Krystyna Zywulska was a Polish resistance fighter who was captured and sent to Auschwitz. She took to writing lyrics and setting them to an eclectic mix of tunes as a way of coping with the horror of the camp. Somehow this was pleasing to the powers that be and she found herself with a relatively soft job processing the possessions of arriving prisoners. She survived to write a number of memoirs about her experience. The story is oddly similar to that of Zofia Posmysz, who inspired Weinberg’s The Passenger. This time the opera is Another Sunrise; a collaboration of Gene Scheer and Jake Heggie commissioned by Music of Remembrance and premiered in 2012. There’s a companion piece by the same team; Farewell Auschwitz, which sets some of the Zywulska texts, in translation and reworking by Scheer, to a wide range of the kinds of music that Zywulska used. Last night both pieces got their Canadian premiers in a production by Electric Bond Ensemble at Beth Tzedec directed by Aaron Willis.
The current Tapestry Briefs show presents work from the 2016 LibLab. It’s all new and, inevitably, very mixed. It started very strongly with a scene, The Call of the Light (Imam Habibi/Bobby Theodore) based on the 1984 attack on the Quebec National Assembly. The combination of an assault rifle carrying camo clad Alex Dobson , the rest of the cast (Jacquie Woodley, Keith Klassen, Erica Iris) writhing on the floor and dissonant extended piano from Michael Shannon was genuinely disturbing. Having a gun pointed straight at you from a few feet away doesn’t happen often at the opera.
So the Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a Shakespeare themed show called A Shakespeare Serenade. Curated and directed by Patrick Hansen of McGill it fell into two parts. Before the interval we got Shakespeare scenes acted out and then the equivalent scene from an operatic adaptation of the play. After the interval it was a mix of Sonnets and song settings in an overall staging that was perhaps riffing off The Decameron. Patrick Hansen and Michael Shannon alternated at the piano.
Selfie is a work in progress by Chris Thornborrow and Julie Tepperman. It’s still incomplete and the performances over the last couple of days were workshops designed to elicit audience feedback. It had its genesis at the 2013 LibLab and it’s come a long way. The original sketch of two teenagers texting each other is turning into an hour long piece about cyberbullying. It’s a rather disturbing exploration of how technology allows teenagers to do all those things which teenagers do with even less “supervision” than ever. In this case a manipulative girl (Cindy played by Larissa Koniuk) tries to make up for her split from her rather feckless boyfriend (Devon played by Asitha Tennekoon) by engineering a split between her friend Mindy (Meher Pavri) and her bloke Tyler (Giovanni Spanu). The result is a massive on-line slut shaming campaign against the fifth character Heather who has no real identity or agency until the very last scene. Adults encountered along the way are portrayed as clueless, ineffective or bureaucratically indifferent.
Last night in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio competed for the Quilico awards for the third time in this format. Owen McAusland was off singing in Lucia di Lammermoor in Victoria and Andrew Haji was down with the flu so seven singers actually sang. As usual the standard was very high and it can’t have been easy for the judges. Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Ian MacNeil had a bit of an off night but that left five singers who I has extremely close on my notes. No permutation of three from five would have particularly surprised me.
Iain MacNeil, Aviva Fortunata, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Karine Boucher, Clarence Frazer, Charlotte Burrage, Gordon Bintner, Jennifer Szeto and Michael Shannon
It’s that time of year which marks the passing of the baton at the COC Ensemble Studio which is traditionally marked by a lunchtime farewell concert by some of the graduates. Today’s Les Adieux featured soprano Sasha Djihanian, baritone Cameron McPhail and pianist Michael Shannon.
I only managed to get to the first half of yesterday’s Ensemble Studio lunchtime concert. It was Brahm’s Liebeslieder-Walzer Op. 52 performed by Claire de Sévigné, Charlotte Burrage, Andrew Haji and Gordon Bintner with Liz Upchurch and Michael Shannon providing the four handed accompaniment. I’m not a huge Brahms fan and this was pretty much that late 19th century sentimental stuff I don’t really get; somewhat schmaltzy waltz rhythms setting somewhat schmaltzy texts. It was well done though. Haji, in particular, sang with a fine attack and the different voice combinations made interesting contrasts. I thought the music came off best when the girls sang together and when the guys sang together. Both pairs have voices quite different in timbre and blended to good effect. The more complex four voice sections seemed to come a bit unstuck in the RBA. I’m 99% sure it was the acoustic not the singers but certainly textures got quite muddy at times. The accompaniment was, unsurprisingly, very good indeed. Work pressures meant I had to leave before the second half of the programme which featured John Greer’s Liebesleid-Lieder.