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.

Recipients of the 2018 Toronto Arts Foundation Awards. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Arts Foundation.Sometimes when trying to hammer out a piece of writing for a deadline like this one, the only way to do so is to nail oneself to a chair and let one’s fingers do the walking. So before I gave up on trying to explain why the thing I am about to ask you to do is is important, I managed to hammer out the following:

“Just as in dead of winter it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around planning for what one will be doing  musically next summer, so too it’s a bit hard to wrap one’s mind around the idea of taking time, while the snow flies, to sit down and write something that will influence the outcome of an arts award that will not take place until the black flies fly, in May of next year. But, with The WholeNote having been the recipient of one of last year’s Toronto Arts Foundation #TOArtsAwards, we’ll always be grateful that one individual actually took the time, this time last year, to nail themself to a chair and nominate us for the award.

“Toronto Arts Foundation Signature Awards honour Toronto's arts community, shining the spotlight on the role of the arts in keeping the city vibrant and humane. Most of the awards are presented at a so-named annual ‘Mayor’s Arts Lunch’ in the late spring (yes, Virginia, hard as it is to believe right now, there will be a spring). Not all awards are presented annually: the Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition that The WholeNote received last year, ‘in recognition of its role in promoting current music and emerging artists,’ for example, is biennial.

“This year’s five award categories are: ARTS FOR YOUTH AWARD (celebrating an individual, collective or organization that has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to engaging Toronto’s youth through the arts); EMERGING ARTIST AWARD (celebrating the accomplishments and future potential of an emerging Toronto artist working in any discipline); MURIEL SHERRIN AWARD (celebrating outstanding achievements in music and a global commitment to the arts); MARGO BINDHARDT AND RITA DAVIES AWARD (celebrating an individual who has demonstrated creative cultural leadership in arts and culture in Toronto); and the EMERGING JAZZ ARTIST AWARD (celebrating an outstanding emerging jazz artist in Toronto).”

And that is as far as I got. Because sometimes, when trying to hammer out a piece of writing for a deadline, the only thing to do is to stop staring at the half-written draft on the screen (with its paragraphs degenerating into half-formed sentences containing words like energetic, significant, leadership, celebrate, spotlight, honour, nominate) and get the hell out of the house, letting my feet do the talking while my mind bounces ideas off every passing building, so they can rebound as voices in my head telling me what might be useful to say. And besides, I had a meeting to get to, to chat about a very different award ceremony coming up in February, a couple of miles away.

So off I went, heading south-east, finding diagonals wherever I could and zig-zagging the rest of the time. From home base on Bellevue Avenue, where we could listen to the sounds of last September’s Kensington Market Jazz Festival from our front yard, as that astonishing initiative, only in its third year, continues to grow and evolve. Diagonally across Bellevue Square, where anyone can sit, and does, and music is perpetually part of the fabric of things. Down that little stretch of Augusta Avenue just above Dundas Street, where every year during Nuit Blanche things happen, even though they are not on the “official” festival map (from a “live karaoke” tent to a Philippine gong ensemble rehearsing in a basement art gallery I never knew was there till I heard the call of the gongs). Across Dundas Street through the heart of Chinatown, to Beverley Street, the Italian Consulate to my left, where from the lawn on summer evenings you just might hear the sounds of opera or vintage car chases, corresponding images flickering on a movie screen. And straight ahead, the Art Gallery of Ontario, with all its treasures and potential for partnership. Down Beverley a short way, then the long south-east diagonal through Grange Park, past the wonderfully relocated Henry Moore two large forms. And past University Settlement House, with its vibrant and inclusive community music school where 24 years ago a child too small to reach the pedals sat at a piano, and the ensuing photograph found its way to the cover of the very first issue of this magazine.

Exiting Grange Park down John Street, the pace picks up. Past St. George-the-Martyr, for two decades the home of the Music Gallery (before they moved to 918 Bathurst) and still a treasured intimate music venue, despite the condo going up, loudly, to the east of it. Hanging a left at the laneway just before hitting Queen, and emerging from that laneway alongside the Rex Hotel. The Rex Hotel. Turning left onto Queen, directly ahead the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. But before crossing University Ave., a quick glance to the north at Campbell House Museum, a little gem of an occasional music venue, as violinist Edwin Huizinga could tell you. And a longer, nervous glance north up University Ave. to Queen’s Park, where the shadow of Ford the Elder, who talks about art the way George H.W. Bush talked about broccoli, looms large. Past City Hall, from which sanctuary, a few years back Ford the Younger didn’t get out of his chair and walk across the street to attend the Mayor’s Arts Lunch, held that year in the Arcadian Room in the Simpsons Tower, on the southeast corner of Bay and Queen.

Somewhere along the last couple of blocks of my walk,on Bay between King and Queen, a man who looks to be 20 going on 50 is moving to some music only he can hear, trapped in some paroxysm of the body or dance of the spirit, twisting and turning on the sidewalk across the road from me, in front of the freshly painted white hoardings around the base of some tower with a crane (the official bird of the city) perched on top. Between each gyration he stretches his hand as high up the hoarding as he can, writing giant looping letters with a pen, all along the hoarding; then back to the beginning, a little lower down, for the next line, and starts again. The pen is imaginary. His story is invisible.

So, what am I asking you to do? Take the time this winter – the deadline is February 15 – to nominate some artist, in any and every sense of that word, whose work in the arts you honour, for a Toronto Arts Foundation Award. By doing so, irrespective of who the finalists and winners turn out to be, we collectively make visible the stories, block by block, of who we are, what we do, and why it matters.

You can read about the awards here. And about the awards that are currently accepting nominations at: https://torontoartsfoundation.org/initiatives/awards/nominate-today.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

The Yellow Ticket in Vancouver with Alicia Svigals performing. Photo by Chris Randle.“When I see the interiors of the film, I smell the apartment of my great-grandmother [who emigrated from Odessa]... It’s a magic, rare, strange, mysterious, fascinating little item. It’s like photos of my great-grandparents come to life. 
— Alicia Svigals

Alicia Svigals. Photo by Tina Chaden BeskurenSvigals, the renowned klezmer violinist/vocalist/composer is referring to The Yellow Ticket, a silent film made 100 years ago which will be screened at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines on February 7. But this is no mere revival of a rare artifact. “The Yellow Ticket” is a multimedia event featuring a fascinating 1918 silent film, The Yellow Ticket (aka The Devil’s Pawn). Svigals’ original score breathes new life into the film as it is performed live by the violinist along with virtuoso Toronto pianist, Marilyn Lerner.

Considered by many to be the world’s foremost klezmer fiddler, Svigals is a founder of the Klezmatics and a driving force behind the klezmer music revival. The film, directed by Victor Janson and Eugen Illès, was a very early production of the legendary German film company UFA-Pagu, and made near the end of WWI on the eve of the Russian Revolution. Starring a young Pola Negri (later to become a femme fatale of the silent era in Hollywood), The Yellow Ticket tells the story of a young Jewish woman from a Polish shtetl who is constrained by antisemitic restrictions to lead a double life in a brothel while attempting to study medicine in Tsarist Russia. The first film to explore antisemitism in Tsarist Russia, The Yellow Ticket (which was restored in 2013), includes precious footage of the former Jewish quarter of Warsaw and the people who once lived there.

Remarkable for its time, The Yellow Ticket addresses ethnic and religious discrimination, human trafficking and poverty in startlingly progressive terms. Its clear-eyed denunciation of antisemitism caused the Nazis to condemn Negri in the years to come.

According to Michal Oleszczyk of rogerebert.com, Pola Negri (née Apolonia Chałupiec), the only Polish actress ever to become a major Hollywood star, lived a life as exciting as the movies she graced with her presence. Born in the small Polish town of Lipno in 1894 (while the country was still under a triple occupation by its neighbours), she climbed her way up: first to the theatre stages of Warsaw and then to the budding movie business. After a successful crossover to the much more sophisticated German film industry – and a happy pairing with its finest director, Ernst Lubitsch – she starred in the international smash-hit, Madame Dubarry (1919). It was Lubitsch’s ticket to Hollywood – as well as Negri’s.

“I believe this accompaniment to The Yellow Ticket is one of the most powerful I have heard. It evokes not only a sense of the contemporary context of the culture in which the film took place, but our awareness of what was done to it afterwards. The sound of piano, violin and the human voice evoke passion, energy and a profound sense of mourning, bridging the historical distance between us and this film as eloquently as does Pola Negri’s extraordinary face.”
-
University of Chicago film scholar Tom Gunning

FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is only one stop along a whirlwind tour of Southern Ontario. Svigals and Lerner will also be accompanying the film in Burlington on February 8 and in Oakville, February 16. In between, on February 9, the “queen of klezmer” gives a recital at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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.

B Exalted Choir cropped close by DavidLeeStudio.com bAnnerB-Xalted!. Photo credit: David Lee Studio.There’s a new choral project in town—and it all goes back to Handel’s Messiah.

Co-founded by Barbara Gowdy and Whitney Smith, B-Xalted! is a choir of Toronto-based writers and arts workers who, as they explain in their press release, “have put aside their laptops” to sing—a community project that gives professional writers and other creative professionals the chance to sing choral music together for the first time. A concert of excerpts from Handel’s Messiah on December 11 at Toronto’s Church of St. Peter & St. Simon-the-Apostle will be their debut.

For Gowdy, attending a performance of Tafelmusik’s annual Sing-along Messiah was the catalyst for the project. After giving up writing following a cancer scare to spend more time with loved ones, it was singing in the Tafelmusik audience that gave her the inspiration for community choir built around Handel’s music.

The Messiah theme may feel a bit arbitrary at first glance—but the idea of a community project built around this music isn’t so far-off. One of the holiday season’s most ubiquitous musical traditions, Messiah is near-synonymous with choral community-building: with festivity, with meaningful memories of classical music, with standing and singing along. Something about Messiah, and the way it unites community initiatives with musical professionals, gives it a special place in the city and scene’s musical fabric.

Messiah for the City is another example. Founded by the late Jack Layton and presented this year by Toronto Beach Chorale in partnership with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Messiah for the City is a concert project dedicated to providing seasonal concert-going opportunities to Torontonians who otherwise might not have access to such events. This year’s Messiah for the City takes place on December 22, featuring singers from the Toronto Beach Chorale, MCS Chorus Mississauga and the Georgetown Bach Chorale, as well as players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Tickets will be distributed by United Way and its partner agencies.

And for those looking for other public Messiah performances this year, there are all of the usuals and then some: Tafelmusik’s rendition December 19 to 21, with its famous “Sing-Along Messiah” on December 22; the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, conducted by the Canadian Opera Company’s Johannes Debus, December 17 to 23; Pax Christi Chorale’s special “Children’s Messiah” performance for children and families on December 1; and the fourth edition of SoundstreamsElectric Messiah at the Drake Underground, December 4 to 6.

Of her upcoming performance with B-Xalted!, Gowdy writes that it’s the courage of a choir coming together for the first time that will make their debut special. “There’s a fearlessness, even a recklessness, to our enterprise,” she says. “We’re all taking a risk, and we’re taking it together.”

It’s the same spirit that embodies all of the upcoming Messiah performances this season. Community-minded fearlessness—and joy.

For a complete list of Messiah-related shows across southern Ontario this year, search “Messiah” in our online concert listings at www.thewholenote.com/just-ask.

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.

organbannerPhoenix OrganDigital organs are a contentious topic amongst pipe organ aficionados. Until recently, the term “electronic organ” was unlikely to imply a high-quality instrument, and digital instruments were scorned as poor substitutes for the grandeur and acoustic superiority of an authentic pipe organ. In recent years, however, rapid advances in digital sampling quality, memory capacity, and processing speeds have made electronic organs a more viable substitute for their acoustic counterparts, giving these digital instruments an increasingly prominent place in music programs around the world. Frequently considered by churches facing the renovation or restoration of an existing, ailing pipe organ, the quality and affordability of digital instruments make them practical alternatives for large cathedrals and smaller churches alike.

Such is the case at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, which recently installed one of Canada’s largest digital organs as a replacement for their 70-year-old pipe organ. The new instrument, built by Phoenix Organs, is described by director of music Edward Connell as “a masterpiece of modern organ technology,” for it contains three renowned pipe organs in one: the Willis organ of Hereford Cathedral, the Cavaillé-Coll organ of Notre-Dame de Metz, and the Müller organ of St. Bavo. Rather than being approximate reproductions of these magnificent historical instruments, the Phoenix organ is loaded with digital samples, recordings of each note of each pipe from the original organs themselves (tens of thousands of individual sounds), which are arranged and manipulated by the digital processor within the organ. These sound samples are integrated into the organ’s mechanical console so that the performer can control individual pipes through the same methods that one finds on an authentic pipe organ.

And who better to play this new instrument’s inaugural recital than one of the finest organists in the country? On October 30, St. Timothy’s welcomed Matthew Larkin as he played a wide-ranging program intended to display the international capabilities of the organ. With works by Bach, the English composers Howells and Elgar, the French organists Franck, Vierne, and Duruflé, and the Ottawa-based Andrew Ager, Larkin’s virtuosity and musicianship were on display as much as the new instrument itself. Maurice Duruflé’s Prélude et Fugue ‘sur le nom d’Alain’ was particularly thrilling, as the opening prelude’s fast fingerwork and clearly-presented thematic material (Duruflé quotes Jehan Alain’s famous organ work Litanies) paired beautifully with the increasingly dramatic fugue, all of which was brought to life through the sounds of the Notre-Dame de Metz pipe organ.

William Boyce was a student of Handel in London, and his Voluntary in D Major was the vehicle for exploring the Willis tubas of Hereford Cathedral. An opening adagio played on flutes gave way to a Da capo-style trumpet tune, displaying the impact and breadth of sound present in the Willis’s high-pressure reed pipes. The one disappointment of the evening was that we were unable to hear the Müller organ of St. Bavo, in the Netherlands. This instrument, built in 1738, received complimentary reviews from none other than Handel, Mozart, and Mendelssohn, and the opportunity to hear Bach played on this historical organ sound set was enticing. Unfortunately, a computer error resulted in only a partial load of the data, so that we heard the modified mean-tone temperament of St. Bavo and the equal-tempered organ of Hereford simultaneously. This technical error (and its corresponding cacophony) could not be remedied despite numerous memory resets and reboots of the system, so Larkin continued with Bach on the Hereford organ sound bank. Although a different timbre and temperament than originally intended, the Bach was very well done, particularly the articulation and phrasings within the chorale trio Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns Wend.

Although the new digital organ at St. Timothy’s has some technical issues that still need to be resolved, it should soon be a worthwhile addition to the Toronto organ scene. And despite the curveballs thrown his way by the organ’s computer, Matthew Larkin demonstrated that he is indeed a master of his craft; his ability to create maximum impact through technical interpretation and instrumental manipulation is second to none, and he was able to adapt and give a performance that was convincing from beginning to end.

St. Timothy’s Anglican Church (North Toronto) presented organist Matthew Larkin in concert on October 30, 2018.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Toronto Musical ConcertsThe score of Merrily We Roll Along is considered one of Stephen Sondheim's best – and yet when the show debuted on Broadway in 1981, it was a notorious flop, lasting for only 16 performances. There were probably several reasons why the show didn't work, but most importantly in the opinion of most critics and scholars was the decision of Sondheim and director Hal Prince to cast very young performers, performers too young to have the experience and skills to play characters who start in their 40s and finish in their early 20s. For Merrily (and the original play of the same name by earlier Broadway legends Moss Hart and George Kaufman, on which it is based) begins at the end of the story of three showbiz friends, disillusioned in their financial success, and goes back in time 20 years by stages to the moment when they started off in New York, idealistically full of hopes of dreams.

Revivals, from concerts to full productions, have usually reversed the original casting scheme,  casting instead older performers of the right age for the beginning of the show who are able to navigate the journey back to their youthful selves. Toronto Musical Concerts did the same in their concert staging at the Al Green Theatre on October 17, and it works. Even with the performers using scores on music stands with only limited staging and bits of choreography, the show comes alive. The brilliant witty book by George Furth (who had earlier collaborated with Sondheim on the hit Company), interwoven with Sondheim's music and lyrics, combines cynical comedy with trenchant social observation as well as the ins and outs of both romantic love and the love between great friends.

Michael De Rose as Franklin Shepard stood out with his strong rich voice and presence. Ryan Kelly was appealing as his writing partner Charley Kringas, with his comic timing and great ability to 'youthen' over the course of the play. Lizzie Kurtz as Mary Flynn, the third of the central trio, captures the warm but acerbic Dorothy-Parker-meets-Carrie-Fisher quality of the girl in the trio and her journey from alcoholic disillusionment spiced with unrequited love for Frank back to excited, unblemished hope and ambition.

The concert, an Equity collective, was a bit rough on the opening night with the sound not balanced until partway through, and performers not always certain how best to position themselves to be amplified by the microphones positioned in front and overhead. The petite Lana Carillo as Gussie, Franklin's Broadway star wife, was often particularly hard to hear. On the other hand, the energy and commitment of the company was unquestioned and by the second half all was coming together, with songs such as “Old Friends,” “Franklin Shepard, Inc,” and “Opening Doors” sounding particularly strong.

The wonderful 2016 documentary about the original production of Merrily We Roll Along—called Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened—left me hoping to see a new production of the full show in order to explore its full potential. This TMC concert confirm the quality of the book and score and that the backward story arc is not only intriguing but an effective storytelling technique. In doing so, it whets the appetite even more for a full production of this brilliant but rarely seen musical.

Toronto Musical Concerts presented Merrily We Roll Along in concert on October 17 and 18, at the Al Green Theatre, Toronto.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

In Real Life, performed by artists from the CMTP at Sheridan College.There is almost nothing more exciting for a lover of musicals than to be at the birth of a new show, and on the afternoon of Monday, October 15 at Toronto’s CAA Theatre, I was witness to the first public steps of not just one but four new musicals currently in development at the Canadian Musical Theatre Project (CMTP) at Sheridan College.

The October 15 performance was the third of three days of CMTP's Festival of New Musicals, a relatively recent event created to showcase not only new shows in development but also the phenomenally talented graduating students of Sheridan College's justly famed Musical Theatre Performance program.

The brainchild of producing artistic director Michael Rubinoff, the CMTP is an international incubator for the development of new musicals (launched in 2011) – and also a brilliant training ground for Sheridan's student performers, where they learn to engage with living composer/librettist teams on new works in the earliest stages of creation. The combined energy and dedication of all the artists involved was palpable in the theatre on the 15th, as was the interest and excitement of the audience.

For about three and a half hours we were treated to the (shortened) first acts of four completely different musicals, each unique in story, theme, musical style and directorial approach. Directorial approach? Yes – for one of the unexpected delights of the afternoon was the depth and quality of what we were seeing. While the performance had been advertised as a “staged reading,” it proved to be on the top end of that definition: each piece had been clearly rehearsed in depth and was given a polished, choreographed presentation, so that we were seeing both the material and the performers at their highest potential, even though the performers had their scores on music stands throughout.

Shared with us in order of what seemed to be readiness for production, the afternoon began with Erik With a K by Paul Sportelli and Jay Turvey, a lightweight, fun and spoofy review of the life of composer Erik Satie in bohemian, fin de siècle Paris, built around the theme of Life vs. Art.

Stars of Mars, a stand-up comedy meets The Martian meets sci-fi coming-of-age story, followed, with a book by popular comedian Ashley Botting and young composer Daniel Abrahamson. Brought together by Michael Rubinoff, their talents matched up to create a fast-paced, fun look at a potential first colony on Mars that the audience really enjoyed.

With the third piece, In Real Life by Nick Green and Kevin Wong, we moved into weightier material. Set in a dystopian future owing some inspiration to films such as The Matrix and Logan's Run, In Real Life centred around a young man, entrenched in a rigid computer-controlled study environment, who is shaken out of his routine with the news that his mother has died and left him a video message. The music and book worked seamlessly together to tell this engrossing story, and Ali Joy Richardson’s direction/staging tellingly contrasted the rigidity of the computerized study world with the freedom the hero finds in the dark web as he tries to unravel the meaning of his mother's message. 

Kelly V. Kelly, performed by artists from the CMTP at Sheridan College.Last on the program, Kelly V. Kelly, based on the true story of a mother in 1915 who had her daughter arrested for doing too much tango dancing, would seem on the surface to be an absurdist comedy but proved to be something else altogether: an engrossing mother/daughter battle with emotions swirling around the stage in the path of the tango dancers, yet not without its own share of comedy along with the drama and romance.

With a book by well-known actor Sara Farb and music and lyrics by the prolific Britta Johnson, Kelly V. Kelly is the third of three musicals by Johnson being developed as part of The Musical Stage Company's Crescendo Program (the first two were Life After and Dr. SIlver: A Celebration of Life). Beautifully staged by expert director Robert McQueen, this excerpt left me wanting to hear more.

All four shows are full of potential, as are the young performers who brought them to life. I look forward to seeing them all as they go out into the world and develop further – and for anyone who enjoys musicals, I highly recommend this festival as something to watch for in future seasons.

The Canadian Musical Theatre Project (CMTP), based at Sheridan College, presented its Festival of New Musicals from October 13 to 15, at the CAA Theatre, Toronto.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals. 

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