Howard and Haji

Yesterday afternoon’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured local tenor Andrew Haji and Welsh baritone Jason Howard in a program somewhat loosely linked to England.  Neither singer was, I think, 100% well (Haji’s cold was announced, Howrad’s merely obvious!) but both battled through manfully and gave us some fine singing.  There were some interesting contrasts especially in the first half of the program.  Andrew kicked off with Francesco Santoliquido’s I canti della sera.  I’m no expert on Italian art song but these did sound like songs rather than opera arias, at least in the hands of Andrew and Rachel Andrist.  In contrast, Jason’s set (Tosti’s L’ultima canzone, Respighi’s Nebbie, Tosti’s L’ideale and Verdi’s In solitaria stanza), with Robert Kortgaard sounded distinctly operatic and suited Jason’s darkish voice rather well.

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UoT’s Imeneo

Imeneo is one of Handel’s less well known operas; perhaps deservedly so.  The plot and the libretto are weak and the music pretty variable.  Charles Jennens, the librettist for Messiah, descibed it as “the worst of all Handel’s compositions”.  It does have the merit of being short.  Most recent recordings come in around two hours and this UoT Opera production, rearranged and cut by Tim Albery, comes in at 100 minutes spread over two acts.

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La Cecchina

Niccolò Piccinni’s La Cecchina or La buona figliuola is an opera buffa in two acts written for the Teatro delle Dame in Rome where it premiered in 1760.  The libretto is by Carlo Goldini and, while said to have been inspired by Richardson’s Pamela, is actually a fairly straightforward masters and servants story of a similar nature to Pergolesi’s La serva padrona or even Mozart’s La finta giardinera; all, of course, firmly rooted in the conventions of the commedia dell’arte.  Being written for Rome it was, originally, played by an all male cast.  Last night at Koerner Hall the Glenn Gould School Opera presented it with female singers in the high roles.

Photo: Nicola Betts

Kendra Dyck as Sandrina and Asitha Tennekoon as the Marchese

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All the Schoenberg

calfThere was a sort of mini Schoenberg Fest at the TIFF Lightbox yesterday.  First up we got Topher Mokrzewski and Adanya Dunn with Claude Vivier’s Hymnen an die Nacht and five pieces from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.  The Vivier was a very apt choice; a piece of CanCon in the spirit of the Schoenberg.  Topher may not like Schoenberg but he certain;y knows how to play it and Adanya, in my opinion, is at her considerable best in music of this type.  Good start.

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Brundibár

terezinThe current Canadian Children’s Opera Company show; Brundibár, represents something of a new direction from the company.  Previous shows, at least those I’ve seen, have been quite light and based, typically, on fantasy, fable or popular history.  The current offering is altogether more serious.  At its core is Brundibár, a children’s opera written by Hans Krása for a Prague orphanage in 1939 and subsequently performed over fifty times in the “showcase” concentration camp at Terezin. Continue reading

Tapestry Songbook VII

ksTapestry Songbook is the culmination of New Opera 101; a week long masterclass where young singers get to work with established performers on repertoire from Tapestry’s extensive collection of recent Canadian work.  This year the “masters” were Krisztina Szabó, Keith Klassen and Steven Philcox.  The week culminates with a series of concerts of :scenes”; some performed by the “masters” and some by the students.  s there were fourteen pieces performed and a cast of thousands I’m just going to report on my personal favourites with due apologies to anyone who got left out.

Klassen, Szabó and Philcox kicked things off with the rather disturbing Merk’s Dream; a collaboration from the 2011 LibLab by Nick Carpenter and Elisabeth Mehl Greene.  It’s a creepy vignette of a dying man trying to get through, and largely failing, to his developmentally challenged daughter, brilliantly portrayed by Szabó.  This was followed by  In This World George is Heartbroken; a 2012 LibLab piece by Hannah Moscovitch and Lembit Beecher about various, largely imagined, aspects of a dull middle class marriage.  By turns hilarious and violent it featured a really interesting prepared piano accompaniment and featured three of the stars of the evening; Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor, Janaka Welihinda and, new to me, the very impressive Markéta Ornova on piano.

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Winterreise

hqdefaultSchubert’s Winterreise is sometimes described as the Everest of lieder singing and, as such, is something of a rite of passage for baritones.  It’s much rarer to hear it sung by a soprano but today, on a day when there was more snow in Toronto than one encounters these days on the Hillary step, Adrianne Pieczonka, accompanied by Rachel Andrist, offered it up in the intimate Mazzoleni Hall.  It took me two or three songs to get into it.  The colours of the soprano voice are so not baritonal that the music sounded unfamiliar and disconcerting.  By Der Lindenbaum though I was won over.  Here was singing of a limpid beauty few baritones could match and from then on I was revelling in the new perspectives that hearing a soprano sing this music brings.  I think it was greatly helped by Adrianne’s approach which definitely favoured bringing out the drama and the emotion of the text rather than wallowing in beautiful tone.  That was there when she wanted it but there was much else besides.  It was an emotional roller coaster from the (relative) optimism of Die Post through to the devastating last couple of numbers.  By the end of Der Leiermann I was a puddle but possibly not quite as damp and deep as the critic sitting next to me (whatever Twitter might report).  Rachel’s work at the piano was equally illuminating.  This is a show they need to take to a much larger audience.