Last night the RCM celebrated the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with a suitably themed concert at Koerner Hall. The first half consisted of a performance of all the Anniversaries. These are short piano pieces; only a minute or two long, that Bernstein composed late at night. Each is dedicated to a friend or family member and many were reused later in longer works. There are somewhere between 20 and 30 of them and last night they were played in sets of three, four or five with introductions before each set by the composer’s eldest daughter Jamie complete with photos etc. The playing by Sebastian Knauer was idiomatic, virtuosic and sensitive. The introductions were informative, engaging and mercifully short. The music covered a vast range of moods and styles though all of it very Bernstein; that is to say tonal and obviously American. I was particularly struck by the brooding piece he wrote for his younger daughter some years after the death of her mother and by the earlier piece, dedicated to his wife Felicia Montealegre, that had Copland all over it and was none the worse for that. It was actually a rather brilliant way to showcase the man in a 45 minute or so concert segment.
I’ve been familiar with Voltaire’s satirical novella since I was a teenager and have reread it many times but I’d not seen the Bernstein operetta/musical version until last night when it opened at Toronto Operetta Theatre with, I think, the original Lillian Hellman 1956 book though a later reduced orchestration (I’m guessing on that). I was very curious because it’s not obvious how one might turn Voltaire’s sequence of drily narrated, utterly absurd scenes into drama. The answer turns out to be to insert the author as a spoken word narrator linking scenes and play it straight though the two mile high cliffs and sheep get lost in the wash. Fair enough. It works pretty well. The whole thing is reasonably true to the spirit of the original though in places, especially in the musical number, it’s definitely tailored to a 1950s Broadway sensibility.
2017 draws to a close and we haven’t had a nuclear war (yet). So it’s time to look ahead to what’s coming up opera and concertwise in January 2018. But first, there’s one show still to catch in 2017. Toronto Operetta Theatre opens a run of Bernstein’s Candide tomorrow night at the Jane Mallett. It stars Tonatiuh Abrego, Vania Chan, Elizabeth Beeler and Nicholas Borg. There are shows at 8pm on December 28th and 30th and January 5th and 6th with matinées on New Year’s Eve and January 7th. For the shows on 28th, 5th and 6th you can use code CANDIDE30 to get a 30% discount. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds!
Deborah Voigt appeared with Brian Zeger at Koerner Hall last night. I guess I was expecting something rather more ebullient from Ms. Voigt but what we got was a perfectly decent, slightly low key, recital with a heavy emphasis on American repertoire and very little banter, though she did unwind a bit toward the end of the program.
Once again Toronto Operetta Theatre will stage three shows with a typical mix of an English language piece, a classic European work and a zarzuela. First up is Bernstein’s Candide which will run October 23rd to 25th. The holiday show will be Romberg’s The Student Prince with five performances from December 27th to January 3rd. The final offering will be Jacinto Guerrero’s Los Gavilanes with four performances from April 27th to May 1st. All shows wil be at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. No details on casting yet.
Today’s free concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre was given by the University of Toronto’s Opera Program. It was a semi staged assortment of songs and excerpts from operas, operettas and musicals based on the works of Shakespeare with a distinct leaning to the operetta/musical theatre side of things. That’s understandable enough with young singers but it does make the game we all play (at least I do) of trying to guess who the next Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko is that much harder. Not that I’m very good at it. I’m far more able to predict what a newly bottled Bordeaux will taste like in ten years time than whether the young soprano I’m listening to might go on to sing Siegfried or Turandot at the Met!
Le miracle d’une voix is a compilation of scenes from various recordings in which Natalie Dessay featured made between 1993 and 2003. It’s especially interesting in that a couple of pieces feature more than once. There are three Les oiseaux dans les charmilles; Olymia’s aria from Les contes d’Hoffmann and two Grossmächtigen Prinzessin from Ariadne auf Naxos. Thrse demonstarte what I have always believed to be Dessay’s greatest strength; her ability to recreate a character to fit in a particular production. The two Zerbunetta arias illustrate this perfectly. In the first, a Salzburg production from 2001, Zerbinetta is a depressed, heavy drinking, prostitute who celebrates a kind of deeply sad sisterhood with Ariadne before being dragged off by a very sleazy Russell Braun. In the second, from the Palais Garnier in 2003, she’s a bubble headed tourist in bikini and wrap who pesters poor Ariadne all around what looks like a Mediterranean building site. They are completely different characterisations but both highly effective. The same is true of the three Olympias who range from very conventional doll to inmate in some sort of asylum or home.