6 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 8 - May 2017

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  • Toronto
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From science fact in "Integral Man: Music and the Movies," to science fiction in the editor's opener; from World Fiddle Day at the Aga Khan Museum to three Canadians at the Cliburn; from wanting to sashay across the 401 to Chamberfest in Montreal to exploring the Continuum of Jumblies Theatre's 20-year commitment to the Community Play (there's a pun in there somewhere!).

Gilda there will not be

Gilda there will not be in this lifetime nor is there likely to be a La donna è mobile as devastatingly wonderful as Vittorio Grigolo’s Duke of Mantua. The music of La Traviata cannot be faulted although it flopped at its Venice premiere on March 6, 1853. And yet the opera – based on the life of Marie Duplessis, written by Alexander Dumas fils in La Dame aux Camélias (1852), grew to become one of the world’s favourite operas. Griffi’s film is just as lyrical and dramatic as the arias, including opera’s most famous brindisi, Libiamo ne’ lieti calici, sung here by José Cura (Alfredo Germont), Violetta’s lover. The extended duet between Violetta and Giorgio Germont and Violetta’s swooning last testament are perfectly nailed by Rolando Panerai and Eteri Gvazava. Another casting coup appears in the form of Catherine Malfitano who plays the lead in Puccini’s memorable opera and appears to be as inspirational to Griffi in the role of Tosca as Sarah Bernhardt was said to have been for Puccini himself. Her fiery temperament that powers Act II as Tosca confronts Il Barone Scarpia (Ruggero Raimondi) as each uses sex as a weapon until Scarpia dies at her feet is the high point of the opera. Keeping pace with the action, Puccini’s orchestration is at its stormiest forever after as passion is substituted for poetry. Raul da Gama Concert note: The Canadian Opera Company presents Puccini’s Tosca with Adrianne Pieczonka and Keri Alkema in the title role with 12 performances beginning April 30 at the Four Seasons Centre. Wagner – Das Liebesverbot Soloists; Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Real; Ivor Bolton Opus Arte OA 1191 D !! Finding a decent position as Kapellmeister with a provincial opera house, 20-year-old Wagner took Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure as a source to write an opera, his second, where a tyrant tried to reform society by banning all fun and lovemaking, but ended up made a fool by a clever, beautiful woman. Das Liebesverbot (Forbidden Love) did get performed in Magdeburg and predictably failed disastrously and was buried for some 150 years, but now rediscovered comes to us from Spain’s Teatro Real, Madrid, in this immensely entertaining, creative and gorgeously colourful show you’ll love. Failure aside, the action is quickmoving, full of surprises and humour, the music full of Italian charm and melody, lively rhythms and all very un-Wagner. We with 20/20 hindsight will be amazed at the young fellow’s uncanny feel for theatre, his writing for voices and ensembles, his orchestrating skill and occasional outcroppings of genius. Brilliantly directed by Kaspar Holten with an ingenious multilevel set lit with neon lights, stairs, hidden corridors and cavernous spaces that can become a noisy bar in one moment and a nunnery or a prison the next, a young, wholesome, talented cast propelled by conductor Ivor Bolton who, like an energized bunny, moves the whole rip-roaring show like a steamroller. I am gratified by seeing leading lady Manuela Uhl again with her gorgeous and powerful high soprano towering above the cast, but Christopher Maltman as Friedrich the hypocritical tyrant, principal baritone (Cardiff’s Singer of the Year), is a worthy foil. Even the lesser roles are all excellent: Peter Lodahl, Ilker Arcayürek – two strong and sensitive tenors who end up winning the girls – plus the hilarious police constable Ante Jerkunica pining after the luscious subretta Maria Hinojosa. Janos Gardonyi Vaughan Williams – Riders to the Sea; Holst – At the Boar’s Head Soloists; Warsaw Chamber Opera Sinfonietta; Lukasz Borowicz Dux DUX 1307-1308 !! This fine CD set is an innovative collaboration between Warsaw’s 2016 Easter Ludwig van Beethoven Festival and the Yale Opera Program directed by Doris Yarick-Cross. Riders to the Sea is convincing and gets even better towards the end. The libretto is an abridgement of the celebrated play (1903) by John Millington Synge who, staying in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, saw a body wash up on shore. Synge was well-versed in local speech and customs and knew the threat of tremendous storms to fishermen. Vaughan Williams’ chamber opera reflects the story’s pathos and resignation in melancholy, restless parallel chords underpinning the idiomatic rhythm and line of the singers’ dramatic recitative. Compared to the play though, folklore and overall Irishness are much reduced with no Celtic music or Irish accents; the music is early modernist with considerable dissonance. The orchestra is less than classical-sized, but directed by Łucasz Borowicz, the Warsaw Chamber Opera Sinfonietta strings are precise and full-bodied. Woodwinds provide evocative solos and added ocean-wave sounds are effective. Maurya is the mother of five sons lost to the sea. The tragedy becomes unbearable when Kathleen Reveille sings eloquently of the sixth and last, “Bartley will be lost now,” in her rich, haunting mezzo-soprano backed by the wailing women’s chorus. Soprano Nicole Percifield and mezzo-soprano Evanna Chiew as her daughters, and baritone Gary Griffiths as doomed Bartley, emerge as distinct personalities with clear diction and emotional depth. Gustav Holst’s At the Boar’s Head (1924; the Boar’s Head is a pub) arose from the idea of fitting scenes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV involving the character Sir John Falstaff to English folk-song tunes. To appreciate this one-act comic opera, with material familiar to English audiences then but less so to us now, one must read the libretto beforehand and check out Elizabethan English vocabulary (sometimes bawdy or sexist). Fortunately, Shakespeare’s dialogue and rhetoric are outstanding and with coaching by Yarick- Cross, this cast’s projection and tone are impeccable. As the opera progresses events become more and more tangled as does the music, for example when Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet sing a ballad while young Prince Hal (the future Henry V) delivers an aria with the text of Shakespeare’s sonnet “Devouring time, blunt thou the lion’s paws.” Excitement mounts as Falstaff’s enemies start to appear; I won’t reveal the ending. Bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu is spirited and sounds wonderful as Falstaff. Tenor Eric Barry is smooth and pure-voiced as Prince Hal, especially in the sonnets which also include When I do count the clock that tells the time. I would have liked to hear more of Hal’s nasty side in his singing. As in the Vaughan Williams, Nicole Percifield as Doll and Kathleen Reveille as the Hostess are convincing dramatically and musically. With roles for bass Pawel Kołodziej and three baritones the production becomes a feast of low male voices, recommended for those interested in Shakespeare and English song. Roger Knox Bernard Rands – Vincent Soloists; Indiana University Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Chorus; Arthur Fagen Naxos 8.669037-38 !! Not every artist’s life can be called operatic. Yet the life of Vincent van Gogh certainly fits the bill. Born into a family dominated by an Old-Testament-Godlike father, Theodorus, a preacher, Vincent was destined to fail at everything he tried. He fails as an art gallery director in Paris. His feverish religiosity first garners him a position as a rural preacher, only to have that zeal undermine the position. His attempts at relationships are pathetic: he tries to marry and “save” a prostitute, only to have 72 | May 1, 2017 - June 7, 2017

his noble intentions rejected. His friendship with Gauguin collapses, leads to (or according to some scholars, not at all) the famous ear-cutting episode. The only constant in van Gogh’s life is the love and support of his younger brother Theo, the source of money, paints and canvasses. Alas, progressive epilepsy and beginnings of mental illness (perhaps with a touch of lead poisoning) defeat Vincent. The final irony is of course the sale of his first paining shortly after his death and then posthumous fame. This is an epic life, condensed here into two acts of beautifully representative music. The only flaw is the lack of an overture. This element, so brilliantly deployed not so long ago by Bernstein in Candide, is increasingly eschewed by contemporary composers, here to a fine work’s detriment. Robert Tomas Sigmund Romberg – The Student Prince Petersen; Wortig; Blees; Ezenarro; WDR Radio Choir and Orchestra; John Mauceri CPO 555 058-2 !! I presume that those of us who enjoy operetta, and others, are familiar with the many deservedly popular songs from The Student Prince, if only from the movie version featuring the singing voice of Mario Lanza shown again recently on TCM. Sigmund Romberg was born in Hungary, studied in Vienna, emigrated to the USA in 1909 and in 1914 became a US citizen. The Student Prince with lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly opened on Broadway in December of 1924 and ran for an astonishing 608 performances, a record number that stood through the 1920s and 1930s. It even outpaced Jerome Kern’s Show Boat that played for 572 performances. The many memorable songs include the Serenade (Overhead the Moon Is Beaming), Deep in My Heart, Golden Days and, of course, the rousing Drinking Song. The cast of classically trained singers under John Mauceri, who is at home in all genres of music from symphony hall to Broadway, are well-chosen for their roles. There are nine soloists, the leading roles sung and spoken by Dominik Wortig as Karl-Franz, Anja Petersen as Kathie, Frank Blees as Dr. Engel, Arantza Ezenarro as Gretchen and Vincent Schirrmacher as Graf Hugo-Detlef. This winning, naturally balanced recording of the complete score includes some dialogue and the entr’acte music and opening ballet for Act Three. Bruce Surtees CLASSICAL AND BEYOND Chamber Works of Henri Marteau & Alexander Zemlinsky Mark Lieb; Phoenix Ensemble Navona Records NV6076 !! Admiration for excellence of execution blends poorly with even mild disappointment in the material presented. Still, one must applaud the playing on this new release on the Navona label. In it, the Phoenix Ensemble presents chamber works of Henri Marteau, a littleknown French composer, and Alexander Zemlinsky, a well-known Viennese one. The playing is clean and true, articulations are matched scrupulously, intonation is carefully maintained, all in service of pleasant if somewhat banal material. Zemlinsky’s Trio in D Minor Op.3, for clarinet, cello and piano, is almost a retelling of his mentor Brahms’ late chamber work (Op.114) for the same grouping. Zemlinsky became, with Arnold Schoenberg, a major influence on European modern music, but in this piece we hear the emergent student demonstrating his ease with an idiom already becoming dated when it was published (with help from J.B., who recommended it to Simrock, the elder’s publisher). Full of wild passionate gestures and chromatically lush harmonies, the trio is high art conceived by a relative tyro, celebrating the grandness of fin-de-siècle Vienna. Mark Lieb on clarinet, Alice Yoo on cello and pianist Wayne Weng match one another flawlessly in service of this charming work. Henri Marteau’s Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet Op.13 opens with a kind of call and response between solo clarinet and ensemble, leading through a saccharine Andante into an aimless Moderato. And on and on. Marteau seemed to possess the means to say a great deal, yet have only platitudes to speak. I wondered if I was missing a cryptically concealed form, but my attention kept reverting to the question: what is going on here? The remainder of the disc is a woodwind Serenade by Marteau. Listen for anything beyond diverting and deft bits of fun if you will. I stand in admiration of any chamber group that puts flutes beside clarinets and makes it work. Max Christie Starlight Kayla Wong Luminous Vine Records ( !! Music from the golden age of Hollywood is the premise behind Kayla Wong’s suitably named second disc Starlight. Was it really more than two years ago that she released her exemplary debut recording Allure? Since completing her studies at UCLA, this Saskatchewanborn artist continues to enjoy a notable career as a soloist and chamber musician, including recitals at Carnegie Hall and Hong Kong’s Cultural Centre. The disc opens with a set of six pieces by Ernesto Lecuona. Clearly, Wong has an unmistakable affinity for Spanish-inspired repertoire, in this case, by the “Cuban Gershwin.” Her performance of these contrasting musical miniatures is polished and elegant – from the rhythmic Cordoba to the sensuous and lyrical Preludio en la Noche. While these pieces may have been recorded not far from the rumbling of TTC streetcars, they are firmly stamped “España.” Earl Wild’s three Virtuoso Études (from a set of seven) based on popular songs by George Gershwin are virtuosic show-stoppers. The lyricism and charm of the originals are ever present, yet these pieces also require a formidable technique and Wong approaches the challenges with great panache. In keeping with the Hollywood theme are six pieces by the New York songwriter Dana Suesse. With their syncopated rhythms, and bluesy harmonies, tracks such as Jazz Nocturne and Serenade to a Skyscraper are indeed worthy tributes to Hollywood’s golden age. Starlight is a delightful respite from our less-than-perfect world of 2017 – highly recommended. Richard Haskell Mademoiselle: Premiere Audience – Unknown Music of Nadia Boulanger Various Artists Delos DE 3496 ( !! In her own time, Nadia Boulanger was truly a legend. A pianist, organist and conductor, as well as composer, she was a renowned educator who taught well over a thousand students during her long career. From Canada alone over 70 young musicians sought her out, including Jean Papineau-Couture, John Beckwith (who managed to get to Paris on a hockey scholarship to study with her) and Peter Paul Koprowski. Today, almost 40 years after her death, her legendary stature remains undiminished. But her compositions are largely overlooked – unjustifiably, as this fascinating 2-disc set shows. Of the 37 pieces here, almost half are being recorded for the first time. By all accounts – including memoirs from former students like Beckwith, Elliott Carter, May 1, 2017 - June 7, 2017 | 73

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