Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming. There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital. Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well. They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless. Three of the four sopranos on show tried. None of them succeeded completely(*). So it goes. And so to the details.
Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists. The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox. On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists. Eight singers and four pianists were on show. The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers. The pianists were all new to me.
Tapestry Songbook is the culmination of New Opera 101; a week long masterclass where young singers get to work with established performers on repertoire from Tapestry’s extensive collection of recent Canadian work. This year the “masters” were Krisztina Szabó, Keith Klassen and Steven Philcox. The week culminates with a series of concerts of :scenes”; some performed by the “masters” and some by the students. As there were fourteen pieces performed and a cast of thousands I’m just going to report on my personal favourites with due apologies to anyone who got left out.
Klassen, Szabó and Philcox kicked things off with the rather disturbing Merk’s Dream; a collaboration from the 2011 LibLab by Nick Carpenter and Elisabeth Mehl Greene. It’s a creepy vignette of a dying man trying to get through, and largely failing, to his developmentally challenged daughter, brilliantly portrayed by Szabó. This was followed by In This World George is Heartbroken; a 2012 LibLab piece by Hannah Moscovitch and Lembit Beecher about various, largely imagined, aspects of a dull middle class marriage. By turns hilarious and violent it featured a really interesting prepared piano accompaniment and featured three of the stars of the evening; Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor, Janaka Welihinda and, new to me, the very impressive Markéta Ornova on piano.
Thursday seems to be the big day next week. Ileana Montalbetti and Rachel Andrist have a lunchtime recital in the RBA. There’s Strauss and Mozart and Beethoven and more. Ileana has been a really impressive Gutrune in Götterdämmerung so I’m excited to see her in recital. That evening there’s a choice of the annual COC Ensemble Studio performance at the Four Seasons Centre where the Ensemble members will be offering staged scenes, with full orchestra, from Mozart’s La finta giardiniera, Bellini’s Norma and Handel’s Ariodante. The alternative is Tapestry Songbook VII featuring Krisztina Szabó, Keith Klassen and Stephen Philcox performing numbers from Tapestry’s extensive back catalogue. That’s at the Ernest Balmer Studio at 7.30pm. There are repeat shows on Friday at 7.30pm and 10pm. Looks like both 7.30pm shows are sold out but late night Friday is still available. Operaramblings’ extensive spy network (not Louise Mensch) suggests that patrons may also learn something to their advantage. The day before, Wednesday at 7.30pm, there’s a Don Giovanni in concert at Royal St. George’s Chapel. Actually seeing as how dancer Bill Coleman is involved it may not be entirely straight “in concert”. The cast includes Alexander Dobson in the title role, Katherine Whyte, Colin Ainsworth, Taiya Kasahara, Vania Chan and Matthew Li plus a “special guest”. Tickets at www.opera-is.com or on the door. There is still time to catch the COC’s winter offerings. The Magic Flute plays today, tomorrow and Friday with the last Götterdämmerung next Saturday. That last seems to be sold out but the usual rush and standing room deals may apply.
Coleman, Lemieux et Compagnie’s Against Nature presented last night at The Citadel, is another show combining vocal music and dance. It combines two baritones; Geoff Sirett and Alexander Dobson with a dancer, Laurence Lemieux, playing a female servant. Funny how things tend to coevolve in the arts world. Combining vocal music with dance, once not so common, is now almost ubiquitous with productions from the likes of CASP, Against the Grain and FAWN among others.
It’s been four years since the initial Canadian Art Song Project concert in the RBA. Since then they’ve commissioned a number of works and started a recital series that has included innovative presentations such as the performance of Brian Harman’s Sewing the Earthworm given in November. A work premiered that night; Erik Ross’ The Living Spectacle formed the conclusion to yesterday’s concert but first came a series of works performed by students from the University of Toronto.
It looks like another fairly quiet week ahead. Just a couple of listings. Tomorrow at 7.30pm, at Walter Hall, Benjamin Butterfield and Steven Philcox are performing Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin. Tickets here. Then on Thursday, March 3rd there’s a panel discussion on a variety of opera topics featuring the MYO creative team moderated by Greg Finney. It’s at the Spoke Club at 7pm. Details are here.