Opera Atelier’s production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide – last seen in 2012 – is a fascinating thing to behold. It isn’t really a “authentic” baroque staging, bearing little resemblance to anything that might have been seen in Paris in 1686. Rather than drawing on French art, fashion and architecture for inspiration, set designer Gerard Gauci and costume designer Dora Rust D’Eye have looked further east, to the Arabic and Persian world. The result is unique, exotic and sumptuously beautiful.
I enjoy a virtuoso soloist furiously churning out a concerto as much as the next guy. But it’s nice, from time to time, to hear an orchestral program that puts the spotlight clearly on the orchestra itself.
This was the kind of program the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented at Roy Thomson Hall last week, playing a pair of water-themed orchestral works: Debussy’s La Mer and Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony.
A week after I saw the Canadian Opera Company’s recent performance of Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe, I still find myself thinking about it – and also about the review I wrote of the opera. (See here.)
Re-reading my review, I see that it’s essentially a description of a piece, rather than an assessment of its artistic or cultural value. Of course, description is a useful and necessary component of a review of a new work. And although writing about music has been famously compared to dancing about architecture, there are ways in which a musical composition’s salient qualities can be communicated through words – especially if the reader is a musically literate person.
On Wednesday last week, I went to the Canadian Opera Company’s production of La Traviata – and ever since, I’ve been thinking about how opera is like chemistry.
Act I introduces Violetta and Alfredo and hopefully establishes some kind of spark between them. Instead, what we got from soprano Ekaterina Siurina and tenor Charles Castronovo seemed like an underwhelming encounter arranged through a dating website. (This lack of rapport was both surprising and ironic, as they are married in real life.)
Perhaps this was what director Arin Arbus was aiming for: a party-scene so carefree that nobody in it seems to care about anything, including their own feelings. Or perhaps conductor Marco Guidarini could have generated some excitement by pressing forward with his tempi.
This review was originally written for Classical Voice North America.
“Pyramus and Thisbe” is the umbrella name the Canadian Opera Company has given to a strikingly unusual triple bill. The production, which opened Oct. 20 at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre, is made up of three separate works: Claudio Monteverdi’s aria “Lamento d’Arianna,” (a fragment from his lost opera L’Arianna), Monteverdi’s scena “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda,” and the opera Pyramus and Thisbe – a world premiere by the Canadian composer Barbara Monk Feldman.
s review was originally written for Classical Voice North America.
It’s by no means unusual for instrumental musicians, once they’ve achieved a certain stature, to become conductors. But singers who have taken up the baton are rarer. There’s Plácido Domingo, of course, plus Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Nathalie Stutzmann, Thomas Quasthoff, and a few, but only a few, others.
You can’t go wrong with the music of George Crumb, if it’s done well. The American composer’s scores are sparse yet rich, earthy yet refined, delicate yet dramatic – and he enticingly draws his audience into a magical sound-world of his own creation.
And if you want things done well, you can’t go wrong with either soprano Adrianne Pieczonka or mezzo Krisztina Szabó. These two Toronto-based singers are entirely on top of their game, utterly secure in tone and technique. Szabó is a new-music specialist, and Pieczonka isn’t – yet she’s evidently unfazed by contemporary music.
I'm a composer and writer based in Toronto – and this is my classical music blog, Eatock Daily.
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