Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured mezzo Marion Newman with pianist Adam Sherkin and violinist Kathleen Kajioka in a programme of contemporary Canadian works (all the composers were in the room!) mostly connected in some way with Canada’s First Nations and Inuit peoples. First up was Ian Cusson’s setting of E. Pauline Johnson‘s A Cry from an Indian Wife. It’s a long, highly emotional but not, I think, especially well crafted, text about an Indian woman sending her husband off to war (the language reflects the usage of its day) and the words are not easy to set or sing. Cusson’s setting is appropriately intense with a blistering piano part and a tough vocal line. It’s deeply affecting but hardly comfortable especially when sung in a manner that clearly (and rightly) privileged text and emotion over beauty of sound.
Most people in the Toronto opera world know Dean Burry principally as a composer of operas for children. He’s written several and a couple have been mainstays of COC school tours. It’s perhaps understandable then if his music is seen as approachable and maybe, even (sotto voce), a little unsophisticated. Last night, a recital of Dean’s works in Victoria College Chapel; part of his DMA program at UoT, provided a chance to hear a number of works in a much broader range of styles.
The concert kicked off with Tussah Heera playing InPerfections for solo piano. It’s a fully serial piece with the tone rows based on the DNA sequences of various hereditary diseases. It’s quite striking and way more than a just a theory exercise. The same could be said for Three Caprices for solo violin played by Dean’s partner Julia McFarlane. These used a range of extended violin techniques to good effect.
So we now know who will be singing at Centre Stage, the COC’s gala competition for aspiring young singers with both cash prizes and places in the Ensemble Studio up for grabs. There are, I think, only two that I’m at all familiar with; soprano Eliza Johnson who was a finalist last year and baritone Zachary Read who was a rather good Sid in UoT Opera’s Albert Herring a couple of years ago. The other six are mezzo-sopranos Emily D’Angelo, Lauren Eberwein, Marjorie Maltais and Pascale Spinney, soprano Samantha Pickett and baritone Bruno Roy. Wow! Four mezzos so the mezzo mafia will likely be ecstatic. No tenors but with four already in the Ensemble Studio that’s probably a good thing. Centre Stage is on November 3rd at 5.30pm at the Four Seasons Centre with a cocktails (well wine mostly) and rather good snacks before the competition itself. Tickets are $100 from the COC box office or coc.ca.
Last night saw the second annual Centre Stage at the COC. It’s described as the “Ensemble Studio competition gala”, which is pretty much what it has become. It’s a dressy occasion and busier this year than last. Bussing in the claque from the University of Toronto upped both the noise level and the “beautiful young people” content. The competition itself is fairly conventional in that all the singers get to sing two arias of their choice. What’s a little different is that the accompaniment is the full COC Orchestra and as well as the jury prizes there’s an audience choice award facilitated by some neat electronics. Then of course there’s always the issue of a place in next year’s Ensemble Studio.
Ensemble Studio Competition finalists and winners with Centre Stage host Ben Heppner
Last night at Walter Hall, as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival, Chris Maltman and Graham Johnson gave a recital that explored the experience of war through song. It was a long and varied programme with twenty two songs in four languages commemorating most of the great empires that went to war in 1914 though many of the songs were from earlier periods. At the core of the programme were early 20th century settings of English pastoral poems. Butterworth’s settings of Houseman were there but, sneakily, we got Somervell’s much less well known setting of Think no more lad. In a similar vein there were Gurney and Finzi. The Americas were represented in a characteristically rambunctious Ives setting of a horribly jingoistic McCrae poem; He is there. McCrae may be the only well known war poet who managed to survive until 1918 without developing any sense of irony. Beyond the English speaking world there were songs by Mussorgsky, Mahler, Fauré, Schumann, Wolf and Poulenc.
Poulenc’s La voix humaine is as a rather peculiar little piece. It’s only 40 minutes long and it features a single singer, a soprano. It’s not exactly a monologue as what we hear is one end of a telephone conversation with implied contributions from the woman’s lover, the telephone operator, the lover’s manservant etc. A lot of what happens is an artefact of the French telephone system at the time (1928) that Cocteau wrote the play that supplies the libretto with operators, party lines, dropped calls etc. Continue reading →