Howard and Haji

Yesterday afternoon’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured local tenor Andrew Haji and Welsh baritone Jason Howard in a program somewhat loosely linked to England.  Neither singer was, I think, 100% well (Haji’s cold was announced, Howrad’s merely obvious!) but both battled through manfully and gave us some fine singing.  There were some interesting contrasts especially in the first half of the program.  Andrew kicked off with Francesco Santoliquido’s I canti della sera.  I’m no expert on Italian art song but these did sound like songs rather than opera arias, at least in the hands of Andrew and Rachel Andrist.  In contrast, Jason’s set (Tosti’s L’ultima canzone, Respighi’s Nebbie, Tosti’s L’ideale and Verdi’s In solitaria stanza), with Robert Kortgaard sounded distinctly operatic and suited Jason’s darkish voice rather well.

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Coming up

Here’s a round up of upcoming performances of interest over the next week or so.  Sunday at 3.15pm TIFF are showing Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s films Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” and Moses and Aaron.  The films will be preceded by a live performance of a Schoenberg piece by Adanya Dunn and Topher Mokrzewski.  More details here.

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Toronto Summer Music Festival 2017

The line up for this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival, the first with Jonathan Crow as Artistic Director has been announced.  It’s the usual mix of orchestral, chamber, piano and small scale vocal music for the most part.  This being the sesquicentennial year it’s heavy on CanCon and, as in previous years, there are academy programs for both singers and instrumentalists.

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Valentine’s Haji

Today’s noon recitalists in the RBA were Andrew Haji and Liz Upchurch.  We had been promised Britten’s Serenade but an absence of non-knackered horn players due to the COC’s Götterdämmerung run scuppered that and instead we got a very varied program of songs and arias on the theme of love and its travails.  Four Brahms songs kicked things off and produced some very fine lieder singing.  Beautiful throughout with fine phrasing, characterisation and diction there was more.  The final “wonnewoll” of Wie bist du, meine Königin was a thing of floaty beauty and there was a real sense of ecstasy in Mein Liebe ist grün.

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Coming up this week

elena_tsallagova_pc_allan_richard_tobis_a_72dpiLate notice I guess but Adrianne Pieczonka and Rachel Andrist are performing Schubert’s Winterreise at Mazzoleni Hall this afternoon.  It’s sold out anyway.  Later, at 7.30pm, UoT Early Music is presenting a concert version of Purcell’s Fairy Queen in Trinity College Chapel.  Tomorrow at the relatively unusual time of 5.30pm the members of the Ensemble Studio will be competing for the Quilico awards.  That’s in the RBA and free.  Also in the RBA, at noon on Tuesday, you can catch Andrew Haji singing a very varied Valentine’s Day program.  Then on Thursday, same time, same place, Elena Tsallagova, Pamina in the COC’s current Magic Flute, presents a Russian and French program.  The Magic Flute and Götterdämmerung continue at the COC.

Magic Flute – the other cast

Last night I saw the alternate cast of the COC’s Magic Flute.  Owen McCausland swaps First Armed Man for Tamino with Andrew Haji, Kirsten MacKinnon comes in as Pamina, Phillip Addis is Papageno and Matt Boehler is Sarastro.  The changes don’t really affect things much at all.  All the new faces are very good.  MacKinnon is a very perky Pamina which works well with Addis who has maybe a bit more of the “cheeky chappy” than Hopkins.  Fans of Owen McCausland and Andrew Haji will see exactly the differences in timbre and vocal technique one would expect but the interpretation is pretty much the same.  Overall, I would say that someone not very familiar with these singers would scarcely notice any differences.  What I did notice is how much better this production looks from Ring 3 than from the Orchestra.  Getting something of a “plan view” makes the antics during the overture look less cluttered and frantic and the trials scene is much more effective.  And the sound is better too.

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Magic Flute revived at COC

Last night saw the first performance of this season’s run of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the COC.  It’s a revival of the Diane Paulus 2011 production with Ashlie Corcoran as revival director.  It has a “theatre within a theatre” overlay in Act 1; it’s supposed to be an aristocratic birthday party for Pamina where the guests perform the opera, which mysteriously disappears in Act 2 though it makes an odd reprise right at the end where all the characters appear to perform a country dance.  Strip that element out and it’s a workmanlike Flute with nothing much to say but some pretty visuals.  The animals are cute and the trials scene is rather well done.  There is one notable change from 2011.  Pamina’s lurid pink Disney princess outfit is gone, replaced by something Regencyish and far less jarring.

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So basically it’s all about the performances and here we were well served by a (mostly) youngish cast with a strong Canadian element.  The star of the show for my money was Elena Tsallagova as Pamina.  She combines a sweet voice with plenty of projection and very affecting acting.  She nailed the big numbers and combined beautifully with Andrew Haji’s Tamino and Joshua Hopkins’ Papageno.  Haji too was excellent.  He really does have the ability to shade his voice and vocal technique for the piece he’s singing in so last night he, I think, throttled back a bit and concentrated on sounding beautiful and stylish rather than heroically Italianate.  (Some of this may have been where I was sitting where everything sounded a wee bit “throttled back”).  Hopkins’ Papageno was well sung.  Perhaps not the most exuberant Papageno ever but quite funny and convincing.

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Ambur Braid showed us why she is so much in demand as Queen of the Night.  The two big arias were spot on with some real menace in Der Hölle Rache and pinpoint coloratura.  It was also great to have a genuine bass with real low notes in Goran Juric as Sarastro.  The supporting roles were heavy on past and present Ensemble Studio members with Michael Colvin (Monastatos), Jackie Woodley (Papagena), Aviva Fortunata, Emily D’Angelo and Lauren Segal (Girls biker gang aka Three Ladies) plus Owen McCausland, Neil Craighead, Charles Sy and Bruno Roy all getting in on the action.

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Bruno Labadie conducted and brought a brisk, HIP sensibility to the piece.  He didn’t let his singers wallow and things kept moving without being too frenetic.  He was probably also responsible for pushing the singing style somewhat towards a lowish vibrato baroque kind of sound.  The COC chorus and orchestra were, as usual, top notch.  All in all then, a serviceable and well sung Magic Flute but hardly revelatory.

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There are eleven more performances between next Friday, when the alternate cast will sing, and February 24th.  I’ll be back to see that cast with Owen McCausland, Kirsten MacKinnon, Phillip Addis and Matt Boehler coming in as Tamino, Pamina, Papageno and Sarastro respectively.  The Magic Flute is playing at the Four Seasons centre and tickets are available from the box office and at coc.ca.

Photo credits: Chris Hutcheson, Gary Beechey and Michael Cooper x2.