Seven Sins at the Symphony

Last night’s Decades series concert featured three works from the 1930s plus a sesqui.  The sesqui, Andrew Balfour’s Kiwetin-acahkos; Fanfare for the Peoples of the North was definitely one of the more interesting of these short pieces.  There were elements of minimalism combined with a nod to Cree/Métis fiddle music.  Quite complex and enjoyable.  It was followed by Barber’s rather bleak Adagio for Strings and the Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.  It’s familiar enough fare and was well played by the orchestra under Peter Oundjian.  I particularly enjoyed some of the weird percussion/celesta effects in the third movement of the Bartók.  But really I was there for the second half of the program.

sds3

Continue reading

Advertisements

Like the 504 streetcar

Season announcements, it seems, are like the King Street streetcar(1).  You wait for ages then three come along at once.  This time it’s Opera Atelier announcing the 2017/18 season.  As ever there are two productions.  A remount of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro runs October 26th to November 4th. The cast icludes Douglas Williams, making his Opera Atelier debut, in the title role, with Mireille Asselin (Susanna), Stephen Hegedus (Count Almaviva), Peggy Kriha Dye (Countess Almaviva), Mireille Lebel (Cherubino), Laura Pudwell (Marcellina), Gustav Andreassen (Bartolo), Christopher Enns (Basilio/Don Curzio), Olivier Laquerre (Antonio), and Grace Lee (Barbarina).  This one will be sung in English.

oafigaro

Patrick Jang, Carla Huhtanen and Phillip Addis in “The Marriage of Figaro” (2010).  Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Continue reading

Addicted to purity and violence

In George Benjamin’s Written on Skin The Man, The Protector, is described as “addicted to purity and violence”.  One could perhaps say the same about the score.  Seeing it presented in a minimally staged version at Roy Thomson Hall last night perhaps emphasised those aspects compared to watching a fully staged version (review of Katie Mitchell’s production at the ROH here).  Being able to see the conductor and orchestra made the combination of a traditional orchestra with older instruments; viola da gamba, glass harmonica etc (and lots of percussion) more obvious.  The music can be very violent but it can also be incredibly quiet and it’s a measure of Benjamin’s skill as a conductor that through these extreme changes of dynamics he rarely, if ever, covered his singers.

2.boyandprotector

Bejun Mehta, Christopher Purves and Barbara Hannigan in the ROH production

Continue reading

Colourful Vixen from Glyndebourne

Melly Still’s 2012 Glyndebourne production of Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen is straightforward and rather beautiful.  Certainly the staging matches the magic of this extraordinary score.  There are really two ideas underpinning the designs.  The animals are very human rather than the furries sometimes seen.  Their specific nature is hinted at rather than made terribly explicit.  They are differentiated from the humans by being very boldly coloured.  In contrast, the human world is a sort of monochrome 1920’s Moravia; all greys and browns.  Within this framework there are some neat touches.  The foxes carry their tales and use them to great demonstrative effect.  The chickens are portrayed as sex workers with the cockerel as, sort of, their pimp.  It’s not overdone and it’s very effective.  The sets are centred round a stylized tree with other structures as needed being erected on the fly with flats so the action never really stops.

1.forest Continue reading

AtG’s Messiah

Expectations could hardly have been higher for last night’s first performance of Against the Grain’s new production of Handel’s Messiah.  By and large they were met.  It’s become quite the thing to stage Handel’s oratorios and, for the most part, that’s fine.  They are really operas in disguise and work well when liberated from the concert setting.  Messiah is trickier.  Rather than a linear narrative there are a series of Biblical texts selected by librettist Charles Jennens to promote a literal and conservative evangelical Christianity.  There is no obvious staging solution.  One possibility is to invent a narrative and spin the story around it as Claus Guth did at Theater an der Wien in 2009.  AtG’s Joel Ivany’s solution is to stage it as a choreographed performance and use movement to bring depth to the words.  Here he is aided and abetted by choreographer Jennifer Nichols who has created a movement language tailored to the abilities and limitations of the singers.

Continue reading

Collaborations

Each year the Studio Ensemble at the Canadian Opera Company does an exchange with its counterpart the Atelier Lyrique de’l’Opéra de Montréal. Part of this collaboration is a free concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre featuring singers from both companies. Last year I found it quite hard to write about as, frankly, Montreal didn’t bring much to the party. This year, happily, was different.

Philip Kalmanovitch

Two of the Montreal singers really impressed me this time. Philip Kalmanovitch is a tall, slim baritone with an engaging stage manner and a very nice voice indeed. He kicked off the programme with the Largo al factotum from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. I would not have thought it possible to overact this piece but Kalmanovitch came close! It was very characterful, well sung and he communicated that he was having fun very effectively. We also got a characterful Là ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni sung with Jacqueline Woodley. Their voices blended very well and the acting was good too. His final piece was the much more romantic Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. He didn’t seem quite as at home in this repertoire and he could use some work on shaping his lines but, again, he sang with beautiful tone and the closing pianissimo was very well done.

Emma Parkinson

I was just as impressed by mezzo-soprano Emma Parkinson. She has a lovely smoky voice of some power. In her first number, Come ti piace, imponi from La clemenza di Tito she was singing with the Studio Ensemble’s biggest voice, soprano Ileana Montalbetti. I was worried going in that she’d be blown away (probably literally) but it wasn’t so. They actually worked very well together. Emma and Ileana collaborated again with the addition of baritone Philippe Sly in Soave sia il vento from Cosi fan tutte. This wasn’t so successful. Even when she’s throttling back, Ileana has a distinct ‘slice’ which doesn’t really suit a Mozart number like this and the voices didn’t really blend. I really want to hear what she can do with an orchestra in a genuine spinto role. Also, Philippe sang well enough but it’s going to be a long, long time before he sings Don Alfonso.  Getting back to Emma, she also sang a spirited Parto, parto, agian from La Clemenza di Tito. This was the real deal and raised hairs on the back of my neck. There was power, passion and variation of tone colour. Her coloratura was a bit ragged in places but that will come. Ms. Parkinson is one to watch.

Aidan Ferguson

The Montreal contingent was rounded out by mezzo Aidan Ferguson and tenor Isaiah Bell. Ferguson sang Va! laisse couler mes larmes from Massenet’s Werther, Sein wir wieder gut from Strauss’Ariadne auf Naxos and collaborated with Mireille Asselin in the Presentation of the Rose from Der Rosenkavalier. She and Jacqueline Woodley also sang a very musical version of Belle nuit, ȏ nuit d’amour from Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. Ferguson is musical, she’s got plenty of power and was markedly better in the Strauss and Offenbach pieces than in the Massenet where she was a bit wobbly. She just doesn’t sound like a mezzo to me. The voice is very bright and open and I wonder whether she won’t end up as a dramatic soprano.

 

Bell seems very young. He started out with a very diffident Unis dès la plus tendre l’enfance from Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride. He sounded a bit underpowered and undercharacterised. He was better in the duet My Tale Shall be Told from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (sung with Philippe Sly as a characterful Nick Shadow) where he showed he could convey some real feeling. He finished up with Si, ritrovaria io giuro from Rossini’s La Cenerentola. This really needed more power. he has the notes but he doesn’t have the exciting, ringing top end needed to bring a piece like this to life. He is very young though and with a bit more power and confidence could be quite promising.

The Toronto singers were really in back up roles in this gig but they all performed very well. Mireille Asselin showed she has the classic qualities of a young lyric soprano in her cameo as Sophie and Jacqueline Woodley was excellent in the Offenbach though to be honest I’d much rather hear her singing Weir, Golijov or Saariaho where she truly excels.  Philippe and Ileana I’ve already mentioned.   Accompaniment on the piano was by the Studio Ensemble’s Jenna Douglas and Timothy Cheung who were, as ever, just excellent.

All in all, a very worthwhile effort all round.