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.
So here is the promised review of last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I have to phrase it that way because it was more than Somers’ opera Louis Riel though that of course was the major event. The evening kicked off with a performance in the RBA by the Git Hayetsk Dance Group. This is a west coast group and I’m not going to try and get into the complexities of nation, lineage and clan involved but it was a moving performance of traditional songs and dance with a brilliantly witty piece involving the trickster raven and a lot of stolen handbags. This was also the beginning of the public conversation about the use of the Nsga’a mourning song in Louis Riel. That conversation continued when the same group made a brief appearance on the main stage immediately before the opera performance. I understand that the intent is for the leader of the dancers to report back to the matriarch of the clan that owns the song on what happened and for the conversation to continue from there.
Yesterday’s recital in the RBA was given by soprano Simone Osborne and the very busy pianist Stephen Hargreaves. The program began with three Mozart songs that I was not familiar with; Oiseaux, si tous les ans, Dans un bois solitaire and An Chloe. They were unfamiliar to me but Mozartian in a pleasing, intimate way; very much songs rather than concert arias. They got a clean, rather dramatic reading with real feeling from both parties. Next came the Ariettes oubliées of Debussy. Here we have texts by Verlaine of a mostly languorous ecstasy variety with a complex, very impressionistic piano part. Indeed they really do sound like pieces composed by someone who prefers writing for the piano and Stephen brought out their somewhat ethereal qualities nicely. Still the soprano gets to spin some very beautiful languorously ecstatic lines and there’s even one piece; Chevaux de bois, where the mood changes and the singer can have some fun. Which Simone did.
I caught the second performance of the current run of Carmen at the COC this afternoon. It’s a revival of the production previously seen in 2010 but with, we are told, debuting director Joel Ivany being given some freedom to change things up a bit. Obviously he was mostly constrained to use the existing sets and costumes which, for reasons that escape me, transplants the piece to 1940s Cuba which was, as far as I know, markedly short of both gypsies and bull fights but there you go. Actually it matters scarcely at all because both sets and costumes are generic scruffy Hispanic and could be anywhere from Leon to Lima. For the first two acts too the blocking and Personenregie is pretty standard too. It’s all really down to the chemistry between the singers and the quality of the acting and neither is anything to write home about. It says a lot when Frasquita is scene stealing. Fortunately it livens up a lot after the interval. The third act is atmospheric and Micaëla’s aria is deeply touching and for the first time I felt genuine emotion. It gets even better after that with a really effective use of the whole auditorium for the parade which had much of the audience clapping along and a clever stage set up for the crowd during the final confrontation scene. I don’t think it’s a production for the ages but it’s better than merely serviceable and I’ve seen much worse Carmens. And, frankly, it’s simply not realistic to expect one of the season’s cash cows to push the envelope very far.
As ever there’s no shortage of announcements of new and interesting stuff in the Toronto area. Here are a few from the inbox. Next week, there’s a premiere of David Warrack’s oratorio Abraham. It’s a multi-faith event in aid of the Syrian Refugee Program at Metropolitan United Church. It’s on Wednesday, October 28th at 8 p.m. at Metropolitan United Church, 56 Queen Street East, Toronto. Richard Margison stars as Abraham and joining him are five principal vocalists; Ramona Carmelly, Meredith Hall, Hussein Janmohamed, George Krissa and Theresa Tova, three choirs: the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Jarrahi Sufi Choir with Whirling Dervishes,and the Bach Children’s Chorus David Warrack will be at the piano. Whirling Dervishes? Get in! It’s a good cause. General admission tickets are $54; $36 for students. $75 VIP tickets offer reserved seating and an invitation to the post-concert reception. Tickets and more information at www.abrahamoratorio.ca. Continue reading →
The Canadian Opera Company has just announced the 2015/16 season line up for the free lunchtime concert series in Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Now under the curatorship of Claire Morley there’s the usual incredible array of chamber music, dance, piano, jazz and world music as as well as, of course, the vocal series.
Last night I was fortunate enough to be at a musical evening organised by Jeunesses Musicales Ontario. The umbrella organisation has come a long way since being founded during WW2 as an anti-Nazi youth movement (*). In Ontario it’s main activity is promoting musical events for young people and providing performance opportunities for young artists; notably an annual song recital tour. You may recall that I wrote about the kick off of the latest one in which Simone Osborne and Anne Larlee are performing across Canada with a show that includes a specially commissioned piece by Brian Current. Continue reading →