Yesterday’s Amici Ensemble concert in Mazzoleni Hall was an all Richard Strauss program featuring an array of guests. First up was the Duett Concertino where regulats Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello) and Serouj Kradjian (piano) were joined by violinists Timothy Ying and Jennifer Murphy, violist Keith Hamm, Theodore Chan on bass and Michael Sweeney on bassoon. It’s a program piece in which the clarinet represents a princess and the bassoon, a bear, who eventually, of course, transforms into a handsome prince. There are lots of dance rhythms from the strings and some sly quotations from Der Rosenkavalier along the way. It’s fun and it was very well played. I almost wonder if it was too smooth. The bear certainly seemed very suave and his transformation was not terribly abrupt. Still, bear!
My second concert of the day was a Halloween themed recital given by soprano Jennifer Taverner at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu. Now previously I had only heard Jennifer sing operetta, at which she is very good, so I had little idea what her range is. Last night I found out. The first part of the program was pretty normal recital fare. Ombre pallide from Handel’s Alcina was knocked off with flair and some bravura in the repeat. Then came some French chansons of spookiness including Saint Saens’ Danse macabre where Jennifer and pianist Andrea van Pelt were joined by Jennifer Murphy on violin. All nicely done with fine diction.
Aaron Gervais’ and Colleen Murphy’s Oksana G. finally made it to the stage last night after a most convoluted journey. It’s being produced by Tapestry at the Imperial Oil Theatre with Tom Diamond directing. The wait, I think has been worth it. The story, set in 1997, of a naive country girl from the Ukraine who gets caught up in sex trafficking is dramatic and the it convincingly depicts the sleazy underworld of southern and eastern Europe created by the collapse of the USSR, the civil wars in the Balkans and the pervasive official corruption in countries like Ukraine, Greece and Italy. It’s gritty and, at times, not at all easy to watch.
A couple of days ago I sat down to chat with Natalya Gennadi who will sing the title role in Tapestry’s upcoming premiere of Oksana G by Aaron Gervais and Colleen Murphy. It’s a story about a Ukrainian girl who gets caught up with a sex-trafficking ring; an all too real phenomenon in Eastern and Central Europe as the Soviet system disintegrated. For Natalya it’s a very personal piece. She is Ukrainian and much the same age as Oksana would be. It’s her era and Oksana is, she feels, a similar sort of person from a similar background and there but for…
Thankfully, Natalya’ “career path” has been rather different. She didn’t set out to be a singer. In fact she trained in linguistics before applying to, and being accepted by the Moscow Conservatory though she never studied there. Instead she moved to Ottawa with her husband where she began to study music formsally. With a degree from the University of Ottawa she came to Toronto to study for her masters. Along the way she appeared in a number of student productions and since graduating has been keeping busy with roles mainly with opera companies and orchestras in the Toronto suburbs(*); most recently in the title role of Suor Angelica with Cathedral Bluffs and the countess in Le nozze di Figaro with the Brott Festival. The latter representing something of a vocal shift from Puccini and the like to lighter rep. This is something that she sees as an important (if slightly unusual) career direction. There have also been competitions and the Karina Gauvin scholarship and a “career blueprint” award from the IRCPA.
So finally we have dates and casting for the long awaited Oksana G (music Aaron Gervais, libretto Colleen Murphy) from Tapestry Opera. This one has been years in the making. Back when I saw the second act workshop in 2012 there were all kinds of rumours about who would eventually (co)produce it. Now it looks like Tapestry have come up the resources to do it as a standalone. That’s no mean feat as this is a full blown two acter with orchestra and chorus. It will play May 24th – 30th, 2017, at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre of the Canadian Opera Company, 227 Front St. E. (just around the corner from the Kitten Kondo) and the title role will be played by Operaramblings’ favourite crazy lady Ambur Braid. As she showed recently as Dalinda in the COC’s Ariodante she’s now much more than a series of impressive high notes. She’s become a singing actress of real substance and Oksana is certainly a role a girl could get her teeth into. The rest of the casting is also impressive with the always impressive Krisztina Szabó as Oksana’s mother, Adam Fisher as Father Alexander, and Keith Klassen as the baddy Konstantin. Jordan de Souza conducts and Tom Diamond directs. This is one not to miss!
Tapestry Opera has now announced its upcoming season. There are three shows. The season begins in November with Naomi’s Road; libretto by Ann Hodges based on the novel by Joy Kogawa with music by Ramona Luengen. Set in Vancouver during the Second World War, the opera follows 9-year-old Japanese-Canadian girl Naomi and her brother, whose lives are upturned when they are sent to internment camps in the BC interior and Alberta. It runs November 16th to 20th at St. David’s Anglican Church, the home of the last Japanese-Canadian Anglican parish in Toronto. Continue reading →
Last night saw the first of two workshop performances of Act 2 of The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G., a new full scale opera with music by Aaron Gervais and libretto by Colleen Murphy. Act 1 was similarly workshopped last year. It’s being produced by Tapestry New Opera in the Ernest Balmer Studio at The Distillery. The second performance is tonight.
The piece is about sex trafficking. Oksana is a Ukrainian girl tricked, raped and forced into an Italian brothel controlled by Russian organized crime. At the beginning of Act 2 she has escaped and is living at a refugee shelter run by a Canadian priest in Brindisi. The story concerns her relationship with the priest, her desire to return to her family and her pimp’s determination to get his hands on her again. It’s dramatic, emotionally charged and ends badly. It’s neither overly melodramatic nor crushingly intellectual and it works very well as an opera libretto. Somewhat oddly it’s written in four languages; English, Italian, Russian and Ukrainian, apparently for essentially “naturalistic” reasons. I think the logic is off but it didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the piece. Continue reading →