Wainwright looks sincere, but does the COC?
Alexander Neef, the Canadian Opera Company’s General Director, has surely stirred the pot with his most recent decision.
Today, the Globe and Mail announced that the COC has commissioned Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright to compose a new opera about the Emperor Hadrian. And because the wheels of the operatic world turn slowly, the new work won’t be seen until 2018.The Globe and Mail article reads like an apologia for the project (see here) – but I have no doubt that just about every “official” Canadian composer will be at least a little offended by the choice of Wainwright. Indeed, it’s hard to see why Neef’s choice shouldn’t be viewed as a slap in the face to the entire Canadian League of Composers.
Of course, Wainwright does have previous operatic experience. His opera Prima Donna was premiered in Manchester in 2009, with subsequent performances in New York, Toronto, and a few other places.
I reviewed the piece for the Globe and Mail (see here). I thought it was a pleasing work – but I was far from convinced that Wainwright is the composer we should be looking to for the next great Canadian opera.
So what should we make of Neef’s choice? Let’s remember that Neef has previously made it known that he doesn’t care much about Canadian opera as a “cause.” Viewed in this context, it’s hard to not see a certain pragmatism (if not cynicism) underlying Neef’s selection of Wainwright.
With this move, he has responded to the critics who complain that the COC hasn’t done a new Canadian opera since 1999. And he’s done it by securing the services of a composer with “marquee value,” who will create something that doesn’t aesthetically offend the average Torontonian.
The COC issued a press release on the Wainwright commission, in which Neef offers some strange words.
“Rufus has such incredible passion for opera, and he brings a genuine desire to contribute to the art form and the future of opera. That’s an especially rare quality and an essential one, in order to create a meaningful piece of art that lives on long after its premiere.”
Okay, I get that Wainwright sincerely wants to write this piece. But since when was it a rare or difficult thing to find a composer – even in the remote Canadian backwoods – who loves opera and wants to write one?
Now the die has been cast, and we’ll just have to wait until 2018 to find out what Wainwright’s second opera will be like. I can only hope that he takes some time to learn the art of orchestration. For Prima Donna, he had an “assistant” for this tedious task.
© Colin Eatock 2013
Alison Balsom played Hummel with the TSO.
English conductor Edward Gardner is obviously a brave man. Who but the courageous would dare to step before an orchestra he (or she) has never led in concert before, to conduct something as daunting as a Mahler symphony?
Yet as I left Wednesday night’s Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert at Roy Thomson Hall, I couldn’t help thinking that Gardner had once again shown discretion to be the better part of valour.
Stott and Ma : great musicians who don't always agree.
Toronto’s cavernous Roy Thomson Hall is an unlikely place for something as intimate as a cello-and-piano recital. But on Friday evening, the cellist in question was none other than Yo-Yo Ma – and so RTH was filled to near capacity.
At 58, Ma is a unique figure in the musical world: a cross between Mstislav Rostropovich and the Dali Lama. He’s probably is the most famous classical string player active today (How do all the violinists out there feel about that?) And he’s a showman – smiling broadly to his audience, or leaning back in his chair and gazing into the rafters, to commune with the composer of the moment. He may not always play every note perfectly in tune (he didn’t on this occasion), but every phrase he plays is bursting with its own special, imperative meaning.
The Miró Quartet.
The Miró Quartet was in town on Thursday night, presented by Music Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre. And in their gig bags they brought plenty of Schubert.
In case you don’t know, the Mirós are currently celebrating their tenth anniversary in residence at the University of Texas in Austin. They were founded in 1995 at Oberlin College, in Ohio.
Conductor Bernard Labadie.
Here’s a piece I wrote about conductor Bernard Labadie. It appeared in last week’s Kansas City Star, prior to his appearances with the KC Symphony.
Bernard Labadie often lives out of a suitcase, much like a salesman or a consultant or a diplomat. He isn’t in any of those three professions, though as a guest conductor he must do all of them. Stepping in front of an unfamiliar orchestra demands a salesman’s instincts, a consultant’s problem-solving skills and a healthy dose of diplomacy.
“I’d say I spend about 60 percent of my time guest-conducting,” said the 50-year-old French Canadian, in a recent interview from a New York hotel. “I’m on the road close to six months a year.”
Midori played as few can.
There are very few violinists in the world who could pull off the sort of recital that Midori played at Toronto’s Koerner Hall on Friday evening.
It was an eclectic but high-minded evening of music for violin and piano by Mozart, Bloch, Hindemith, Fauré and Schubert. And while the program sometimes placed daunting demands on the soloist, the focus was always on the music itself. There was nothing ostentatious about her performances.
In this, she was well matched by her pianist, Özgür Aydin.
Throughout the evening, Aydin proved to be an ideal accompanist, completely simpatico with Midori’s interpretations. It wasn’t hard to see why Midori chose him as her pianist.
Curtis Sullivan and Ambur Braid in OA's Abduction.
I wrote this review for Classical Voice North America, which features reviews and commentary about music from across the continent. I’m reposting it here for the benefit of anyone who didn’t see it on the CVNA website.
For three decades, opera lovers here have been feasting on Opera Atelier’s period-based productions of Baroque and Classical opera. The latest OA offering – a remount of the company’s 2008 production of Mozart’s The Abduction From the Seraglio – drew a near-capacity audience to Toronto’s Elgin Theatre on opening night, Oct. 26. But beyond Canada’s borders, OA isn’t nearly as well known as it ought to be. And there are good reasons why the opera world should know about this unique little company.
Alfred Schnittke isn't exactly a fun guy.
There were three Canadians and a European on the Esprit Orchestra’s concert in Toronto’s Koerner Hall last night. And Alex Pauk – music director of the contemporary music ensemble – conveniently programmed theses works in a way that invited comparison.
The first of the Canadians was R. Murray Schafer. Now in his eighties, he was coaxed from his rural retreat to the big city for a performance of his No Longer Than (10) Ten Minutes. The origins of this piece are the stuff of new-music lore in Canada: it was composed in 1970 on a commission by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, on the stipulation that the piece should not exceed 10 minutes. As a protest against this limitation, Schafer made the time-restriction the work’s title.
Tenor Michael Fabiano: secure and supple. .
La Bohème occupies a deceptively complicated position in the world of opera.
For people who are new to the art form, Puccini’s tear-jerker of 1896 is everything an opera is supposed to be. The music is lyrical, the story is pure emotion – and it’s even in Italian. They love it.
Veteran opera-goers seem to fall into two categories. There are who have seen Bohème quite often enough, and are in no hurry to see it again. And those who confess (with a touch of embarrassment) that, after all these years, the piece still works its magic on them.
Anthony Dean Griffey in the COC's Peter Grimes.
After withdrawing from the first night of the COC’s Peter Grimes, Ben Heppner is now back on stage. I wrote the the following review (which originally appeared on the new Classical Voice North America website) after the production’s opening, in which Anthony Dean Griffey sang the title role.
For a couple of days, word on the street was that Ben Heppner probably wouldn’t be appearing on the opening night of the Canadian Opera Company’s Peter Grimes. So the official announcement that the 57-year old singer “remains indisposed” came as no great surprise to the audience at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre on Oct. 5. Nevertheless, the statement was greeted with a collective sigh from an audience eager to hear Toronto’s star heldentenor in a rare hometown appearance.