Six years ago a bunch of unknowns calling themselves “Against the Grain Theatre” put on Joel Ivany’s English language, updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème in the back room of the Tranzac club. I was there. I reviewed it on my LiveJournal because it would be another six months before I started this blog. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Tranzac has been tarted up quite a bit since La Bohème 1.0, though even by 2011 it had become a lot smarter than when the Nomads hung out there and the wall featured a photo of Sorbie with the McCormick cup. Lets face it anywhere would be more sedate without Neil (RIP mate). Oh yeah, and the original AtG crowd have become quite respectable, even famous perhaps. The singers are all Equity members and get paid properly. There are sets and props that weren’t borrowed from Topher’s mum. Topher and Joel have done the conducting and directing thing for major companies in real opera houses. And I’ve been writing this stuff most every day for six years.
May continues to be a busy month. There are a couple of interesting concerts at noon in the RBA next week. On Wednesday 17th there is the unveiling of the annual Canadian Art Song project commission. This year it’s extremely ambitious. It’s a cycle of sixteen songs by Ana Sokolović setting texts drawn from right across Canada. It’s called dawn always begins in the bones and will be performed by Danika Lorèn, Emily D’Angelo, Bruno Roy and Aaron Sheppard with Liz Upchurch at the piano. (You can also hear this work in the Temerty Theatre at the Conservatory at 7.30pm on Thursday May 25th along with Andrew Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier and Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem). On Thursday 18th tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon bid farewell to the COC Ensemble Studio with a performance of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. It should be a real treat.
March was a curiously quiet month. April starts to look busier, at least once we get past Easter. Tonight, Against the Grain have their monthly pub night at The Amsterdam Bicycle Club. Snow is forecast so you should all stay away and then maybe I’ll be able to get in. On Saturday at 4pm there’s a free (or PWYC) recital in Ernest Baumer Studio featuring soprano Stephanie Nakagawa and pianist Peemanat Kittimontreechai. They will be performing arias from contemporary Canadian operas. On Thursday 13th Philippe Jaroussky and Les Violins du Roy will be appearing at Koerner Hall. It’s at 8pm and features mainly fairly obscure Handel material.
Next week is rather back end loaded. There’s not much on early in the week but then things hot up. On Thursday Against the Grain host the monthly opera pub night at The Amsterdam Bicycle Club at 9pm. This time we are promised Topher and present and past members of the Ensemble Studio. That evening is also the opening of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company show Brundibár which I previewed last week and which runs until March 5th. Also on Thursday there’s the opening of R. Murray Schafer’s Odditorium, presented by Soundstreams at the Crow’s Theatre. That one runs until the 5th. Finally, on Saturday the amazing Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq is appearing with the TSO at Roy Thomson Hall in a concert that features two world premiers and a Canadian premier.
Well the holidays are over and the music scene is coming back to life from its seasonal diet of musical plum pudding. There’s not a lot on this week but there is the first vocal concert of the year in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman will be joined by Kathleen Kajioka (violin) and Adam Sherkin (piano)in a programme of Canadian works exploring First Nations themes. It includes Dustin Peters’ song cycle, Echo|Sap’a, which explores the journey of The Echo (or Sap’a in Kwakwala), a para-natural entity that mimics the sounds and movements she encounters throughout the woods and waters, as well as Kinanu, a lullaby composed by Newman for her baby sister. Noon, of course, and free.
Later on Thursday, at 9pm to be precise, there’s AtG’s first Opera Pub Night of the year featuring beer, singers and a Craig’s list piano. It’s at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club on the Esplanade and I strongly recommend arriving early.
It’s that time of year when it’s traditional to do best of the year lists. Fortunately this is all about music because in most other respects 2016 was a bit of a horror show. So here goes. As far as opera proper was concerned it was a pretty good year. There were no real howlers in the COC’s season. It was solid and, at its best, better than that, For me, Ariodante was the standout; an intelligent, thought provoking production backed up by extremely good acting and singing. I was really expecting to like the Claus Guth Marriage of Figaro more than I did. I enjoyed it but I was a bit perplexed by the lightening up that had taken place since Salzburg in 2006. Opera Atelier had their best show in quite a while with Lucio Silla but even Wallis Giunta couldn’t save a misconceived Dido and Aeneas.
So last night I intended to catch both the FAWN fundraiser/announcement gig at Electric Perfume and AtG’s opera pub night. I figured I could spend an hour up on the Danforth and still hit the Esplanade soon after the start at 9pm. The first part went fine. I saw a most enjoyable performance by Adam Scime of Kurtàg’s Message Consolation with some lovely movement work on the floor by Jenn Nichols. Also I was there long enough to hear Adanya Dunn and Katherine Watson do Anna Höstman’s Children’s Paradise for soprano and flute. There was news too that FAWN is working with Anna on a new full scale opera for some time in the future. I had to leave before the rest of the announcements but I’ll pass the news on when I get it.