7 years ago

Volume 14 - Issue 4 - December 2008

Modified Rapture ... The

Modified Rapture ... The Gilbert & Sullivan scene in TorontoIf you managed to catch the Don Shebib documentaryA Song to Sing-0 on the Bravo channellast year you will already be acquaintedwith the Schatz family and the St. Anne' s Musicand Drama Society, Toronto' s premiereGilbert & Sullivan performing group. Currentlyin rehearsal for their staging of The Piratesof Penzance next January, MADS, as they areaffectionately known,won't have much timeto rest once the showcloses, for they havebeen invited to performPirates at the prestigiousInternational Gilbert &Sullivan Festival in Buxton,England in August2009, an ho nor accordedto only two overseascompanies each year.There is something sointrinsically and unmistakablyEnglish about theoperettas of Arthur Sullivanand W. S. Gilbertthat, while the continuedexistence of G&S societiesthroughout England may seem perfectlyunderstandable, the existence of an equallyenthusiastic and committed tradition in Torontomay seem a bit difficult to explain. Until,that is, you remember that Toronto's multiculturallandscape is a relatively recent development,and that prior to the waves of immigrationthat swelled Toronto's population afterthe Second World War this was essentially anEnglish city with very strong ties to its Britishroots.Even so, pre-war G&S activity tended tobe sporadic rather than consistent: a groupfrom Canada Packers performed at the EatonAuditorium during the 1930s and 1940s; theWest Toronto Players gave the occasionalperformance at St. Anne's Anglican ChurchHall; and Frank Houston directed a fewshows at his Simpson Avenue United Churchin the mid- l 930s.Ironically, it was the post-war immigrationflood that, far from rendering the G&S sceneobsolete, actually ensured its survival andgrowth, with the large number of British immigrantsin the 1950s and 1960s providing asizeable pool of prospective performers - andaudience members, too. Several of the currentToronto area community musical theatregroups that now perform Broadway-styleshows started out in this period staging exclusivelyGilbert & Sullivan works in their earlyyears: Clarkson Music Theatre ( 1945-1968);Scarborough Choral Society (1953-1961); andYorkminstrels (1958-1967) .The 1960s proved to be a particularly productivedecade, for it also saw the birth ofthree new groups that grew into the three societiesthat are now the main standard-bearers forG&S stage productions in the Toronto area - St.Anne's Music & Drama Society in 1964, St.26by Terry RobbinsPeter's Choral Society (now ScarboroughG&S Society) in 1966, and St. Timothy Players(now North Toronto Players) in 1967. Inaddition, the Toronto Gilbert & Sullivan Society,which had been formed in 1947, althoughnot specifically as a performance group, beganstaging regular performances in 1969.Roy Schatz founded theSt. Anne's group withClifford Poole in 1964,and 44 years later it isstill the Schatz family thatgives the society itsunique character and personality,a relationshipthat was highlighted in theDon Shebib film. Now inhis seventies, Roy stillperforms with the TorontoG&S Society as well aswith St. Anne's; his wifeDianna, who has only recentlymanaged to divestherself of most of the producer'sduties, is stillheavily involved behindthe scenes, and daughterLaura, an outstandingsoprano who has sung every soprano role thatGilbert and Sullivan ever wrote, has also takenhold of the artistic director' s reins in recentyears, ensuring that the family tradition willcontinue for at least the next generation.Two things lie at the heart of MADS' continuingsuccess: the outstanding quality and depthof their vocalists, most of whom are membersof the church choir at St. Anne's; and their respectfor the integrity of the musical scores andfor the G&S performing tradition. The G&Sworks are, after all, operettas, and although themusic has an amazing capacity to be effectivein any number of different stylistic interpretations,the vocal numbers are undoubtedly heardat their best when performed by singers withthe appropriate voice and technique. It isn't sufficientsimply to have a few good vocal leads,for the secondary (and even tertiary) characterroles, along with the chorus, are of critical importancein the musical balance.Performing tradition can, of course, be asevere! y restricting influence in the wronghands. Gilbert was an absolute stickler for everyconceivable aspect of the original staging,and this strictness continued well into the 20thcentury with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company;performers were forbidden to ad lib orchange any aspect of the words or performancewithout prior pem1ission. Gilbert's lyrics were,of course, extremely topical and satirical, butthe contemporary references have been mostlylost on the average audience for many years.The resulting argument about whether or not toupdate the works, and if so to what extent, is along-standing one that became even more relevantfollowing the expiration of the copyright in1961, when full-scale 'updating' to modem settingsbecame possible.WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COMWhile St. Anne's will frequently insert referencesto current events and personalities intheir performances, the opposite end of thespectrum is represented by the only other G&Ssociety in Toronto to stage performances withfull orchestra, the North Toronto Players.Their musical director, John Ricciardelli, hasan extensive background in G&S performancesstretching back over 30 years, and he delightsin finding new ways to make the operettas interesting,entertaining and relevant for new andold G&S enthusiasts alike. Together with artisticdirector Michael Harms, the two have updatedand staged some startlingly original G&Sproductions for NTP in the past 10 years, includingHMS Starship Pinafore, a Gondoliersset in Las Vegas around the search for ElvisPresley's heir, a Pirates of Penzance with a1950s-style biker gang replacing the pirates,and a Mikado set in the 1880s American West.It's not just the words that are updated either;musical inserts and additions over the past fewyears have included Spice Girls, the Three Tenors,the theme music from Bonanza, and moviescores like The Magnificent Seven!The Scarborough G&S Society, likeMADS, is a group with a strong family tradition.Stan Farrow has been their rehearsal andperformance pianist for over 30 years, ablysupported in recent years by his son Brian,who has just stepped down after 9 years as musicdirector, and by Brian's wife, sister andbrother-in-law, brother and sister-in-law, aunt,niece, and daughter! Their April show will bea repeat of their very first performance in 1966- Trial By Jury for one half of the evening, andhighlights from other G&S works in the secondhalf.The G&S societies in the Toronto area mayhave their roots in the English tradition, but thecurrent scene is vibrant proof of the extent towhich that tradition has been adopted andadapted by dedicated and talented Canadianperformers and creative artists.Go and see for yourself!Here are the details for upcoming G&Sperformances in early 2009:St. Anne's Music & Drama presents Piratesof Penzance at St. Anne's AnglicanChurch Hall, January 23 - February l; 416-922-4415.www. stannes. on. calmusicdramaNorth Toronto Players present Iolanthe atThe City Playhouse, Vaughan, February 20 -March l; 905-727-2209.www. northtorontoplayers. cornScarborough Gilbert & Sullivan Societypresents Trial By Jury and selected highlightsfrom other G&S works at Jubilee UnitedChurch, April 17 / 18 & 24/25.www. gilbertandsullivan. eaThe Toronto Gilbert and Sullivan Societywebsite (www.gilbertandsullivan-toronto. ea)is also well worth a visit; apart from anythingelse it has the complete libretto for seven ofthe G&S operettas .D ECEMBER 1 2008 - F EBRUARY 7 2009

Choral Sceneby ml buell... 'Ti! the Air, Everywhere, Now with Joy is Ringing(Paul Gerhardt, 1656)It's no accident that this column shares a page with our index of advertisers,and is the last thing you will encounter before our daily event listingsfor December and January. There you will.find music for every taste, forevery moment, until the turn of the year, and then some.If by chance you have any time to read .. .By the time some of you read this page, it may be January. Interestingthat, of the relatively small number of choral concerts in January, manyare little gems by women's and children's choirs - concerts which mighthave been eclipsed by the ecstatic outpourings of end and be reborn, and pray inour own ways for peace in theworld, the concept of a "just war"for any reason is hard to swallow.But St. Augustine is also com-monly reputed to have said "HeI paused in the middle of all thissinging and concert-going to givesome thought to St. Augustine ofHippo (he was the Bishop of HippoRegius). A philosopher, theologian,and Latin church father who spentless talented and perhaps more literalamong us could understandablytake issue). Take comfort:some scholars, however, have assertedthat this does not appear inanything St. Augustine actuallywrote.He did however write Cantareamantis est- "Singing belongs toone who loves" - a sentiment thatstrikes a glorious multicolouredchord in my heart.At this time of year even thecrustiest, most curmudgeonly nonsingersamong us will be cajoledinto singing along at some point.And people who have forgottenhow much they love to sing mayfind themselves wondering whythey don't do it more often.Fast forward to 1588.In Psalmes, Sonnets & Songs,composer William Byrd set fortheight reasons "to perswade everyone to leame to sing" (all the wayfrom being "a singular good remediefor stammering in the speech "to its being "the onely way to knowwhere Nature hath bestowed thebenefit of a good voyce. " ) . Hisfinal couplet sums it up:Since singing is so good a thing,I wish all men would leame to sing.Couldn't have said it better myself.his life with one foot in the fourth who sings, prays twice." The LatinPent~etil4 SinRer5century and another in the fifth is actually Qui bene cantat bis orat(354 - 430), he was a prolific think- or "He who sings well prayser and writer whose ideas are still twice" (something with which theactively debated in the 2lst century.St. Augustine had a lot to sayabout love and lust, sex, and originalBOSLEYsin. Recalling his own youth he saidREAL ESTATEhe had offered this prayer: da mihiBOS LEY c

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