Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming. There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital. Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well. They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless. Three of the four sopranos on show tried. None of them succeeded completely(*). So it goes. And so to the details.
Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists. The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox. On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists. Eight singers and four pianists were on show. The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers. The pianists were all new to me.
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.