Today’s noon recitalists in the RBA were Andrew Haji and Liz Upchurch. We had been promised Britten’s Serenade but an absence of non-knackered horn players due to the COC’s Götterdämmerung run scuppered that and instead we got a very varied program of songs and arias on the theme of love and its travails. Four Brahms songs kicked things off and produced some very fine lieder singing. Beautiful throughout with fine phrasing, characterisation and diction there was more. The final “wonnewoll” of Wie bist du, meine Königin was a thing of floaty beauty and there was a real sense of ecstasy in Mein Liebe ist grün.
The TSO’s season opener on Wednesday night featured Renée Fleming in one of her rare visits to Toronto. As one might expect for a crowd friendly season opener it was largely a collection of “lollipops” though the all Ravel first half of the program perhaps had higher ambitions. The orchestra kicked off with Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso; a rather vulgar piece full of castanets, twiddly Spanish tunes and solo bassoon standing in for a clown. I guess one could at least say that Peter Oundjian and the orchestra were well into the spirit of the thing. It was followed up with Schéhérazade. I’m not sure what the score markings on this are… perhaps “très langueurezzzzz”. It was a very Renée performance with beauty of tone (even in the soprano killing acoustic) dominating over drama or diction (though again I’m cognisant that the hall swallows words). It was a bit understated and I heard comments in the interval from people less well seated than myself that “they couldn’t hear a thing”.
Last night I ventured forth to experience another way of presenting “opera” at the cinema. It was a film called Jonas Kaufmann – An evening with Puccini and was based around a recording of a concert Herr Kaufmann gave at La Scala last year with the Filarmonica della Scala conducted by Jochen Rieder. The full program is here.
Baritone Quinn Kelsey, currently singing Germont père in La Traviata at the COC stepped down off the big stage today to give a recital, with Rachel Andrist at the piano, in the more intimate RBA. As befits the venue, he gave us a more intimate program. Ralph Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel and the less frequently heard Gerald Finzi cycle, Let Us Garlands Bring sandwiched three songs by Brahms.
The Vaughan Williams is a pretty well known work, almost a recital warhorse. Kelsey showed considerable sensitivity in, mostly, dialling his big voice back for it. He is extremely expressive, occasionally I thought maybe just a touch too much so, and he has a surprisingly wide range of colours at his disposal. The contrast between the light, bright tone he used for The Roadside Fire and the much darker (and louder) approach to Youth and Love was quite striking. And that’s just an arbitrary comparison of two songs that follow one another. The rest of the set was equally varied. This guy is a lot more than “just” a big, Italianate Verdi baritone! And Rachel Andrist is so much more than “just” an accompanist. She brings a complimentary personality to every song with some real detail in the piano part that makes it seem quite fresh.
Following on from yesterday’s Der fliegende Holländer showing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema I followed up with them about future plans for the ROH opera broadcasts. Here’s the scoop though dates may change.
June 28th. Brecht/Weill The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. This is a new production by John Fulljames with Mark Wrigglesworth conducting. The cast includes Anne-Sofie von Otter, Willard White and Christine Rice. It’s going to be sung in English.
July 26th. Puccini La Bohème. It’s the old John Copley production dating from 1975 (which in turn replaced an 1896 production) and it was intended to be “traditional” and it is! Joseph Calleja and Anna Netrebko headline with Dan Ettinger conducting.
August 30th. Rossini Guillaume Tell. This is another new production , this time by Damiano Michieletto. Gerry Finley sings the title role with Malin Byström as Mathilde. Antonio Pappano conducts.
So, some decent fillers for the traditionally quiet summer season.
My review of the opening night of the COC’s much revived Brian Macdonald production of Madama Butterfly was as lukewarm as the audience reaction. In fact, I’ve never seen an audience in that house so subdued. Reviews of the alternate cast with Kelly Kaduce in the lead had generally been more encouraging so I was keen to see what she could do. I saw it yesterday afternoon. Let’s cut to the chase. She transforms the production. It’s like watching a different show and every scene she appears in has an energy that was lacking before.
The COC’s production of Madama Butterfly opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I’m not a huge Madama Butterfly fan and it takes a really good production and a really good performance to get me past my instinctive dislike for a libretto based on child rape and sex tourism backed by Puccini soup with an infusion of Mikado. This production, being revived for the umpty umpth time (It dates back to the Brian Dickie era) just wasn’t that. Director Brian Macdonald writes in the programme “We both (he and Dickie) had had experience at the Stratford Festival. That meant wood, simple props, no decoration that wouldn’t bespeak the essence of the play”. Throw in an Allen key and it would sound like a trip to IKEA. Which is pretty much what the designs are like; clean, functional and inoffensive. Throw in costumes and gestures straight from the Mikado and you have it. Not bad. Just meh.