Imeneo is one of Handel’s less well known operas; perhaps deservedly so. The plot and the libretto are weak and the music pretty variable. Charles Jennens, the librettist for Messiah, descibed it as “the worst of all Handel’s compositions”. It does have the merit of being short. Most recent recordings come in around two hours and this UoT Opera production, rearranged and cut by Tim Albery, comes in at 100 minutes spread over two acts.
Season announcements, it seems, are like the King Street streetcar(1). You wait for ages then three come along at once. This time it’s Opera Atelier announcing the 2017/18 season. As ever there are two productions. A remount of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro runs October 26th to November 4th. The cast icludes Douglas Williams, making his Opera Atelier debut, in the title role, with Mireille Asselin (Susanna), Stephen Hegedus (Count Almaviva), Peggy Kriha Dye (Countess Almaviva), Mireille Lebel (Cherubino), Laura Pudwell (Marcellina), Gustav Andreassen (Bartolo), Christopher Enns (Basilio/Don Curzio), Olivier Laquerre (Antonio), and Grace Lee (Barbarina). This one will be sung in English.
Patrick Jang, Carla Huhtanen and Phillip Addis in “The Marriage of Figaro” (2010). Photo by Bruce Zinger.
UoT Faculty of Music have just announced their 2016/17 season. It’s the usual broad range of performances so I’ll highlight the opera and vocal music contributions.
UoT Opera is offering four shows. The fall main production is Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld with new English dialogue and stage direction by Michael Patrick Albano. Choreography i by Anna Theodosakis and Russell Braun makes his podium debut. There are four performances November 24th to 27th. Spring sees a Handel rarity; Imeneo. Tim Albery directs and Daniel Taylor is in charge of the music. This one runs March 16th to 19th. Both shows are in the MacMillan Theatre.
Last year’s student composed opera; The Machine Stops
The one thing Daniel Taylor did not explain in his introduction to The Coronation of King George II, presented by Toronto Summer Music Festival, last night was how on earth he, and whatever friends and substances were involved, came up with the concept. It’s not immediately apparent that interweaving some of the music from the 1727 coronation service with snippets from the liturgy while throwing in some earlier music that might have been used in earlier coronations and, to cap it all, Tardising in some Parry and Tavener makes any sense at all but in a weird way it did. There was even a real priest brought in to play the Archbishop of Canterbury (looking disturbingly like the Bishop of Bath and Wells) and an actor playing the king. Oddly it made for an hour or so of rather good music mixed with just enough levity to offset the mostly extremely lugubrious text of the liturgy.
This year’s UoT Opera student composed opera sets a libretto by Michael Patrick Albano based on a 1909 story by EM Forster. It’s a dystopian sci-fi story and OK as these things go though one suspects it felt a whole lot more original in 1909. Basically, humanity is living underground in pods with limited face to face interaction. Life is mediated by “The Machine” which increasingly has become an object of veneration as well as utility. The principal characters are Vashti, a believer, and her rebellious son Kuno who is prone to make illegal excursions to the planet surface where, he realises, there are still people living. It’s a bit like Logan’s Run but not as sexy. The Relationship between the two breaks down over their belief systems until The Machine goes belly up at which point there is a reconciliation before everyone dies. Along the way there’s a fair bit of heavy handed philosophising by the narrator and chorus.
There may not be a lot of opera per se in Hogtown during the summer but there’s a fair amount of music of interest to the likes of us.
Toronto Summer Music Festival has some interesting offerings. The opening night concert, Americans in Paris, features Measha Brueggergosman in works by Gershwin, Bolcom and copland as well as instrumental pieces. And pretty much closing the festival out is a Karita Mattila recital with Bryan Wagorn on piano, on August 7th in a recital that includes works by Strauss, Sibelius and Sallinen. Details at www.torontosummermusic.com.
Andrew Ager’s Führerbunker is a short chamber opera depicting the events leading up to Hitler’s suicide in April 1945. It’s a tautly constructed work in which many short scenes are woven into a seamless and compelling whole. It flies by and its 45 minute length seems even shorter. The score is spare, even brutal, as befits the subject matter. The composer told me he had initially envisioned something Wagnerian but feared that that must descend into pastiche. He made the right decision. So, the piano line is minimalist with elements of serialism and very little support for the singers. It’s a style that has perhaps been largely discarded (in north America at least) but here it was startlingly effective. Perhaps the crappy Tranzac Club piano contributed to the effect!