Last night’s TSO program started off with a sort of Remembrance Day pot pourri; pipes, bugles, a bit of poetry, an excerpt of Vaughan Williams in between and finally a rather beautiful account of The Lark Ascending with Jonathan Crow playing the solo from high up in the Gallery. Once upon a time the TSO would do Remembrance Day by performing an appropriate work or works, Britten’s War Requiem for example. I think that might actually be a more effective way of remembering.
This is an interesting CD. It couples the rather rarely performed Schubert cycle to texts by Sir Walter Scott with a new Fiona Ryan cycle on the same theme. The reason the Schubert is a bit of a rarity is that, besides high and low voice and piano, one number requires a female chorus and another a TTBB quartet. In fact here those two pieces were recorded separately in different locations but I don’t think it’s apparent listening to the disc. The Schubert also includes the well known Ave Maria, the sixth song in the cycle, given here in the German originally used by Schubert rather than the Latin version usually heard. It’s a very decent performance. Maureen Batt is the soprano (and the evil genius behind the whole enterprise). Her voice is light and clear and her diction is excellent. Even a piece like the Ave Maria sounds fresh. Jon-Paul Décosse is the baritone. It’s a firm, confident voice, again with every word clearly audible. Simon Docking provides excellent accompaniment. The Bootgesang is performed by Leander Mendoza and Justin Simard; tenors with Robert O’Quinn and James Levesque; baritones, again with Docking at the piano. This might be the most fun piece of the cycle. For the elegiac Coronach we get The Halifax Camerata Singers conducted by Jeff Joudrey with Lynette Wahlstrom at the piano. They sound very pleasant.
The Toronto production of Against the Grain’s A Little Too Cozy opened last night at Studio 42 at the CBC Centre. It’s the third and final instalment in the series of Ivany/Mokzrewski adaptations of the Mozart/da Ponte operas, following on from Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn. Like the earlier pieces it’s updated, site specific and makes a lot of references to social media. The schtick here is that it’s a reality TV dating show. Dora and Felicity are yet to meet Elmo and Fernando in the flesh though they have become engaged via social media and through the prior episodes of the show. Tonight is the season finale and there is one big test left. Can they be tempted by two strange men? Show host Donald L. Fonzo and girl handler Despina will make sure they are maximally tempted. The rest you can work out.
So the cat’s out of the bag. The long awaited where, when and who of Against the Grain’s Toronto run of A Little Too Cozy have been revealed. A Little Too Cozyis the third and final instalment in a trilogy of Mozart “transladaptations” developed by AtG,which place the works in appropriate, non traditional opera, venues and which use English language librettos by Joel Ivany bringing the stories into a contemporary context. The first two instalments; Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn, sold out their Toronto runs.
Great idea. Create a sort of spooky, short opera program in a funky location and use it as a fundraiser for your next major project. That was Darknet at Mây last night. Jennifer Krabbe, singing Berlioz, rounded us up in the bar and ushered us downstairs into an installation created by Alessia Naccarato and Noah Grove. It was dark. It was eerie. We were offered masks. Cairan Ryan sang The Cold Song from Purcell’s King Arthur while writhing on the floor. Jonathan MacArthur sort of emerged from some sort of primeval goo singing Aria by John Cage and Beth Hagerman gave us one of Lulu’s arias. Then we were rounded up and ejected into the light again. Loved it.
Sometimes one comes across a previously unfamiliar work that just blows one away. Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Simplicius Simplicissimus did that to me. It’s a work written by Hartmann in 1934/5 as he watched the early years of Nazi power and the banning of “degenerate” art. By the time it got its premier in 1949 it’s story of a Germany physically and morally ravaged by war would seem all too prescient. It’s a simple story based on the early chapters of a novel by Grimmelshausen set during the Thirty Years War(1). It concerns a simple shepherd boy who is drawn into the conflict. There are three scenes. In the first, the entirely innocent boy witnesses the brutal destruction of the farm he works on by vagrant Landsknechten. In the second he is befriended by a hermit and undergoes a sort of moral education before once again being left abandoned by the hermit’s death. In the thirdhe becomes jester to the drunken and corrupt Governor; the idiot who tells the truth, until all is overthrown by a Peasant’s Revolt.
La tragédie de Carmen is a stripped down version of Bizet’s opera originally created by Peter Brook some thirty years ago. It dispenses with the chorus and most of the minor characters to focus in on the central drama of Carmen, Micaëla, Don José and Escamillo with some support from Zuniga and Lillas Pastia. In Loose TEA Theatre’s version the action is transferred to New York in the 1920s and given a night club/mob setting which stretches the libretto but allows the rather striking Cassandra Warner to appear in some quite stunning outfits.
The piece is very condensed. It runs maybe 80 minutes. Presented in a small space like Buddies in bad times it becomes almost unbearably intense, especially when presented by fine actors as it was here. Central to the whole thing is Warner’s stunning Carmen. She is very good looking in a rather angular 1920s sort of way. She can act and she has a really good voice. The tone is genuine mezzo but she seems quite comfortable well up into soprano territory. The overall effect was extremely sexy.