This time last year I attended a workshop performance of a work in progress; Aaron Gervais’ The Harvester. That time it was in piano score but semi staged. Last night it was presented, at Gallery 345, in concert format but with chamber orchestra. I’m not going to recap the plot etc because it’s all in last time’s review. Let’s start by saying it’s coming along and I really look forward to seeing a fully staged version.
So, back to last night. The concept is of a double bill of Schoenberg’s Erwartung in a chamber reduction followed by The Harvester so last night we started with half the Schoenberg (up to the discovery of her lover’s body). The chamber reduction (by Aaron Gervais) for piano, three woodwinds, strings, horn and percussion works remarkably well. The effect is similar (ironically) to Schoenberg’s chamber versions of Mahler’s songs. Textures are clearer, if less lush, and the singer is less pushed for sheer volume which allows for a bit more subtlety. It’s different but it works. On this scale it’s a good fit for Stacie Dunlop; one of those singers who is an excellent musician and interpreter but is not a huge voice.
Last night at Gallery 345 Rachel Fenlon gave a preview performance of her new one woman show Fenlon & Fenlon:Liebesbotschaft. It’s a program of fifteen more or less well known Schubert lieder put together to create some kind of thematic arc around love and loss and redemption. There’s scarcely a Bächlein to be seen. The USP, of course, is that Rachel accompanies herself on the piano.
It’s curiously difficult to figure out just how this approach makes the experience different for the audience, especially when, as in this case, one is not familiar with the singer in normal mode. It’s also quite hard to sort out what one thinks ought to be happening from what objectively is. For example, I initially thought that Rachel sounded balanced much further back relative to the piano than usual. Then I shut my eyes and the impression completely disappeared. It’s odd. Certain songs certainly seem to gain from the approach. Gretchen am Spinnrade perhaps most of all, with the piano more than ever seeming to be the spinning wheel. Another effect was it made me reconsider my impression that the piano parts in Schubert are pretty simple (in a sense they are compared to, say, Strauss) but played this way one realises that they are far from trivial.
It’s that quiet time of year but this week there’s a bit of an unexpected bonus. Canadian soprano Rachel Fenlon, usually based in Berlin, is giving a somewhat unusual recital at Gallery 345 at 8pm on Friday. It’s a recital of Schubert songs in which she accompanies herself at the piano. Rachel is an accomplished pianist and could have chosen a solo career on that instrument rather than singing. Since there isn’t a Schubert cycle written specifically for female voice she’s curated one for herself and called it Liebesbotschaft. I don’t know if the manner of performance would have been common in Schubert’s day but surely not unheard of. Anyway, it should be fun. It’s also a preview of sorts as Rachel plans to tour this program in Europe.
More details here.
Last night Opera Five staged a double bill of two one act Spanish operas from the first quarter of the twentieth century. The first was de Falla’s El retablo de maese Pedro. This was written as a puppet opera blending a chivalric tale about the days of Charlemagne with an intervention by an increasingly angry Don Quixote. Structurally it’s an interesting piece with the story being told to a quite simple vocal line by the soprano (Rachel Krehm) playing the puppet master’s boy with interruptions by her boss (Conrad Siebert) and, increasingly, by the one man audience, Don Quixote (Giovanni Spanu). In between the action is acted out by shadow puppets accompanied by a a rather lush “soundtrack”. Finally Don Quixote loses patience with the whole thing and tears down the set before going on a rant about the virtues of knights errant and himself in particular. Staged as a sort of children;s game by director Aria Umezawa, it played very well to this company’s strengths. It was well sung, clever, funny, irreverent and enormously enjoyable. Music director Maika’i Nash once again did that thing I find incredible,m impersonating a whole orchestra on piano, this time with some help from Conrad Siebert on various percussion instruments.