Most opera singers come to the profession through fairly well defined pathways; music degree, post graduate degree or conservatory training, young artists program, and so on. Occasionally one comes across someone with a very different background. The English (well Scouse) mezzo Jennifer Johnston read law and practiced at the bar before becoming a professional singer. Burkhard Fritz studied medicine before committing to singing. Yesterday Mexican-American tenor Joshua Guerrero, in town to sing the Duke of Mantua, used his lunchtime recital in the RBA to tell us his story in words and music.
Layla Claire is one of a handful of young Canadian singers making something of a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with major roles in Glyndebourne, Zürich, Toronto and Salzburg and an upcoming Pamina at the Met. Her debut recital CD Songbird, with pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, was recently issued on the ATMA Classique label. It’s an interesting and varied collection of songs though never straying very far from familiar recital territory. It’s tilted towards French (Gounod, Chausson, Debussy, Fauré, Bizet) and German (Wolf, Strauss, Brahms, Liszt) repertoire but there’s also Quilter, Barber, Argento and Britten (the comparatively rare Seascape which is, oddly, omitted from the CD liner).
Yesterday at noon Ileana Montalbetti, currently appearing in the COC’s Götterdämmerung and pianist Rachel Andrist gave a recital in the RBA. It was five years to the day since they last performed together in that space. Then she was a promising young singer, now she comes over as a considerable interpretative artist. The voice is even bigger (and for a piano recital in the small and not very friendly to dramatic sopranos RBA(*) that was a bit of a challenge) but what’s notable is how much more drama and meaning there is in each number.
Today’s noon recitalists in the RBA were Andrew Haji and Liz Upchurch. We had been promised Britten’s Serenade but an absence of non-knackered horn players due to the COC’s Götterdämmerung run scuppered that and instead we got a very varied program of songs and arias on the theme of love and its travails. Four Brahms songs kicked things off and produced some very fine lieder singing. Beautiful throughout with fine phrasing, characterisation and diction there was more. The final “wonnewoll” of Wie bist du, meine Königin was a thing of floaty beauty and there was a real sense of ecstasy in Mein Liebe ist grün.
Chelsea Rus is a recent graduate of the Schulich Scool of Music at McGill University and winner of the Wirth Vocal prize. Today, along with pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone, she gave a recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. I like that it was all song bar the opening number; “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Hearing young singers belt out the same few Mozart and bel canto standards gets a bit tedious. Anyway this was one of those recitals that started quite well and just got better as things progressed. Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire are, I suppose, a bit of fluff but they allowed Chelsea to show off a rather lovely middle voice and good French diction, though the registers are still not fully integrated. Even better was Liszt’s Oh! quand je dors. Here she showed just how expressive she can be.
Continuing my struggle with Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia I got hold of the Blu-ray recording of Fiona Shaw’s 2015 Glyndebourne production. I’m beginning, I think, to see my way to understanding the problems inherent in the libretto and some of the strategies that can be used to overcome them. The more minor problem is Junius and the odd scene early in Act 2 where he seems to be inciting the Romans to revolt while acting as a general in Tarquinius’ army while, also, apparently, been in some sense complicit in the rape. So we have a two faced power hungry schemer who is oblivious to the consequences of his mischief making; whether rape or rabble rousing (a sort of Roman Boris Johnson). Most productions ignore this aspect of things and probably rightly.
So the Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a Shakespeare themed show called A Shakespeare Serenade. Curated and directed by Patrick Hansen of McGill it fell into two parts. Before the interval we got Shakespeare scenes acted out and then the equivalent scene from an operatic adaptation of the play. After the interval it was a mix of Sonnets and song settings in an overall staging that was perhaps riffing off The Decameron. Patrick Hansen and Michael Shannon alternated at the piano.