Elena Tsallagova and Sandra Horst entertained the crowd in the RBA yesterday with a flower themed recital of French and Russian songs. It was a very well chosen selection that allowed Ms. Tsallagova to display her versatility. From Debussy’s quite operatic Rondel chinois, where she showed a lot of power for a young lyric soprano, through the varied moods of Bizet’s Feuilles d’album where by turns she was dramatic, sombre and very playful. Throughout she was extremely demonstrative while managing excellent phrasing and impeccable French. She has an interesting range of colours too, from extremely bright through to quite covered and dark and she’s not afraid to use them. Actually, the way she threw herself into the material I don’t think she is afraid of much!
The Christina and Louis Quilico Awards are a singing competition for members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. This year’s edition took place early yesterday evening in the RBA. Only five members of the Ensemble Studio were competing. Megan Quick and Sam Pickett were not for reasons that I don’t think were announced and Aaron Sheppard was sick. So it was a pretty brief affair. The format as usual was that each contestant offered three arias and got to sing the one of their choice with the judges choosing which of the other two they should sing.
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 Faculty of Music have just announced their 2016/17 season. It’s the usual broad range of performances so I’ll highlight the opera and vocal music contributions.
UoT Opera is offering four shows. The fall main production is Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld with new English dialogue and stage direction by Michael Patrick Albano. Choreography i by Anna Theodosakis and Russell Braun makes his podium debut. There are four performances November 24th to 27th. Spring sees a Handel rarity; Imeneo. Tim Albery directs and Daniel Taylor is in charge of the music. This one runs March 16th to 19th. Both shows are in the MacMillan Theatre.
Last year’s student composed opera; The Machine Stops
This spring’s main opera production from UoT Opera is Britten’s Paul Bunyan. It is a really peculiar work. The libretto is by WH Auden and is, well, weird. It mixes up the (apparently) profound with the absurd and the downright silly. There’s a Swedish lumberjack fish slapping dance, talking cats and dogs, trees that aspire to be product and a philosophical accountant (*). There are also countless pronouncements from the off stage voice of Bunyan along the lines of the closing:
“Where the night becomes the day, Where the dream becomes the fact, I am the Eternal guest, I am Way, I am Act“
Walt Whitman meets Dr. Seuss meets a lot of drugs? One of those 1970s English public schoolboy prog rock bands?
This year’s UoT Opera student composed opera sets a libretto by Michael Patrick Albano based on a 1909 story by EM Forster. It’s a dystopian sci-fi story and OK as these things go though one suspects it felt a whole lot more original in 1909. Basically, humanity is living underground in pods with limited face to face interaction. Life is mediated by “The Machine” which increasingly has become an object of veneration as well as utility. The principal characters are Vashti, a believer, and her rebellious son Kuno who is prone to make illegal excursions to the planet surface where, he realises, there are still people living. It’s a bit like Logan’s Run but not as sexy. The Relationship between the two breaks down over their belief systems until The Machine goes belly up at which point there is a reconciliation before everyone dies. Along the way there’s a fair bit of heavy handed philosophising by the narrator and chorus.
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”?