Last night was the fifth concert in memory of Rachel Krehm’s sister Elizabeth. This year it was held in the rather cavernous and imposing Christ Church Deer Park, an Anglican church at Yonge and St. Clair. The concert opened with an elegiac piece for strings written by Jean Coulthard for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Then Rachel gave us a beautiful and moving account of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. Um Mitternacht(*) is a particular favourite of mine and seemed especially fitting here. It was the full orchestral setting with Evan Mitchell conducting his extraordinary orchestra. They were back after the break for a thoroughly compelling account of Tchaikovsky’s great sixth symphony Pathétique. What’s remarkable is that this isn’t an orchestra that has a permanent basis. It’s a group of musicians who come together for these concerts and make great music on modest rehearsal time. It’s especially impressive that these things always seem to happen in huge churches with churchy acoustics rather than a concert hall and they still sound terrific. As in previous years, this was a fund raiser for the ICU at St. Mike’s and once again it looked like mission accomplished as there was a very decent audience in the church.
Opera 5’s double bill of Ethel Smyth one acters, Suffragette, opened last night at Theatre Passe Muraille in productions by Jessica Derventzis. The second piece, The Boatswain’s Mate, was in every way the more successful of the two. It’s a straightforward enough story. Mrs. Waters is a widow and landlord of The Outlaw (renamed in deference to the production’s beer sponsor). She is being very unsuccessfully courted by retired boatswain Harry Benn. Mrs. Waters doesn’t want or need a husband but Benn decides that by enlisting a casual acquaintance, the former soldier Ned Travers, as a fake burglar from whom he can “rescue” the hapless landlady. Much mayhem ensues but the upshot is that Mrs. Waters takes a shine to the hunky soldier and they, at least, live happily ever after.
Details are now available for Opera 5’s double bill Suffragette featuring the works of Dame Ethel Smythe. The show will feature two works; Fête Galante, a rather grim “dance dream”, in a somewhat Stravinskian style,and the feminist opera The Boatswain’s Mate, which makes extensive use of folksong tunes.In her day Smythe tended to be written off by the critics for being too masculine so it will be interesting to see how the works have fared with time.
The cast features Sri Lankan tenor Asitha Tennekoon, mezzo-soprano Eugenia Dermentzis, soprano Alexandra Smither and tenor Kevin Myers. The show is being led by an all-women production team, headed by Opera 5 Production Manager and Stage Director, Jessica Derventzis (absolutely not to be confused with Dermentzis); Production Designer Erin Gerofsky; and Lighting Designer Jennifer Lennon. Evan Mitchell will conduct with a chamber orchestra performing composer-original reductions.
Suffragette will play at Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace – 16 Ryerson Ave, Toronto on June 22-24 at 7.30pm and June 25 at 6pm.
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.
Katie Mitchell’s production of Handel ‘s Alcina recorded at Aix-en-Provence in 2015 is extremely interesting. It’s almost complete with maybe twenty minutes of the ballet music cut. None of the ballet is actually staged as such. It’s also a Mitchell special multi-space set (like Written on Skin) with the lower level having Alcina/Morgana’s boudoir, drawing room or whatever at any given moment flanked by two smaller spaces which are the “personal” spaces of the two sisters. When the ladies withdraw from the public/enchanted space they are replaced by actresses who look decades older. Only late in the piece as Alcina’s magic fades do the two worlds get confused. The upper level of the set is taken up with the giant machine that turns Alcina’s victims into taxidermied animals. The overall aesthetic is upscale modern with lots of actors as very competent servants.
Last night was the third memorial concert for Elizabeth Krehm in support of the ICU at St. Mike’s. This year the piece was Mahler’s Symphony No.2 appropriately enough. It’s a piece I’ve lived with for a very long time and it never fails to move. It’s a curious contrast with the Fourth which we heard at the symphony last week. If 4 gives a naive and optimistic view of the afterlife, 2 is much darker, more troubled and less certain. Even the very beautiful Urlicht is not without its sense of angst and the final movement is majestic, powerful and has the deepest possible sense of yearning.
So there’s another free (well almost, $5 suggested donation) lunchtime concert series. It’s Music Mondays at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinity Square (A most worthwhile institution which has long taken a leading role in the fight for social justice in Toronto and, on top of that, I used to play rugby with a former incumbent). As it happens yesterday saw the last concert of the 2015 season featuring the Canzona Chamber Players, conductor Evan Mitchell, and soprano Rachel Krehm. The Canzonas are a pretty big band, 53 players yesterday, for a chamber group (I guess they have big chambers in Canzona) and could be very loud in the rather resonant church acoustic.