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.
Against the Grain Theatre’s latest production, Ayre, continues their run of innovative, site specific shows. This time it was a presentation of four works by Argentinian Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov at the Ismaili Centre; part of the Aga Khan complex on Wynford Drive. The “appetisers” were three short works presented in three of the public spaces of the Centre. Yiddishbbuk, for string quartet (Jennifer Murphy, Barry Shiffman, Laila Zakzook, Drew Comstock), was inspired by apocryphal psalms and is a fractured piece employing a lot of extended techniques to create a three movement work “in the mode of Babylonic Lamentations”. Lua Descolorida, with Adanya Dunn as soprano soloist, sets a 19th century text in Gallego. It’s a folksy, Arab inflected piece over a kind of string “ground” with pizzicato cello. Short but rather beautiful. For Tenebrae the quartet was joined by clarinetist Brad Cherwin and soprano Ellen McAteer. It’s a beautiful piece with a melismatic vocal line culminating with multiple repeats of the single word “Jerusalem”.
I’m out of town for the first week of November or so so this week’s preview will actually cover two weeks. Lots of endings coming up with the last OA Dido and Aeneas this afternoon and the COC’s fall season closing with Ariodante on Thursday and Norma on Friday. There’s also Centre Stage on Wednesday. I shall be curious to see what people think.
On to next weekend and there are a couple of items of interest. Saturday at 7.30pm and Sunday at 3pm at Grace Church on the Hill Bicycle Opera Project are collaborating with Pax Christi Chorale in performances of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Here’s the blurb:
In this unique presentation of a classic oratorio, Bicycle Opera’s singers will shed formal concert format in favour of a dramatic exploration of Elijah, while staying true to our intimate and accessible style.
Soloists are Geoff Sirett, Chris Enns, Marjorie Maltais and Larissa Koniuk.
I’ve seen opera in a lot of venues in Toronto, including several pubs, but last night was my first time at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club; the occasion being the first pub night hosted by Against the Grain Theatre. There was a pretty decent crowd and, somewhat to my surprise, a couple of decent beers on tap. There was also singing with Topher Mokrzewski at the keyboard of a piano almost as grotty as the one he made his AtG debut on. Perhaps unsurprisingly the line up was pretty impressive; Clarence Frazer, Stephanie Tritchew, Aaron Durand, Cait Wood and John Brancy plus a bonus drop in by no less than Krisztina Szabó. Rossini, Puccini, Donizetti, Bernstein and others all got a look in. It was loud, it was fun and the audience, not all of whom I suspect knew what they were in for, stayed. Further sessions are planned for the first Thursdays in November and December at the same venue.
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