This year’s Canadian Children’s Opera Company main stage performance is The Monkiest King. It’s from the team of Marjorie Chan and Alice Ping Yee Ho who collaborated most successfully to create another highly successful Western/Chinese fusion piece; The Lesson Of Da Jee. The inspiration for this one is the antics of Sun Wukong, the mischievous and arrogant Monkey King in the Chinese classic Journey to the West.
For the last few years the COC has had a fairly glitzy evening at which the next season is announced and there are interviews, a few performances etc. This year, for whatever reason, the two elements were divorced. The season was announced in a press release win January with no fanfare; not even a press conference. The glitzy bit happened last night with a cocktail reception and a stage event hosted by Brent Bambury.
The full Ensemble Studio was on display yesterday for an all Russian lunchtime concert. First up was Megan Quick with a couple of Rachmaninov songs. Megan’s timbre is very dark and it seems to be a natural fit for those Russian vowels. She was followed by Bruno Roy with a couple of Tchaikovsky numbers. He’s come on a lot in his time in the Studio. There’s some heft to the voice now and some quite impressive top notes. Good stuff.
Yesterday’s Amici Ensemble concert in Mazzoleni Hall was an all Richard Strauss program featuring an array of guests. First up was the Duett Concertino where regulats Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello) and Serouj Kradjian (piano) were joined by violinists Timothy Ying and Jennifer Murphy, violist Keith Hamm, Theodore Chan on bass and Michael Sweeney on bassoon. It’s a program piece in which the clarinet represents a princess and the bassoon, a bear, who eventually, of course, transforms into a handsome prince. There are lots of dance rhythms from the strings and some sly quotations from Der Rosenkavalier along the way. It’s fun and it was very well played. I almost wonder if it was too smooth. The bear certainly seemed very suave and his transformation was not terribly abrupt. Still, bear!
To the Four Season’s Centre last night to check out one of the COC’s adult education events. This time it was about the baritone voice in all its aspects and featured Liz Upchurch at the piano and, mostly, doing the talking with Ensemble Studio members Sam Chan and Bruno Roy plus ES graduate Neil Craighead back in Toronto to sing Ceprano (not soprano) in Rigoletto doing some singing.
Besides the singing, of which more later, I think there were two takeaways from the evening though it was not actually divided up that way. One, fascinating, dealt with the development of the voice and the sheer number of years it takes for bigger voices to more or less grow up. Also, how do you develop and stretch the voice while staying vocally healthy. Neil is 34 and his voice is really just beginning to get where one can see it going, which is likely big to very big. Sam and Bruno, much younger, are still going through the process of figuring out what Fach (see below) they really are. This seems to happen to everyone except maybe genuine basses, high sopranos and the really obvious tenors. It was pretty cool for instance to heat Bruno sing a tenor aria though not, of course, something like Pour mon âme.
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.
Elizabeth Beeler with company and Tonatiuh Abrego as Candide
Yesterday’s RBA concert was titled Celebrating the Invictus Games. Now the Invictus Games is a sporting competition for athletes disabled on military service. It has royal patronage and has clearly become part of the official pageantry of celebrating all things military, as witnessed by the presence of the Lieutenant Governors of Ontario and Alberta at yesterday’s concert. For me it raises all kinds of questions about why we put the military on a pedestal and how we do it and that is very tied up with the choice of rep at a concert like yesterdays. I’ll come back to that at the end of this piece, after reviewing what we actually heard.