Monday, February 19, 2018

Half of an Abduction

I did something yesterday afternoon that I've never done before. I left a COC performance at the interval.

In this production, the company has responded to a question to which no one wants an answer: How do you make a Mozart singspiel boring?

Simple. Make the speaking as long as the singing. Make the play as long as the music. Turn a comedy into a pedantic exposition of the stage director's agenda.

I noted the performance time of the COC's Abduction from the Seraglio in the reminder email they sent. Three and a quarter hours. Seemed at little long. I've since checked: the Met production runs two hours, six minutes.

I'm not going to get into Wajdi Mouawad's rationale for his re-writing of the dialogue which is detailed elsewhere.

This performance opened with a long spoken scene introducing the characters and explaining the premise i.e. that the story would be told through flashbacks.

Then we got the overture. Pretty well every musical number was preceeded or  followed by a substantial amount of German dialogue.

Mouawad also turns the humourous characters (Blonde, Pedrillo and Osmin) into serious ones robbing the show of its comic relief.

Jane Archibald surrounded by little girls and the undead.
Photo credit: The Globe and Mail, Bertrand Stofleth.

As is usually the case with the COC, this production features first rate solo singers, fine chorus singing and brilliant orchestral playing. Unlike some other re-imagined shows (like Ballo in Maschera) the great musical interpretation didn't make up for the production's missteps which are too great.

The best singing I heard came from bass Garan Juric as Osmin. He's a good actor with an excellent bass voice. I'd love to hear his Sarastro.

Resident artist Jane Archibald was a capable Konstanze. She has thrilling high notes and convincing coloratura. It was, however, a little disconcerting to hear her voice disappear as she sang the descending lines in her showpiece aria, Marten Aller Arten.

Claire de Sévigné, on the other hand, matched Juric note for note in the comical low bit of their duet. She also pinned the high Es in her aria. De Sévigné is an impressive actress as well, a definite advantage for a coloratura soubrette. Maybe this is picky, but she's also a brunette. The character is called "Blondie."

Mauro Peter, as Belmonte, seemed uncomfortable at the outset but sang the numerous high G#s and As easily in his arias and certainly looks the part. I'd have liked to hear his spectacular aria, Ich baue ganz, but it was in the second half for which we didn't stay.

Owen Causland played a convincing Pedrillo and more than held his own in the trio with Osmin and Belmonte.

Raphael Weinstock portrayed Bassa Selim and Belmonte's father as well as this tedious script would allow.

I've since looked at the reviews of this production's première in Lyon and they are scathing. With such a warning, what was the administration of the COC thinking?

I am reminded of Monty Python whose last album was titled Contractual Obligation. Except that that album is funny. This production isn't.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Some marvellous music for a cold winter's evening.

Percy Grainger was collecting English folksongs in the early years of the 20th century with his phonograph. He recorded mostly older people who must have been remarkable performers and whose characters came across strongly to him through their performances. The experience impressed Grainger profoundly.

Thirty years later he set six of the songs for wind band in the Lincolnshire Posey. Each movement is an elaborate arrangement of the song but also a portrait of the person who sang it for Grainger all those years ago.

In it you can hear a composer at the height of his powers. His voice is unique and this work is almost symphonic, far longer and more substantial than his better known works like Country Gardens or his glorious setting of Londonderry Air.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Musical Transformations

Some music is just delightful.

This is one of those pieces. It’s uplifting and playful although it’s a serious work.

Oh, and it’s by a composer some would identify as über heavy: J.S. Bach.

Bach liked it so much he adapted it, so it turns up at least twice in his catalogue of almost 1100 works.

I like it so much I’m going to include three different YouTube records although, to get my point, it’s probably best not to listen to all 7’30” of it three times.

Unless you really like it.

It’s best known as the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto #4. In this version the orchestra consists of two recorders, a solo violin, string orchestra and harpsichord continuo. The harpsichordist just gets the figured bass line, which he uses fill out his part. He has to make it up.

Bach rearranged it as the Concerto #6 for two recorders, strings and solo harpsichord. He transforms the solo violin line and figured bass into a full blown harpsichord part which is all written out. The work becomes a showpiece for a virtuoso harpsichordist which, no coincidence, Bach was!

In this version the two recorders are replaced by a transverse flute and oboe. The music stays the same although Bach transposed it down from G to F.

Pianists have always played Bach’s harpsichord music. Glen Gould’s famous recordings of the Goldberg Variations are a case in point.

But a piano doesn’t even make sound the way a harpsichord does.  A harpsichord's strings are plucked, a piano's are struck.  It’s usually much louder than a harpsichord and has a marvellous dynamic range. The first ones were called forte-pianos because they could play loud and soft.

So when the Concerto #6 BMV 1057 is played by two recorders, strings and piano the piece is completely transformed into something like a piano concerto. In this version the recorders are replaced by transverse flutes. 

Some people will like it, some won’t. We have no idea what old Bach would have thought.