It’s that mid point of the academic year when the GGS puts on a recital programme that features a fairly full selection of the available singing talent at the Conservatory. This means one sees everything from first year undergrads to singers in the final stages of a master’s degree, who may already be singing professionally, so it’s a constant exercise in recalibration. It wasn’t helped last night by the fact that I had serious TTC problems causing me to miss the first three numbers on the programme plus feeling a bit frazzled for the rest. So, in no particular order, I’m going to write about what I particularly enjoyed. Omission should not be over-interpreted.
The Glenn Gould School’s fall opera production this year is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel given in Brent Krysa’s English language, highly condensed version, originally created for the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour. It really is condensed. There’s no chorus and it comes in at just over the hour mark. The main plot elements are retained but I think quite a bit of the darkness, and most of the religiosity, are gone, though the latter isn’t eliminated entirely. After all, the Evening Prayer and the final chorus are musical highlights and pretty much have to be there. It doesn’t leave any room for the director to explore ideas like child abuse or addiction and pretty much forces, for better or worse, a straightforward emphasis on the basic story.
I didn’t actually see anything much in the Luminato line up that got my juices flowing but my attention has now been drawn to CHARLOTTE: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music. It’s a Singspiel about a young female Jewish artist struggling with her identity and art during the early 1940s. She ends up in Auschwitz. You get the picture. The title role is being played by Adanya Dunn and the musical director is Peter Tiefenbach which, frankly, are reasons enough to go see it. It plays June 16th to 18th at the Theatre Centre on Queen Street West. More details here.
On a completely different tack, Jane Cooper is trying to raise funds to publish her biography of Bertha Crawford, a Canadian soprano who enjoyed a very successful operatic career in Poland and Russia in the early 20th century but who has been largely forgotten. You can find out more at Jane’s Kickstarter page.
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.
The GGS Vocal Showcase is an opportunity to take a look at the vocal talent on offer at the Royal Conservatory. It’s a tricky exercise as the students range from the equivalent of first year undergrad to second year masters so one is constantly recalibrating expectations. We got to hear one bass, two baritones, three tenors, one mezzo soprano and fourteen sopranos in a variety of arias, art songs and ensemble numbers.
So, in no particular order my favourites and “ones to watch”. Lets start with the obvious. Gabriel Sanchez-Ortega is a genuine bass. We only heard him in some Haydn trios last night but he seems to have heft and genuine low notes and quite a wide range. He’s also still quite young. Singing with him was soprano Joanna Burt who also gave us an aria from La Cecchina. She has real potential as a dramatic soprano which is the one part of the tweeter market that isn’t flooded. She has some nice dark colours as well as weight. The trios were rounded out by tenor Zachary Rioux. He held his own with two pretty big voices so we’ll see.
The Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music opened a two performance run of Viardot’s Cendrillon last night at Mazzoleni Hall. The conceit was that we and the performers were all guests in Mme, Viardot’s salon and to this end we were all given a slip of paper with our character name on it but I promptly lost mine and it wasn’t actually needed for anything, Cute idea though. It also allowed for a production that fitted with the acutely limited staging resources of Mazzoleni. The piece is heavy on dialogue and it was presented in English, in an updated translation that had its moments. I doubt the Viardot household had ever heard of “organic, non GMO, fair trade” coffee.
Pauline Viardot is one of those names that crops up quite a bit when one is researching the opera of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She was a mezzo-soprano of some note, friend (at the least) of both Turgenev and Chopin, hosted a notable Parisian salon and composed; though, being female, she was not taken entirely seriously by the musical establishment of the time. Among her compositions is a “chamber operetta”, Cendrillon, designed for performance at her salon and written when Viardot was already in her eighties. It’s going to be performed again this fall in Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory and I sat down yesterday with director Joel Ivany to talk about the issues involved in staging such an unusual piece in a venue that’s not entirely opera friendly.