Golden Age of Opera

Such was the title of yesterday’s performance by the UoT Opera ‘s performance in the RBA.  Now personally I don’t subscribe to the notion of the 19th century (ugh!) as a “golden age” of anything but yesterday suggested that the UoT program, if not quite in golden age territory is going through a bit of a purple patch.  This was, I think, the best student performance overall that I have heard in the last two or three years.

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Berio Folk Songs

KLP171003-_D850281Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured members of the Esprit Orchestra and Krisztina Szabó.  Two instrumental pieces kicked things off.  There was an Andrew Staniland composition for snare drum and electronics; Orion Constellation Theory, played by Ryan Scott.  This was quite witty and inventive.  Very Staniland in fact.  Then came a three movement work for solo harp; Alexina Louie’s From the Eastern Gate played by Sanya Eng.  For two movements it was light and bright using mainly the upper end of the harp’s range.  It was engagingly tuneful too though not in any kind of conventionally tonal way.  The third movement was darker, louder and more dramatic, brooding even, and using a far wider range of the instrument’s capabilities.  All up, an interesting piece.

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Celebrating the Invictus Games

Yesterday’s RBA concert was titled Celebrating the Invictus Games.  Now the Invictus Games is a sporting competition for athletes disabled on military service.  It has royal patronage and has clearly become part of the official pageantry of celebrating all things military, as witnessed by the presence of the Lieutenant Governors of Ontario and Alberta at yesterday’s concert.  For me it raises all kinds of questions about why we put the military on a pedestal and how we do it and that is very tied up with the choice of rep at a concert like yesterdays.  I’ll come back to that at the end of this piece, after reviewing what we actually heard.

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Meet the Ensemble Studio

Yesterday at noon we had the traditional season opening performance by the COC Ensemble Studio in the RBA; the Meet the Young Artists concert.  There were two new singers and a new pianist joining six members returning from last year.  First up was Danika Lorèn with Deh vieni non tardar.  I think I’ve run out of new things to say about Danika.  It’s all there; a very easy upper register, interesting colours and a growing degree of artistic assurance.  I just want to see her on the big stage.  Stéphane Mayer was at the piano with his usual sympathetic elegance.  He really is rather good!

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Schön

Today we said goodbye to Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon as members of the Ensemble Studio.  They went out on a high note (indeed quite a few high notes….) with a very fine performance of Schubert’s epic cycle Die schöne Müllerin.  Charles was in fine voice for the whole 65 minutes or so.  He was delicate and floaty where he needed to be and fierce when warranted.  It was lovely and text sensitive and proof, if anyone still needed it, of what a fine singer he has become in the last couple of years.  Hyejin was equally accomplished.  The limpid delicacy of the intro to Wohin was just gorgeous but she also summoned up real power and volume when needed.  She was, as always, tremendous fun to watch.  We writers tend to focus on the singer and not give due weight to the pianist’s contribution.  Today we were reminded of how wrong that is.

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I hope both of them stick around the Toronto scene and I look forward to seeing them in future endeavours.  Thanks guys!

Photo credit: Tanner Davies

RBA Bach

Not a relation of JS, CPE or PDQ but the venue for today’s lunchtime presentation of two JS Bach cantatas by mezzo Lauren Eberwein and organist Hyejin Kwon with violinists Liz Johnston and Rezan Onen-Lapointe, violist Keith Hamm, cellist Paul Widner, bassist Robert Speer and oboeist Mark Rogers.  The two pieces were Ich habe genug, BWV 82 and Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust BWV 170; both works about the approach of death and the soul’s yearning for rest and salvation.

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Transformations

Aaron Sheppard - May 10 - Kevin Lloyd - resizedYesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA featured three current members of the COC Ensemble Studio.  First up was tenor Aaron Sheppard making his adieux with Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation; a setting of texts by Thomas Hardy.  It’s an interesting cycle; quite spare with, despite its lack of density, an intricate piano part that reveals some interesting chromaticism.  The vocal line calls for great delicacy and control with occasionally injections of power.  We got all that in a very fine performance by Aaron, and by Stéphane Mayer at the piano.  It was probably the best performance I’ve heard from Aaron.  He’s always had a rather beautiful, but perhaps too delicate voice.  Here the control, phrasing and emphasis was all there but so was some oomph when needed.  His performance was very true to the texts which have that same quality that Houseman exudes; Merry England with Death just peeking in from around the corner when one least expects it.  Good stuff.

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