Messing with Winterreise is a growing and delightful industry within classical music performance. Schubert’s best-known song cycle has been fully staged and orchestrated for a chamber ensemble (Netia Jones/Hans Zender/Ian Bostridge), divided between three female singers (Toronto’s Collectìf ensemble), multi-mediatized (William Kentridge’s video projections), arranged for singer, puppet, guitar, and piano with animated drawings (Thomas Guthrie) and staged with the piano and illustrated backdrops (Ebbe Knudsen). On January 17, Toronto will have a chance to see another contribution to the conversation on the meaning of Winterreise, when Le Chimera Project, with baritone Philippe Sly, bring their klezmer- and Roma-inflected take on it to Koerner Hall.

Philippe Sly. Photo Courtesy of Columbia Records.“The inspiration came when I saw a video clip of two friends, Félix de l’Étoile and Samuel Carrier, performing Gute Nacht on accordion and clarinet at a recital,” says Philippe Sly on a Skype call from San Francisco. “I thought, Oh my God, that sound suits this musical content so well. I approached Felix and asked what he thought would be the best arrangement if we were to continue with this klezmer-Gypsy-like aesthetic and he came up with the idea of having trombone, clarinet, violin and accordion instead of the piano.” De l’Étoile and Carrier wrote the draft arrangement and the entire group with Sly worked intensely on the piece for two secluded wintry weeks at the Domaine Forget in Charlevoix, where the Chimera Winterreise had its premiere.

Read more: Winterreisse Unmasked - Le Chimera at Koerner

Not a lot of people in Canada know a whole lot about Colombia, the third largest country in South America, and what we manage to gather usually comes from American television shows and media reports on drug wars. The November 5 Toronto edition of Crossing Borders, the recital series founded by the Halifax-based soprano Maureen Batt, which pairs up Canadian composers with foreign ones in creatively themed evenings, may just change things on this score. Batt’s key partner in programming this time is Colombia-born, Ontario-based tenor Fabián Arciniegas, whom Toronto audiences may remember from the productions with Essential Opera and Opera in Concert. He left the Republic of Colombia in 2010 to complete a master’s at U of T, and stayed. “If any Latin American music is presented here in Canada,” he tells me on the phone from Coburg, where he now lives, “it’s usually a zarzuela – and that’s rare enough. When people think of music from Hispanic places, Spain included, they think either dance, or zarzuela, or de Falla. Composers from South America that are being performed outside South America are few. Carlos Guastavino is one – and he died in 2000. Piazzolla is another. And that’s where it ends.”

One day not so long ago, Batt and Arciniegas were chatting over instant messenger when the tenor mentioned in passing that he really wanted to put on a recital of songs by living composers from Colombia. Batt liked the idea and offered to produce it as a half-half evening, Canadian and Colombian/Latin American, and soon enough they were posting public calls for scores. Arciniegas urged the Colombian composers that he knew or knew of to submit, but nobody’s placement in the program was guaranteed. It was, unusually, a blind submission process, which upon completion of the first round, Batt, Arciniegas and pianist Claire Harris tweaked here and there for diversity of themes and musical approaches.

The cast of Crossing Borders. (from left) Claire Harris, Maureen Batt, Fabian Arciniegas. Photo by Dahlia KatzThe result is an eclectic program which, beside the classical art song, showcases electronic, improvised and popular songs. Juan Pablo Carreño is the composer of a mass, incorporating the testimonies by the victims of the 2002 Bojayá massacre in Colombia, and in this recital the piano-and-soprano piece from the Mass, In Conspectu Tuo, will be heard. Another Colombian composer, Leo Herrera, came to art song from the popular song tradition and acoustic guitar-playing – Arciniegas will sing his Noche. Words by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Jorge Luis Borges will be heard thanks to the Colombian composers Pedro Ramirez and Alba L. Potes who use them in their work. Stephen Bachicha employed a text by American Navajo poet Elizabeth Woody in an unaccompanied piece that has echoes of Hildegard von Bingen. Scottish composer Chris Hutchings’ I was listening to a pogrom, for speaking chorus and piano, deals with immigration and border crossings, and uses text by children’s author and BBC 4 radio presenter Michael Rosen. Many of the Canadians on the program have a direct link with Latin America, like the Cuban-born, Toronto-based Alondra Vega-Zaldivar.

“I’ve always admired Alondra’s work,” says Batt on the phone from Halifax. I first saw her perform in Halifax, in a program called Opera from Scratch – she went as a singer and composer, both. It was brilliant; really lovely work. I wrote and asked her what else she had and she ended up sending me an opera for chamber orchestra that she wrote for her MA dissertation. So we’re premiering a couple of scenes from that opera in the version for the piano. It’s an opera about an actress going through many stages of her life, and it’s solo soprano for about 25 minutes or so, which I’m hoping to produce in full eventually.” Monica Pearce is also in the program. Pearce’s chamber opera, December, for three sopranos and string quartet, set in an airport departure lounge, will premiere in Toronto later next year, as a partly crowd-funded commission from Batt and Erin Bardua’s jointly run company Essential Opera. 

When he asked the Colombian composers how they preferred to be paid, says Arciniegas, some were surprised that in addition to their work being performed, a payment would be forthcoming. “We in Colombia don’t have that tradition where you publish your music. So lot of things we’ll perform will be the first performance.” He tells me he’s been printing scores directly from the composers’ files, and we spend some minutes comparing the copyright and author royalties situation in the non-EU part of Eastern Europe, which I know well, and Latin America (it’s not great on either side). “And I’m not talking about composers who are just starting out – I’m talking about those who are mid-career,” he says. “If you do a concert in Colombia, it’s very hard for you to sell contemporary music. It’s the same here in Canada, but I still think there’s much more support for the composer in Canada and North America than South America.”

What is Colombian folk music like and is there, in fact, such a thing, I ask him. “We don’t have one folk music, but multiple. On the Pacific coast, folk and popular music are heavily influenced by African music. There is a huge population of Colombians of African origin who came to the country as slaves. But if you go toward the centre of the country, you have more traditional European influence, except it’s mixed with aboriginal music.” Have Americans been influential? “Of course. I grew up listening to, say, Michael Jackson, Elton John … Even if I didn’t speak English, I connected with the songs. I treated the music and the voice as one, and listened to the voice as an instrument.”

The classically trained tenor did not grow up in a musical family (“My parents had absolutely no interest in classical music”) and at first dreamed of being a rock singer. “The household listened to whatever happened to be on the radio. But slowly, I started seeking out different kinds of music. I became interested in opera because of The Three Tenors. People sometimes complain about these things, oh but they’re too popular etc. But that’s how classical music lovers are created. The very first classical thing that I’ve heard was probably Richard Clayderman. I was little, and that was the kind of classical music that you can easily find on LP. As I started studying music, my interest in the genre became more in-depth.”

As a towering figure in the development of his musical tastes, he mentions Leonard Bernstein. “I love that he’s capable of mixing love of a very classical tradition (he was a great Mahler conductor) with creating things like Trouble in Tahiti. He was not afraid to take on the more contemporary pop music and incorporate it into classical and make it all organic.” Arciniegas cites the “uptightness” of the classical music world as something that puts many potential music lovers off, him included. “I’m more and more going back to salsa, which I love dancing. And I like jazz musicians, who are less concerned with precision of delivery and more with the question of ‘How am I connecting to this, what am I saying with this?’”

What would he recommend to people who want to learn more about Colombia? “Two books. First, the obvious choice: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude.” But he was writing magical realism, which is not exactly documentarian, I protest. “Yes, but when you go to Colombia, you understand where all that comes from,” he says. “Magical realism is not as crazy as it looks. Crazy things happen in Colombia.” And the second one? “It’s a book translated into English as Oblivion, by Hector Abad. It’s a memorial to his father. His father was a doctor and the first doctor in Colombia who applied medicine as prevention – he went to poor areas, told people to boil water etc. Because he was doing that, he was suspected of having Communist sympathies. And he was murdered. Abad writes about their relationship, and what was happening in Colombia at that time. It’s the saddest book ever. So deep, and it reflects a lot of what we are: the worst and the best of Colombia.”

Crossing Borders: Travesía Latinoamericana – November 5, 7:30pm, Heliconian Hall, Toronto; then touring Colombia, including Bogotá, Pereira, Medellín and Cali. Full Colombian tour schedule on maureenbatt.com.

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

NOV 8, 8:PM: Tongue in Cheek Productions and Opera 5 present a night of “Eight Singers Drinking.” Works by Handel, Porter, Montsalvatge, Berlioz, Viardot and others. Aaron Durand, Beste Kalender, Catherine Daniel, Michael Nyby, Rachel Krehm, River Guard, Ryan Downey and Trevor Chartrand. Gallery 345. 

NOV 11, 7:30PM: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Chamber Music Concert Series: “Of War and Peace.” Works of remembrance from Handel to Sting. Monica Whicher, soprano; Steven Philcox, piano; Marie Bérard; violin. Walter Hall.

NOV 14, 1:30PM: Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. Music in the Afternoon. Works by Purcell, Mozart, Debussy, Schubert. Jane Archibald, soprano; Liz Upchurch, piano. Walter Hall, U of T.

NOV 20, 12:30PM: University of Waterloo Department of Music. Noon Hour Concerts: “The Birds & the Bees.” Works for female singers. Eviole (Corey Linforth, soprano; Laura Pudwell, mezzo; Miriam Stewart-Kroeker, cello; Borys Medicky, harpsichord). Great Hall, Conrad Grebel University COllege. Free. Never miss a chance to hear Laura Pudwell.

Wallis Giunta. Photo credit: Dean Artists ManagementNOV 24, 3:15PM: Mooredale Concerts. Wallis Giunta, mezzo-soprano. Songs by Barber, Britten, de Falla, Schumann, Sondheim, etc. Steven Philcox, piano. Walter Hall, U of T. Giunta is now more likely to be found in Leipzig and Northern England than in Toronto, so mark your calendars.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

Vania Chan (right) and RezonanceSoprano Vania Chan caught the Handel bug as a young voice student at York University. She had started her training believing she was a mezzo-soprano and was, as she describes it, just experimenting with her upper register. But then she began working with mezzo Catherine Robbin at York. “When I first met her she knew right away. She asked me to try higher repertoire and Oh had I Jubal’s lyre (from Joshua) was the first Handel I’d sung. I just loved getting into the coloratura. I was also given a recording of Alcina with Natalie Dessay as Morgana and heard her version of Tornami a vagheggiar. The sparkle of it amazed me. That’s when I started getting into my actual voice type.”

Morgana will return for an appearance in the program titled “Handel Heroines” that Chan is performing with the Rezonance Baroque Ensemble on October 6 at the Plaza Suite in the Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre. Chan and Rezonance’s artistic director Rezan Onen-Lapointe have known each other since high school years at the Cardinal Carter Academy of the Arts in North York. As young musicians still in training, they both attended the Halifax Summer Opera Festival and took part, alongside Kevin Mallon and the Aradia Ensemble, in a production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. This is where Cleopatra struck. The demanding eight-aria role is now one of Chan’s favourites and the forthcoming concert will include at least three of those: the slow V’adoro pupille and Piangerò, and the break-neck Da tempeste.

The character of Alcina too is of great interest to Chan. “I have a whole new respect for Alcina now that I’ve dived into her arias,” she says. It’s a different kind of freedom to create the character in a concert setting, without stage direction, with the instrumental ensemble only. “For Morgana, I feel her excitement builds through the aria. For Alcina, in Ombre pallide, it’s a different situation. I start with a sense of desperation, a realization that Ruggiero has betrayed her and she has no power to make him love her anymore. Then she comes to a moment of strange peace, where things have got to stop and the body can’t take it anymore … but she’s all the while thinking what she can do next. Through the text and through the range, the aria goes up and it goes down. When it’s calmer, it’s not that she’s calm – she’s taking a moment to rethink. Morgana is in a way more surface-level, Alcina more manipulative.”

Natalie Dessay, whom she mentioned early on, was known both for her coloratura and her extraordinary acting skill. How important for Chan is the dramatic aspect alongside the technique? “I feel like one feeds the other,” she says. “You release more tension by being really invested in the character. Awareness of what you’re saying … a lot of it comes through the clarity of text. With clarity of text comes the clarity of storytelling. When I’m completely in the zone, everything comes together and flows, everything lines up, and the energy continues. The moment you start worrying about something you just did or begin thinking too far ahead, your singing and acting both tense up. There’s of course a certain amount of preparation you need to do to get to that point – but then you let it go.

The fun part is being able to play and experiment. Once I know the music and the text, I say to myself, let’s be spontaneous about it and tell the story. That makes it fresh for me every time.”

She’ll also include one aria from Handel’s Orlando in the program: Angelica’s Non potrà dirmi ingrata. When she was younger and first sang Orlando in concert with some friends, Chan most of all liked the role of Dorinda the shepherdess. It had a lower range and it was soubrette-ish, both of which appealed. But Angelica is more like the role of Alcina, she says, as it sits up higher for a longer time in the opera – and it’s in those heights that Chan’s voice lives now. “And Non potrà dirmi ingrata is such an edgy aria, very pointed. She’s perhaps feeling guilty about being in love with somebody else, not Orlando, who’s after her; but also thinks that he can’t blame her for that. I love the interplay with the ensemble: it all keeps rolling forward.”

Rezonance and Chan already performed similar programs of Baroque heroines in Toronto, Hamilton and at the Bloomington Early Music Festival in Indiana, and now it’s the turn for Chan’s hometown, Richmond Hill, to hear it. Torontonians can get there easily too, straight ahead on Yonge Street via local transit, after exiting the Finch subway station.

I tell Chan I first noticed her in a contemporary piece, the world premiere production of Brian Current’s opera Airline Icarus and she confirms that her interest in contemporary creation is as strong as her loyalty to early music. “I find a lot of singers who do a lot of early music like contemporary music too. It’s the two bookends of the music history.” And they tend to dislike the grand 19th-century opera? “Ha, it’s not so much that as it’s the types of voices and the approach to the music.” Early music and contemporary voices tend to be less voluminous, I take it, less vibrato’d? “Lighter perhaps, and that’s maybe what contemporary composers are looking for today. It’s interesting how we get placed. When I was in a master’s program in NYC’s Manhattan School of Music, I was in the early music ensemble and the contemporary ensemble. Those are my two homes. I’ve trained to learn music quickly and to use techniques and learning approaches that are based on Baroque and contemporary. They go hand in hand for me.”

Later in October, Chan will be branching out in another direction: she’ll sing Cunegonde in Bernstein’s Candide in Kitchener, with the Grand Philharmonic Choir, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the Elora Singers, conducted by Mark Vuorinen. (She’s loved musical theatre since a young age, she tells me.) That’s October 26. In November, she’ll be singing in Soundstreams’ new music production Two Odysseys and will tour with the same company in Claude Vivier’s Musik für das Ende in May next year to the new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, to Rotterdam and to Bruges. There is a new opera in the works with Tapestry Opera for the 2020/21 season, and art song-wise, a recital with Syrinx Concerts and baritone Alex Dobson in May 2020, still unannounced (this is a Wholenote exclusive), featuring the cycle Frauenliebe und Leben and a few other of Schumann’s art songs.

Handel’s Heroines – Sunday, October 6, 3pm – Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre, Plaza Suite 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

OCT 11, 7PM: Neil Crory Tribute Concert. A fundraiser for The Neil F. Crory Endowment Fund in support of the Stratford Summer Music Vocal Academy. Phillip Addis, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Krisztina Szabó, Daniel Taylor, Erin Wall and others. Features spoken tributes and a pre-concert panel discussion moderated by Robert Harris. Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

OCT 13, 1:30PM: Kingston Road Village Concert Series. “The Passionate Voice: Countertenor, Baritone and Bass.” Works by Mendelssohn, O’Hara, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Grever and others. Russell Braun, baritone; Gary Relyea, bass-baritone; Dan Taylor, countertenor with five protégés and Miguel Brito and Michael Rose, piano. Kingston Road United Church.

OCT 27, 2PM and 4PM: Young People’s Concert: “Symphony Spooktacular.” Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King; Stravinsky: Infernal Dance of King Katschei from The Firebird; Maxime Goulet: Metamophosis of the Werewolf from Halloween Night; Mozart: Der Hölle Rache from Die Zauberflöte; Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette. Teiya Kasahara, soprano; Joy of Dance, dance troupe; Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall.

NOV 1, 7:30PM: St. George’s Lutheran Church/DAAD Alumni Association Canada. Schubert’s Winterreise. Arranged for bass-baritone and string quartet by Richard Krug. Daniel Lichti, bass-baritone; Penderecki String Quartet. St. George’s Lutheran Church.

NOV 1 8PM: Royal Conservatory of Music: Karina Gauvin, soprano, with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. Opera arias from 18th-century St. Petersburg. Koerner Hall.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

The Barricades

The Mysterious Barricades concert series came out of a tragedy: in 2015, the series co-founder and president, Edmonton-based mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Turnbull, lost her husband to suicide. “Beth and Chris and my husband Gord and I, and Russell Braun and Carolyn Maule and many others in this group – we were all friends mainly through University of Toronto Opera School,” explains Monica Whicher, Mysterious Barricades’ Toronto leader and presenter, when we meet in her home to talk about this year’s event. “Chris wasn’t a musician professionally, but he was a music lover. We were each other’s families essentially, as you are when you’re young in school and away from your own family. We have been friends for at least 30 years when it happened.” Turnbull herself speaks eloquently about her loss and her partner’s struggle with depression and anxiety in the video on the Mysterious Barricades website. Nothing, however, prepares one for the devastation that is the loss of a loved one.

“Beth understood that a way for her toward healing would be music,” says Whicher. The mezzo invited her musician friends to join forces and create a consciousness-raising event, rolling out as a series in multiple cities across the country in the course of one day. Each year, the event takes place during World Suicide Prevention Week and includes guest speakers and representatives from mental health organizations. Each concert has its own presenter and programmer. There will be a Kitchener-Waterloo concert on September 10 at 7pm. And on September 14, Ottawa (12pm), Toronto (1pm), and London (2pm) will be the three Ontario cities participating in what is planned as a 17-hour sequence, coast-to-coast concerts which will also be streamed live.

The 1pm Toronto concert will be in the University of Toronto’s Walter Hall. From the very start, the Toronto Mysterious Barricades concert has been under the auspices of the University of Toronto, where Whicher and many other musicians involved happen to be teaching. Everybody is volunteering their time. “There’s space, there’s some generosity amidst of it all, and there is a student body who we feel can use the knowledge and shared experience,” says Whicher. This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Andrea Levinson, psychiatrist-in-chief, Health and Wellness, University of Toronto. “Our goal is to make sure that everybody knows that there is help available. We will present these resources in between the music making. It’s easy when one is not struggling to let something in one ear and out the other; but when one is struggling or one’s loved one is, it becomes difficult to understand how to proceed in a crisis. The more we can put this info forward – the better.”

While much of the messaging of MB is directed toward the university population, students and instructors, the resources listed on the website for each city include information for the general population as well. Representatives from the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Canadian Mental Health Association and CAMH will also be there. “At university each year we’re encountering a group of people, and I was this person at one time, trying to do something that they love and trying to do it better. Whether this is music or anything else. You are coming to a new level of critical process, and this is very difficult. You may need support.” If a student is struggling, there’s a confidential number to call and an email address, and this is easy to find in all student handbooks.

I ask her if there are perhaps plans to grow out of the university setting, move to a non-university-affiliated hall. She explains that given that most things are currently donated, including the access to Walter Hall, this would not be an easy transfer, but that they’d be open to it should the opportunity present itself. Thanks to the live-streaming – which is, let’s not forget, still extremely rare in Canadian performing arts – the concerts do get seen by a large swath of people who are not attending university or teaching in it.

And while Mysterious Barricades is not a day of advocacy for better funding or better insurance coverage for talk therapy, it is an invitation to look at the available resources, and to start a conversation around mental health. “I appreciate that it can be difficult,” says Whicher. “We want to deal with problems before they become a crisis. The understanding of what’s already available, and the availability – both of these need to be ramped up. Everybody comes to their help differently. We are here to start the conversation, and get past the initial discomfort around it.” Social media is not helping – they’re making, Whicher says, things worse. “It’s not helping the isolation factor, it’s not helping the understanding – in fact it’s diminishing the understanding. We need daily contacts with humans. We just have to keep finding ways to make contact with one another. And in this world of online likes and dislikes that can be difficult.”

Does she program each year around an idea? “Yes – Beth initially asked and I think it’s a beautiful plan, that the music provide some space for contemplation. Now, of course, it may also create space for emotion. We want to have music that evokes shared experience and be contemplative… forward-looking… colourful… in a word: hopeful.”

“Music has been the thing that’s upheld me for as long as I can remember,” she says. “And that’s true for so many people.”

Monica WhicherThe Barriers

So you need talk therapy and live in Ontario and are not wealthy? A quick primer based on personal experience.

Talk to your GP – many will know psychotherapists who are covered by OHIP and can give you their contact information. This will not guarantee anything, unfortunately, as OHIP-covered psychotherapists tend to have long waiting lists. The current Ontario government has embarked on a reform of mental health care which, as part of the new negotiated contract with physicians, stipulates that a psychiatrist cannot bill the Ontario Ministry of Health unlimited number of hours anymore, but can bill 24 hours a patient a year instead. The change would save money for the Ontario government (and this is probably the primary motive) but would also, ideally, open up some of those waiting lists. When I asked my then-GP (who has since left Canada) for therapy leads three years ago, she gave me contact info for two psychotherapists who never even bothered returning my phone calls – I expect due to the length of their already existing waiting lists.

A debate has been taking place among mental healthcare providers in the province even since the proposed changes have been announced. A star psychotherapist, Dr. Norman Doidge, author of the internationally acclaimed The Brain That Changes Itself, contributed an op-ed to The Globe and Mail in which he argued that the reduction of fully billable hours would effectively mean abandoning the most vulnerable patients in need of intense, multiple-times-a-week care. Others, like some of the physicians featured in Dr. Matt Strauss’ recent National Post piece have argued that the proposed cuts to hours will be the only way for a good number of people, currently excluded due to where in Ontario they live, whether they’re new Canadians or old, or how much they earn, from access to mental healthcare. Would the only way to increase access to psychotherapy while not taking it away from existing patients be to expand the list of registered psychotherapists who could bill OHIP (currently only MDs can)? This does not seem likely under the current government which primarily seems to be interested in short-term cost cutting.

OHIP-covered therapy therefore, you soon learn, is not available to a lot of us. You may get yourself on the waiting list, but what about right now? The other possibility is to have a job that comes with health benefits which also have excellent provisions for psychotherapy. And even if you are lucky to have a job that gives you additional health insurance, most health plans will have fairly low mental healthcare claims limits. I currently have a part-time job unrelated to writing, which has insurance (freelancers and precariat of any kind have no additional health insurance unless they individually pay into it – but that’s a topic for another article). This insurance has reasonably ample provisions for dental care, for example, but limits the amount you can spend on psychotherapy to $700 a year (about five or six hours!). Meaning that every two months you can see somebody for an hour.

Otherwise, you must pay out of pocket. I once had an initial session with a non-MD psychoanalyst and it cost more than $200. There was no second session; there was no way I could afford to continue.

Certain large hospitals, like Women’s College, offer support, therapy and treatment groups, but a quick check on their website reveals that even some of the groups, like the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) one, are not accepting referrals any more due to high demand. (The Day Treatment Program group seems to be still open.)

And so, many of us must press on without mental health care. There’s a federal election coming up, but the provincial one is not before 2022. Meanwhile, perhaps we could all think about how the quality of our lives or our loved ones’ could be improved by bringing down the systemic barriers preventing access to psychotherapy, and get in touch with our MPPs and politely ask them if they see that as a society we have a problem, and what their plan to address it is. 

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

And in the meanwhile, we have music.

SEP 14, 1PM: Set to join Monica Whicher in the Toronto Mysterious Barricades concert are baritone Russell Braun, mezzo Norine Burgess, harpist, Judy Loman, pianists Carolyn Maule and Jialiang Zhu, soprano Nathalie Paulin, three members of the Turkwaz vocal and instrumental ensemble (Jayne Brown, Sophia Grigoriadis and Maryem Tollar), and a Mysterious Barricades Toronto Chorale, conducted by Tracy Wong. Updates on the program for the concert, an opportunity to reserve your free concert ticket, as well as detailed information on all 15 Canadian concerts can be found at mysteriousbarricades.org.

SEP 19 AND 21, 8PM: TSO, Hannigan and Storgårds. Beethoven: Overture to Egmont; Dutilleux: Sur le même accord, for violin and orchestra; Haydn: Symphony No.96; Brett Dean: And once I played Ophelia, for string orchestra and Piano (Canadian Première); Sibelius: Symphony No.3. John Storgårds, conductor and violin; Barbara Hannigan: conductor and soprano. Roy Thomson Hall

SEP 20: Masterclass with Barbara Hannigan – Ligeti: Mysteries of the Macabre, with the Contemporary Music Ensemble and Maeve Palmer, soprano. 1 to 3pm, Walter Hall, 80 Queen’s Park. Followed by “In Conversation: Barbara Hannigan and composer Brett Dean.” Q&A with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s visiting artists. 3 to 4pm, Walter Hall. Both events are free admission and open to the public.

SEP 22, 2PM: Renée Bouthot and Ana Cervantes. “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air sur soir: Music by French and Mexican Composers.” Debussy: Fêtes galantes; Études and Préludes (selections); Ibarra: Tres canciones; Uribe: El viaje nocturno de Quetzalpapálotl (Canadian premiere); Poulenc: Tel jour, telle nuit. Renée Bouthot, soprano; Ana Cervantes, piano. Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave.

SEP 28, 4PM: Toronto Operetta Theatre. Viva La Zarzuela. Music of Latin America and Spain. Romulo Delgado, tenor; Ana Persijn Alarcon, soprano; Cristina Pisani, soprano; Olivia Maldonado, soprano; Guillermo Silva-Marin, tenor; Narmina Afandiyeva, music director/piano; Henry Ingram, host. St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

Antiquity is a foreign country: they love and desire differently there. Or do they really, asks Amanda Hale in her libretto for the lesbian-themed opera composed by Kye Marshall which is about to have its premiere, June 5, onstage at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Pomegranate is structured as a tale of two couples in two different time periods, though the text is open to interpretation – it could be the tale of one couple imagining their historical antecedents, or the story of obstacles to same-sex love which never disappear entirely even in liberal societies. The first couple is in Pompeii in 79 AD, before the Vesuvius eruption. In the second act, we are in a downtown lesbian bar in 1980s Toronto.

“I had been to Pompeii in the early 2000s and my inspiration for Pomegranate was the frescoes that I saw in the Villa of Mysteries there,” says Hale. To this day archaeologists are not sure what the frescoes depict, but it’s presumed to be some kind of a Dionysian ritual that involved women. “The images stayed with me so I formed a story for myself about two young girls falling in love. They’re teenage girls, they’re innocent, and the setting is sort of a Roman girls boarding school.” Worship of Isis was one of the unofficial religious traditions practised in Rome of the time, so Hale introduced a temple of Isis, as a refuge for the girls, and a temple priestess to the story.

Hale, a novelist and a poet, initially wrote a poem cycle about two young Pompeii women. Cellist and composer, Kye Marshall, set the poems to music, and the tale was told as a song cycle, at the Heliconian Club in 2014. “The audience responded so strongly to it that we decided to make an opera,” says Hale. It would take six years of work, grant writing, collaborator hunting, creating contacts in the opera world, two workshops, producer changes and cast changes until Pomegranate the opera was ready to premiere. “I first contacted Michael Mori from Tapestry who was always very supportive (and who is directing the June 5 to 9 run). He put me in touch with Marjorie Chan, who became my dramaturge. She helped me enormously. She coached me in the arts of the libretto.”

Mount Vesuvius has an eerie presence in the first act and its own changing soundscape. The catastrophic event brewing in the background, says Hale, is another parallel with our time. “We all have our little plans and machinations and arguments but we are facing climate-related disasters all over the world.”

In the libretto, which Hale shared with me, there are hints of a female-only utopia in the temple scenes and perhaps in the lesbian bar in the second act, but the idea is complicated. Would an all-women religion or a political party or a living setup be, in her view, a functioning social utopia of the Call the Midwife type, or a dystopia where women merge too much and ignore interpersonal boundaries, in the vein of Grey Gardens? “In my ardent feminist days in the 1980s when I was much younger, feminism was a real vehicle for my political education. I was quite a lesbian separatist and I had a lot of those utopian ideas but I have aged and mellowed,” says Hale. “I didn’t see it in those terms but there is a lot of conflict in the libretto. Another character, Julia, is almost in love with the priestess but she becomes jealous of Cassia, one of the principals. That, and the fear of being crucified as an escaped slave, leads her to betray everybody. In the second act there’s a big fight between the two women on whether one of them should finally come out to her conservative family who’ve come from a war-torn part of the world. Her mother is the one who betrays her and it’s often the women who betray their daughters, unfortunately. If you, for example, look at the clitoridectomy and infibulation today, it’s the mothers who take the daughters to have it done.” As well, the priestess of the women-centred temple is, it turns out, the sister of the Roman soldier pursuing one of the women. “I think it’s a fairly realistic view of how it might have been.”

The parallels between the past and today do not end there. Pompeii was a multicultural port city with people of all backgrounds living there and passing through; half the population of Toronto is foreign-born. Politics on the small and large scale was presumably as present in Pompeii’s citizens’ lives as it is for Torontonians today. Hale herself is foreign-born – British – and moved to Canada in 1968. She lived in Montreal through the 1970s and the War Measures Act and Bill 101, but describes herself now as “quite politically naïve at that time.” Her politically active life started in Toronto, where she moved in the 1980s and got involved with Nightwood Theatre, wrote for the feminist paper Broadside and founded Red Tree, a visual arts company, with Lynn Hutchinson. Today she divides her time between Hornby Island, BC and Toronto. Before returning to writing in the late 1990s, with her first novel published by Raincoast Books, Hale earned her living as a painter and sculptor in BC.

She still travels to England to visit family. “It was a good thing, leaving England, because when you leave a place, you can see it.” Her family’s story has been far from ordinary: Hale’s father was a supporter of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists during the Second World War, and died by suicide some years after the war. “That legacy has hung over me all my life,” says Hale, who has written about it in her latest novel, Mad Hatter (Guernica, Toronto), to be launched in September. “I feel absolutely liberated for having told that story. It’s been a great shame and humiliation so it was good for me to leave England and be able to see all that. But it’s taken my lifetime to process it.”

Hale’s own politics are at the opposite end of the spectrum to her father’s. She often travels to Cuba and has developed a lot of connections, personal and professional, over the last 15 years. “I went there first to paint a mural with Lynn Hutchinson in solidarity with the revolution and we made a connection with a gallery in Havana and did an installation there on colonialism and sugar, then another one about surveillance, which Cubans really understand.” Latin America was always of great interest. “I’ve had a lot of connections with Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile. A big change I saw here in Toronto in the 1980s was the refugees coming from those countries who’d experienced American interference, people who enriched Toronto tremendously during the 1970s and 1980s. There were Greeks coming here after the Junta and people emigrating to Canada after the Iranian Revolution. On Hornby Island we have an Iranian man who’s taken refuge there, who is a wonderful potter.”

While she would define herself as bisexual today (and is no fan of labels), Hale’s view on the importance of lesbian presence in culture hasn’t changed. “It’s still fairly new to see it – and women’s experience in general–- and some of the terrible things that happen to us and some of the great things that should be celebrated. I think it enriches the culture generally, and for men as well. It’s not being against men: it’s filling out a picture that has been half blank a long time.”

Rebecca Gray (left) and Camille Rogers in Pomegranate. Photo by Greg Wong

ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS

JUN 4, 7PM: Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto presents Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir, mezzo & Snorri Sigfús Birgisson, piano; atTimothy Eaton Memorial Church, Toronto.

JUN 8, 4PM: Lisa Di Maria, soprano, and Adolfo De Santis, piano; at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Toronto. Barber, Fauré, Puccini.

JUN 10, 12:15PM: Music Mondays presents Heine’s Buch der Lieder. James McLean, tenor, and William Aide, piano; at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto .

JUN 19 TO 22, 7PM AND JUN 23, 2PM: Soundstreams, Luminato, & Pinkhouse Productions present Hell’s Fury, The Hollywood Songbook. Music by Hanns Eisler, staging and concept by Tim Albery with design by Michael Levine. Russell Braun, baritone, and Serouj Kradjian, piano. Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto.

JUN 27, 8PM: Muse 9 Productions/Village Opera present “Bon Appétit! A Musical Tasting Menu.” Lee Hoiby: Bon Appétit!; Danika Lorèn: The Secret Lives of Vegetables; Peter Tiefenbach: Chansons de mon placard. Katy Clark, soprano, Victoria Borg, mezzo. Hyejin Kwon is the music director, staging by Anna Theodosakis. Merchants of Green Coffee, Toronto..

JUL 11, 7:30PM: Toronto Summer Music opening night: “Beyond Borders.” R. Strauss: Vier letze Lieder; Ravel: Cinq mélodies populaires grecques; Sarasate, Mozart, Chopin and more. Adrianne Pieczonka, soprano, Jon Kimura Parker, piano, Kerson Leong, violin, and Steven Philcox, piano, with the New Orford String Quartet and Tom Allen hosting. Koerner Hall.

JUL 16, 7:30PM: Toronto Summer Music presents “Griffey & Jones in Recital.” Anthony Dean Griffey, tenor, and Warren Jones, piano. Music by Bridge, Griffes, Barber, Finzi, Laitman, Niles and Ives. Walter Hall, U of T.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

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