Danika Lorèn and co. aka Collectìf were back today with a lunctime show in the RBA. Like their previous shows this was a themed, more or less staged, series of art songs. This program was inspired by Verlaine’s Fêtes galantes and featured all French texts set by a range of composers. Most of it was pretty typical chansons of the fin de siècle; material I find pleasant enough but not especially compelling. The surprise, and a very welcome one, was four pieces by Reynaldo Hahn setting texts by Charles, duc d’Orléans and Faullin de Banville. Here Hahn turned his flair for vocal and pianistic colour to great effect producing pieces strangely evocative of the Renaissance. Fancifully perhaps, I could imagine these being sung at the court of Philip the Good (assuming of course that he had a piano…)
UoT’s show Porgi amor consisted of a series of staged and costumed scenes from Mozart operas with linking commentary, all designed by Michael Patrick Albano. The operas ranged from La finta giardiniera to La clemenza di Tito with all the major bases in between covered off. The emphasis was on ensemble numbers and providing opportunities for as many singers as possible so there was a cast of thousands. It was well structured, quite slick and there was some very decent singing. One expects a reasonably high standard from UoT Opera and we got it. As I usually do with this kind of show I’ll refrain from a play-by-play and just talk about a few highlights and do some “talent spotting”.
Lineage, performed last night at the Heliconian Club, is the latest show from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang who brought us Evolving Symmetry in September. Lineage featured German music from Schubert to Rihm so much more in my sweet spot than the French theme of the earlier show. It was intriguingly constructed with three sets each of a pieces from Mendelssohn’s Lieder Ohne Worte and a Rihm song setting. In between we got first Berg and then Webern, Schoenberg and Schubert. It sounds bizarrely eclectic but the contrast between quite experimental pieces and more obviously accessible fare was very satisfying. Also the sense that there is both a thematic unity and a tendency to experiment in a lot of German music regardless of period.
French operetta is notoriously difficult to get right. The genre treacherously combines a kind of humour that doesn’t always translate well in time or language, difficult music to sing and a need to be as “naughty” as the original seemed without being crass. It’s a huge credit to Michael Patrick Albano and his student cast that they pretty much pulled off all of that last night with their new production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. One could nit pick details (I shall) but overall it was a well paced show with some good singing and acting and it was genuinely funny. Unsurprisingly the audience lapped it up. Continue reading
As has become the norm, UoT Opera opened their concert season with a free “preview” of their spring show in the RBA at noon today. It was a series of Mozart scenes which were given semi-staged today but will, in the fullness of time, form a staged and costumed performance. It’s always an interesting event because it’s so early in the academic year. It’s the first chance to try and talent spot and see how things develop over the rest of the cycle. As such, it’s often a bit rough but today really wasn’t. It was a surprisingly high quality across the board effort which augurs well. That said, it was all ensembles and nobody was asked to pull out vocal fireworks so maybe not the sternest test imaginable which makes star picking that bit trickier.
UoT Opera’s fall production opened last night at the MacMillan theatre. It’s a double bill of Menotti works; The Telephone and The Medium. The former was cleverly updated by Michael Patrick Albano to reflect the age of the smartphone. It actually seems more relevant than ever and, slight as it is – an extended joke about a girl who won’t get off the phone long enough for her fiancé to propose – it was wryly amusing. The Medium I’m not so sure about. It’s a contrived piece written in the 1940’s but set a few years earlier about a fake medium and her deluded clients. It seems dated, not so much in the sense that seance attendance is pretty unusual today, but in the extent to which the characters are clichéd, cardboard cut outs even. The medium herself is bad enough but her sidekicks are her rather dippy, if kind, daughter and a boy who is mute (k’ching), Gypsy (k’ching) and “found wandering the streets” (k’ching, k’ching) “of Budapest” (k’ching, k’ching, k’ching). The first act in which the fake seancery goes on isn’t bad but then the medium gets a shock; a real or imagined cold hand on her throat (probably imagined as she is a raging alcoholic) and decides to go straight. The second act is pure bathos. I can see why it was a Broadway hit in the 1940s but I think tastes have moved on. And who the heck calls their daughter “Doodly”?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I write here and why I write and where I want to go. Some of this is just that nagging “what is my purpose” thing that’s always hovering in the background, some of it is driven by writing more for Opera Canada and some of it by knowing that I was going to have to talk about it at the Massey College Opera Club. The Massey event happened last night with Iain Scott moderating a session in which Robert Harris of the CBC and Globe and Mail and I were very politely grilled by the formidably intelligent audience. It was a really interesting evening and one that’s led to some really long conversations with Katja this morning and maybe even some conclusions