Sunday, May 26, 2013

Recent Music, Theatre

The National Theatre presented This House, a new play by James Graham, which covered five years (1974 - 1979) in the House of Commons and, most particuarly, the offices of the party whips. I'm hopelessly ignorant when it comes to politics, but this was the play for me. The art of the possible was made furious, funny and fast-paced. Time flew and I laughed and gasped and ruminated over that very troubled time in Britain's history. Thank you to NTLive for making it possible to see in Toronto!

The ARC Ensemble is a blog favourite. I was lucky to see them in performance the week before they took the same program to Wigmore Hall in London. From the program: "The ensemble plays a leading role in unearthing repertoire that has been suppressed or ignored due to political circumstances, or shifts in musical fashion, and its work has received unanimous acclaim from the world's cultural press." Currently, the ensemble's "Music in Exile" series "explores the music of composers who were forced to flee Europe during the 1930s..." I have never attended a performance of this ensemble that wasn't absolutely riveting. I urge you to see them whenever you can. As for the performance I saw, we heard works by Weinberg, Laks, Mendelssohn (a manuscript fragment completed by pianist David Louie, an ARC Ensemble member), and finally Ben-Haim's Piano Quartet in C Minor (1921), which was, if I had to pick one, the highlight. ARC Ensemble CDs are Grammy-nominated and you can buy from links on here. The good news is that they've just recorded a new CD, entirely of Ben-Haim's work, which is due for release this summer. For more of the performance I saw, you can read an excellent review here, which says it all much better than I could.
Much community theatre in Toronto proves that it isn't necessary how much you spend on a ticket or whether or not your performers are paid... you will still see really good theatre! I had a wonderful time at Etobicoke Musical Production's The Drowsy Chaperone, an affectionate and witty musical homage to Cole Porter and the Gershwins. The story behind the making of this piece is worthy of a musical itself! Originally a stag-night sketch, it then moved to the Toronto Fringe Festival, then to a large-scale Mirvish production, and finally Broadway, where it won Tony awards for Best Book and Best Score! The show itself is froth and fun, and especially enjoyed if you know some of those classical shows. Outstanding in this production (directed by the virtuosic Mario D'Alimonte) was Man in Chair, the narrator of the piece, played by Trevor Cartlidge.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been a big hit for the Royal Ballet and was a sell-out during both its runs here in Toronto at the National Ballet of Canada. I saw it in another HD transmission, and it was a riot.

Joby Talbot wrote the music for Alice, as he did for his Path of Miracles, which I saw performed by the virtuosic Elmer Iseler Singers a few weeks ago. Path of Miracles is performed a cappella and describes "the ancient Christian pilgrimage across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, the city whose cathedral is the supposed resting place of St. James." The performance was preceded by a presentation from Barbara Manners, a woman who has done the walk and showed us slides that had me yearning to strap on some walking boots, even after she showed us one of an award-winning blister. The performance itself was mesmerizing. For those of you who don't live in Canada and haven't heard of them, they're a 20-voice chamber choir who record and perform widely - not to be missed if possible!

A group of us attended the launch of Eliana Cuevas's new CD, Espejo. Catch her if you can!

P. S. On the side, Eliana is also our Spanish teacher!

I indulged my opera appetite with three great productions at the COC this spring: Lucia di Lammermoor, Dialogues des Carmélites, and Salome (twice, as I had to see this blog's favourite bass-baritone, Alan Held, who didn't sing the first performance I saw, but sang later ones). Carmélites provided a lesson for me - on the importance of seeing any performance live. I watch the Met in HD and the National Theatre from London the same way because it's way cheaper than me flying there every few weeks! Let's face it - that's not going to happen. But when you see anything filmed, you are being told what to focus on by the broadcast director. I saw how this works particuarly with Carmélites, as the COC was performing the same production I had watched on DVD from La Scala. There is no comparison. The live experience was extraordinary, under the genius direction of Robert Carsen. I've seen this opera three times before, and it remains as powerful as ever. The ending is one of the greatest in all theatre.

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