Canadian Art Song Project has just issued its second CD; Cloud Light. It’s a collection of four contrasting works by Polish-Canadian composer Norbert Palej. The first, Three Norwegian Songs (2011) was composed for baritone Peter McGillivray, who sings them here. The settings are of English translations of Norwegian texts. Maybe it’s because the texts are translations or maybe because this seems the most American/Broadway inflected piece on the disk I found it the least effective but, as we shall see, it has serious competition. In any event Peter sings it very well even when it goes cruelly high. Continue reading
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA involved members of the cast of the Ensemble Studio performance of Marriage of Figaro in a semi-staged series of excerpts from the opera. The Ensemble Studio annual stage performance is always worth seeing and this year I think it’s going to be a real treat. Highlights today included Gordon Bintner’s Count. The guy can sing but here there was a swagger that should be just perfect for the Guth production. Jacquie Woodley’s Cherubino was utterly brilliant. Aviva Fortunata nailed Porgi amor, so often a disappointment I find. And I really liked Karine Boucher’s Susanna. She’s not always been a favourite of mine but her slightly dark for a soprano tone seemed really well suited to this music and blended especially well with Aviva. Ian MacNeil impressed too as Figaro, though it’s a role that’s a bit downplayed by this production, and I shall be curious to see what he does with it in the full version. Megan Latham, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Aaron Sheppard rounded out today’s cast with the indefatigable Hyejin Kwon on piano. If you don’t yet have tickets for the performance on the 22nd I strongly suggest getting some. They are only $22 or $55 for the best seats. As Claire Morley said in her introduction this could be an event that’s talked of for years to come.
François Girard’s Siegfried, a revival of his 2006 production, opened last night at the COC. Despite using the same basic set concept as Atom Egoyan’s Die Walküre, Girard’s Siegfried, has a rather different look and feel. The fragments of Valhalla and the remains of Yggdrassil are still there but they are supplemented in imaginative fashion by a corps of supers and acrobats who play a key role in shaping the scenes. For example, in the opening scene we have Yggdrassil festooned with bodies, as if some enormous shrike were in residence. Some of these are dummies and some aerialists who come into the drama at key points. The flames in Siegfried’s forge are human arms. Acrobats make a very effective Fafner in the Niedhöhle scene and the flames around Brünnhilde’s rock are human too. Most of the characters are dressed in sort of white pyjamas which makes for a very monochromatic effect on the mostly dark stage. The one visual incongruity is the “bear” who is present, tied to Yggdrassil, throughout Act 1. Frankly it looks less like a bear than John Tomlinson after a night on the tiles. Still, all in all, the production is effective without being especially revelatory.
So what was I most impressed with on the opera and related scene in in 2013?
Big house opera
The COC had a pretty good twelve months. I enjoyed everything I saw except, maybe, Lucia di Lammermoor. Making a choice between Christopher Alden’s probing La Clemenza di Tito, the searing opening night of Peter Sellars’ Tristan und Isolde; the night when I really “got” why people fly across oceans to see this piece, Robert Carsen’s spare and intensely moving Dialogues des Carmélites or Tony Dean Griffey’s intense and lyrical portrayal of the title character in Peter Grimes is beyond me. So, I shall be intensely disloyal to my home company and name as my pick in this category the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Wernicke’s production is pure magic and Anna Schwanewilms was a revelation.
Expectations could hardly have been higher for last night’s first performance of Against the Grain’s new production of Handel’s Messiah. By and large they were met. It’s become quite the thing to stage Handel’s oratorios and, for the most part, that’s fine. They are really operas in disguise and work well when liberated from the concert setting. Messiah is trickier. Rather than a linear narrative there are a series of Biblical texts selected by librettist Charles Jennens to promote a literal and conservative evangelical Christianity. There is no obvious staging solution. One possibility is to invent a narrative and spin the story around it as Claus Guth did at Theater an der Wien in 2009. AtG’s Joel Ivany’s solution is to stage it as a choreographed performance and use movement to bring depth to the words. Here he is aided and abetted by choreographer Jennifer Nichols who has created a movement language tailored to the abilities and limitations of the singers.
Against the Grain Theatre have another hit on their hands. Joel Ivany once again successfully combines young talent, unusual repertoire and a funky performance space to create a brilliant evening of song and story. This time the space was a yoga studio on Eastern Avenue and the works on offer were the Kafka-Fragments op. 24 by György Kurtág and The Diary of One Who Disappeared by Leoš Janáček. Neither work was written for the stage but both were well suited to Ivany’s sensitive direction and Michael Gianfrancesco’s minimalist “sets”. Continue reading
In February I attended a brilliant lunchtime concert of vocal music by Kaija Saariaho sung by three singers from the COC Ensemble Studio. I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. The composer was so taken with the standard of performance that she has arranged for them to perform a slightly different selection of her works in Washington DC in February.
If you aren’t from Toronto or Montreal (or perhaps Paris, Lyon, Dublin or Belgrade) you probably haven’t heard much about Mireille Asselin, Rihab Chaieb or Jacqueline Woodley (except maybe on this blog) but you will! Strongly recommended both for the music and the singers.