Ensemble Studio Marriage of Figaro

Once a season the young artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio get to perform one of the company’s productions on the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre.  Last night it was the Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro.  I’ve said enough about the production already here and here so let’s cut to the chase.

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Marriage of Figaro preview

Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA involved members of the cast of the Ensemble Studio performance of Marriage of Figaro in a semi-staged series of excerpts from the opera.  The Ensemble Studio annual stage performance is always worth seeing and this year I think it’s going to be a real treat.  Highlights today included Gordon Bintner’s Count.  The guy can sing but here there was a swagger that should be just perfect for the Guth production.  Jacquie Woodley’s Cherubino was utterly brilliant.  Aviva Fortunata nailed Porgi amor, so often a disappointment I find.  And I really liked Karine Boucher’s Susanna.  She’s not always been a favourite of mine but her slightly dark for a soprano tone seemed really well suited to this music and blended especially well with Aviva.  Ian MacNeil impressed too as Figaro, though it’s a role that’s a bit downplayed by this production, and I shall be curious to see what he does with it in the full version.  Megan Latham, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Aaron Sheppard rounded out today’s cast with the indefatigable Hyejin Kwon on piano.  If you don’t yet have tickets for the performance on the 22nd I strongly suggest getting some.  They are only $22 or $55 for the best seats.  As Claire Morley said in her introduction this could be an event that’s talked of for years to come.

Pelléas et Mélisande in the Tanenbaum Courtyard Garden

Hidden away up an alleyway behind the COC’s ioffice and rehearsal complex is a very beautiful garden.  I say hidden because I lived less than 200m away for 10 years before I discovered it.  Last night it made a rather magical setting for Against the Grain Theatre’s new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.  The piece is set in a gloomy castle and surrounding forest in Brittany.  The high, ivy covered walls and ironwork of the performance space, enhanced by Camelia Koo’s fractured flagstones forming patterns on the grass, evoked the essentially sunless world of Maeterlinck’s poem.  Costuming in the style of the period’s composition meshed nicely with the aesthetic of the roughly contemporary space.

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Christmas at Casa Diva

Invitation Dec 3Want a Christmas CD with a difference?  Christmas at Casa Diva may be what you are looking for.  It’s a collaboration between Canadian opera singers lyric soprano Virginia Hatfield, dramatic soprano Joni Henson and mezzo Megan Latham with collaborative pianist Pieter Tiefenbach.  While some of the tracks are fairly traditional sounding versions of standards like White Christmas most are clever, almost cheeky, arrangements or even mash ups.  Born is the King, for example, is a really cool mash up of Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, The First Noël and Silent Night that had me grinning like a loon when I heard it at the CD release party (OK the rather good mulled wine probably helped).  Most of the tracks are also quite “modern” sounding.  The arrangements make no concessions to the sort of soupy sentimentality found on so many seasonal offerings.

The music making throughout is unashamedly the work of serious, classically trained musicians (albeit SCTMs with a sense of humour) so it might not be an ideal gift for friends/relatives who are allergic to that kind of thing.  For most readers of this blog though that will hardly be a deterrent.  I have never heard a Christmas record remotely like this and it’s growing on me with each listening.  You can buy the CD at Atelier Gregorian or online at jonihensonsoprano.com

It is a curious story

Miriam Khalil

Last night was the first night of a four night run for Against the Grain Theatre‘s production of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw.  These are the folks who did La Bohème at the Tranzac and The Seven Deadly Sins in an art gallery.  Last night’s space was only marginally less unconventional.  We were in some upstairs space at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse reached via the back entrance and lots of stairs.  It was a sort of loft set up so that the performance space was a narrow strip bounded at each end by a door and at the sides by three banked rows of seats.  There was seating for maybe eighty people so it was intimate, even claustrophobic.  Add to the space a few simple props, lights and a fog machine and you have the raw materials for Joel Ivany’s production. Continue reading