The singers of Verbotenlieder.After an all-male, all-baritone and crowded Die Winterreise this summer, baritones Aaron Durand and Michael Nyby—a.k.a. Tongue In Cheek Productions—decided in the interest of fairness and variety to throw an all-female do. Verbotenlieder, or Forbidden Songs, came together as a program for sopranos and mezzos who always wanted to singcertain arias, duos or songs that remained off limits because they were written for and exclusively performed by men.

It’s a brilliant idea that was only half executed with the December 19 concert at Lula Lounge. A wide mix of singers and songs followed one another with no introduction, and no reason offered why those choices and not others. The repertoire that is never sung by women or specific voice types is vast. Was the choice random, or did it always mean something special for the singer? Nyby and Durand and one or two singers did manage to say a few words here and there, but all this just made obvious one big lack in the programming: a cabaret style MC who can talk competently, succinctly and with humour about these songs and spin the show’s red thread.

Another thing that was missing and that usually comes with real cabaret: naughtiness. Raunch. Smut. Some of the men-narrated songs in the program are love songs for women. There is a long and honourable tradition of women singing pants roles and pants Lieder and mélodies. As the societies of origin liberalized in the 20th and 21st centuries, so did cultural interpretations of these songs. There are now lively interpretive cultures of this rep for which, say, a male POV German Lied written for a mezzo is not a mezzo voicing a guy, but a mezzo voicing woman-to-woman love of some sort, or in some cases explicitly lesbian desire.

This remained underexplored, but it did make an appearance—for example in the transposed-for-soprano Lensky aria from Eugene Onegin, exquisitely rendered by Natalya Gennadi with Natasha Fransblow on piano. (Gennadi additionally honoured the trouser role tradition by wearing an elegant pant suit and camouflaging her long hair into a modest bob.) Or in the tenor-baritone duo from The Pearl Fishers, ‘Au fond du temple saint,’ which got a lavish and genuinely new take by soprano Jennifer Taverner and mezzo Beste Kalender (Elina Kelebeeva on piano). In it, the two men reminisce on the moment they first saw the woman they both fell in love with, a veiled Brahmin priestess, but rush to give up the phantom in favour of their own mutual bond before the song is over. An intriguing twist, to see this ode to bro-hood sung by women and effectively turned into a song about a bond between women who are resisting the lures of a fantasy.

Soprano Vanessa Oude-Reimerink and mezzo Alexandra Beley (Natasha Fransblow, piano) took on the Marcello-Rodolfo duo from La Bohème, in which they gossip and pine after Mimi and Musetta. There was some awkward stage movement at the beginning, and it appeared to me that the chuckles from the audience indicated that most of us weren’t sure if the women were singing to each other. The surtitles cleared up some of the confusion, but again, a good intro, even by the singers themselves, would have made all the difference.

Lauren Margison.And then there’s Lauren Margison. First, accompanied by Natasha Fransblow, she took on ‘Addio, fiorito asil,’ unofficially known as the Bastard is Leaving, from Madama Butterfly. Puccini gives Pinkerton this manipulatively beautiful and highly emotional tenor aria while he is secretly running off and leaving Butterfly to face ignominy. Margison somehow managed to sing this aria in a pissed-off manner, yet still gloriously—exactly the right formula. Her second performance was ‘Nessun dorma’ and it too came with the right attitude and glorious top notes. The attitude was: if you think Pavarotti is the last word in this department, I have a soprano to show you. At one point she invited the audience to fill in a couple of verses of the aria, which we happily did. Already during the Pinkerton aria, people got engaged and rowdy almost immediately, and a loud Brava flew her way at the right place during the aria—something you rarely hear Toronto opera audiences do. But that’s the virtuous circle that comes with a good performance: the more daring a singer is, the more reactive the audience.

On the other hand, there was stuff that didn’t light the spark. It wasn’t clear to me why ‘O sole mio,’ Ravel’s Don Quixote songs to Dulcinea, and one of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel were in the program. They’re all fine songs, but why should we hear women singing them? What do women add to them that’s missing? I have my own theories, but I was more interested in hearing the singers’, and the performances themselves did not make a strong enough case. Elsewhere in the program, the soprano version of the Count’s aria from Marriage of Figaro, in which he plots the destruction of Susanna’s announced wedding out of jealousy, was delivered in English and adapted—I am guessing, I could not hear everything clearly and there were no surtitles for songs in English—as Susanna’s resistance song of sorts? The Great Inquisitor scene from Don Carlos with two mezzos taking their low notes for a wild ride is a great idea, but the performance was hampered by Leah Giselle Field’s mocking and hammed-up take on the Inquisitor. Catherine Daniel sang King Philip in earnest—no panto and no distancing, she really played a king, and it was a pleasure to watch.

The evening ended with an ironic takeover of the men’s chorus singing about the trickiness of women from The Merry Widow.

All in all: an excellent concept delivered as a disjointed hodgepodge of highs and huhs. But the gents of the TICP have my attention.

Tongue In Cheek Productions presented “Verbotenlieder” on December 19, 2018, at Lula Lounge, Toronto.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto.

Collectif9. Photo credit: Danylo Bobyk.Montreal-based string ensemble Collectif9 stopped by Lula Lounge on November 12 on their way to Mexico for a three-day visit November 15 to 17. It was the second Toronto appearance for the double string quartet plus double bass – the first was for Music Toronto in March 2016 – and meant to launch their latest CD, No Time for Chamber Music, which is wholly devoted to the music of Mahler. But as bassist Thibault Bertin-Maghit told me after the show, when he saw Lula’s salsa dance floor he scaled back the Mahler content, using only three of the CD’s nine tracks, and filled out the evening with works by Golijov, Schnittke, Enescu, Brahms, Ligeti, Berio and Mexican composer Arturo Márquez.

Bertin-Maghit does most of the arrangements for the group, which made its debut in 2011. They were students at Université de Montréal and McGill who wanted to create something different yet complementary to traditional classical music. The result was a genre-bending, innovative approach that uses lighting techniques and amplification not usually associated with the classical concert stage. They started out playing Piazzolla and Golijov, Bertin-Maghit said, but the lack of repertoire for their particular nine-instrument ensemble led him to expand their playlist to encompass arrangements of a variety of symphonic and chamber works. They perform them with an infectious energy and vigour that grabs an audience’s attention.

Lula Lounge’s warm, relaxed atmosphere and intimate nightclub feel made it an ideal setting for Collectif9’s music and undoubtedly stoked the enthusiasm of the crowd.

The set began with tonal and atonal fragments reminiscent of the opening of Max Richter’s Recomposed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Out of the improvisatory noodling came the unmistakable Frère Jacques tune set in a minor key by Mahler from the third movement of his Symphony No.1. Hushed in the bass and cellos but amplified, its presence straddling centuries, it moved to the higher strings who convincingly mimicked Mahler’s woodwinds. The tune grew out of that foundation into a sudden quick folk dance, exaggerating its klezmer quality while building to a full, rich sound before returning to the Frère Jacques melody, diminishing in scope and fading into atonality. Brilliantly arranged and exuberantly performed, it was typical of the evening as a whole.

“A new one for us,” is how Bertin-Maghit introduced Osvaldo Golijov’s Romantic-tinged rhapsody, Night of the Flying Horses. It starts with a Yiddish lullaby that (according to Golijov) metamorphoses into a dense and dark doina (a slow, rubato, Romanian genre) and ends in a fast gallop with a theme Golijov “stole from my friends of the wild gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks.” With his folk-based, often pastiche-laden works, Golijov is a natural fit with Collectif9’s aesthetic.

A teaser of Stravinsky, the opening minutes of The Rite of Spring, followed, putting Collectif9’s togetherness on display. Then came the Allegretto from Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No.1 (from their Volksmobile CD), an energetic, joyful, jazzy showcase for violinist Robert Margaryan. An elegant pizzicato dance was next, a brief ländler that begins the second movement of Mahler’s Symphony No.2. Then the agonizing Farewell from Mahler’s Song of the Earth, given a touching, passionate performance that shone a light on its folk references.

Enescu’s Octet for Strings (with double bass added) was one of the first pieces Collectif9 read through when they first formed seven years ago. “Now we’re finally ready to perform it,” said Bertin-Maghit. Its soaring melodies and propulsive dance-like rhythm elicited a virtuosic performance from the ensemble that was contrasted by the light touch navigating the dense lyricism of the Scherzo from Brahms’ Sextet No.2 that followed.

As played by Collectif9, the fourth movement of Ligeti’s Concert Românesc was a perpetual-motion achievement featuring impressive ensemble playing, the perfect appetizer for the highlight of the night: the third movement from Berio’s Sinfonia. Built on top of the Scherzo from Mahler’s Symphony No.2 and incorporating a text from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable as well as eight singers and a large orchestra, it was the inspiration for Collectif9’s new album and its ironic title, No Time for Chamber Music, which is part of the Beckett text. In fact, the Berio was supposed to be included on the CD but they couldn’t get the rights. With its many references to Ravel, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Debussy, Boulez and more, it’s a masterpiece of mid-20th-century music given an electrifying 21st-century reading.

Then it was literally and figuratively off to Mexico, with a sunny performance of Márquez’s Danzón No.2, made famous by Gustavo Dudamel’s popular recording with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

Collectif9’s next visit to Toronto cannot come too soon.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. J.K. ROWLING`S WIZARDING WORLD™ J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s18).Magic sparked through the air as Harry Potter fans crowded into the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on November 15 to experience Patrick Doyle’s soundtrack from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth installment from the film series, performed live by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Hogwarts took over the Sony Centre, as the crowd proudly showed off their Hogwarts house colours with bright red, green, yellow and blue scarves and robes. Fans young and old gathered in the lobby, some even flocking to the merchandise table to purchase authentic Harry Potter-themed snacks like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.

As everyone settled in their seats in the packed theatre, Evan Mitchell, the conductor, encouraged the crowd not to hold back, and to cheer, laugh, and cry at our favourite scenes and characters. The audience proved throughout the night to be fiercely passionate and lively at all the right moments.

The lights dimmed, and the movie began. Goblet of Fire – based on the fourth book in J.K. Rowling’s renowned Harry Potter fantasy novels – follows Harry as he embarks on his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where, as the school year progresses, a school tournament takes a sinister turn. With the first haunting notes of the opening piece, “The Story Continues,” the orchestra set the tone for the film, a much darker, more mature story than its predecessors: a rich, dark build of woodwinds and percussion, overlaid almost instantly by a shrill melody from the violins that left a sinister chill lingering in the air.

Goblet of Fire has one of the most diverse scores of the series, especially due to many pieces that exist within the film’s world which add opportunity to layer in unusual and surprising sounds. Much of this music is from the Yule Ball, the school dance that the students attend: “Potter’s Waltz,” “Do the Hippogriff,” and “Hogwarts Fanfare.” “Potter’s Waltz,” performed whimsically by the TSO musicians, complemented the glittering winter transformation of the Hogwarts Great Hall on-screen, while the other pieces contrasted the rest of the film’s score, with upbeat themes that played to the youth of the characters. In particular, “Do the Hippogriff,” a raucous rock song performed in the film by the wizard band The Weird Sisters, set up a chaotic on-screen scene, complete with mosh pit and crowd-surfing teacher—though this song was not performed by the live orchestra and simply played as a recording.

Another piece from within the film’s world is a march performed by the Hogwarts brass band, just before the third task of the school’s Triwizard Tournament. The piece is cheerful and animated – and yet when Harry returns at the end of the task and the march is reprised, the loud brass instruments seem to mock the audience, who have just seen Cedric Diggory, an innocent student, murdered. The orchestra performed an understated version of this march that blended seamlessly into the film while helping to accentuate the emotions onscreen – particularly the harrowing cry of Cedric’s father, who realizes what had just happened and rushes forward to clutch his son.

Throughout the film, the TSO had to strike a steady balance between the strength with which they performed certain music while keeping other moments quiet or understated, allowing the content of the film to speak for itself. Overall, though certain parts felt empty of musical presence, they managed to maintain this balance well. Some pieces also required more force – particularly the “Durmstrang Entrance,” when the students of a Bulgarian wizarding school enter the Great Hall with chants, stomps, and even a student who breathes fire from their wand into the shape of a phoenix. The Durmstrang students had all eyes on them from the Hogwarts students and Sony Centre audience alike, but the live orchestral rendition felt slightly lacking the same power and vigour that captured the audience’s attention onscreen.

In this performance, the music was brought to the forefront of the film, allowing audiences to hear little, often-overlooked details. These musical snippets were synchronous to some corresponding visuals, like the way an enchanted pen moved, or a flicker of fire reflected in Harry’s glasses – adding a new layer to the way the audience experienced Harry’s world.

While much of the audience filed out of the theatre during the closing credits, those who stayed behind were treated to the TSO briefly revisiting some of the notable pieces from the film without the distraction of watching the movie. This provided one last opportunity to appreciate the presence of the orchestra and the experience of hearing a beloved score performed live, in a theatre full of affectionate – and thoroughly enchanted – fans.

The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts and Attila Glatz Productions presented CineConcerts and Warner Bros.’ production of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire In Concert from November 15 to 17, 2018, with live music by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Jaimie Nackan is currently studying media at the University of Guelph-Humber. She is a pianist and former ballet dancer, with further passions in literature, writing, and film. She is pursuing a career in critiquing the arts, while also working on her first novel.

KhouryKalenderbannerArt songs delivered in a full-on operatic register within a small resonant space such as Mazzoleni Hall can be hard to take, I’ve learned this Sunday.

On the program at the RCM’s intimate, chapel-like hall were French the mélodies with their Orientalist flair, as well as a selection of Lebanese and Turkish folk songs in new arrangements chosen by the two singers, soprano Joyce El-Khoury and mezzo Beste Kalender. Robert Kortgaard and Rachel Andrist accompanied from the piano, and for one Ravel cycle Nora Shulman (flute) and David Hetherington (cello) joined the mezzo onstage. It was a well-programmed concert, diverse and thematically unified at the same time.

Joyce El-Khoury (c) Fay FoxEl-Khoury, Lebanese-Canadian soprano highly in-demand internationally as Violetta and Mimi, is a singer of exceptional glamour and stage presence. Her voice is opulent, with a beautiful upper top, but it did not seem like El-Khoury recalibrated it for the more contained, subtle and withholding recital genre. Most of the singing, whether that was the intention or not, came through as fairly loud—and I was seated in the last row. On that level, Ravel’s ‘Asie’ from Shéhérazade sounds almost irate. ‘Île inconnu’ from Berlioz and Gautier’s masterwork Les nuits d’été was a very loud statement, rather than a cheery invitation to voyage that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. But things changed in part two of the concert, in El-Khoury’s program of Lebanese songs which she introduced and which are personally meaningful to her. As if by a magic wand, there it was: the real song intimacy. As if a camera zoomed in to a private moment between friends. This was an entirely different singer, very much capable of pianissimi, full of thoughtful inwardness, implicit rather than explicit, and generous.

Beste Kalender. Photo by Codrut ToleaMezzo Beste Kalender was more consistent. A fine French diction and rich dark timbre enhanced every song. Seductive and mischievous in ‘Les roses d’Ispahan’ by Fauré, Kalender added some wicked castanets playing to her gamut in Ravel’s ‘Zaïde: Boléro’. She was particularly memorable in Ravel’s Chansons madécasses, alongside the flute and the cello. ‘Nahandove’ is unusually sensuous, even for a French song, and it would be fair to describe it as, in fact, sexual (‘Arrête, ou je vais mourir / Meurt-on de volupté’). It, and the third song ‘Il est doux’, are voiced by a male narrator. He greets the female lover in the first, and orders female servants gently about in the third, but the middle song ‘Awa!’ is an outburst and a warning against such men. ‘Do not trust the white men’ is its refrain, and the verses explain what will happen when they arrive on distant shores and settle.

In part two, Kalender presented a selection of Turkish songs. One among them, ‘My Nightingale is in a Golden Cage’, she explained, was Kemal Ataturk’s favourite, so she would sing it in homage to the Turkish statesman—the modernizer and secularizer of Turkey after the end of Ottoman Empire and the republic’s first president.

The two women finished the program with Delibes’ mega hit from opera Lakmé, The Flower Duet.

The Royal Conservatory presented “Mazzoleni Songmasters: L’invitation au voyage,” featuring soprano Joyce El-Khoury and mezzo Beste Kalender, on November 11, 2018 at Mazzoleni Concert Hall, Toronto.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto.

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