Against the Grain Theatre have announced the line up for their 2017/18 season. First up is a workshop of a Handel mash up called BOUND. It’s a collaboration with composer Kevin Lau and will explore aspects of the refugee crisis through Handel’s music as well as contemporary real life stories. It’s the beginning of a three year concept to production cycle. The workshop cast will include soprano Danika Lorèn, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritone Justin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and soprano Miriam Khalil. It will play at the COC’s Jackman Studio on December 14, 15, and 16, 2017.
It’s that time of year when it’s traditional to do best of the year lists. Fortunately this is all about music because in most other respects 2016 was a bit of a horror show. So here goes. As far as opera proper was concerned it was a pretty good year. There were no real howlers in the COC’s season. It was solid and, at its best, better than that, For me, Ariodante was the standout; an intelligent, thought provoking production backed up by extremely good acting and singing. I was really expecting to like the Claus Guth Marriage of Figaro more than I did. I enjoyed it but I was a bit perplexed by the lightening up that had taken place since Salzburg in 2006. Opera Atelier had their best show in quite a while with Lucio Silla but even Wallis Giunta couldn’t save a misconceived Dido and Aeneas.
Against the Grain Theatre’s latest production, Ayre, continues their run of innovative, site specific shows. This time it was a presentation of four works by Argentinian Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov at the Ismaili Centre; part of the Aga Khan complex on Wynford Drive. The “appetisers” were three short works presented in three of the public spaces of the Centre. Yiddishbbuk, for string quartet (Jennifer Murphy, Barry Shiffman, Laila Zakzook, Drew Comstock), was inspired by apocryphal psalms and is a fractured piece employing a lot of extended techniques to create a three movement work “in the mode of Babylonic Lamentations”. Lua Descolorida, with Adanya Dunn as soprano soloist, sets a 19th century text in Gallego. It’s a folksy, Arab inflected piece over a kind of string “ground” with pizzicato cello. Short but rather beautiful. For Tenebrae the quartet was joined by clarinetist Brad Cherwin and soprano Ellen McAteer. It’s a beautiful piece with a melismatic vocal line culminating with multiple repeats of the single word “Jerusalem”.
A bunch of announcements today; most of them from Against the Grain Theatre. The big one I suppose is the announcement of a formal arrangement with the COC which sees a two year “company in residence” arrangement whereby AtG will be based at the COC’s Front Street offices and where COC execs will mentor their AtG equivalents. The relationship has been going on for a while so it’s not terribly surprising that they have decided to shack up together.
Against the Grain Theatre revived their 2013 choreographed Messiah last night Harbourfront Centre. It’s quite heavily reworked from the 2013 edition and I think the changes are an improvement. The creative team of Topher Mokrzewski (Music), Joel Ivany (Stage direction) and Jenn Nichols (choreography) remains the same as does the overall “look and feel”. The soloists are supported here by a 16 strong chorus and 18 instrumentalists.
Against the Grain Theatre opened their new show last night on the worst day of the winter so far. Over 15cm of snow fell and the TTC was in utter chaos. It’s becoming a habit. Last year’s Messiah opened in weather almost as bad. Uncle John is the latest modern, Toronto based, adaptation of the Mozart/da Ponte trilogy. It follows on from last season’s smash hit Figaro’s Wedding and was created and produced with support from the COC and the Banff Centre. It will be followed by A Little Too Cosy next season. The formula is basically the same. It;s ataged in a non traditional spave; in this case a rock concert venue on Queen West. The libretto is in English and differs in detail from da Ponte while respecting the basic spirit of the original. It’s also very Toronto and a little bit Toronto opera scene insiderish. Much of the recitative is replaced by spoken dialogue. There’s no chorus and accompaniment to the singers is provided by piano and string quartet. It’s a musical solution I like. It adds enough weight and colour that one hardly misses the full orchestra while being, of course, much more affordable. It all works really well and if you can you should see it. I’m putting my more detailed thoughts under the cut because they contain lots of spoilers which you may not want to read if you are going.