The Canadian Children’s Opera Company have announced their 50th anniversary season. The big news is that the main production will be a new piece by Alice Ping Yee Ho and Marjorie Chan (the team behind The Lesson of Da Ji). The new piece is called The Monkiest King and is based on the legendary (and comic book) character the Monkey King. Like the earlier work it will fuse western opera and traditional Chinese music techniques and instruments. It will play at the Lyric Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts May 25-27 2018.
There is also going to be a celebratory concert hosted by Ben Heppner on October 26 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre. Besides performances by the current CCOC there will be appearances from Richard Margison, Krisztina Szabó, Simone Osborne and Andrew Haji and a choir of CCOC alumni.
I really wanted to like David Warrack’s new piece Abraham that premiered last night at the Metropolitan United Church. It’s described as an oratorio and tells the story of the patriarch Abraham and uses that as a jumping off point for arguing for the breaking down of barriers between Jews, Christians and Muslims based on their shared heritage(*). Given recent events in Canada and elsewhere that’s obviously a worthy goal and the whole thing was in aid of the Metropolitan United Church Syrian Refugee Fund; reason enough, in itself, to go.
A recording featuring Deb Voigt and Natalie Dessay, both high on my list of singers I’d like to party with, obviously has to be seen. They feature in a 2003 recording of Ariadne auf Naxos from the Met. It’s a Moshinsky production, directed for this run by Laurie Feldman. It’s pretty traditional in most respects though there are some interesting touches in the second act. We are squarely in the house of the richest man in Vienna c. 1750. No Konzept here. In fact, the first act is traditional too in that the acting is broad, going on coarse grained. Dessay brings a touch of distinction, managing to effectively portray the more vulnerable side of Zerbinetta. Voigt too is very fine, and very much with the overall mood, as a completely over the top stroppy diva. She’s definitely playing for laughs. Susanne Mentzner’s Composer and Wolgang Brendel’s Music Master are both quite competent but suffer a bit from the pantomime acting the director appears to want.
Well there wasn’t actually an open fire at Koerner Hall last night, though one would have been very welcome on a very cold Toronto evening, but there were plenty of old chestnuts at the Great Songs of Italy concert given by the Ontario Philharmonic Orchestra under Marco Parisotto with tenor soloist Richard Margison. The concert consisted of a mixture of opera extracts; vocal and instrumental, a couple of Neapolitan songs and Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien. It was a bit like eating one of those giant Toblerone bars all at once but I don’t suppose anyone really expected it to be any different and the audience for the most part loved it.
The Ontario Philharmonic and Richard Margison are doing a show of Italian opera “greatest hits”. There are two shows; December 10th at Koerner Hall and the Regent Theatre, Oshawa on December 7th. Full details.
Up in Montreal a new outfit, Stu and Jess Productions, are doing Menotti’s The Medium with a cast drawn from current McGill graduate students. That runs from November 7th to 9th in a converted church in Verdun. Full details
Last, but not least, the Glenn Gould School annual production at Koerner Hall has been announced. It’s The Cunning Little Vixen by Janáček and it plays at Koerner Hall on March 19th and 21st. I’m interested to see how they handle the dance elements. More details.
Opera/concert season is pretty much done in the big smoke though there is the Toronto Summer Music Festival (see below). Attention moves to various more rural venues and to some seriously eclectic programming. Out in Northumberland County there’s the Westben Festival with concerts in a barn ranging fro Irish trad to Richard Margison. The highlight, for me, here would be a recital by Suzy Leblanc and Julius Drake featuring French mélodies, Strauss lieder and English songs by Christos Hatzis. That one is on July 30. Westben also has the UBC Opera Ensemble doing Carmen and, for those so inclined, a programme of Broadway tunes from the ever reliable Virginia Hatfield, Brett Polegato and James Levesque. No word on whether Brett’s cat is also performing.
Meanwhile, back in the smoke there is the Toronto Summer Music Festival which kicks off on July 16th with the Trio Pennetier Pasquier Pidoux in an all French programme. The highlights for me are the Gryphon Trio with Bob Pomakov on the 18th and Philippe Sly with Julius Drake on the 23rd.
It comes as no surprise that an opera by Atom Egoyan comes across as somewhat cinematic but it’s hard not to use the term of his production of Richard Strauss’ Salome at Canadian Opera Company. It’s quite a spare production. There’s a raked stage; the raised end providing a sort of dungeon for Jochanaan and the back and side walls used for projections, especially of a giant mouth prophesying (shades of Big Brother here) and shadow puppets. Costumes are simple and in shades of red, white and green. The concept is based on the idea that Salome is a very young girl who has a history of sexual abuse at the hands of Herod that explains her “monstrousness”. It’s most vividly explored during the dance of the seven veils where Salome rises above the stage on a swing and her robes form a scrim on which a video is projected. It starts with a very young girl in a garden and gets progressively darker until it finishes up with today’s Salome being raped by her stepfather’s entourage. Fittingly, the opera ends with Herod himself strangling Salome, perhaps more to silence her than out of disgust.