Last night, at Walter Hall, the Canadian Art Song Project presented their latest commission; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan. The overall standard of the CASP commissions since Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox launched the endeavour has been very high. The Ryan piece maintains that.
Yesterday’s VOICEBOX presentation was Handel’s Rodelinda. It was given in their usual style. No sets (bar the odd projection), minimal props, concert wear and the singers mostly in front of an onstage orchestra. The main attraction was the “all star” cast. To have Christina Haldane, David Trudgen, Charles Sy and Alex Dobson in the principal roles is something of a luxury. The two young mezzos rounding out the cast; Gena van Oosten and Meagan Larios weren’t half bad either.
The decision by Toronto Masque Theatre to pair Purcell’s miniature opera, Dido and Aeneas, with James Rolfe and André Alexis’ piece on the lovers’ inner thoughts, Aeneas and Dido, paid off last night. It produced an evening of just the right length with two contrasting but complementary pieces working really well together.
Effective the end of the, not yet announced, 2017/18 season Larry Beckwith will step down as Artistic Director of Toronto Masque Theatre and with his going the company will pack up its tents. It’s unfortunate because TMT filled an interesting niche but fifteen years of organising, directing, administering and fund raising (especially the last) is a pretty long innings. TMT has done a lot of innovative stuff over the years but I’ll remember them as a company that was not afraid to experiment with ideas and elements from outside the Western Classical tradition as exemplified by Alice Ping Yee Ho’s The Lesson of Da Ji and their upcoming show The Man Who Married Himself. Toronto, of all cities, needs to find ways to incorporate the different cultural and musical traditions we come from into new art. Larry and his collaborators did that.
It’s been four years since the initial Canadian Art Song Project concert in the RBA. Since then they’ve commissioned a number of works and started a recital series that has included innovative presentations such as the performance of Brian Harman’s Sewing the Earthwormgiven in November. A work premiered that night; Erik Ross’ The Living Spectacle formed the conclusion to yesterday’s concert but first came a series of works performed by students from the University of Toronto.
Last night I braved the storm to catch an intriguingly curated show at Trinity St. Paul’s. Talisker Players’ Spirit Dreaming was a selection of music in which “western” composers explore the ideas of colonized peoples through the medium of vocal chamber music. The music was interspersed with readings from creation myths from around the world. It was very interesting to see how changing ideas of “cultural appropriation” and different cultural contexts; French and British colonies, Brazil, northern Finland, influenced works which range in time from the 1920s to the 2010s.
One probably can’t go far wrong with an adaptation of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and the operetta, Earnest,The Importance of Being by Victor Davies and Eugene Benson doesn’t. In fact it doesn’t go far from Wilde at all following the plot of the original faithfully and containing all the well known lines. It means too, of course, that it has the flaws as well as the virtues of the original. The first act can drag a bit as Wilde gets a bit too clever but t builds to a very effective second half which flies by. The duet for the girls, To Speak With Perfect Candour is probably the best number in the piece. Davies’ music too does not try to be too portentous. It’s a bit of a pot pourri of styles with, at least, big band music, classical operetta, popular song of the period and what seems to be a nod to Andrew Lloyd-Webber. It’s perfectly consistent with the text. I don’t think though that there’s a single number that one would call truly hummable.