The basic format for Songbook is now well established. Tapestry hire an experienced singer and pianist (Natalya Gennadi and Topher Mokrzewski) who work for a week with a larger group of young singers and pianists to create a show of a dozen or so scenes from Tapestry’s 38 year history. There’s a distinct leaning toward more recent works; the oldest last night was created in 2003, probably because the LIBLAB is such a rich source of suitable material. Last night’s selection was also decidedly dark, with lots of death and angst, only a couple or three lighter pieces and nothing flat out comic.
Offenbach’s La belle Hélène, given in English translation, opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre last night. The production by Guillermo Silva-Marin is an uncomplicated and fast paced romp. There a few cuts. The scene with Orestes and his girls for instance is gone and the dialogue, as is the norm, is gently updated with a Facebook reference and an allusion to a certain orange real estate magnate.
Against the Grain Theatre’s Orphée+; a burlesque inflected version of Gluck’s Orphée, opened a three show run last night at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront. There are many, many things I want to say about this show and the challenge is going to be to present them in some kind of orderly sequence. First off there are expectations for an AtG show in Toronto that probably weren’t present when it opened in Columbus (It’s a co-pro with Opera Columbus and the Banff Centre). We have come to associate AtG with various kinds of “doing differently”; transladaptations, site specific stagings, staged art song and so on. In that context this is a rather conservative show. It’s a production of a canonic opera in a conventional theatre. It’s not a traditional production and would likely shock at the Met or the Lyric but would probably raise only half an eyebrow in Berlin or Barcelona. So I’m inclined to treat it as if I had seen it in Europe.
This afternoon I saw Gerry Finley and Julius Drake in recital at Koerner Hall. In other words, two supreme exponents of the art of lieder at the top of their game in a hall with near perfect acoustics. They performed Beethoven and Schubert settings of Goethe texts, some Tchaikovsky and some Rachmaninoff, which gave Julius ample opportunity to show off. They finished up with settings of folky things by Copland, Barber, Respighi and Britten. The last was The Crocodile; a very silly and funny piece I hadn’t heard before. The encore was by Healey Willans and Gerry gave a very nice plug for the Canadian Art Song Project. Insert standard list of adjectival phrases describing top notch singing and accompaniment. My humble scribing is not worthy.
Last night’s Soundstreams concert at Trinity St. Paul’s riffed off the basic idea of Bach’s Musical Offering; getting musicians to create music on a theme with a high improvisory element. The line up was the Gryphon Trio (Roman Borys, cello; James Parker, piano; Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin), SlowPitchSound (aka Cheldon Paterson); turntables, Dafnis Prieto; drum kit, Scott Good; trombone, conductor and Roberto Occhipiniti; bass. Things started out with SlowPitchSound remixing prerecorded fragments of the Musical Offering with live interventions by the trio. It was interesting and fun though whether it revealed “secret messages” I really couldn’t tell. The turntables reappeared between items in the rest of the program in very short fragments that seemed too cursory to have much to say.
My review is up on Bachtrack.
Last night the RCM celebrated the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with a suitably themed concert at Koerner Hall. The first half consisted of a performance of all the Anniversaries. These are short piano pieces; only a minute or two long, that Bernstein composed late at night. Each is dedicated to a friend or family member and many were reused later in longer works. There are somewhere between 20 and 30 of them and last night they were played in sets of three, four or five with introductions before each set by the composer’s eldest daughter Jamie complete with photos etc. The playing by Sebastian Knauer was idiomatic, virtuosic and sensitive. The introductions were informative, engaging and mercifully short. The music covered a vast range of moods and styles though all of it very Bernstein; that is to say tonal and obviously American. I was particularly struck by the brooding piece he wrote for his younger daughter some years after the death of her mother and by the earlier piece, dedicated to his wife Felicia Montealegre, that had Copland all over it and was none the worse for that. It was actually a rather brilliant way to showcase the man in a 45 minute or so concert segment.