Thursday, April 11, 2013

Music and Opera Catch Up... Hey! Where're You Going Now?

The older I get, the harder winter is to take. It's too cold and dark. So, I retreat into even darker auditoriums and give myself over to the antithesis of the withering winter emptiness: music. Having said that, and with spring almost (not quite) upon us, there will be less days and nights in dark halls, and more days, face turned upwards towards the sun. Art, music, opera, theatre... Thank you for getting me through these last few months. Now I need... water, trees, sun. Light.

Music, in its most outrageously absorbing and intense format, becomes opera. There was plenty of it: Elsa van den Heever and Ramon Vargas were ravishing in Il Trovatore (at the Canadian Opera Company); there was also a clever Fledermaus which pulled out the Freudian undercurrents that lurk in all societies; in this case it was early 20th-century Vienna. It made an operetta I don't much care for much more interesting.

Elsa van den Heever was thrilling later in her Met debut, which I watched live in HD at my local cinema, her Elisabetta up against Joyce di Donato's beautiful Maria in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. I love me a bucketful of Donizetti, and the music is glorious, but the Catholicism gets bashed over our heads way too much in the final scene. We get it already! Catholics: good; Anglicans: bad! Blimey, an editor would have been useful there. Also in HD from the Met I saw Sondra Radvanovsky and Marcelo Alvarez in Un ballo in maschera, a fantastic David Alden production, which set the story in the early 20th century, more beautiful and more meaningful than a Ballo has ever been for me before. The word "diva" of course means "goddess" and it's a perfect word for the sublime Susan Graham who was at the heart of Berlioz's epic Les Troyens. Was it four hours or five? Four I think I don't recall. I'm not sure my bottom could take too much more, but it was very beautiful, and the entire cast was perfection, with Brian Hymel (he was Don Jose here in Toronto a few years back) stepping into the killer role of Aeneas, almost effortlessly. Another epic afternoon was Parsifal. Five hours of Wagner. Great music, don't like the libretto, dripping as it does with some creepy, twisted religosity. Jonas Kaufmann hardly seems to exert any effort when he sings. He spent much of this performance shirtless (excellent) and we watched his diaphgram keenly. Again, it all seems effortless. Rene Pape was towering as Gurnemanz. I took a few naps, almost on purpose, as I was planning ahead for the latter part of my day: I fled the theatre after the curtain calls, just in time to meet my friends for a movie and dinner (my scheduling secretary must have been stoned). The Met in HD season concluded for me with a rare showing of Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini. The sets and costumes were all medieval lushness with touches of Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite flourishes, I was in overload heaven. The music is beautiful but having heard it once, I don't need to hear it again.

Molly Johnson was growly and glamorous at Massey Hall (but could they have turned up the heat? I sat with my coat on. I am not a nostalgia-filled fan of Massey Hall. People rhapsodize. I've only ever been uncomfortable in that space, although the good news is that a recent donation of land next to it means that it can be updated. I think washrooms, bar area and heating/cooling systems will be addressed).

Poculi Ludique Societas, who recreate theatre from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, performend A Medieveal Chistmas: Go We Hence to Bethlehem's Bower at St. Thomas's Church. It was, as might be expected, a tad bawdy, and I was riveted by the angelic face of Alice Degan (as Mary), who looked - with her sweetly hooded eyes and long, blond tresses - like Mary stepped from a painting of the period.

Nothing about music here, but the Service of Lessons and Carols at Trinity College Chapel had us sitting at the back on these elevated throne-like seats. Nice! The candles were haunting as usual but we used to hold them through the entire service. We were bade to extinguish them very early. Sigh. I love candles in church, especially holding them, as it gives me something to concentrate on. I know, I'm doomed.

More recently, I took a long lunch hour and indulged in the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. These concerts (at least two a week during the season) are varied and generous. I was there for Christopher Mokrzewski (musical director of Against the Grain Theatre) and his program of Bill Evans/French inspirations piano works. Messiaen, Ravel, and Poulenc were interspersed with Evans in a captivating, virtuosic performance. To be in that space with that music, the great wall of glass beside us showing the city traffic silently undulating up University Avenue was mesmerizing. What a gift.

Did anyone make it to the bottom? In case you did, here's your reward.

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