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Volume 22 Issue 1 - September 2016

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  • September
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • October
  • Festival
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Music lover's TIFF (our fifth annual guide to the Toronto International Film Festival); Aix Marks the Spot (how Brexit could impact on operatic co-production); The Unstoppable Howard Cable (an affectionate memoir of a late chapter in the life of of a great Canadian arranger; Kensington Jazz Story (the newest kid on the festival block flexes its muscles). These stories and much more as we say a lingering goodbye to summer and turn to the task, for the 22nd season, of covering the live and recorded music that make Southern Ontario tick.

Aix's Axis North-South

Aix's Axis North-South Reset Kalila wa Dimna from the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2016 Katie Mitchell’s mysterioso production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande will probably emerge as the mainstream signature work from this season’s Festival d’Aix-en-Provençe. But the production mostly likely to have reverberations far into the future is Kalîla wa Dimna by Palestinian composer Moneim Adwan. As a bilingual chamber opera in French and Arabic based on an eighth century translation of fables by Persian poet/scholar Ibn al-Muquaffa, everything about it is a world-first, we’re told. Yet there’s nothing new, or never-before, about its accessibility. Told in flashback by Kalîla (the Hawaii Pacific University-trained contralto, Ranine Chaar, at Aix), the story of a manipulated despot driven to violent extremes has a contemporary feel by way of the libretto by Fady Jomar and Catherine Verlaguet. Dimna (sung by Adwan himself) is a young hotshot on the make, a human jackal – toy animals are used in fetish fashion as narrative illustrations – waiting for the low-hanging spoils of the back-stabbing intrigue he creates. A sense of nondescript modernity was conveyed by the sets by Eric Charbeau and Philippe Casaband; Nathalie Prats’ lumpen costumes were equally unimaginative. So visually, this Kalîla won’t change the world. No matter. Adwan’s score elevates everything to another level. Accompanied by an onstage quintet led by conductor/ fiddler Zied Zouari – an electro/groove player on his own time – Kalîla wa Dimna offers one of the most impressive melds of Middle Eastern melismas and straight-up western tonality I’ve come across. So if a category needs to be found for Kalîla it might be filed under “folk opera” – closer to Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle than to George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, please – or as important “regional theatre,” as COC director Alexandre Neef characterized it to for me shortly after he’d seen it at Aix. The festival has gone in this direction before only last year with Serbian-Canadian composer Ana Sokoloviç’s Svabda (Wedding) which like Kalîla was offered at the festival’s Théậtre du Jeu de Paume. Opened only a few years back, this jewel-box space is found tucked away around the corner from the Musée Granet, an exceptional mid-size gallery that can trot out A-list Cézannes or Picassos whenever pressed to do so, which is never enough.William Christie’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria was an earlier success at the Jeu de Paume. Kalîla wa Dimna wasn’t meant to stand alone this season. The world premiere of another cross-cultural Aix commission, Czech composer Ondřej Adámek’s Seven Stones was on the festival’s early schedule only to be “postponed” at relatively the last moment according to a festival spokesperson, “mainly for budget reasons to avoid taking financial risks. This should allow the festival to also find additional co-producers.” (As it is, Seven Stones has enormous cross-cultural possibilities as the story of a mineralogist who goes on a worldwide search from Europe to South America for the single stone about to be hurled at the woman saved by Christ after being accused of adultery.) Only days after the Kalîla wa Dimna premiere, Lyon Opera, only a few hours up the autoroute, produced its new Abduction from the Seraglio, by Mozart, with new dialogue by Wajdi Mouawad, the French-Lebanese writer/director intended to rethink the work’s burlesques of Muslim Turks. “You have to constantly redefine what you are, especially as a large organization,” Neef went on. “You don’t give up your core. You do what you do best. And there’s always a temptation to run after the next thing. But you don’t just keeping doing what you do. I was very fascinated with Kalîla wa Dimna. I was taken with the storytelling. In Canada we have a wide indigenous population and we have not told their stories in a big way.” when it comes to Foccroulle who also happens to have led Brussels’ La Monnaie for the past decade and a half. Foccroulle, leaving the festival after the 2017 season, is the king of co-production, with Aix connecting opera academics from Ghent’s LOD muziktheater to the Polish National Opera in Warsaw, and with a good half-dozen co-productions on the bubble at any given time. Pierre Audi, of the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, will have a lot on his plate when he takes over Aix in 2018. Foccroulle’s most lasting accomplishment – and his most audacious manoeuvre – may well lie in resetting Aix’s compass from North to South, a reset requiring a lot of creative thinking. (Cairo was a significant Aix connection/collaborator this year.) Foccroulle may be further emboldened in this decision by the recognition accorded to Aix's longtime nearby bigger coastal rival, Marseille, as European capital of culture. It seems the European south is now more than boule-playing by old guys. (Picking Marseille evidently preceded the debut airing of Marseille, the French-made big-city corruption yarn – on Netflix in Canada – barely kept alive by the bulky genius of Gérard Depardieu.) How do we integrate opera into a world where globalization is changing everything? Foccroulle asks himself. “We have to open the doors to other cultures,” he answers. “That’s the reason for [Moneim Adwan’s] Kalila wa Dimna and for our Mediterranean program.” Like Aix, other major European arts festival such as the Edinburgh Festival and the Holland Festival, both starting in 1947, were post-war efforts to better unite Europe. Foccroulle sees beyond that. “When I arrived here ten years ago, I was often asked what was the identity of the festival,” he tells me. “They were expecting me to answer in terms of programming of directors and so on and so forth. I think our role however is the big mutation of the role of opera in a global world. That means doing many things to open doors for living artists. In Italy, for example, young artists, young composers and directors have nothing to do because the Italian opera houses don’t offer them anything. The older generation does almost everything. We also have to open the doors to other cultures and to regenerate opera through new forms.” In keeping with this southern strategy, for his Così fan tutte French film director Christophe Honoré has re-imagined Lorenzo Da Ponte’s 18th century Neapolitan comedy as a grim Fascist parable set in the Italian-run Eritrea of the late 30s. Remarkably, the grumbling after the opening was that Honoré didn’t push the malevolent comedy as savagely far as it could go. The Trump effect? Back to Katie Mitchell’s Pelléas, the opening of which saw a lessthan-full house (which did, however, include Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund). The work is already being described as her masterpiece – the true successor to her 2012 international hit, Written on Skin, by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp. But for this to play out, in my view, future co-productions of Mitchell’s Freudian dreamworld where its secrets are about more secrets, will require considerably more orchestral oomph than was provided by Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the Philharmonia Orchestra. They will also have to find a Mélisande with some of the daring physicality, aggressive sexuality and exhilarating singing Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan brought to the role in this production. Aix’s reputation at being good at money may be facing some challenges. Its reputation for great casting remains intact. Please see Ariodante auf Orkney, page 76 PATRICK BERGER 10 | September 1, 2016 - October 7, 2016

2016.17 CONCERT SEASON More than 90 classical, jazz, family, pop, and world music concerts to choose from! FREE CULTURE DAYS EVENTS Part of the Bloor St. Culture Corridor Hub of Culture Days Gábor Takács-Nagy conducts the Royal Conservatory Orchestra with Rossina Grieco, piano FRI., SEP. 30, 8PM KOERNER HALL FREE (TICKET REQUIRED) Hungarian Maestro Gábor Takács-Nagy conducts the RCO and pianist Rossina Grieco in a program that includes Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise” from Fourteen Songs and Piano Concerto No. 2, along with Schumann’s Symphony No.4. Generously Supported by Leslie and Anna Dan 273 BLOOR STREET WEST (BLOOR ST. & AVENUE RD.) TORONTO Allison Au Quartet SUN., OCT. 2, 2PM MAZZOLENI CONCERT HALL FREE (TICKET REQUIRED) Hear Juno Award-winning saxophonist, composer, and arranger Allison Au with her quartet. Generously supported by Dorothy Cohen Shoichet Koerner Hall Free for All SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1 12PM-3PM & 5-8PM KOERNER HALL A FREE CULTURE DAYS EVENT (COME AND GO AS YOU PLEASE) Come and see performers of all ages and backgrounds showcasing their talents in five-minute sets. TICKETS & SUBSCRIPTIONS ON SALE NOW! 416.408.0208

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