Planning for 2012-2013
U of T, COSI, COG and myself, I have been making plans as we prepare the on-ramp for 2012-2013 academic year and music season. It’s wonderful to plan ahead. ForVoice Studiesat U of T, “The Singing Year 2012-2013” has many treasures, and it will be presented at the “Voice Studies Welcome and Showcase” on Tuesday, Sept. 18th in Walter Hall at 12:10. Even as we launch COSI 2012, COSI 2013 looks ahead to Mozart’sLa Clemenza di Titoand the international premiere of Andrew Ager’s opera, Le Ali della Colomba (The Wings of the Dove). The Concert Opera Group will greet the new season with performances in Toronto and London, ON, of Gilbert and Sullivan’sThe Mikado. The casting purposely integrates three levels: professional singers, emerging artists, and student singers. This way, they can amaze and inspire each other, nurturing themselves and their audiences. Some of these singers will be reprising their roles in January, 2013 with the choirs of North Toronto Collegiate Institute at their singing retreat on Lake Simcoe (Jackson’s Point). It’s become an annual “Flash Mob” or impromptu “Happening,” where we arrive to spend much of the day with the high school singers, with one part of the time dedicated to a workshop performance in which we have prepared the solo roles, and the choirs have prepared the choruses. We put it all together, and I provide the congealing commentary that replaces the dialogue. It’s rousing fun, that’s what it is! To create a semblance of costuming, I have in the past simply selected suitable character hats from Malabar’s Costumes. It’s a little difference that makes all the difference!
So – the upcoming season, including my own singing projects, is very exciting. I’m especially looking forward to performances of Benjanmin Britten’sSaint Nicolas, which are marking the 100th year since Britten’s birth.
I happily accepted an invitation for a short “professional development” trip to NYC, where I enjoyed the cascades of excitement the city and its marvellous arts institutions have to offer.
A highlight was The Steins Collect exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Stunning and completely engrossing. I especially enjoyed seeing just how detailed an artist the young Pablo Picasso was. The highly detailed refinement of his portraits was that of a “draftsman,” before he took on other approaches. He followed the rules meticulously before he broke them! The museum also displayed a series of black and white picture projections of the Steins’ apartment in Paris to show how it evolved into a small contemporary gallery of its own, as Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo collected the art of their friends, and before Leo and Gertrude parted ways in 1913-1914. The pictures re projected onto a space that has the identical dimensions of the original apartment walls. A fascinating re-creation!
London, ON: COAA
I was pleased to return to give master classes at the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy at Western University on May 18-19. It’s always a pleasure to help singers uncover and polish their best singing and most engaging performing. Hats off to Prof. Sophie Roland (Chair of Performance Studies, Western) in her work to bring this program to such a continually thriving and beneficial life.
Stratford: “The Pirates of Penzance”
As a birthday present from last month, Dianne got us tickets to the Stratford Festival’s The Pirates of Penzance. Stratford’s series of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in the 1980’s was jaw-dropping, and they coincided with the several productions in which I sang and then conducted with Western’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society while a student. It was a lot of fun, and great training for an undergrad. My father sang in G&S productions while at Toronto’s Jarvis Collegiate Institute, and I have a group of his cast photos of HMS Pinafore, IolantheandThe Gondoliers(from 1948-1950) framed in our home. It was something wonderful that we shared, since I sang inWoodstock Collegiate Institute’s productions ofThe Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, and The Mikado in 1976, 1977, and 1979. I learned so much, and gathered a lifetime memories along the way.
I have made a point of generating Gilbert and Sullivan experiences for my own undergraduate students when I can, as a way of ramping up to the greater intensity of language and vocal skills required as professional opera singers. With University of Toronto singers, we’ve done workshop versions of Pirates and Pinafore with singers from North Toronto Collegiate Institute, withThe Mikado coming up in 2013. Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo’s first stage role was as Phoebe inThe Yeomen of the Guard at Western, and as an undergrad, tenor Michael Schade sang his first G&S roles with me (as Edwin inTrial by Jury and Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore) when I conducted concert versions of those shows with orchestra with the Woodstock Fanshawe Singers in 1986. He went on to record the tenor roles inPinafore and Mikado with Sir Charles MacKerras and the Welsh National Opera. The Concert Opera Group has recently performedThe Pirates of Penzance (with Claire de Sévigné as Mabel, Andrew Haji as Frederic, and Clarence Fraser as the Pirate King) in London, ON, in a “Concert Version with Sing-Along Choruses,” and the COG will perform The Mikado there on Sept. 23/12 Katherine Whyte as Yum-Yum (appearing this year at the COC as Iris inSemele), Andrew Haji as Nanki-Poo, and Marion Newman as Katisha.
The Vancouver Symphony’s artistic director (and opera composer) Bramwell Tovey got his conducting sea legs as music director of the New D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and Liz Upchurch (Music Head of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio) was a rehearsal pianist to some of Britain’s finest singers within the same group. She remarked to me how she marveled at how the singers would stand in the wings to learn from each other as they each developed their roles, time after time.
As for Stratford’sThe Pirates of Penzance, wereally loved everything… but the singing. Modestly voiced singers who are over-miked and trained in a broadway belt style – that was the technique of choice, and it is not our cup of tea. We prefer singers who are self-amplified. The orchestral writing was “dumbed down” and simplified, so that the exciting runs were replaced with quarter-notes at at a walking pace; it had a semblance of the same thing, but it wasn’t the same thing. It did, however, make it easier for the single players of each string instrument(!) to survive in the pit, with their instruments miked to sound like a fuller ensemble. Finances turned this score into an “arrangement;” this is understandable, but it was not near the original version!
Oh well – we had a great time. We enjoyed the present while remembering the past, and we look forward to the hilarity of further G&S enterprises at Stratford, as long as we can right the listing vocal ship at the Canadian Opera Company.
A Weekend in Newfoundland
It was a terrific experience to return to Newfoundland to adjudicate at the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Music Festival. This year it was held (for the first time) in Clarenville. Its newly opened community centre houses a hockey arena and a 250-seat theatre. I joined Executive Director Joan Woodrow and fellow adjudicators Thomas Davidson (piano) and Theo Weber (strings). We were pleased to award baritone Steven Griffin the top provincial award in the voice category. Sharing perspectives with my colleagues was also a privilege, since we adjudicated each class together, with the specialist in each area taking the lead. For flute, percussion and guitar, we drew on our combined experience and it was a completely absorbing pleasure!
The rugged landscapes of Newfoundland are endlessly mesmerizing. The population of the island is merely 500,000, so the open spaces are vast. Bodies of water large and small are plentiful. Huge, jutting rock surfaces thrust from the Atlantic, and narrow isthmuses give other-worldly views of vanished land revealing itself from the mist. A cross-Newfoundland road trip with my wife is definitely on our planning boards.
To say that I enjoyed delicious cod while I was there would be obvious. I also enjoyed my first taste of toutons with molasses.
At the airport, I was called to the gate, and asked to give up my seat so that a family could sit together. I was happy to do that. Air Canada said it would give me another available seat a couple of rows up. That’s not what happened. I was moved to first class! What a treat.
On the way to the airport, we took a swing by the picturesque community of Brigus. I only had my iPhone with me for picture taking, so I’ve included an online photo below.
Two weeks in CHINA!
I enjoyed one exciting time after another in China. It was frustrating for me that I could not update this blog while I was there, since the glorious moments kept happening. I was happy to see my personal conceptions of China be replaced by real interactions and experiences. China’s rich cultural history is everywhere. Life there is considerably more liberal and progressive than I ever imagined. The food is fresh, healthy and fantastic, even though I did have my own “ick” food factor perhaps shared by others. (Example: the scrambled eggs with what I thought were bean sprouts was actually scrambled eggs mixed with little fish that actually looked like bean sprouts. The little black specs were their eyes. It tasted good, but I’d not order it again!). It was also notable how much easier it is to eat healthily in a culture that is not dominated by the wheat and corn syrup industries. Fresh vegetables are everywhere; rice, noodles and bread are appropriately proportionate. I was grateful for that!
The two cities I visited, Xi’an and Beijing, have populations of 8.5 million and 20 million, respectively. The sheer numbers of people make social practices interesting. There is a primal “survival of the fittest” mentality in general, but it is not to be taken personally. Getting yourself to the front of the line is a way of life. Traffic often moves at a very slow crawl. Often, but not always. Men’s globulous public spitting and constant, loud throat clearing are common. As a singer and voice teacher, this drove me crazy! I had to practice meditative breathing techniques to cope with this. On the other hand, touring such places as the Forbidden City, Xi’an Terra Cotta Warriors, the Ming and Qing Dynasty tombs, the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, Peking Opera, Tosca at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, the Beijing Summer Palace, the 2008 Beijing Olympic site, Flying Goose Temple (Xi’an) and Xi’an’s Old City Wall – were all breathtaking.
Professionally, my time in China was tremendously welcoming and so rewarding. I taught several afternoons of master classes with singers AND teachers performing. I also enjoyed introducing unfamiliar works in recital (Duparc, Wolf, Jack Behrens, Mozart’s Idomeneo), while celebrating works familiar to them, too (Handel, R. Strauss, Verdi). I even managed to perform two encores (including a Chinese folk song – in Chinese ). I made many new friends in China – a treasured experience. Their kindness and care were extraordinary and unforgettable. I am deeply grateful for this life opportunity, and I look forward to developing the many possibilities that were proposed to me. Great Expectations!
Sights and Sounds of China
I’ve included some candid video of the Peking Opera performance I was privileged to see on April 19th. It was in an “opera tea” kind of setting, with tea and cookies served at tables in the theatre. It was also being filmed by CCTV. I’ll be adding more photographs below as time allows.
China’s “National Centre for the Performing Arts”
This building was designed by a Parisian architect, and holds four theatres: 1) Opera 2) Peking Opera 3) Musicals 4) Movies. It is directly across from the Chinese “Parliament,” or “The Great Hall of the People.” It is gargantuan.