Tan Dun’s Water Passion After St. Matthew, given last night by Soundstreams at Trinity St. Paul’s is very Tan Dun. The work is in nine movements and scored for chorus, soprano and bass-baritone soloists, violin, cello, electronics and lots of percussion. And bowls of water and rocks. The texts broadly follow the Passion story finishing with a final Resurrection movement in which water is the symbol of rebirth, recycling and spiritual completeness. There are also ritual elements. Bowls of water laid out in a cruciform pattern are lit from beneath. The musicians change position and the players, especially the percussionists, perform hieratic gestures with the water bowls and their contents. It also involves a complex and dramatic lighting plot.
I think I may have been missing out a bit with the Toronto Consort. I’ve been to the odd show that’s been identifiable as music theatre such as their excellent Play of Daniel but until I sat down with David Fallis and Laura Pudwell a few weeks ago I didn’t really have a clear sense of what they are about. Last night’s concert, Renaissance Splendours, at Trinity St. Paul’s, gave me a pretty good idea of what I’ve been missing and how it fits into my musical universe.
Opera Atelier’s remount of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro opened last night at the Elgin. It’s a curious production made up of parts that don’t really fit together, hence the review title. At the core is a rather elegant traditional production. It’s wigs and crinolines and might have been seen almost anywhere almost any time in the last fifty years or so. Most of the excessive baroque gesturing is gone and the acting is stagey but no more so than in many opera productions.
The Toronto Consort has recently announced leadership changes concomitant on David Fallis stepping back his involvement as Artistic Director. I have to admit that although I’ve attended and enjoyed Toronto Consort shows from time to time I’ve been a bit hazy about what they were about so it seemed like a good time to put that right. Yesterday I set down with David Fallis and Laura Pudwell to talk about the Toronto Consort; past, present and, especially, future.
There are umpteen operas based more or less closely on the legends surrounding Medea, Jason, the Golden Fleece and the events afterwards in Corinth. Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s 1693 version to a libretto by Corneille deals with the events in Corinth subsequent to Jason and Medea’s return with the fleece. The plot, in essentials, is simplicity itself. Jason is scheming to secure his future, and that of his children, by ditching Médée and marrying the king’s daughter Créuse. Médée is not having this and wreaks revenge on just about everybody else in the piece. Somehow Charpentier and Corneille string this out over five acts and the obligatory prologue glorifying Louis XIV, wisely omitted by director Marshall Pynkoski.
Opera Atelier’s production of (mostly) Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas opened last night at the Elgin. I say “(mostly) Purcell” because director Marshall Pynkoski had decided to add a Prologue. As he explained in his introductory remarks nobody reads Virgil’s Aeneid anymore so it was necessary to play out the back story in a prologue. I find this pretty patronising. It’s not a particularly convoluted story and I would have thought that the gist of the story is well enough known to most opera goers and, you know, some of us have read the Aeneid. Besides, even without detailed knowledge of the back story there’s nothing remotely hard to understand. FWIW the dumbing down carried over into the surtitles with, for example, “Anchises” rendered as “his father”. Anyway we got a prologue spoken by Irene Poole while the orchestra played other Purcell airs followed by a bit of extraneous ballet and poor Chris Enns (Aeneas) and Wallis Giunta (Dido) running around making the stock baroque “woe is me” gesture. I guess it made the piece (plus Marshall’s speech) long enough to justify an intermission, which was taken after what is usually Act 2 Scene 1, but the prologue was neither necessary nor welcome and I think the ensuing intermission was an unnecessary break in the flow of the action.
Opera Atelier’s production of Mozart’s Lucio Silla opened last night at the Elgin. This is, more or less, the production that played at the Salzburg Festival and, later, at La Scala to considerable critical acclaim. It’s not hard to see why. It’s much the best thing Opera Atelier has done in a while. It’s more restrained than recent shows and trimmed of excess the familiar approach looks quite fresh again.