Composer Andrew Balfour.Three weeks ago, Winnipeg-based composer Andrew Balfour got an email from Highlands Opera Studio, with a commission for a 90-minute opera. The only catch: the workshop performance was less than a month away.

Highlands Opera Studio, which operates as a summer workshop, residency and festival season in Haliburton, originally had a different opera premiere in its 2017 programming: a work-in-progress titled Wiikondiwin, by Odawa First Nations composer Barbara Croall. However, extenuating circumstances forced Croall to withdraw from the project last month. When the studio contacted Balfour, the timing was tight.

According to Balfour when we spoke on the phone last week, this is the shortest notice he’s ever received, by far. “It was only a few weeks ago when I first got contacted by the studio,” he explained. “The email was marked URGENT, in capital letters.”

We frequently hear about performers who need to be replaced at the last minute because of injury, illness or personal circumstances – but for one composer to step in for another on a commissioning project is a different thing entirely. “At first it just seemed impossible, from a practical standpoint,” Balfour says. “But the original idea of doing an Indigenous opera, I’ve wanted to do for some time. So I listened to them and they sent me the outline, and I said, yeah, this is possible.”

The opera, titled Mishaabooz’s Realm, will tell the story of Mishaabooz or Nanabozho, a shapeshifting trickster spirit described in Anishinaabe storytelling. Parts of the opera will be presented in a workshop performance at the Highlands Opera Studio on August 19; after that, Balfour will write the remainder of the opera in Winnipeg, which will be premiered in full at L’Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal (and reprised in full in Haliburton) in the fall. In its final iteration, Mishaabooz’s Realm will be a 90-minute chamber opera incorporating both classical and Indigenous elements, featuring soprano Adanya Dunn, baritone Samuel Chan, pianist Louise-Andrée Baril, Aboriginal vocalist/drummer Corey Campbell, and Balfour himself as a vocalist and percussionist.

“I’ve had ideas in the last couple years about how I’d want to approach this,” says Balfour, who himself is of Cree descent. “I do know with Canada 150, there’s a lot of funding [for things like this] – and some of the projects that have happened already I feel haven’t really hit the mark. A lot of it is Eurocentric. Opera might be a Eurocentric form of artistic expression but for me, opera, especially opera like Wagner’s, is based on myths...and in the oral tradition of the First Nations, myths and legends are everything.”

He adds that for him, capturing the spirit of the project while creating something wholly his own has been an ongoing concern. “I had to be really careful – practically and to do it with integrity and research,” he says. “It wasn’t originally my project, so I had to make sure that the restructuring of this project and commission would be true to the original plan, but wouldn’t be taking someone else’s idea and just writing music for that. I use my instinct a lot for these things. This one felt right.”

Balfour is currently living in Haliburton and working with the singers at the studio, in preparation for their August 19 performance. “This is kind of in some ways a composer’s dream,” he says. “I’ve been here for four days, and I really feel that in this environment, they’ve given me a lot of flexibility and freedom. There have been plenty of opportunities for me to workshop with singers. I have a laptop so I’ve been wandering around writing snippets. I’m staying with wonderful billets who have given me a studio space. It’s unique.”

For Balfour, opera brings with it a lot of cultural baggage – but at the same time, an opportunity like this one also provides the chance to add new depth to the way our country frames its national storytelling. “I’ve always felt that opera, especially 19th-century opera, is kind of like showing off, writing-wise and also singer-wise,” he says. “But I have a bigger picture, at least in terms of the collective. It’s not an anti-Canada piece. It’s not an anti-European piece. But it’s still going to talk about some hard truths. Whether it’s a Truth and Reconciliation call to action, or the idea of important Indigenous issues right now, socially speaking, the direction I’ve been going in for the last 15 years has been to create things that bring awareness [to these issues] – whether good or bad, and whether people get it or not.

“I know what I can do, and I know what I’ve been doing for awhile,” he adds. “But I feel that there’s a bigger national picture [here].”

More than anything, the one thing Balfour wants to get across with this work is that true collaboration, especially when non-Indigenous organizations want to work with Indigenous artists and performers, has to come from a place of respect. And that when that happens – even when the task seems impossible – the result can be magic.

“Someone asked me if I was creating a stew,” he says. “I'm not. A stew, you just throw a bunch of stuff in and let it boil; here, you have to be a lot more careful. And I’m still in the early stages of this, but I want people to hopefully get a sense that this comes from a respectful place.”

“As a writer, it’s a challenge,” he continues. “I’ve never taken something at the last minute like this. But I know it’s possible, because this is a real collaboration. I’m using all of my resources out west, and I’m using what I’m learning, and meeting these people right now, with their resources and respect. And I think we’re going to have something special.”

Andrew Balfour’s opera Mishaabooz’s Realm will be performed in part, as a public workshop, at Highlands Opera Studio on August 19, in Haliburton; details at www.highlandsoperastudio.com.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and music writer, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

Composer Aftab Darvishi, featured on the latest episode of Listening to Ladies. Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi.We’ve come a long way from when podcasts were just one of Apple’s side projects for the niche and the tech-savvy. Halfway through 2017, talk radio – in podcast form – is officially back in vogue with the North American mainstream. We are living, according to some experts, in a “podcast golden age” – and with the popularity and diversity of these on-demand radio shows ever on the rise, there’s no shortage of listening options, no matter where your interests lie.

If anything, it seems as though podcasts are especially well-suited to classical music. After all, it’s not that large of a leap to make from music to talk radio, especially when audiences are already used to investing 20 to 30 minutes of their listening time into a single sonata or concerto. And like any of the arts, classical music is full of experts and artists eager to weigh in on how the music works, and why it matters.

Here are six classical music podcasts that we’ve been listening to this summer.

1. Meet the Composer
Produced by WQXR’s Q2 Music, Meet the Composer is a force to be reckoned with in the world of contemporary music. Hosted by violist Nadia Sirota, the show features intimate, artistically probing interviews with some of the biggest names in modern music. With high quality audio samples of each composer's work, as well as a “From the Vaults" miniseries that resurrects archived interviews from the original “Meet the Composer” 1980s radio show that gave the podcast its name, Meet the Composer demystifies new music and reveals its secrets, with a passion that is catching.

LISTEN TO: Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Composing is Second Nature
This episode of Meet the Composer features the music of Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, as she and Sirota talk about workflow, orchestral writing, and finding a sense of home.

2. NACOcast
NACOcast is one of several podcasts coming out of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Originally hosted by now-retired tubist Nicholas Atkinson, the show has recently been taken over by Sean Rice, who plays second clarinet in the NAC Orchestra.

While the show is heavily rooted in the programming that the NACO does in its concerts, there's plenty here that will interest even those outside of the Ottawa area. Episodes explore themes that tie together different classical masterworks, bring in musicians from the NACO to talk about the secrets behind orchestral playing (like on “The Oboe - Beyond the ‘A’”) and present interviews with guest artists about the nature of classical music today.

LISTEN TO: Sean Rice chats with Nadia Sirota before the Canadian premiere of Nico Muhly’s electrifying viola concertoNadia Sirota – incidentally, the host of Meet the Composer – comes to Ottawa to perform Nico Muhly’s viola concerto, and talks with Sean Rice about her friendship with Muhly and how performers today are reinventing classical music as we know it.

3. Listening to Ladies
Elisabeth Blair. Photo credit: Dan Diffendale.Listening to Ladies started out in 2015, as a response to the lack of gender equity in the classical music scene. Run almost entirely by composer and artist Elisabeth Blair (with website assistance from Krystee Wylder), it’s a small operation – and one that is doing relevant, high-quality work. “This area of the arts has missed out on much of what the 20th century had to offer vis-à-vis feminism and equity,” says Blair in a recent interview with I Care if You Listen’s Rebecca Lentjes. “The Victorianesque state of affairs in the classical music world stunned and appalled me when I discovered it...and frankly, it pissed me off.”

Each episode features a composer who is a woman, including interviews and musical samples of their work. The composers interviewed range from well-known names in contemporary music, to emerging and underrepresented artists whom, like us, you’ll probably never have heard of. Blair and her guests talk composer-to-composer about how they navigate the classical music industry, how they write music, and where their work has taken them.

LISTEN TO: Aftab Darvishi
In the latest episode of Listening to Ladies, Blair skypes with composer Aftab Darvishi about growing up in Iran, finding a second musical coming-of-age in the Netherlands, and having her work heard as ‘feminine.’

4. From the Top
NPR’s popular podcast From the Top, hosted by concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, features performances of classical music by kids and teens from across the United States. O’Riley and his team travel the country to interview and record young performers (with O’Riley serving as not only host but also itinerant piano accompanist).

The show features some incredible performances from young musicians, and O’Riley is an honest and earnest host, with a knack for picking out what makes each performer’s story relatable or unique. The future of classical performance is in very capable hands.

LISTEN TO: Honolulu, Hawaii / Show 331
A recent episode of From the Top found O’Riley and team in Honolulu, featuring performances by the Hawaii Youth Symphony Orchestra and a stunning Prokofiev interpretation by Yesong Sophie Lee, the 13-year-old junior winner of the 2016 Menuhin International Violin Competition.

5. Twenty Thousand Hertz
Twenty Thousand Hertz isn’t technically a classical music podcast, or even a music podcast at all – but if any radio show could honestly be described as Cageian, this would be it. Twenty Thousand Hertz is dedicated to finding out the stories behind sounds – both the strangest sounds in the world (like the mysterious phenomenon on the Canada-US border known locally as the ‘Windsor Hum’) and those so ubiquitous that we normally hardly notice them (like noise pollution). New and already promising, Twenty Thousand Hertz is addictive listening for anyone interested in audio, of any kind.

LISTEN TO: 20,000 dBs Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Hertz brings in underwater acoustician Al Jones to talk about the ocean, which contains a ‘secret world’ of very loud sounds – some of the loudest and most unusual on the planet.

6. The SOUNDLAB
The SOUNDLAB, hosted by Edmonton-based composer Paul Steenhuisen, features interviews with composers, often with Toronto ties, as well as examples of their work. It’s clear from his interviews that Steenhuisen is a keen listener who does his research; his conversations with guest composers always seem to dig into the core of what their music tries to achieve. He often synchronizes his work with that of Toronto concert presenters, so for GTA listeners, the show also functions as a helpful pre-concert primer on music being performed in town.

LISTEN TO: Philippe Leroux
In this episode from 2015, Steenhuisen talks with Philippe Leroux, who was about to travel to Toronto from Montreal to collaborate with New Music Concerts on a show featuring his music. The two composers talk, often switching back and forth between English and French, about spectralism, aesthetics, and, interestingly, chickens.

We’ve refrained from *officially* recommending our own stuff here, but it’s worth briefly mentioning that The WholeNote also has a podcast – Conversations at The WholeNote – available on our website. Our own show is by no means fully formed: originally a YouTube channel of video interviews with local performers and composers, the episodes have recently been transferred to an audio-only format. They’re freeform interviews, uncut and largely unedited – but if you’ve ever had the feeling of hearing Sondra Radvanovsky, Jonathan Crow or Jan Lisiecki perform in Toronto and wanting to be a fly on the wall while they explain what makes them tick, here’s one way to do it.

All of the podcasts above can be streamed from the broadcasters’ websites, or via any podcast app on your device.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and music writer, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

A member of RAW in performance in Toronto.Their name kind of says it all.

Raging Asian Women – RAW – is a Taiko drumming collective of East and Southeast Asian women based in Toronto. Founded in 1998 and largely self-taught, RAW is part of a modern, North American reclamation of Japanese Taiko – where a big part of that reclamation has to do with countering stereotypes of who Asian women can be. RAW is a music ensemble, but they’re also an activist group, and a feminist collective – and this month in Toronto, they’re also organizing the second edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival, a three-day-long exploration of Taiko as an art form, educational tool, and vehicle for social justice.

“RAW really started with a simple idea of shattering the stereotype of the Asian woman as being meek and quiet and subservient,“ says RAW member Young Park, who serves as the festival director. “RAW traces its lineage through the North American Taiko movement’s unique history, one that is integrally linked to the Asian American Movement of the 1960s and 1970s when Asian Americans and Canadians mobilized en masse around issues of racial equality, social justice, and political empowerment. RAW, as a group, advances this movement by being the intentional embodiment of empowered Asian women on stage together. This is just a fancy way of saying that by playing big drums in a powerful way as Asian females, we are empowering others to find pride and strength in who they are.”

Park, who joined the ensemble ten years ago, came to Taiko through classical music and dance. “My background is in classical viola, and I was also the artistic director of my own dance company in Cleveland for 12 years,” she says. “Joining a Taiko drumming group (with both drum playing and movement) was a natural fit for me, as well as having the experience to lead and organize large projects like the festival.”

RAW organized the first edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival back in 2012, so this second edition, running from August 25 to 27 of this year, has been a long time coming. As part of the planning process, Park travelled to the 2015 North American Taiko Festival in Las Vegas, and also participated in a residency on Sado Island, Japan, where she lived with apprentices and studied with artists from the renowned Japanese Taiko ensemble, Kodo.

It’s clear that RAW’s mandate has always centred around community building and empowerment – much of which involves working with other marginalized artists within their local Asian Canadian, feminist and queer communities – and the festival reflects this focus. Guest artists who Park is bringing to this year’s festival include Mark H.Rooney, a Scottish-Japanese performer who was a leader in the creation of collegiate Taiko programs on the east coast of the United States; PJ Hirabayashi, a second-generation Japanese American who was a part of the Asian American movement in the 1970s, and who will be hosting a public forum on her activist initiative TaikoPeace; and LA-based Taiko artist and educator Joe Small.

“And of course, RAW could not organize a festival without an Asian queer woman representing!” adds Park. “That [will be] Kristy Oshiro, who is one of the fiercest Taiko players in North America.”

The artists, alongside local Taiko groups, will present workshops and classes throughout the three days, culminating in “Bang On!”, a final concert on the evening of Saturday, August 26.

“When I met with many of the Taiko groups in the region, almost a year ago, many of the practitioners wanted a space and time to be able to connect with each other, to share ideas, exchange skills,” explains Park. “By organizing the Toronto Taiko Festival, especially the workshop component, regional Taiko players have a chance to meet each other, learn from fabulous international artists, and learn new Taiko skills.”

And the final concert of the festival, she adds, will see local groups’ work with one another truly come to fruition. “The concert is an opportunity for the regional taiko groups to share the stage together – in true community fashion.”

The second edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival, organized by Raging Asian Women (RAW), runs from August 25 to 27, 2017, in Toronto. Details and ticket information can be found at www.torontotaikofestival.org.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and music writer, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

Update, Thurs Aug 17, 2017: A previous version of this article stated that Park lived and studied with Kodo; in fact, she lived with Kodo apprentices and studied with Kodo members.: 

 

Following up on his article on ballet and opera interpretations of Pinocchio in our summer issue, Peter Goddard talks with three Canadian artists who sang key roles at the 69th annual Aix-en-Provence Festival this July.

Julie Boulianne in Pinocchio by Philippe Boesmans, staged by Joël Pommerat at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2017. Photo credit: Patrick Berger / artcompress.It's not just the music that’s over following the finale of any Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, the 69th edition wrapping up a week ago. So's the paper trail, with its voluminous programs with marathon resumes about each artist and their multiple past triumphs. Aix means you can show how you made it; that you have a past.

Aix also means you'd better be willing to risk it, according to the musicians I talked to. Exiting festival director Bernard Foccroulle was himself entirely surprised by what Dmitri Tcherniakov revealed in this year's Carmen. “I was not sure it would work out like this,” he told me. Rising Canadian bass-baritone, Philippe Sly, talked pre-festival about “the company's living vision,” about it being “the rehearsals I enjoy the most, not the performance.”

Aix's inclination toward the experimental fits perfectly with how new singers view careers, says Canadian mezzo Julie Boulianne, whose Aix debut this year had her singing the dual roles of the nightclub singer and “bad boy” in Philippe Boesmans' world premiere Pinocchio.

“This is a world now ruled by the stage director who has a lot of power,” says the Montreal-based mezzo. “Aix really makes a point of having extraordinary and inventive new productions. So as a singer you have to be ready to change a lot of your conceptions. You have to be adaptable to make these shows work. We're not stuck in this big form of music of the conventional opera in conventional houses.”

As it turned out, Boulianne didn't suit the character director Joël Pommerat had initially imagined and created for his original stage play of Pinocchio – so, true to Aix form, they had had to come up with something new. “Building an opera becomes a different thing, something you don't expect,” says Boulianne. “We had to find something that [worked], something suited to my personality. It turns out the audience loved it. I love it that we're constantly re-thinking and re-visiting. It's what keeps opera alive.”

We're talking at the Café de l'Archevêché in sizzling heat, where two days previous, in the same spot, I had met with Paris-based Canadian soprano Marie-Ève Munger, who was the dazzling coloratura fairy in Pinocchio.

 Marie-Ève Munger in Pinocchio by Philippe Boesmans, staged by Joël Pommerat at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2017. Photo credit: Patrick Berger / artcompress.“One of our first conversations in rehearsal was, ‘who is the fairy? What is a fairy?’” said Munger at the time. “We knew who Pinocchio is, who the father is. All the other characters are easier to grasp. But even at the first rehearsals we didn't know who the fairy was. But we knew that there are moments of great lyricism in Pinocchio. The music is fairy-like. It's magical. The rest of the score is like (Debussy's) Pelléas et Mélisande, with text over gorgeous music. But there's also coloratura almost in the tradition of (Léo Delibes') Lakmé. It helps that we're trained now to be ready to end up doing everything.” (Like Boulianne and Sly, Munger graduated from McGill University's Schulich School of Music, opera's one-city farm team.)

She added: “As a singer you have to be confident, especially these days when everybody wants to be original. I've made my mark doing a lot of weird projects. I like to be involved in world premieres, something that brings classical music out of its shell a bit, lets it reinvent itself, even just a tiny bit. I find that fascinating and important.”

As if she'd been listening in to our conversation, Boulianne remarked somewhat later: “I really think I'm part of what will make history, something that offers a different way of comprehending the tale of Pinocchio. To me it's a revolutionary way of thinking about it – and meaningful.”

The 69th Aix-en-Provence Festival ran from July 3 to 22, featuring productions of Bizet’s Carmen, Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Cavalli’s Erismena and Boesmans’ Pinocchio, as well as an opera-in-concert presentation of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Peter Goddard, music, film and visual arts critic for the Toronto Star with a National Newspaper Award for criticism, is the author of The Great Gould, due out this summer from Dundurn Press.

 

W. Eugene Smith looking out over Sixth Avenue.Thelonious Monk in the Jazz Loft.Sara Fisko’s invaluable time capsule, The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, captures bohemian life in the Flower District of New York City from 1957 to 1965 when acclaimed LIFE magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith rented space in a commercial building and wired it for sound. (He recorded his life there, and American history at the same time, on 4,000 hours of tape.) The heart of the film is contained in the three weeks of rehearsal that led up to Thelonious Monk’s tentet’s Town Hall concert in 1959.

Thelonious Monk (left) and Hall Overton.Smith’s next-door neighbour on the fourth floor of 821 Sixth Avenue, Hall Overton, a Juilliard professor and composer of classical music who enjoyed playing jazz at the upright piano in Smith’s loft, arranged Monk’s tunes for the historic gig. Fisko’s documentary reveals a fascinating discussion between Monk and Overton as Monk questions what Overton has done to his tune Little Rootie Tootie. Countless jazz players studied with the chain-smoking Overton and considered his teachings invaluable. Bassist Chuck Israels says he was “broadminded, a musically educated guy who was easy to be attracted to.” The young Steve Reich was another student: "I want you to write a melody that more or less follows these shapes [that Overton had drawn],” Reich recalls of his first lesson there. “You’ll learn a lot. It’s very easy to go [Reich makes a gesture that goes diagonally down from top to bottom].” Reich says that there were so many photographs filed in the loft that “you felt all the walls were leaning in on you.”

Saxophonist Phil Woods, who was a member of the tentet, is one of several talking heads remembering the era. (“People complained about Monk’s intervals,” he says.) Bassist Steve Swallow, pianist Carla Bley, composer/instrumentalist David Amram and drummer Ronnie Free are among those who amplify what the multitude of photos suggest and fill in the context. Jam sessions (several of which are excerpted in the film) often mimicked the sounds of the street traffic below, ending at dawn with many of the participants walking outside just as the day’s flowers were being delivered to shopkeepers to sell. Tenor saxman Zoot Sims, one of many who loved to jam in the loft, is remembered for his prodigious playing. The scene brought out artists like Salvador Dali, writers such as Norman Mailer, even Ultra Violet (who, as an Andy Warhol Superstar, would have her life in Warhol’s loft chronicled in a different way).

As well as the Little Rootie Tootie tape, there are six Monk tunes that buttress the soundtrack, with support from Art Blakey and Clifford Brown, Erroll Garner and selections from the American Songbook. Smith always listened to music (usually classical) while he worked – he had a collection of 25,000 LPs. Furtwängler and the VPO (Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony), Rubinstein (Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu), Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and opera taped from the loft radio appear on the film’s soundtrack. Fishko also gives us a snippet of Overton giving performance instructions to the noted violist Walter Trampler in a rehearsal for the LP of Overton’s Sonata for Viola and Piano.

W. Eugene Smith looking out over Sixth Avenue. The window was “his proscenium arch.”Fishko provides just enough backstory of Smith’s pre-loft fame to give a romantic context to his loft lifestyle: the way Fishko puts it, Smith’s leaving his family and everything his Life work (he quit the magazine in 1954) had brought him behind in a northern New York City suburb (the village of Croton-on-Hudson) was something he couldn’t avoid. And the filmmaker put the thousands of photos she had on hand to good use in giving an insight into the obsessive artist, known as a pre-eminent photo essayist in the years before television and video became the journalistic record.

Smith’s printmaking techniques were legendary; his reputation followed him to the loft where one of his assistant’s jobs was to calm visitors whom he had no time to see. Diane Arbus and the young Larry Clark, however, did visit and there are photos to prove it.

Smith’s inevitable flameout – his son talks about his father’s paranoia and suicide calls – led to his leaving the loft in 1971, but Fishko’s shepherding of his photographic legacy and audio tapes has produced an invaluable record of a bygone era.

The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith plays at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema August 4 to 10.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

 

Following up on his article on ballet and operatic interpretations of Pinocchio in our summer issue, Peter Goddard takes a whimsical look back at the 69th annual Aix-en-Provence Festival this July, and the imaginative opera productions it had on offer.

As the calendar ticks over into August, another fabulous season of France’s Festival d’Aix-en-Provence passes into operatic history: 5 new productions…one opera in concert…36 performances.
All that remains for me is the dilemma of how to come up with a 'report from the scene' summary of the festival this from a festival that is now synonymous with artistic and poetic licence in its offerings and stagings. Ah well, maybe a quick nap will help…I’m sure I’ll think of something…

Bizet walks into a bar – Woden's Paradise Lounge (“To Die For Half-Price Wednesdays.”). Already a bit juiced, he barely manages to get up on the stool. “Old war wound,” he grunts. “Iraq One or Two?” asks the bartender. “Franco-Prussian One,” Georges says. “National Guard.”
Grimacing in pain, the composer nevertheless looks very pleased with himself while surveying the place. Looking around he sees – well,wouldn't you know? – Stravinsky, just five stools down, pointing to his long-stemmed glass and in the act of ordering another of his famous Stravinsky Martinis. He too looks smug, as he snaps “make it neat and quick” to the slow shuffling bartender.
The bartender – fellow-Russian Leonid Kinskey, in his role as Sasha, the barman in Casablanca – rolls his eyes as he measures out Stravinsky's vodka by the quarter ounce, as the composer demands. “Carefully!” Sheeh. For a Russian this Stravinsky is very fastidious. Sasha misses movie drinking buddy Rick.
Bizet raises his milky glass: “To you, Igor Fyodorovich.” Stravinsky nods, a wan smile on his closed lips, like a shark in the moment before chomping down. Igor Fyodorovich nods at the praise, but offers nothing in return.

The 69th Aix Festival, just ended, provided a hit for both. Each saw a spanking new modernist interpretation for their overly familiar scores.

“To festivals,” says Georges, moving close so they can clink glasses.
“And their royalties,” says Stravinsky, clinking away, watching the news scroll on CNN – anachronism is ordinary at Aix – and ordering another round.

Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress at Aix-en-Provence. Photo credit: Patrick Berger / artcompress.Bizet's Carmen was re-imaged by Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov as a modernist psychodrama where everyone is in therapy, under state scrutiny, or is enduring both. British director Simon McBurney's take on Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress – where Norway’s Eivind Gullberg Jensen replaced wrist-injured conductor Daniel Harding critiques soulless Hollywood, instead of William Hogarth's squalid London.

“I must say,” said Bizet, trying to buddy up to Stravinsky, “that American tenor they found for your Tom Rakewell…”

“Paul Appleby,” nods Stravinsky, the Hollywood veteran who knows good casting when he hears it.
“Sung wonderfully,” says Bizet. “And the set was as white a white as Utrillo at his chalkiest.”
“All very right and fine,” says Stravinsky, pointing Kinskey's way for another martini. Igor is suddenly engaged. “But you got the great publicity. I mean, having that warning about violence before the show was brilliant.”
He turns around in his seat, pontificating the Carmen disclaimer to the otherwise almost empty bar.
“Tonight's performance contains scenes that may seem like actual danger,” Stravinsky mock-orates.
“‘Actual danger.' That's edge. That's contemporary, Georges. That's what I want.” He takes another tight-lipped sip of his martini. “That's derrieres in seats.”

Bizet's Carmen at Aix-en-Provence. Photo Credit: Patrick Berger / artcompress.The CNN ticker tape continues to roll…95% seat capacity…373,145 tickets sold…14 concerts….The sound of “hurrahs,” and “bravissimo” and otherwise unidentifiable thumps can suddenly be heard from the private party in the room upstairs.

“It's the 17th century we have to worry about though,” says Bizet, trying to be heard over the racket. “The 17th century is the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition of opera. It's everywhere, sneaking up behind you.”
“So I hear. Something by Cavalli – Hipermestra, I think, a good piece – was at Glyndebourne this year,” says Stravinsky.”WIlliam Christie directing while noodling on the harpsichord.”
“William Christie is always noodling on the harpsichord,” says Bizet. “It's the stamp of quality. The 17th century is now getting better press than…”
“You and the 19th century?” says Stravinsky.
And you and the 20th too,” says Bizet, suddenly sounding sober. “Even the 21st isn't doing too badly. Philippe Boesmans' Pinocchio is more drama per musica than what I'd call opera. But it felt new and fresh.”
“Because of Joël Pommerat's script and direction, not the sound effects,” says Stravinsky through pursed lips.
“Face it Igor Fyodorovich, your Rake and my ‘Habanera’ aren't the news this year. It's what's happening today or happened in the Early Baroque,” says Bizet. “It's Cavalli's Erismena. I envy Cavalli's tunes, and the earthiness of the orchestra – I wanted that for my L'Arlésienne Suites – the rough sound of fiddles scratching – no polish here – the trumpets…”
Bizet rattles on, not noticing that Stravinsky is paying zero attention, instead staring with fascination at the only other customer in the bar, a short figure in a coat far too heavy for Heaven, the poor creature's shoulders heaving as if deeply weeping.
“And Cavalli's cast,” says Bizet, now in full flight. “Francesca Aspromonte, the Italian soprano in the title role – the performance of the season! – and Susanna Hurrell as Aldimira and good lord, the spectacular breakdancing Polish countertenor, Jakub Józef Orliński, it was…”
But Stravinsky is gone. Leaping from his stool, Bizet follows the Russian who is approaching the weeping stranger. Stravinsky prods his shoulder. The figure turns abruptly, weeping changing into convulsive laughter. The Russian leaps back. It's Mozart.
Bizet leaps back, too.
A beat of silence. An eternity of understanding. They all know.

Philippe Sly, in Mozart's Don Giovanni at Aix-en-Provence. Photo credit: Pascal Victor / artcompress.Meant perhaps to be the festival's big hit, French director Jean-François Sivadier’s Don Giovanni was the festival's one downer. Giovanni's feral lust its relentlessness one of the sure things in all of opera had a Justin Bieber so-sorry whinging to it.
Still, rising Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly sang wonderfully despite feeling somewhat ill early on, and even improvised a weird dance routine, in response to understanding that operatic hell had opened its doors for him. This Don became a girl's night out led by Italian soprano, Eleonora Buratto, as Donna Anna, one of the festival’s other major finds.

Tugging on Mozart's shoulder, Stravinsky says: “W.A, it happens to us all.” Mozart turns with a near-hysterical laugh. “Igor, you old rip-off bastard, you don't get it, do you?” he says and turns back to his smartphone screen, thumbs flying frantically. (To think, his parents once worried that with his fingers he might become a pool player.) “This couldn't be better for me and that's all that matters. Me.”
Stravinsky is miffed. But Bizet is curious, peeking at what Mozart is texting: ‘Disaster. Does no one remember the Dons of Cesare Siepi or Nicolai Ghiaurov? Now there was testosterone…fiddle with my work at your peril.’

Is that the voice of Bernard Foccroulle, Aix supremo leaving the festival at the end of this year, breaking in from overhead on the vast flat-screen TV monitors from above the bar? "The dominant idea here," says Foccroulle, "is that opera is a living art form…Sivadier's set more Breck Girl than Brechtian…"

“This’ll teach them,” says Mozart, now muttering wildly to himself. “I don't need my music 'interpreted' by anybody.” “Texting? Hmmm,” Bizet thinks. Wait till he tells Offenbach at their next golf game. And from down the bar comes the sound of Stravinsky ordering another martini.

The 69th Aix-en-Provence Festival ran from July 3 to 22, featuring productions of Bizet’s Carmen, Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Cavalli’s Erismena and Boesmans’ Pinocchio, as well as an opera-in-concert presentation of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Peter Goddard, music, film and visual arts critic for the Toronto Star with a National Newspaper Award for criticism, is the author of The Great Gould, due out this summer from Dundurn Press.

 

Violinist Andrew Wan and pianist Angela Park in performance on July 26. Photo credit: James Ireland.Andrew Wan, concertmaster of Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and violinist along with Jonathan Crow in the New Orford String Quartet, was a logical choice to participate in this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival (TSM), the first under Crow’s artistic direction.

Before Crow introduced Uriel Vanchestein’s Les Veuves (The Widows) to begin TSM’s July 26 concert before a full house in Walter Hall, Wan stood up to congratulate his quartet partner, saying he was like a brother from another mother. They’re both consummate musicians, dedicated, versatile and passionate. On July 20, the day after Wan’s first TSM public appearance (performing with Crow and James Ehnes in Bach’s Concerto for Three VIolins BWV 1064R), he spent an hour in an open rehearsal with fellows of the TSM Academy working on Korngold’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op.15. His passion for Korngold’s “very complex piece, very gnarly, very romantic,” as he described it to the audience in Walter Hall, was evident from the way he handled the beautiful, soaring melody of the slow movement from the first violin chair, and the powerful bowing that propelled the ad hoc Academy members as they played the piece together for the first time. “That’s pretty crazy,” Wan said, turning to the audience, when they finished. (There are 54 changes of time signature in the Adagio alone.) When a problem with a specific bar bothered the cellist, Wan immediately said: “Why don’t we isolate it?” A rhythmic question was solved by counting out three bars, ending with the troublesome one. At one point Wan had everyone sing a few bars before playing them. (Wan’s quicksilver intelligence and problem-solving directness resembled similar traits Crow brought to the open rehearsal of the first movement of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” String Quartet a week later in Walter Hall, when he was in the first violin chair with another group of Academy members. Talking quickly so as not to waste time, Crow used a cellphone metronome to try out different tempos, had various combinations of instruments play in pairs to concentrate listening, tailored the quartet’s sound to the larger venue of Koerner Hall where the performance would take place August 4, and slowed down a climactic passage to better hear its components and check intonation.)

L-R: Andrew Wan, Joseph Johnson and Steven Dann, in performance on July 26. Photo credit: James Ireland.At the July 26 concert, Wan played first violin in Les Veuves, and together with Crow, violist Steven Dann and cellist Desmond Hoebig, produced a rich and polished tone in Vanchestein’s programmatic tale of an Indigenous woman who takes revenge on lumberjacks who destroy the trees that surround her home. Wan then joined pianist Angela Park in Oskar Morawetz’s hyper-romantic Sonata No.3, which served as a bold, rhapsodic vehicle for his sweet, fulsome, highly coloured tone. Dohnányi’s Serenade in C Major for String Trio, Op.10 followed with Wan, violist Steven Dann and TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson blending their individual voices and precise playing in what served as a compelling argument for the primacy of live performance.

After intermission Crow, Park and cellist Desmond Hoebig took on Dvořák's resplendent Piano Trio in F Minor, Op.65 with Crow and Hoebig trading melodies, with gorgeous violin tone and limpid cello sensitivity, while Park supplied a balanced support on the keyboard. Even more than in Les Veuves, there was a sense of the connection between the Orford and the New Orford string quartets (Hoebig was the cellist in the Orford’s last years before taking up the principal cellist post in the Cleveland Orchestra) and of the generational torch being passed. The spontaneous standing ovation was well-deserved.

Andrew Wan and Jonathan Crow in performance at the July 27 Shuffle Concert. Photo credit: Gord Fulton.Late the next afternoon, on July 27 (just 30 minutes after Crow’s Death and the Maiden rehearsal), Wan and Crow got together for an hour-long Shuffle Concert dubbed “Concertmaster Duo” at Heliconian Hall. Wan recalled his first meeting with Crow at Orford in Quebec, one summer in the early years of the new century. Wan was a student and was struck by “this tall blond dude who had just played the hell out of the violin part of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night.” Within a few years they were friends and part of the New Orford String Quartet. “We annoy each other endlessly,” he joked.

The concert began with a sonata for two violins by Jean-Marie Leclair, the Baroque violinist/composer who founded the French violin school. The two concertmasters were a matched pair, exhibiting a light touch and a tightly coiled tone, characteristics that were even more pronounced in a vivid interpretation of a handful of Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins. A selection of Berio duos, inspired by the writing styles of other composers, followed: the first, based on Bartók, opened a door to several of these miniature character studies, all of which oozed charm and humour. The violinists’ technique was on full display in Seven Proximities by Quebec’s Maxime McKinley; their virtuosity and musicianship shone in Prokofiev’s epic Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, Op.56 with its long lines, mysterious mood, devilish passagework, slow and sultry slow movement and jocular finale. Schnittke’s clever Moz-Art (on K416) for Two Violins was played with verve. Their version of Mozart’s Turkish March put a bow on a lively 60 minutes of music that is rarely heard live. The concert was another essential component of the cornucopia that is this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival.

The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened on July 13, and runs until August 5.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

 

Cellist Elinor Frey.The Toronto Music Garden has presented Summer Music in the Garden, a series of free open air concerts throughout the summer, since 2001. On Sunday, July 23, Montreal-based cellist Elinor Frey, an artist who has appeared several times in the series, returned with her duo partner, the Italian harpsichordist Lorenzo Ghielmi. They brought a program of German music from the mid-eighteenth century, most of it appearing on their recent CD titled The Berlin Sonatas on the Belgian Passacaille label.

The program was beautifully presented, in spite of the constant threat of rain and a persistent breeze. The conditions did not prevent a large crowd from gathering in the Music Garden, and the event staff skillfully added just enough amplification to make all the music and the artists' commentaries entirely clear. Frey played her five-string Baroque cello, an instrument that adds an E-string above the usual top A-string. Such cellos were common in seventeenth and eighteenth century European court orchestras, and were particularly suited for virtuoso playing in high registers. Frey demonstrated this with her own instrument by playing two solo violin pieces by Franz Benda, a composer who spent 63 years in the service of Frederick II “the Great” of Prussia. Benda's Progressive Exercise no.25 and his Caprice no.16 were both elaborate, extroverted showpieces that transferred beautifully to the five-string cello.

The Toronto Music Garden.Frey and Ghielmi collaborated in three sonatas, by Carl Friedrich Abel (1723–1787), Carl Heinrich Graun (1704–1759), and Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732–1795) – all examples of the so-called “language of sensibility” (Empfindsamkeit) from this time period. At the concert, Frey described this stylistic approach as “an expression of sadness, anger, wrath, joy, love, and praise.” The style, she said, calls for “various changes in dynamic, both abrupt and subtle, at the service of beautiful melodies and expressive fantasy.” The many interpretive shadings found in all these sonatas, as displayed by Frey and Ghielmi, yielded a delightful range of expressive music. The two artists were an ideal duo, both showing their individuality within a perfectly balanced sense of ensemble. The program was rounded out with Ghielmi's subtly nuanced harpsichord solo, the Fantasia in A minor BWV922 by J.S. Bach. This was Summer Music in the Garden at its finest!

In the coming weeks, Summer Music in the Garden will offer a great variety of diverse musical performances, including Fiddling in the 21st Century, Eh?!, with traditional fiddlers Anne Lederman, Emily Stam and James Stephens (August 10); Fire and Grace, with violinist Edwin Huizinga and guitarist William Coulter (August 24); and the season finale, the Ton Beau String Quartet (September 17). See the details for these and many other excellent performances in our listings, or at: http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/summermusic/performances/.

Summer Music in the Garden runs until September 17 in the Toronto Music Garden.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

 

Angela Hewitt at the Westben Barn. Photo credit: Stephen Dagg.Rashaan Allwood in performance on July 21. Photo by the author.Last weekend from July 21 to 23, Campbellford’s Westben Arts Festival pulled out all the stops to curate an immersive piano concert experience. From mainstage performances at the Westben Barn, to their new “One-of-a-Kind Experiences” series fostering a novel approach to listening for sounds, to generous opportunities for artist interaction, it appears that artistic director Brian Finley and his team have assembled a winning formula for innovative piano programming.

Setting the tone on the evening of Friday, July 21, Rashaan Allwood presented a recital of piano works by Olivier Messiaen alongside a multimedia slideshow. The performance alternated between selections from Catalogue d’oiseaux and Petites esquisses d’oiseaux, video soundclips of birdsongs represented in the music, and painted depictions of the musical scenes by Avery Kua, commissioned especially for the performance. The stage became an interactive museum exhibit showcasing interactions between nature, birds, and natural phenomena, and Allwood was an insightful, enthusiastic ornithological guide through it all. Juxtaposed against Campbellford’s birds chirping along in real time, the presentation felt almost like a country adaptation of John Cage’s atmospheric 4’33”.

At the piano, Allwood’s tonal palette enriched the experience in colourful ways. Guided by Messiaen’s indications, he evoked brilliant, crystalline cascades as well as sound masses when called for. I would have liked to savour the pauses for longer: though there are no concrete storylines in these Messiaen works, there were tangible moments of tranquility which could have been contrasted even more against turbulent scenes.

All told, was there a takeaway impression from the performance? Not exactly—like the sounds of nature, it was a fleeting event to be relished in the moment. A result that Messiaen himself would have approved of.

Jan Lisiecki in performance on July 22. Photo by the author.On Saturday afternoon, it was Jan Lisiecki’s turn to take centre stage. Born in Calgary to Polish parents, his heritage courses through his playing. Pianists would appreciate the “Winter Wind sweep” he infused across the afternoon’s program—it is a tension-heightening sensation that Lisiecki is able to draw out from sequences of notes, and a hallmark of his playing in this concert.

Here, the acoustics in the Westben Barn posed a challenge, favouring certain pieces over others in Lisiecki’s program. I’m not sure he would have been satisfied with the results of the Bach, despite his efforts to bring it to life. There is an undeniable intellect to Lisiecki’s playing, the same one that allowed him to skip three grades in school: he took much of the Partita No. 3 at a chipper pace, recalling a Gouldian nimbleness and precision. It was evident that he was striving for a sparkling tone, but in this particular space the acoustics backfired on the superimposed, fast-moving textures; they came out as a scramble of notes. But what brilliance could not be drawn out, Lisiecki compensated for with gorgeous “Winter Wind sweeps” in the rising basslines.

In the Chopin Scherzo No. 1, Lisiecki took liberties with its clear-cut structure: he demonstrated his expertise in Polish dance forms, infusing the calm middle section with a mazurka stilt. In a performance that wasn’t otherwise striking, was this a Revolutionary move? The audience was enthralled and gave him full applause heading into the intermission.

Resurfacing on stage, Lisiecki took on an entirely different character for the second half, which was delivered much more clearly than the first. Assuming a calm, assured maturity, the Chopin Nocturnes Op. 48 were introspective and searching: the changing moods of the first nocturne were seamlessly navigated, and in the second nocturne the pain was clear and earnest. With the four Impromptus Op. post. 142, Lisiecki sucked the audience into his and Schubert’s world. The third Impromptu in B-flat Major was a standout in the set, evoking a carefree jaunt in the park with tuneful whistling.

Angela Hewitt in performance on July 23. Photo by the author.On Sunday, Angela Hewitt stepped onstage to reassert her reputation as a pre-eminent Bach interpreter of her generation. Each performance resembled an intimate diary entry, meticulously crafted at the piano. The six opening Scarlatti sonatas allowed everyone to ease into the Barn’s acoustics; when it came time to play Bach, Hewitt had already weaved a personal sound world. She created for herself a bubble of meticulous attention to detail within a compact dynamic range, spinning an illusion of expansive contrasts. It is interesting to compare her approach towards creating musical interest with Lisiecki’s from the day before: the former opted for varied articulation and less extremes in volume, while Lisiecki favoured the reverse. As a result, there was a stately character to Hewitt’s Bach, and the Barn’s acoustics were masterfully transformed into that of a closed Baroque palace.

An interesting phenomenon was how Hewitt’s closing Gigues were tentatively executed in comparison. Repeated usage of pedal simultaneous with an unsettled left hand were observed, as was an odd tempo fluctuation in the right hand. The closing Beethoven “Moonlight” Sonata also showed kinks in its armour. Was this an indication of flagging stamina? Even if so, after such an authoritative conception of Bach, this was easy to forgive—especially with Hewitt performing on a piano whose tone had been unravelling as the afternoon advanced (an issue Lisiecki had also encountered during his performance).

Angela Hewitt at the Westben Barn. Photo credit: Stephen Dagg.As a whole, in this weekend snapshot the Westben festival—now in its 18th season—seems to be hitting all the right notes, as they continue bringing music to a tight-knit community of enthusiasts. “We remain really, really excited about the future,” enthused Finley on the weekend. He hinted at programming ideas for future seasons, including concerts running through the night: “This has given us some real courage to pursue these special experiences that are [within] music and beyond, in this beautiful area. So we’re dreaming hard!”

Westben’s summer festival series runs until August 6 in Campbellford. For more information, visit www.westben.ca.

Jennifer Liu is a recent graduate in piano performance, and has written on classical music for La Scena Musicale, The WholeNote magazine, and Musical Toronto.

 

HOGTOWN's Laura Larson (Louise "Lulu Hearts"), Karen Slater (Maddy Foster) and Emma Wiechers (Anastasia). Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz.(HOGTOWN's Laura Larson (Louise "Lulu Hearts"), Karen Slater (Maddy Foster) and Emma Wiechers (Anastasia). Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz.)

Last Friday was the 21st of July, 2017, but for a couple of hours it was also a summer night in 1926 in prohibition-era Hogtown – aka Toronto the young and gritty. About 18 months ago I had made the exact same time travel trip, walking through the doors of Toronto’s historic Campbell House to see the very first dress rehearsal of Sam Rosenthal and Drew Carnwath’s HOGTOWN: The Immersive Experience, a new site-specific show designed to fit into the many rooms of Campbell House on one hand and, on the other, to bring to life as many aspects of life in 1926 Toronto as possible. It was fun but still at an early stage of figuring out how many characters to include and how to combine and interweave all the storylines. Last summer the show was developed further and revived, and now, this summer, a new version has just opened, streamlined and focused and with some great musical additions.

No more than sixty people can attend at once, and the night I was there, there were about forty of us. After a casual pre-show in the courtyard where various characters interacted with the audience, we were gathered into the house and split into three groups to experience the three foundation scenes of the main storylines. On the main floor in the dining room, we met the two rival mayoral candidates, ambitious social reformer Sam McBride and incumbent Thomas Foster; McBride’s wife; various Toronto movers and shakers; and the kingpin of the night, suave and conniving union boss Bob Delacourt. Partway downstairs was the gambling den, and a bit further down the speakeasy, home to hostess Carl-Mays, the White Hot Jazz Band, and dancers who captivated with a gloriously 1920s song-and-dance number. Up at the top of the house was the meeting for the women’s Temperance League, a fiercely led group of women fighting to maintain prohibition and make sure that the prohibition candidate is elected, and in between were bedrooms, parlours, staircases and hallways, where the action used every available space.

It was great fun being immersed in the Toronto of the twenties, with prohibition and illicit drinking raging, gangsters and politicians rubbing elbows, politicians' wives and daughters up to various shenanigans, a mild-mannered reporter – our MC for the start of the evening and in love with the daughter of one mayoral candidate – tracking down a story, the innocent and not so innocent famous ( including baseball star Tommy Burt) and unknown (including two young flappers skipping out on other responsibilities to join the speakeasy as dancers for the night), with everything tuned up to a high stakes pitch on the eve of the election.

The first incarnation of the show was very much a theatre piece that included music only in the speakeasy location. Now, music has percolated up and through the house: original compositions by music directors Douglas Price and Paul Humphrey added to period standards to flesh out characters and relationships and give new impetus to various plot points. When I spoke to director and co-writer Sam Rosenthal after the performance, he said that in the first year audiences had really responded to the musical scenes and he wanted to build on that to see how it might strengthen the experience as a whole.

Sam Rosenthal (HOGTOWN's co-creator/director) and Jorge Molina (Gil Shwartz). Photo credit: Sam Gaetz.(Sam Rosenthal (HOGTOWN's co-creator/director) and Jorge Molina (Gil Shwartz). Photo credit: Sam Gaetz.)

Since for the first three scenes of this show, you’re on your own to decide where to go and what to watch, I didn’t get to see all the songs – sadly missing a gangster number in the gambling den – but I did see some wonderful new pieces: a Gene Kelly-esque duet about family expectations for baseball player Tommy Burt (Eric McDace) and aspiring reporter Ronny McBride (Saphho Hansen Smythe), a fun solo by flapper Lulu (Laura Larson) about how to navigate society, the fabulous “Temperance Tantrum” led by powerhouse head of the temperance league Mary O’Grady Hunt (Tara Baxendale) with stylized character breakout solos for her outwardly demure daughter Eleanor (Jaymee Fuczek) and for wild radical board member Pauline Drabble (Andrea Irwin), and Eleanor’s period-flavoured “Got A Lot’ song in the speakeasy where she dares to bet on a horse race. The numbers were all fun, well sung, and brilliantly choreographed by Nicola Pantin. Not all the new numbers were true to the style of the 1920s, and sometimes felt composed in a later (1940s) or more contemporary musical theatre mode. Somehow this still worked, as the period was so strongly evoked at the beginning of the show, and by various numbers throughout, including “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” a knockout solo by Arinea Hermans as Toni Swift.

The last new character number I saw was the moving final song, sung by speakeasy hostess Carli-Mays Johnson after she has been told she has been traded to a Chicago crime boss as part of a big Bob Delacourt deal. Michelle Piller was both hard nailed and heart breaking,   evoking a magnetic combination of Bebe Neuwirth and Patti Lupone, a rich ending to that character trail. At that point we were all gathered up to the ballroom for the finish of the evening and a wrap of the story, capped by a full company number sung in the courtyard.

For a lover of musical theatre this new version of Hogtown is a delight. I wonder, though, if more traditional theatre lovers would feel the same way. Some of the grit and darkness of the earlier version is subsumed by the innocence of the musical numbers, so the creators/producers have an interesting dilemma on their hands; they are in a very interesting place of having experimented with going in a musical direction and needing to decide whether, in future editions, it will be more a play with music or more of a full-blown musical. ‘Finished’ or not, however, Hogtown is a great way to spend a couple of hours and a fun window to Toronto’s past. I know that I would like to go again to follow some of the other storylines and see some of the numbers I missed this time around.

HOGTOWN: The Immersive Experience plays at Campbell House until August 20. For more information and to buy tickets you can visit www.thehogtownexperience.com or http://www.campbellhousemuseum.ca

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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