My second concert of the day was a Halloween themed recital given by soprano Jennifer Taverner at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu. Now previously I had only heard Jennifer sing operetta, at which she is very good, so I had little idea what her range is. Last night I found out. The first part of the program was pretty normal recital fare. Ombre pallide from Handel’s Alcina was knocked off with flair and some bravura in the repeat. Then came some French chansons of spookiness including Saint Saens’ Danse macabre where Jennifer and pianist Andrea van Pelt were joined by Jennifer Murphy on violin. All nicely done with fine diction.
Bandits in the Valley opened yesterday at Todmorden Mills. It’s a site specific comic opera with words by Julie Tepperman and music by Benton Roark. The time is 1880. Sir George Taylor is the owner of the most productive paper mill in the British Empire but he wants more. Specifically he wants to convert the entire Don Valley to paper thus depriving the pesky bandits thereof of cover. He also wants Lily Pollard, the comely soprano lead of the travelling company he has engaged to stage The Pirates of Penzance as part of the mill’s 25th anniversary celebrations. He’s not the only one after Lily. She’s also the target of the female head of the troupe, Henri, and of Jeremiah, the bandit chief who is trying to obtain his inheritance. He in turn is pursued by the house maid (and his cousin) Birgitta and, in a purely brotherly way of course, another bandit, Freddy. In proper comic opera fashion a birthmark, naturally enough on Jeremiah’s buttock, is involved. Mayhem ensues.
Toronto Operetta Theatre’s current production is Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier in the English version. It’s based on Shaw’s Arms and the Man but, as is usually the case with musical adaptations of Shaw, it’s rather less acerbic than the original. In fact, it comes over as a somewhat farcical love story with a few gentle pot shots at the military and militarism. There are some good comic lines and the music is tuneful and well crafted.
By an odd coincidence two season announcement pressers hit my in box today; Toronto Operetta Theatre and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Toronto Operetta Theatre have four shows:
The Waltz Rivals (November 6th at 3pm) is a Léhar and Kálmán greatest hits show featuring Lucia Cesaroni, Adrian Kramer, Holly Chaplin, Stefan Fehr and Greg Finney with Michael Rose at the piano.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance runs from December 27th to January 8th, 2017. Colin Ainsworth sings Frederic, Vania Chan is Mabel and Curtis Sullivan is the Major General. Derek Bate conducts and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs.
Oscar Straus’ The Chocolate Soldier, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, runs on April 26th, 28th, 29th and 30th, 2017. Peter Tiefenbach leads the orchestra and the cast includes Jennifer Taverner, Anna Macdonald, Michael Nyby and Stefan Fehr.
Finally there’s an Offenbach tribute concert on June 4th 2017.
All performances are at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
Oddly enough, what Toronto Operetta Theatre does best is operetta and the production of Romberg’s The Student Prince that opened yesterday afternoon is a pretty good example of why. I suppose, technically, that it’s a Broadway musical but everything about it, down to the humour and sentimentality seems Teutonic enough. Anyway, there’s a solid trio in the lead roles, the key back ups are thoroughly professional and the minor roles and chorus are filled out by talented and enthusiastic young singers. The band is big enough to cover all the colours of the score and the staging is appropriate and not overly ambitious. The piece gets to do its tuneful, rather bittersweet thing.
Conductor Brian Current and the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble presented three pieces, one of them a world premiere, today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The performances were prefaced by a really rather informative and informal chat by Brian on “how to listen to contemporary music”. It was engaging and totally non-patronising.
And so to the music. The first piece was Marco Stroppo’s 1989 piece élet… fogytigian, dialogo immaginario fra un poeta e un filosofo; a piece evoking an imaginary dialogue between a Hungarian poet and an Italian philosopher who never actually met, or so the composer told us. The first movement was bright and aggressive, very much in the European manner of the 70s and 80s with the second even more explosive before, in the third movement, settling into an exploration of string colour. The composer explained this as being like three walls of a house, painted different colours, slowly rotating. It’s the kind of piece one needs to hear more than once.