Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Symphony Hamilton on May 29

Symphony Hamilton have played their last concert at the auditorium of the Royal Botanical Gardens. I am a member of the RBG and it is a treasured institution. I've even performed in their auditorium with my school choir but the space is awkward for a group as big as Symphony Hamilton and the acoustics are difficult. The orchestra will be better served in their new home.
The orchestra will perform next year in the brand new Burlington Centre for the Performing Arts. They open with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and follow with an ambitious season the details of which are available at their web site.
On this occasion they began with the Imperial March from Star Wars by John Williams. I'm a big fan of John Williams and am generally interested in film music. As a curtain raiser this piece did its job and the orchestra gave an adequate reading. It doesn't work very well as a stand alone concert piece and I'd rather have heard the Star Wars theme, as familiar as it is.
They followed with performances by their Young Artists' Competition Winners. Adam Despinic played beautifully the first movement of Marian Mozetich's Affairs of the Heart for Violin and Orchestra. The piece is a successful blend of musical romanticism and minimalism. I'd be interested to hear more of this composer's music.
Next, Bogdan Chetraru played the first movement of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. He's in Grade 10 at Westdale Collegiate which makes him 15 or 16. He plays with great spirit and determination and it was a joy to watch a young virtuoso in the making.
The first half closed with Three Piece's from Schindler's List played with appropriate sensitivity by the orchestra's Concert Master, Corey Gemmell. I supposed there are those who object to the kind of emotional manipulation that is integral to this music, tied to the film for which it was written. Even so, I find the main theme touching and sincere, surely a remarkable achievement by John Williams, especially since it is so different from his other scores.
The concert closed with a spirited reading of the Dvorak Eighth Symphony. I came away with the main theme of the last movement stuck in my head. Particular kudos to First Flute Laurel Trainor who was very busy indeed and played so well, and to Graham Young who played the exposed opening of the last movement flawlessly.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Orfeo ed Euridice at the COC

     I attended the Dress Rehearsal of Orfeo ed Euridice as a guest of the COC. I've since read two glowing reviews of performances (in The Star and The Spec) and would like to take this opportunity to respond to their opinions of Robert Carsen's concept and production.
     I will not say anything about the solo singing as I attended a rehearsal. Singers are free to "mark" during rehearsals. They may choose not to sing out, to spontaneously transpose passages or even omit singing bits, all in order to save their voice.
     All three acts were played on the same barren moonscape. There is a grave which opened and closed. A ramp leads from in front of the plain scrim to the raked stage. Otherwise, there is no scenery. Singers are dressed in "modern" garb, all in black (white shirts for the men). The dead in Hades are in white shrouds. All visual variety was a result of the movement of the singers on the stage and lighting effects. Singers were often back-lit making it difficult to see their facial expressions.
     The idea is that Gluck, the composer, had simplified the style of the opera in reaction to the excesses of opera at the time. Carlsen has simplified the visual presentation in response to Gluck's music. The problem is that it's all contextual. Modern opera goers have not been immersed in the extremes of Rococo stage presentations so the raison d'etre for all of this must be explained to them in notes for it to have any meaning. It's like some serial music which, its advocates might explain, doesn't sound like much but is really interesting when you analyze the score.
     Orpheus sings to the dead in Hades and they are persuaded to transport him to Elysium. Elysium is supposed to be a delightful place, and Orpheus describes it as such. In this production, Hades and Elysium look exactly the same. Without an understanding of the concept this is counter-intuitive, and even then, I think it shortchanges the audience.
     The result is, from a visual point of view, a rather dull night at the opera.
     Next season the COC presents Iphegenia in Tauris, also by Gluck, with Susan Graham in the title role. Carlsen directs again. I wonder whether this production will be more visually interesting than was Orfeo.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ariadne auf COC

I encourage any of my readers who have the opportunity to attend a performance in the current run of Ariadne auf Naxos at the Four Seasons Centre. It really is a wonderful opera, if not Strauss's best (he did write 16, about 10 of which, by my reckoning, are still performed).
I had expected to hear two of the reigning Canadian opera divas and was crestfallen when I learned that Adrianne Pieczonda was indisposed. American soprano Amber Wagner filled in admirably. She has a beautiful full spinto voice and also understudied Aida at the COC this season.
It was announced that Jane Archibald had a "chest infection" but would go on anyway. It certainly didn't impede her performance much, if at all. Zerbinetta's music is extraordinarily florid (and very high, I noticed a couple of Es in the score). Archibald seemed to under-sing some of the time, but the highest, flashiest bits were full sung out. She performed all of this in the midst of very busy, almost gymnastic, staging.
The real star of the show was British mezzo Alice Coote. Hers is seamless mezzo soprano voice with glorious, really thrilling, top notes.
Among the men, John Easterlin was the standout. He has a shining tenor voice and dealt capably with the very high testitura of the roles of the Dancing Master and Brighella. The dancing and singing of the four male Comm├ędia players (Easterlin with Peter Barrett, Michael Uloff and Christopher Enns) was precise and very entertaining.
American veteran baritone Richard Stillwell sang the Music Master and Richard Margison the roles of the Tenor and Bacchus.
Simone Osbourne, Lauren Segal and Teiya Kasahara (all past or present COC Ensemble members) did some lovely ensemble singing as the Nymphs on Ariadne's wrecked stage of a desert island.
The COC orchestra, under Andrew Davis was simply marvelous. I must mention the outstanding playing of principal clarinetist James T. Shields.