The Royal Conservatory announced the concert line up for the 2016/17 season last night. As usual it’s a very eclectic mix with over 100 concerts in a rather staggering variety of genres. The one loose them is the Canada Sesquicentennial with 70% or so of the line up having some CanCon. Here are the highlights for the classical vocal music fan.
Koerner Hall will feature recitals by Deb Voigt (November 11th) and Natalie Dessay (May 2nd) plus Phillippe Jaroussky with Les Violins du Roy (April 13th).
The GGS fall opera is Viardot’s Cendrillon with Peter Tiefenbach as music director in Mazzoleni Hall (November 18th and 19th). The big spring production, at Koerner, will be Piccini’s La Cecchina with Les Dala conducting (March 15th and 17th). No word on directors yet. There’s also the GGS Vocal Showcase in Mazzoleni Hall on February 4th.
The Royal Conservatory is the latest to announce its 2016/17 season, or at least the Koerner Hall component. There’s the usual eclectic mix of orchestral, instrumental, chamber, vocal, jazz and world music. The vocal highlights are recitals by Deb Voigt and Nathalie Dessay and the annual Christmas visit by the King’s Singers.
Laurent Pelly’s 2013 production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Liceu is one of those productions that’s a bit hard to take in at first go. Part of it is the performing edition used (Michael Kay and Jean-Christophe Keck) which seems to have added a lot of dialogue compared to any version I’ve seen before and includes Hoffmann killing Giulietta in Act 3. This produces a constant sense of “where they heck are we in the piece”. It doesn’t help that the DVD package contains no explanatory material at all. There are no interviews on the disks and the documentation is sub-basic.
Well not so much “best of” as the good stuff that really made my year. It was a pretty good year overall. On the opera front there was much to like from the COC as well as notable contributions from the many smaller ensembles and opera programs. The one that will stick longest with me was Peter Sellars’ searing staging of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. It wasn’t a popular favourite and (predictably) upset the traditionalists but it was real theatre and proof that 250 year old works can seem frighteningly modern and relevant. Two other COC productions featured notable bass-baritone COC debuts and really rather good looking casts. Atom Egoyan’s slightly disturbing Cosí fan tutte not only brought Tom Allen to town but featured a gorgeous set of lovers, with Wallis Giunta and Layla Claire almost identical twins, as well as a welcome return for Tracy Dahl. Later in the year Gerry Finley made his company debut in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff in an incredibly detailed Robert Carsen production. I saw it three times and I’m still pretty sure I missed stuff.
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.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Phillippe Béziat’s documentary traviata et nous, about the making of the 2011 Aix festival La Traviata. I’ve now had a chance to watch the DVD of the finished product and it’s superb. Forget those Traviatas in which a star soprano simpers vacuously across an overstuffed set, this is compelling drama. François Sivadier’s production is dark, dangerous and incredibly moving. Natalie Dessay’s Violetta is a terrifyingly intense portrait of a woman who knows from the beginning she is dying in “this desert which is known to men as Paris”. There is no further need for heavy symbolism to remind us of the centrality of death to the piece which makes an interesting contrast with Willy Decker’s famous production.
Christian Chaudet’s film of Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol started life as a 1999 studio sound recording of the piece conducted by James Conlon. Chaudet became somewhat obsessed with the recording and decided to turn it into a film, recruiting the original singers as part of the project. It’s an ambitious film which mixes live action, animation and a series of special effects to create something really rather weird and wonderful. It frames the Hans Christian Anderson tale in a modern setting involving a mobile phone, a weird internet cafe and a reality talent show. He throws in some Gilliamesque animation and a live nightingale for good measure.