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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 2d ago

There were three reGENERATION concerts in Walter Hall yesterday at 1pm, 4pm and 7.30pm.  It made for a long but interesting day.  As last year, each concert was a mix of vocal and chamber music.  The vocal program was not announced in advance so I’m working from notes and there could be the odd error.  Pleasingly, there were surtitles for the songs.  This is a huge improvement on a sheet of tiny print to be read in the dark!

*****

Affairs kicked off with mezzo Alex Hetherington and pianist Scott Downing.  She started with Mein Liebe ist grün by Schumann and Brahm’s Heimweh.  It’s a pleasant young mezzo sound plus her German diction is good.  She doesn’t really have the solid, smoky, lower register one ideally wants but she’s just out of undergrad so we shall see where it goes.  What she does have is fine musicianship well illustrated by a very fine performance of Somers’ Loon Cry.  It’s a difficult, exposed piece with minimal piano support, long high notes and even the use of the piano sounding board for “echo”.  I want to hear this piece again.

Tenor Elisa Theocharidis was next with Hanzheng Li at the keyboard.  It’s a young tenor voice (another new grad) and quite raw but the bigger problem is he mimes every action in the song.  With a bit of time for the voice to grow he could sound quite good but he absolutely needs to let the music and text do their job.

The final singer of the first concert was soprano Carolyn Beaudoin with Bronwyn Schuman at the piano.  We got Brahms Alte Liebe, a heartfelt reading of Schubert’s Nachstück plus his Suleika.  It’s a pleasant light soprano voice which sounds very nice as long as it isn’t pushed too hard.  Good sense of text and phrasing too.

The chamber piece was the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57 given by Jessy Ye Young Kim and Jonathan Crow (violins), Soyoung Cho (viola), Fiona Robson (cello) and Grace Hy Ri Shin (piano).  This is a really good piece and it got a fine performance.  It’s pretty dark but there is the usual Shostakovich quota of musical jokes and a fine scherzo.  There was some very fine solo playing from Kim and lovely combinations of violin, pizzicato cello and some pretty cool piano in the finale.  Musically, this was the most substantial piece of the day and perhaps, overall, the most satisfying.

*****

The 4pm gifg kicked off with bass Matthew Li and pianist Scott Downing.  Two Schubert songs came first; Der Atlas and Ihr Bild.  I liked Li’s voice.  It’s not the most profundo of basses but the low notes are there and he handles the text well.  I thought Downing was over loud.  That might be appropriate in Der Atlas but not in the second song.  Balance was better in a nicely presented version of the Ecclesiates text from Brahm’s Vier ernste Gesänge.

Mezzo Chelsea Melamed and Hanzheng Li presented Debussy’s Trois chansons de Bilitis as a set.  It was good.  She has a proper mezzo lower register and pleasing high notes.  The text was treated with sensitivity to meaning and good diction and the two worked well together.

Tenor Eric Laine and Julie Choi were next.  It was an interesting set.  Jake Heggie’s Raymond de Linossier is one of those modern American songs that live on the borderlands between art song and Broadway.  It was idiomatically done.  Next was one of the numbers from Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo.  This was written for Peter Pears and it sits high.  One felt that it was a stretch for Laine and there were times when he seemed to be verging on falsetto.  Wolf’s Der Rattenfänger closed things out.  This was much better with command of the helter skelter line and good story telling.  All three pieces have tricky piano parts in very different idioms; all of which Choi navigated with apparent ease.

The chamber piece was the Brahms String Sextet No.2 in G Major, Op. 36 played by Russell Iceberg and Chris Stork (violins), Eric Newlin and Chung Han Hsaio (violas) and Jacob Efthimiou and Allison Rich (cellos).  There are some interesting textures in this piece; especially the way the cellos are used almost in opposition to each other.  It was extremely well played.  It was becoming clear that the standard of virtuosity in the chamber works was going to be very high.

*****

The 7.30pm concert took a slightly different format.  Things kicked off with the Dohnányi Piano Quintet No.1 in C minor, Op. 1; a work written in his mid teens.  Heg-Han Hou and Gregory Lewis were on violin with violist Matthew Eeuwes, cellist Brian Manker and pianist Jialiang Zhu.  It’s basically a virtuoso showpiece especially for the first violin and it got the treatment.  This seems to be a bit of a theme this year with all the Kreisler “pops” on opening night and so on.  Give me the Shostakovich anytime but the audiences seem to love it.

Soprano Yunji Shim was up next with Carolyn Schuman.  It was immediately apparent that we were listening to a more mature singer than any earlier in the day.  She kicked off with Hahn’s À Chloris and L’énamourée.  It’s a really nice full soprano clearly capable of making a big, beautiful sound.  The only nit is her incessant hand gestures and her very approximate French.  Donaudy’s O del mio amato ben at least didn’t have the diction problem.  Schuman’s accompaniment was appropriately idiomatic.

The final singer of the day was baritone Clarence Frazer with Julie Choi.  He kicked off with Finzi’s O Mistress Mine.  This was really nice’ well characterized but not overdone and with a real sense of the wit and style of these Shakespeare settings.  This was followed by Wohin? and Am Feierabend from Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin.  The technical command and the diction, that comes with a few more years in the profession, is there so the focus can be on the storytelling as it should be.  Sympathetic accompaniment from Choi throughout.  A very enjoyable end to the day’s vocal program.

The final chamber piece was the MendelssohnOctet in E-flat Major, Op. 20.  It’s rather curiously scored for four violins (Andrew Wan, Katya Polyansky, Sienna Minkyong Cho and Alessia Disimino), two violas (Minkyoung Lee and Georgina Rossi) and two cellos (Jaeyoung Chong and Andrew Ascenzo).  It’s another virtuosic work and it got the treatment to the great delight of the audience.  There’s a bit more to it though musically.  I especially like the well constructed presto fugue in the final movement (with a cheeky Handel quote).

*****

So, all in all, an interesting and satisfying but very long day.  The gaps between concerts are quite long and, bar grabbing something to eat between the 4pm and 7.30pm concerts there isn’t a lot to do to fill in the time.  Moving the first concert to 1.30pm and the last to 7pm would shorten the day while leaving decent gaps between the sessions.

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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 4d ago

Last night saw the first concert of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival.  The theme was “Beyond Borders” with most of the works presented; a mixture of piano, violin and vocal, having been influenced by other cultures/places or written in exile.

First up was Jon Kimura Parker with a thoughtful, delicate and, finally, quite exuberant account of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Minor K331 with it’s final movement; the Ottoman influenced Alla turca.

This was followed by Adrianne Pieczonka and Stephen Philcox with Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires gréques.  These are settings of French translations of Greek folksongs and have something of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne about them.  They were nicely done and weren’t made to sound too “dressed up” as can so often happen with classical versions of folk songs.

Kerson Leong and Rachael Kerr collaborated on Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen.  No question that Leong plays a mean fiddle and this was pretty much a “show off” piece.

After the interval we kicked off with Leong and Kerr and more showy violin pieces; this time from the concert rep of Fritz Kreisler.  This was followed by the return of Parker with the Chopin Ballade No. 4 in F minor.  It was very satisfying.

The final piece was what I had really come for.  It was the Strauss Vier letzte Lieder in a new arrangement for string quartet and piano by John Greer.  The “beyond borders” idea here perhaps that by the time these works were written Strauss was almost an exile in his own Germany.  Adrianne and Stephen were joined for this bt the New Orford String Quartet (Jonathan Crow, Andrew Wan, Eric Nowlin and Brian Manker).  It’s always interesting to hear orchestral songs in a reduced arrangement.  I’m a big fan of the Schoenberg versions of Mahler songs for example.  The lighter texture allows the singer to express without straining over a large orchestra and Adrianne Pieczonka certainly managed an emotionally charged and rather beautiful reading last night.  That said I did miss the colours of the orchestra despite the best efforts of Stephen Philcox and some fine playing from the Orfords.  It all just sounded a bit hollow and not quite right.  I confirmed my feelings as soon as I got home by firing up the old Schwarzkopf/Szell recording.  I wonder whether it might not have been better to just go with piano?

So, an interesting and varied concert that played to a pretty much packed Koerner Hall.  There is an audience for music in Toronto in the hot months.

Photo credits: Sean Howard

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Against the Grain Theatre today announced their 2019/20 season which will be their tenth though I don’t think back then there really was a “season” as such.  In many ways it’s their most ambitious yet.

There’s a remount of their original La Bohème.  This time it will tour multiple cities from Banff to Toronto which is a really good idea.  The cast includes Jonelle Sills (yeah!) as Mimi (it’s not just the COC who can have a Mimi of colour.  She’ll be wanting to do Ariel next.). The boys include Andrew Adridge, Clarence Frazer, Giles Tomkins.  Tour dates are September 27th to October 8th 2019 with a run at the Tranzac in Toronto from October 11th to 25th.

There’s also a remount of Figaro’s Wedding with Miriam Khalil as Rosina, Ally Smithers as Susanna, Bruno Roy as Figaro and Phillip Addis as Alberto.  That’s at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse from December 3rd to 20th 2019.

Oswaldo Golijov’s Ayre sung by Miriam Khalil, plus other works by the composer, will open the Royal Conservatory’s 21C Festival on January 11th 2020.

Finally, Bound will get it’s premiere after two outings in workshop form during which it changed a lot so it will be interesting to see what the “final” version looks like.  The words are by Joel Ivany and the music by Kevin Lau.  It started life as a Handel pastiche so I’m curious how much of that is left.  The cast includes actor Martha Burns, soprano Miriam Khalil, tenor Ernesto Ramirez and the operatic debut of transgender opera singer Breanna Sinclairé.  It will be presented at Harbourfront Centre Theatre from April 17th to 25th 2020.

There’s also the return of Opera Pub at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club on the first Thursday of the month starting September(?) and a lunchtime concert in the RBA.

I guess we have to say that Against the Grain is now an established part of the Toronto scene.  They’ve now put, I think, eighteen, main stage shows on in Toronto plus stuff in Banff, Opera Pub, lunchtime concerts and the odd party.  All since that first show at the Tranzac.  I think I’ve seen all the Toronto shows and it’s been a ride.

More details on the 2019/20 season at http://againstthegraintheatre.com

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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 6d ago

I’m always a bit surprised that there aren’t more sci-fi themed operas.  It seems like a natural fit for the medium.  I’ve seen a couple.  A few years ago the UoT composer collective opera was an EM Forster based piece called The Machine Stops.  There’s also Aaron Gervais’ The Harvester which I’ve seen twice in workshop and which may one day see the light.  Now another has come to my attention but, alas, it’s in London, England so I wont be able to go.  It sounds interesting though.  It’s by Alastair White, it’s called Wear and it’s about fashion and the apocalypse.

The publicity material describes it as “A sci-fi fashion opera at the wild, impossible edges of contemporary art music: Waiting for Godot meets Lulu for the post-truth generation.”

Mark Berry (whose opinion I generally find reliable and insightful) reviewing an earlier incarnation said “spellbinding…an opera of rare imagination – and success”.

It’s getting it’s first fully staged outing next month directed by Gemma Williams.  It will run for two nights at the Bridewell Theatre on the 23rd and 24th of August with special post-show events, as part of the festival ‘Opera in the City.’

If anyone can go and would like to review I’ll happily guest blog it.

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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 2w ago

The video recording, made at the Deutsche Oper in 2018, of Korngold’s rarely seen Das Wunder der Heliane is yet another lesson in holding off on making judgements on an opera or production until one has seen the whole thing.  I still don’t think it’s a lost masterpiece but I’m feeling a lot less derisive than I was at the end of Act I.

There are two big problems.  The biggest is the plot/libretto.  We are in a kingdom where happiness is forbidden.  A sort of mystic fool/Christ figure, der Fremde, shows up and starts preaching Love and Joy.  The Ruler condemns him to death.  On the night before his execution the queen, Heliane, goes to visit him to express sympathy.  She does this by getting naked and much Heldentenor groping ensues.  She disappears and the king shows up.  He confesses to the stranger that he has never slept with the queen.  Indeed he’s never seen her naked.  If the stranger will use his strange arts to get the queen into his bed he will not only go free but he will get to see her naked.  Ah!  The queen reappears and the king accuses her of adultery and demands that they both stand trial.  Meanwhile a heavenly choir is singing about love transcending death and the orchestra is playing swelling chords and tumescent arpeggios while the stranger sings his lungs out at the loudest and highest end of his Fach; the second problem.  This is Act 1.  At this point I’m thinking “suppose you gave a young Richard Strauss (some of the writing for woodwinds sounds a bit like Die Frau ohne Schatten) a stack of porno mags a Dummy’s Guide to Freud and a lot of cocaine…

It does get better even if the plot stays pretty implausible.  The stranger begs heliane to kill him and when she won’t he stabs himself.  The king is beside himself since the only person he trusts to testify that the queen is “pure” is now dead. He decides that the queen must prove her “purity” by bringing the dead man back to life.  Somewhere in this the people invade the palace demanding the freedom of their, now dead, hero.  Some of the music in here is more restrained and much more attractive than the seriously overblown first act.

The third act starts with the people imploring God to help Heliane do the Lazarus thing.  She starts but then stops and confesses her love for the stranger while taking most of her clothes off again.  “To the stake!”, the mob cries but the stranger comes to life, banishes the king, legislates universal happiness, forgives everyone and goes off to Heaven with Heliane.  There’s actually some very effective dramatic music in this act and some quite lovely lyrical stuff; especially the final duet.  The audience in the house when this was recorded lapped it up so maybe it’s easier to get drawn in in the house than when watching it on video.

The Berlin production and performances make probably the best possible case for it.  Instead of the classical trappings of the productions in the 1930s Christof Loy riffs off Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution.  All the action takes place in the courtroom.  It’s very monochrome and Sara Jakubiak, as Heliane, is made to ook like Marlene Dietric.  It helps balance the rather overblown elements.  The singing is good too, especially Jakubiac who has an ideal sort of Jugendlich dramatischer voice for the role.  Josef Wagner is good too as the king.  Brian Jagde at times is really good as the stranger but especially in act 1 he has to sing high and loud for very long periods.  I don’t think anyone would actually sound good singing some of the music.  The minor roles are well cast and the chorus acts and sings really well.  Marc Albrecht in the pit lets it all hang out.  There’s nothing very subtle about the music and the orchestra sounds fine.

The simple set makes video direction easy and Götz Filenius takes a decently straightforward approach.  It also means there are no great challenges to picture quality which, on Blu-ray, is excellent.  Sound is decent.  This is the sort of huge orchestral sound which ultimately only transfers so far to the domestic context.  I listened to parts using the surround sound track and speakers and part using the stereo track on headphones.  Both are OK but at time a little muddy.  That might well have been true in the house too.

There’s some bonus material in the form of a contemporary sound recording of the Act III Zwischenspiel and assorted Korngold memorabilia.  The booklet is quite informative with lots of information about the politics surrounding the early performances plus a synopsis, bios and track listing.

Ultimately I can’t recommend watching this work on video disk.  Maybe a live performance could at least partially transcend its obvious weaknesses but they are still just too much on disk.

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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 2w ago

Last night the Music Director designate of the TSO, Gustavo Gimeno, conducted a concert of 20th century classics.  It was the first chance to see him with the orchestra since his appointment.  First up was the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor.  It’s a curious work with relatively little dialogue between soloist and orchestra.  Rather there’s a very Sibelian orchestral piece kind of sandwiched with a highly virtuosic violin part but it works in an odd sort of way.  It was also very well played with all the necessary virtuosity from soloist Jonathan Crow and an orchestral sound which while often dark and brooding was also quite transparent.

After the interval it was Prokofiev’s ever popular Symphony No. 1 in D Major.  It’s soubriquet is “The Classical” and it got a very light textured reading from Gimeno.  I’ve heard it sound both much more romantic and much more Russian but I rather liked the more austere approach.

The finale was the 1945 version of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.  The orchestra for this is much bigger than for the other two pieces yet it retained some of the lightness of touch as well as allowing all sections of the orchestra to show what they can do.  I don’t want to suggest it was anaemic.  Far from it.  On occasions the orchestra was quite startlingly loud but there was still a sense of clarity throughout.

This concert really left me eager to see what Gimeno can do with a piece where deep structure really matters.  What would his Mahler 2 (and I understand he’s something of a Mahler specialist) or his Shostakovich 5 sound like?  It will be a while before we really find out as although he has two concerts with the orchestra next season he doesn’t take up the reins until the 2020/21 season.

There was a short Q&A on stage after the performance but it didn’t give a lot away.  Perhaps there was just a hint of more focus on the core 20th century rep but maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my  part.  Certainly Gimeno hinted at new works co-commissioned with other orchestras as well as Canadian commissions.  We’ll see.

The last few TSO concerts that I’ve been at show that, for the right conductor, the TSO can be a very fine orchestra and even rise above the acoustical issues of Roy Thomson.  Last night suggested that Gustavo Gimeno may be the right guy to get the best out of them.  You can check him, and them, out in the same programme as last night this evening and tomorrow afternoon.

Photo: Marco Borggreve

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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 2w ago

Muse 9 Production’s new show Bon Appétit: A Musical Tasting Menu couples three short operas about food and was, appropriately enough, presented at Merchants of Green Coffee on Matilda Street.  Perhaps “opera” isn’t the right term as, although each piece was fully staged, they featured only one singer each.  “Opera” or “staged song”?  I don’t really care as they were fun.

First up was Danika Lorén’s The Secret Life of Vegetables in which soprano Katy Clark extolled the virtues, and the seamier side, of cabbages, onions, carrots and lettuce.  Anna Theodosakis’ staging had a largely hidden assistant presenting the veggies and waving flags from behind the serving counter.  I had no idea carrots did that.  In any event it was presented with great aplomb by Katy and revealed yet another side of the outrageously talented Danika who is clearly a complete lunatic, but of the very best kind.  Keyboard accompaniment was, as in all the other pieces, was provided by the incredibly versatile Hyejin Kwon.

Peter Tiefenbach’s Chansons de mon placard riffs off that quintessentially Canadian thing, the bilingual label.  Miss Clark, clad in lab coat, declaimed the properties, virtues and uses of seaweed, cornstarch, steak spice and Aspirin, in French, while a similarly clad Victoria Borg brandished placards with the English translation.  Hyejin’s keyboards were augmented by a lab coat wearing Brad Cherwin on clarinet.  Both pieces benefitted enormously from Katy Clark’s impeccable diction and deadpan presentation.

After the interval we got Lee Holby’s musical skit about Julia Child making a chocolate cake, Bon Appétit.  Mezzo Victoria Borg sang Childs own (slightly adapted) text while making the said cake.  Flour was sifted, eggs separated, egg whites enthusiastically whipped, batter “folded in”.  Besides actually making a cake, Ms. Borg managed a spot on Julia with just the right air of obviously knowing more than her dumb audience (us!).  This time Katy Clark was the not-quite-invisible assistant endemic to cooking shows.

And there was actually cake.  And it was rather good.

Unfortunately last night was the sole Toronto performance.  There are shows in London on Saturday and Sunday but they, alas, are sold out.  I hope they find a way to remount this show.  It deserves to be seen by more than the handful who packed into a very sticky Merchants of Green last night.

Photo credits: Anna Theodosakis

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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 3w ago

The 2018 Salzburg Festival production of Die Zauberflöte really pushes the envelope of reenvisioning the piece.  Is there anything to say about this piece that hasn’t already been said?  Lydia Steier thinks so and goes some considerable way tp making her point.  So what’s the big idea here?  Essentially the kicking off points are that it’s about (in a sense) a dysfunctional family and it’s a fairy tale.  So we open on the dining room of a rather depressing bourgeois Austrian family in the mid 1930s sitting down to dinner.  There’s the mother, the father, the grandfather and three boys; all rather formally dressed.  A portrait of a bride hangs behind the table.  The father has a hissy fit and storms out.  The mother, who appears to drink, starts breaking things.  The grandfather takes the boys off to the nursery to read them a bedtime story.

From there the story is told in a series of chapters read by the grandfather which replace most of the dialogue from the original.  The characters are imagined as characters from the boys’ lives.  Tamino is a wooden toy soldier.  The Three Ladies are the household servants; though they have put military tunics and side caps over their dresses.  Papageno is the butcher’s son who brings dead plucked birds to the household.  The Queen of the Night is the boys’ mother.

This sort of makes sense but it gets darker and weirder when we reach Sarastro’s realm.  It’s a circus.  Sarastro is the Ringmaster.  Pamina is the assistant/target for the knife throwing Monostatos.  There are clowns, acrobats, aerialists and lots more.  It keeps getting darker.  Old Papagena is a monstrous mechanical contrivance with a marked resemblance to Theresa May.  The Final Trial is War (the last one or the next one?) indicated by projections all across the back of the enormous Grosses Festspielhaus stage.  In the final scene there’s no reconciliation.  Monostatos, the Three Ladies and (maybe, it’s unclear) the Queen of the Night are summarily executed.  The weird thing is what starts out looking like gratuitous visual excess starts to make a nightmarish kind of sense.

The whole package comes in at a very short 145 minutes so somewhere along the way considerably more than 45 minutes of music and dialogue has been cut.  Only once did this seem problematic.  The whole build up to Der Hölle Rache is omitted but even that wasn’t too big a deal.  The story gets told effectively enough.

All of this is presented quite spectacularly.  The huge stage is continuously reconfigured with large moving scenery elements.  There are all kinds of projections.  Once we get to Sarastro’s real there are colourful characters doing stuff all over the place.  There’s lots of darkness too so it’s an absolute nightmare to film.  The video director (Michael Berger) has to balance the video audience missing a lot of what’s going on with showing shots that are 85% darkness with a few tiny lit points.  On balance he does a very good job but this was surely a show to see in the theatre rather than on video.

Performances are of the highest calibre.  Both Mauro Peter as Tamino and Christiane Karg as Pamina have to pull off the usual big arias while maintaining a kind of stylized persona.  They do well.  The big arias are well sung and the acting is convincing.  The same is true for Adam Plachetka’s nerdy bear of a Papageno.  Albina Shagimuratova is the Queen of the Night (and mother).  She looks like a meringue with horns but the two big arias are absolutely nailed.  My one reservation, and it’s small, is Matthias Goerne’s rather sinister Sarastro.  It’s well sung and extremely well acted but I could maybe have used a bit more vocal heft.  The Three Boys, identified only as members of the Wiener Sängerknaben have tons to do and they are absolutely fantastic.  There’s a final bit of luxury casting in the role of the Grandfather played to great effect by Klaus Maria Brandauer.

It’s the usual Salzburg/Vienna chorus and orchestra and they sound very good.  Constantinos Carydis conducts and it sounds like a Vienna orchestra playing Die Zauberflöte.  What more can one ask for?  The small army of trick cyclists, acrobats, aerialists, clowns and what not are pretty amazing.

I mentioned the difficulty of filming this piece earlier.  Some of the choices made by the video director demand really good image quality.  By and large, on Blu-ray, it’s there.  I imagine that this would be a hot mess on standard DVD.  The sound quality (DTS-HD-MA and PCM 2.0) is also Blu-ray quality.  There are no extras on the disk and the explanatory material in the booklet, which also contains a track listing and a super brief synopsis, extremely brief and rather self-regarding.  Subtitle options are English, German, French, Korean and Japanese.

Clearly this recording is not going to please the traditionalists but for those looking for something more conceptual it has quite a lot to offer.  That said, if I could have but one video recording of this work I would stick with the compelling Carlsen/Rattle version from Baden-Baden.

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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 3w ago

Rossini’s Le Comte Ory was written for Paris so it’s appropriate that there should be a recording from the Opéra Comique.  It’s directed by Denis Podalydès who chooses to set it around the time of the opera’s creation (1828) with the “crusader” element replaced by the French conquest of Algeria.  The sets and costumes are pretty conventional with a heavy emphasis on religious symbolism; some of it rather awry.  There’s also a heavy element of sexual frustration.  The comedy is all very much there but it’s not too slapstick and there’s none of the annoying cheesiness of Bartlett Sher’s New York version.  It all feels very French.

The singing and acting are of a very high quality.  Julie Fuchs, as the Comtesse Adèle, has terrific coloratura and is the living embodiment of sexual frustration.  Philippe Talbot as Comte Ory is first seen in a false nose and a fat suit as the “hermit”.  He’s Fuchs’ match as a singer and quite hilarious, especially as the leader of the “female pilgrims”.  Gaëlle Arquez is a bit more restrained as Isolier but it’s a convincing portrayal.  The “three in a bed” scene is the funniest and sexiest version I’ve seen of it.

The supporting cast is excellent too.  Eve-Maud Hubeaux manages a “butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth” Ragonde, Patrick Bollaire is a suitably lugubrious Gouverneur and there are a couple of good cameos from Jean-Sébastian Bou as Raimbaud.  Jodie Devos is a vocally and physically attractive Alice.  The chorus, Les Éléments, is excellent and sings, dances and moves extremely well.  The drunk knight/pilgrims are very good and there’s some excellent work from the ladies in the opening scenes (with rather more leg and shoulder on display than one might expect from the setting).  The Orchestre des Champs Elysées is good and Louis Langrée is brisk and keeps things together nicely.

Video direction is by Vincent Massip and it represents the production well.  The picture and sound (DTS-HD-MA and LPCM 2.0) on Blu-ray are standard Blu-ray quality.  There aren’t any extras on the disk but it’s not really a production to need them.  The booklet has a synopsis, a short essay and a track listing.  Subtitle options are English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Korean.

The main competition for this is the Met recording which is now available on Blu-ray (and cheap).  I think I prefer this new one.  It’s as well sung and funnier in a subtler, very French way.

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Operaramblings by Operaramblings - 3w ago

At Roy Thomson Hall last night for the TSO playing Carl Orff’s extravaganza Carmina Burana.  It was fun.  I don’t think it’s a piece to over-intellectualize.  Big orchestra, enormous choir (Toronto Mendelssohn Choir augmented by the Toronto Youth Choir plus the Toronto Children’s Chorus), bawdy Latin lyrics and so on.  It’s big, brash and mostly quite loud though I think Donald Runnicles did a fine job of balancing orchestra and voices, especially when the soloists or the children were singing.

The soloists were good too.  The baritone has the most to do and he has to sing very high and very low.  Norman Garrett was quite impressive at both ends of his range.  The soprano mostly gets very high stuff to sing and Nicole Haslett sounded just fine with no squawking or unpleasant metallic tones.  Basically all the tenor has to do is squawk.  His one contribution is a brief comic interlude as a roasting swan.  Sunnyboy Dladla will rarely have an easier pay cheque but he squawked effectively enough.  The choirs were good too; especially the ladies who have some awkward sustained high notes which they managed expertly.

Before the interval we goy Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major with James Ehnes as soloist.  Die Tote Stadt aside, I’ve never been much of a Korngold fan and this piece didn’t do anything to change that.  The three movements all use themes from film scores with a bunch of violin fireworks added.  It’s well crafted and probably  fine if that’s your bag.  certainly I have no complaints about Ehnes’ bravura performance or the pacing and balance delivered by Runnicles.

On a broader note, I think the TSO is on the up musically.  I haven’t been going a lot recently but when I have it’s been enjoyable whereas a year or two ago I’d leave half the concerts wondering why I put myself through it.  Let’s hope new chief dude Gustavo Gimeno can continue the trend.  He’s conducting Sibelius, Stravinsky and Prokofiev next week so that should be a good litmus test.

There are two more chances to see Carmina Burana; Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm.  The Gimeno concerts are next Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm and Sunday at 3pm.

Photo credits: Nick Wons

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