I was invited in part on the assumption I’d write about the music. Fair enough but I thought we could do better than that so I asked my partner Katja, who has at least some dance in her background to guest review. She has done this in rather more detail than I might have expected so what follows is basically her work. I have added a few comments, mostly about the music, and I have made it clear where it’s me talking. It would be obvious anyway as I am, as the good lady points out, a “grumpy old bastard”. Over to Katja…
I guess it’s starting to quieten down a bit. Next week there are a couple of things of interest. On Monday the Faculty Artists at UoT have a concert in Walter Hall with Uri Mayer conducting. It’s an all Mahler program with the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and the Fourth Symphony. The vocal soloists are Monica Whicher and Darryl Edwards. Later in the week the UoT Opera has its main fall production. This time it’s Don Giovanni conducted by Uri Mayer and directed by Marilyn Gronsdale. That’s in the MacMillan Theatre at 7.30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a matinée on Sunday. There will, as usual be two casts; one on Thurs/Sat and the other Fri/Sun. On Friday there’s another Whose Opera is is Anyway? from LooseTEA Theatre; Toronto’s opera improv. That’s at 7.30pm at the Comedy Bar. They are moving from there (good!) to Bad Dog Theatre for their December show on the 20th which should also be hosting a monthly show in 2018.
I went to Roy Thomson Hall last night to hear an all Vaughan Williams program conducted by Peter Oundjian. It’s not really my thing but there was a fine quartet of soloists lined up for the Serenade to Music.
Things got going with the Fantasia on “Greensleeves” which was perfectly OK if a bit hackneyed. There was a decent account of the Concerto for Oboe and Strings with Sarah Jeffrey as the soloist. Then there was the Serenade. For some reason the soloists were lined up with the choir (the Elmer Iseler singers) behind the orchestra. The result was sonic mush and textual porridge. I caught exactly one word of the text; “stratagems” for what it’s worth. The rest was not recognisable as English, let alone understandable. And, of course, it was too dark to read the supplied text. This despite soloists; Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan, who are consistently excellent with text. This is becoming very annoying. As often as not when I go to see the TSO do vocal works the soloists are either inaudible or incomprehensible. I know the hall is difficult but the performance of the Ryan Requiem last week showed that it is possible to showcase singers. I think it’s really unfair to audiences and singers alike. Anyway, I was so fed up that I left at the interval.
Three Portraits (music: Kieren MacMillan, words: Dana Giola) got his premiere performance yesterday in the RBA. The performers were the Haven Trio (Lindsay Kesselman, soprano; Kimberly Cole Luevano, clarinet; Midori Koga, piano). I have to be honest this just isn’t my kind of piece. The texts are quite interesting but most of the the setting is in that sort of Neo-Broadway flirts with Minimalism space that so much of the vocal music I get sent from the US lies in. To be fair, the third song; The Country Wife got a rather more sophisticated treatment but still very much in the same sound universe. The performance was very decent though and it was a clever move to use the staircase in the RBA to match the words of the first song.
A new opera by Australian Brett Dean based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet premiered at Glyndebourne this summer. A recording of it was broadcast on BBC television on 22nd October. I’ve now had a chance to watch it in full. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it get somewhat mixed reviews. I was impressed. Very impressed. First off, Matthew Jocelyn, who wrote the libretto, and Dean know how to turn a play into an opera. They understand that it’s not just about taking a bunch of dialogue and giving it a soundtrack. What they do is very clever. All the text is Shakespeare but it’s split up and moved around. There’s repetition and sometimes words are reassigned to different characters. Characters sing parallel lines. Then, of course, there’s a chorus. A good example is when the players appear before performing The Death of Gonzago. They get lines taken from various of Hamlet’s soliloquies chopped up and rearranged. It’s effective and allows the main elements of the story to be told in under three hours of opera. The main bit that’s missing is the whole Fortinbras and the Norwegians thing but that often gets cut anyway.
Last night was the fifth concert in memory of Rachel Krehm’s sister Elizabeth. This year it was held in the rather cavernous and imposing Christ Church Deer Park, an Anglican church at Yonge and St. Clair. The concert opened with an elegiac piece for strings written by Jean Coulthard for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Then Rachel gave us a beautiful and moving account of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. Um Mitternacht(*) is a particular favourite of mine and seemed especially fitting here. It was the full orchestral setting with Evan Mitchell conducting his extraordinary orchestra. They were back after the break for a thoroughly compelling account of Tchaikovsky’s great sixth symphony Pathétique. What’s remarkable is that this isn’t an orchestra that has a permanent basis. It’s a group of musicians who come together for these concerts and make great music on modest rehearsal time. It’s especially impressive that these things always seem to happen in huge churches with churchy acoustics rather than a concert hall and they still sound terrific. As in previous years, this was a fund raiser for the ICU at St. Mike’s and once again it looked like mission accomplished as there was a very decent audience in the church.