For some reason the Metropolitan opera decided, in 2014, to give an HD broadcast to Otto Schenk’s 1993 version of Dvorák’s Rusalka with revival direction by Laurie Feldman. This production must have seriously old fashioned even then and actually looks and feels like it was created fifty years before the opera was written. It’s not just the dark, dreary, over detailed Arthur Rackham like sets and costumes or even the the stock acting and the lame choreography. The biggest problem is that it completely ignores that Rusalka is essentially about sex and its pathologies. Does Schenk think that Rusalka wants to hold hands with the Prince at the cinema or take the Foreign Princess to the ball instead of Rusalka? You would think so from this Disneyfied version. Has the man even heard of Freud (let’s be clear Dvorák had)? The result then is stultifyingly dull and actually just rather silly. I’ve seen panto with more psychological depth.
Stefan Herheim’s 2012 production of Dvořák’s Rusalka for Brussels’ La Monnaie Theatre is predictably ambitious and complex. He takes an explicitly Freudian (by way of Lacan) view of the piece(*). The female characters are representations of male views of the female and, sometimes it seems, vice versa. It’s seen most clearly in Act 2 and I found unpacking Act 1 much easier after seeing it so I’m going to start there. We open not with bucolic, if coarse, peasants preparing for a wedding feast. We are on a street in a scruffy part of, I guess, Brussels. The gamekeeper and kitchen boy are replaced by a priest and a policeman. The traditional dismembered game animals become a female chorus, many of them nuns, with exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics. There is, essentially, an orgy. Clearly the human world that Rusalka cannot enter is about sex in its most physical aspects not meaty Central European banquet platters! Rusalka and the Foreign Princess are dressed and wigged identically. They are quite freely interchanged. Lines that are canonically addressed to one are addressed to the other and so forth. It’s pretty clear that each represents, albeit imperfectly, the Prince’s ideal woman. Rusalka is the unattainable feminine ideal; flawed in that she cannot engage in fully satisfying sexual activity. The foreign Princess is sexually satisfying but falls short precisely by not being unattainable. Some less clear male duality is suggested by the appearance of the Vodnik dressed as the Prince. It just gets weirder from there with the ballet of nuns, prostitutes, fish, squid and heaven knows what else spilling over into the auditorium while the Prince and Foreign Princess watch from a box and Rusalka and the Vodnik get caught up in the action. At the conclusion of the act it’s Rusalka not the Princess that he begs for help.
American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, 2013 winner of Cardiff Singer of the Year, sang at Koerner Hall last night with veteran Bradley Moore at the piano. Her first set; Joaquin Turina’s Homenaje a Lope de Vega gave us a pretty good idea of the basic value proposition. She has a fantastic instrument. There is power to burn, a pleasing dark tone, accuracy and musicianship. She never sounded remotely strained even while pushing out a very impressive sound. The rest of her first half programme; Chausson’s Three Melodies and four of Schubert’s Goethe settings showed that there was more than just a big accurate voice. Basically, it’s all there. She can vary colours and scale vibrato up and down. There’s some agility. She can float quiet high notes and she can tell a story. Her diction was clear in all three languages. I would say at this point the only question mark I had was around her ability to engage the audience. If I were to judge by the very highest standards, and I’m think Bryn Terfel or Karita Mattila, there was something just the merest shade cold and technical. The second half would see whether she could, as it were , lighten up a bit.
Last night’s TSO concert was pretty satisfying. It kicked off with The Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome. I don’t think I’ve ever really listened to this without visuals before so that was interesting. I thought Michael Sanderling did a good job of maintaining clarity while building towards the big climax. For the rest of the program the orchestra was joined by Simone Osborne. We got some “lollipops” in the first half. The Song to the Moon from Rusalka, Depuis le jour from Louise and, unannounced, Vilja from The Merry Widow. Lovely singing, here sensitively accompanied by Sanderling and the orchestra. Simone was clearly audible throughout which doesn’t always happen at Roy Thomson Hall.
So there’s another free (well almost, $5 suggested donation) lunchtime concert series. It’s Music Mondays at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinity Square (A most worthwhile institution which has long taken a leading role in the fight for social justice in Toronto and, on top of that, I used to play rugby with a former incumbent). As it happens yesterday saw the last concert of the 2015 season featuring the Canzona Chamber Players, conductor Evan Mitchell, and soprano Rachel Krehm. The Canzonas are a pretty big band, 53 players yesterday, for a chamber group (I guess they have big chambers in Canzona) and could be very loud in the rather resonant church acoustic.
It’s almost September which means there may even be stuff to write about soon. Here’s what’s in my calendar so far.
August 31st at 12.15 pm there’s a concert in the Music on Mondays series featuring soprano Rachel Krehm and an orchestra conducted by Evan Mitchell performing Dove sono by Mozart, selections from Strauss Op 27 and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. It’s at Holy Trinity Church near the Eaton Centre. PWYC suggested $5.
Lauren Segal performs in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo: Chris Hutcheson
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was given by mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal and bass-baritone Robert Gleadow with Sandra Horst at the piano. The programme was titled Gypsy Songs, Travel Songs. First up was Robert, who looks considerable less rakish without a beard, with three songs from Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. All three; The Roadside Fire, Bright is the Ring of Words and Whither Must I Wander are familiar recital fare but sung as well as this are a joy to hear. Gleadow has a big, full sound with quite a range of colour but he can also float very beautiful high notes. It was very impressive.
Lauren came next with Dvorák’s Cigánské melodie. These songs cover a wide range of moods, all vividly captured by Segal. Her voice is dark toned and very mezzo; no soprano 2 here! Onewould think her perfectly suited for gloomy Slavic rep until, as she did later, she cut loose on de Falla’s Siete canciones populares Españolas. Here she was every bit the dark eyed Spaniard singing with fiery passion of love and loss. Both sets ended with fierce, bravura numbers brought off with panache. The lady knows how to work a crowd!