8 years ago

Volume 13 - Issue 5 - February 2008


OPERA AT HOMEby Phil EhrensaftJanacek's"House" will live"They Say It Is My Greatest Work, But It Is Still Possible To GoHigher". So Leos Janacek wrote to his muse Kamila Stosslova inDecember, 1926, after a most successful reception of his penultimateopera, The Makropulos Case. Janacek did go even higher in hisfinal opera, based on Dostoevsky's autobiographical novel House ofthe Dead, which captures the writer's four years in Siberian prisoncamps. Janacek began work on this grim material at the age of 73,and concluded shortly before his death in 1928, while also composinghis remarkable String Quartet No. 2, "Intimate Letters," alongthe way.After Janacek's death, two of his well-meaning students locatedthe third and final act of In the House of the Dead on the maestro'sdesk, found the work so sparsely orchestrated that they assumed thatit was incompletely orchestrated, and, with the best of intentions,proceded to "complete" the orchestration, using all that Janacek hadtaught them. For the posthumous 1930 premiere, the seemingly alltoo grim conclusion was also softened up with an upbeat paean tofreedom.And so things remained from that posthumous premiere until thenever-flagging research efforts by conductor Sir Charles Mackerrasled to Janacek's original final drafts. Mackerras confirmed that thesparse orchestration was precisely what Janacek intended, to matchDostoevsky's bleak novel, and conducted the opera accordingly.House of the Dead is the culmination of Janacek's definitive careeras classical music's ultimate "late starter." In fact the trajectoryof his life would make a fine opera plot, if it were not too implausible, even for opera. Born in 1854, Janacek was little known, for thefirst 62 years of his life, outside his native Moravia, the secondaryprovince of a secondary country in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.His belated international repute was sparked by a 1916 Prague NationalOpera performance of Jenufa, a full twelve years after itssuccessful premier in Moravia's provincial capital, Brno.Janacek's remaining twelve years unleashed one of the most intensebursts of compositional creativity in the history of classicalmusic, on all fronts: opera, orchestral, choral, art songs, and chambermusic.The aging Czech composer went from one success toanother on the opera stage: Kat 'a Kabanova (1921), The CunningLittle Vixen (1923), The Makropulos Case (1925), and House of theDead. He became a deserved darling in international New Musiccircles for his innovations in every sub-genre of composed art music.And then, just as suddenly, his star plummeted after his death in1928, only, slowly but surely, to again resume its rightful place inthe firmament. Not long after Janacek died, the Nazis assumed power,and the music of this pan-Slavic Czech nationalist was banned.And then his idiosyncratic music remained out of fashion relative todominant New Music trends during the immediate post-war decades.These very idiosyncrasies are, paradoxically, quite fashionableagain - he looms as prescient with respect to contemporary tastes.Martin Bresnick, a composer based at Yale, underscores howJanacek's music was ahead of its time and consonant with our owntime: it emphasizes serious study of ethnic music outside the WesternEuropean core; uses unorthodox combinations of instruments orunorthodox instruments; jettisons standard formal structures; placespassion and communication front and centre in experimental music;and focuses on the innate musicality of language.The sonic contours of everyday speech intrigued Janacek. Hepioneered empirical fieldwork on the rhythmic and melodic patternsof Czech speech. And while his interpretations of "speech melodies"might not stand up to contemporary linguistic science, theyimbued him with a feel for the musicality of language that makes himunique among opera composers. From the time of Janacek's firstmature opera, Kat'a Kabanova, he wrote his own librettos. Whilethere's no one-to-one correspondence between his work on "speechOn Operaby Christopher HaileOperas to come& Opera to GoOn January 15 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the FourSeasons Centre, the COC unveiled its 2008-09 season-and the newsis very exciting. Of the season, s seven mainstage operas, three areCOC premieres along with a new production of a beloved warhorse.The fall season begins on October 5 with Mozart's "DonGiovanni" starring Brett Polegato as the Don in a production lastseen in 2000. The first big surprise (and I mean big!) is SergeiProkofiev, s epic opera "War and Peace", a COC premiere, thework's first fully-staged production in Canada, and the largest singleopera the COC has ever produced (with over 60 named roles).The winter season begins January 24 with a new production ofBeethoven's "Fidelio" with Adrianne Pieczonka in the leading role.It runs in repertory with the COC premiere of Antonfn Dvorak' s"Rusalka". Long ago Richard Bradshaw had promised NicholasGoldschmidt, co-founder of the COC, that he would stage this,Goldschmidt, s favourite opera, for his lOOth birthday. Now neitherone is with us but the pledge will be fulfilled with Michael Schade asthe Prince and Julie Makerov in the title role.Verdi, s opera "Simon Boccanegra", last seen here in 1979, opensthe spring season on April 11. Next comes the crowd-pleaserPuccini's "La Boheme" in a brand new production. The final offeringwill be the COC mainstage premiere of Benjamin Britten's " AMidsummer Night's Dream", while in June Mozart's "Cosl fantutte" will be the COC Ensemble Studio production.All of this is in the realm of operas to come, but for the month ofFebruary contemporary opera reigns. From February 14-23 is the2008 instalment of Tapestry New Opera Works' popular Opera to Goseries with seven world premieres of six 15-minute chamber operasand a Bravo!FACT film by composer-writer teams who have graduatedfrom Tapestry, s Composer-Librettist Laboratory. The all­Canadian teams use eclectic techniques of music-making and productionto push the boundaries of the operatic medium. The programfeatures "She sees her lover in the light of morning" by Craig Galbraithand Leanna Brodie about caution giving way to romance.Brodie also partners with David Ogborn on "The Translator", astory about a woman who, having witnessed atrocity, involves herselfin a nation's turmoil. "Peace ofmy Heart" by Ogborn and DaveCarley is a black comedy thatunravels an experience on theoperating table; and in "SeeSaw", by Andrew Staniland andAnna Chatterton, the end of arelationship raises plenty of uncertainty.A queen pursues anunlikely mate in "The Colony", aquirky comedy by Kevin Morseand Lisa Codrington; and in"The Shaman's Tale", MorseAttention: Opera SingersDo you have a dream rolethat you want orneed to perform?II 1s ec1s1er thc11 y·:,u tl1wil'. 1More info: www.OperabyRequest.caopef-Zl by requestOPERA AT HOME CONTINUES ON PAGE 56D rec '.ar W II ?.m S'lookhofl26 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM FEBR UA RY 1 - MARC H 7 2008

and Krista Dalby take us on a mythic journey that ends in the ultimatesacrifice. The program also includes the screening of "ThePerfect Match", a Bravo!FACT film by Krista Dalby & New Zealand-basedcomposer Anthony Young.February 15 and 16, another new Canadian work has its worldpremiere. This is "The Journey (Pimooteewin)" (libretto by TomsonHighway and music by Melissa Hui) part of Soundstreams 25thanniversary season. The work is not called an "opera" per se but"music drama for narrator, two soloists, choir and chamber orchestra".Weesageechak (the Trickster) accompanied by Misigoo (theEagle) captures the Spirits of the Dead in a basket, but the Spirits ofthe Dead are restless, and on the long journey back, one by one theyescape. Lydia Adams conducts the Elmer lseler Singers andMichael Greyeyes directs and choreographs.Finally on February 22-24, Toronto Operetta Theatre presents afirst-a brand new Canadian operetta. This is "Earnest, the Importanceof Being" by Victor Davies to a libretto by Eugene Benson.Davies, perhaps best known for his popular "Mennonite Piano Concerto",has just seen the premiere of his latest opera "Transit ofVenus" at Manitoba Opera in November last year. Benson, amonghis prodigious scholarly and creative work, has written, among others,the librettos to "Heloise and Abelard" (1973) by Charles Wilson,commissioned by the Canadian Opera Company to mark its 25thanniversary, and to Wilson's "The Summoning of Everyman" (1973)revived by Toronto· s Opera in Concert in 2004. Benson, who believes,as does operetta expert Richard Traubner, that the differencesbetween the various types of music theatre are overstated, sees nodifficulty in writing an "operetta" for the 2lst century. After allShakespeare · s plays have inspired successful works in all genres.Why not Wilde · s?••• NEW STARTS FROM OPERAS GONEFormer Tapestry ensemble member Tamara Hummel seen here in "Rosa" byJames Rolfe & Camyar Chai from Opera to Go 2004. James and Camyar alsowrote Elijah · s Kite, Tapestry , s touring production for schools. Rolfe, with AnnaChatterton (paired with Andrew Staniland in this year's Opera to Go), wereannounced Jan 15 as the team for a new COC mainstage commission.Opera By RequestPresentsGiuseppe Verdi'sRIGOLETTOin concertLarry Tozer Anna Bateman Keith KlassenWilliam Shookhoff, Directori...-a "'c::::,c::0VI~(I)Vl....V\""""" -.::::t,.A MASKED BALLFeb 13, 16, 22, 27Mar I 7:30pmFriendship. Power. Passion. Murder.Feb 24 2:00pm14'1 BOHi--:n1--: Fe~J \;~~; 3brings to life all the gaiety Feb 17 Mar 2& heartbreak of youth. 2:00pmFor more information call (416) 698-9572or visit www.toronto-opera.comE3:!!a,Bickford Centre Theatre 77 7 Bloor St W (TIC Christie) a.aTickets: Student & Senior Adult 0Tickets available at UofTtix after Jan 7, 2008 Phone (416} 978-8849 ~··w·q)hu,_ I Opera March 19 & 20 ~Free, Fun Excerpts 7:30pm ~Saturday, March 8, 7:30 p.m.College St. United Church - N/W Corner Bathurst/CollegeTickets - , Students/Seniors - $ 15Info/Reservations call 416 455-2365 or visit o erab re uest.caTHE CIVIC LIGHT OPERA COMPANYproudly presentsKANDER & EBB'sBroadway Mu~aj Masterpieceb,I,_ ML., ,\

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