I know, I know, I've been on summer hiatus. Don't worry, I'll be filling you in on the Art Life and Stilettos summer transcontinental trek in no time. In the meantime why not take a break from the serious world of classical music and check out some rarely seen crossover talent? No, not that kind of crossover...
Opera singer, and singer songwriter Ashleigh Semkiw will be headlining the Drake Underground on Saturday, August 18. Ashleigh is a unique artist, in that her most recent operatic performance was in the spring of 2012 with Chicago Opera Theatre in their production of Shostakovich's Moscow, Cheryomushki, and if you're expecting her pop stylings be reminiscent of Renée Fleming's most recent pop curious album Dark Hope, rest assured that Ashleigh writes and performs her own music and is decisively marching to the beat of her own drum. You can check out Ashleigh's music and art at www.ashleighsemkiw.com
Every once and a while I find myself having to take a small break from writing and maintaining this wonderful site because something has come up in another aspect of my life. If only time were more forgiving, because then I would have the time to do everything I want to all at once. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. That being said, have no fear, the site is not going anywhere. I just wanted to help you solve the mystery of why I’ve slowed down a bit recently. I am still as devoted as ever to Art Life and Stilettos and thrilled that you have come along for the ride with me. Stay tuned for more interesting arts coverage and articles. If you have any ideas for the site, are interested in making a guest contribution or being interviewed please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com
Now, for your reading, viewing and listening pleasure, I thought it might be fun for me to share some unexpected criticisms of some of history’s most prolific opera composers. It’s your inspirational moment of zen:
The Overture to Tannhäuser is one of the most curious pieces of patchwork ever passed off by self-delusion for a complete and significant creation...When it is stripped and sifted, Herr Wagner’s creation may be likened, not to any real figure, with its bone and muscle, but to a compound of one shapely feature with several tasteless fragments, smeared over with cement, but so flimsily that the paucity of good material is proved by the most superficial examination.
H.F. Chorley, The Athenaeum, London, May 19, 1855
Those who were present at the performance of Puccini’s opera Tosca, were little prepared for the revolting effects produced by musically illustrating the torture and murder scenes of Sardou’s play. The alliance of a pure art with scenes so essentially brutal and demoralizing...produced a feeling of nausea. There may be some who will find entertainment in this sensation, but all true lovers of the gentle art must deplore with myself its being so prostituted. What has music to do with a lustful man chasing a defenseless woman or the dying kicks of a murdered scoundrel? It seemed an odd form of amusement to place before a presumably refined and cultured audience, and should this opera prove popular it will scarcely indicate a healthy or credible taste.
Nicole Cabell, the un-diva opera star, returns to Palm Beach for “Romeo et Juliette”
By Lawrence A. Johnson
At a time when opera presenters are doing all they can to appear more populist and approachable, one reads countless examples of singers showing how down to earth they are by doing public appearances and meeting their fans — usually for brief CD signings — in an attempt to show they’re just folks like the rest of us.
Meryl Streep is known for completely enveloping herself in her characters, capturing their nuances, speech patterns and personalities. In her films, she's transformed herself into such disparate people as the chef Julia Child, the writer Susan Orlean and plutonium-plant worker Karen Silkwood, winning countless honors and awards along the way.
In her latest film, the biopic The Iron Lady, Streep once again fully inhabits a real-world figure — this time former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her performance has already won her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination, and has earned rave reviews from critics, including Charles McGrath in The New York Times, who wrote that Streep "seems even more Thatcher-like than Mrs. Thatcher."
As with all of her roles, Streep conducted extensive research about Thatcher's life before filming began. She learned that Thatcher carried around notecards with quotations from Lincoln and Shakespeare, and that she took voice lessons to sound more confident in her speech patterns." I remember reading that Lawrence Olivier had something to do with arranging for her to have [voice lessons]," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "He said he wouldn't care to do it himself, but he steered her in the direction of a good vocal coach. And she did go, and it did help her and and was part of the Pygmalion process."
"The COC production is presented by Daniele Finzi Pasca, best known for his work with Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo and the creation of the closing ceremonies of the XX Olympic Winter Games in Torino in 2006. In Love from Afar, Finzi Pasca also serves as lighting designer, working with set designer Jean Rabasse and costume designer Kevin Pollard. He brings his signature style to a visually arresting new production that uses innovative Cirque-like techniques to extend the range of effects possible on stage. Acrobats gliding through the air, backgrounds of silk and coloured lights, and costumes with seemingly endless silken extensions seductively weave this 12th-century love affair with the 21st century."
Danielle de Niese in a teal Vivienne Westwood corseted gown at Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village. c/o NYTimes
Yes, I love fashion. Yes, I love opera, but when the New York Times decided to do an introspective feature on what Danielle de Niese wore for an entire week, my heart sank a bit. I would have loved to read a journal about her experience performing in Enchanted Island at the Met, what went on at Domingo's birthday party, and who she's studying with in New York rather than some dull nonesense about tucking her jeans into her boots and wearing - le shock! - gym clothes to the gym. This article really missed the mark and failed to include photos of her sartorial journal, which would have at least made the article worthwhile. Of course, I still read it and have reposted after the jump for your viewing pleasure.
Updated!! Check out the new translation of the Anna Netrebko interview with Vogue Russia. Meticulously handled by our fabulous friend Sasha. Thank you Sasha. Now the interview makes much more sense, and those awkward lost in translation type moments have mostly dissappeared.
Recital in New York City, main role at La Scala, a Christmas concert in Moscow – for Anna Netrebko the whole world is not enough
No one has done for our operatic art as much as Anna Netrebko. Not because she is the greatest singer of our time - there are others, and not worse. But because she is the most beautiful singer of our time, the funniest and liveliest. And she is ours.
Big opera singer - Maria Callas until 1953 or Montserrat Caballe nowadays – is a huge mobile audio speaker. She moves onto the stage, opens mouth and sings an aria. Then she moves to another corner and sounds from there.
Anna Netrebko is not thin, but there is nothing monumental in her. She knows how to improvise, trusts her charisma and body and therefore can kick off shoes, if they’re too tight; or lose a Chopard earring on the stage of the Moscow Conservatory - who counts them. Even do a somersault - as in "Don Pasquale" at the Metropolitan Opera. That's what her acrobatics lessons were for at the Palace of Pioneers and School Students of the Krasnodar Region. She also sang in the "Kuban Young Pioneers" choir. And learned to ride a horse. And was "Miss Kuban". Drama club, photography club ... but also wanted to sing - the real soviet action girl.
The opera tenor Roberto Alagna, who started out signing in a Paris pizza bar, confessed to a huge admiration for Barbara and said he learned from her how to perform in small spaces like L’Ecluse, whichseat no more than 60 people, most of them eating their dinner through a performance.
Jonas Kaufmann really wants you to watch Faust this weekend. How can you say no to that face?
THE BIRDS TAKE UP THEIR CHARMING SONGS ONCE MORE Special guest narrator: Bruce Hunter Vivaldi - Four Seasons Musical Improvisations – The Audience becomes the Storyteller
The holidays are a time to be together with those you love. Join with friends, family and community and participate in some music making with Via Salzburg. The Baroque sounds of Vivaldi prepare our ears as Via Salzburg and our audience create music together for the first time. Friday, December 9, 2011, 8pm. Rosedale United Church, 159 Roxborough Drive, Toronto.
BACK TO BACK - CONTINUUM MUSIC Continuum Musicco-presented with the Music Gallery and Toronto New Music Projects, Back to Back is a concert of works for small ensemble by experimentalist extraordinaire Vinko Globokar. This event, together with a New Music Concerts performance on December 11, creates a rare concentration of Globokar’s work that is not to be missed. The programme includes Dos à Dos, Terres brûlées, ensuite…, a brilliantly theatrical trio for piano, saxophone and percussion with electronics by Thomas Kessler, and a group improvisation led by Globokar on trombone. Performers - Composer and trombone: Vinko Globokar (FR) With: Thomas Kessler (electronics), Wallace Halladay (saxophone), Stephen Clarke (piano), Ryan Scott (percussion), David Schotzko (percussion). December 9, 2011, 8 pm. The Music Gallery, 197 John Street, Toronto, ON, CA, M5T 1X6
"Sasha Djihanian was born in Montreal and is a graduate of the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal with honours of First Prize and Great Distinction. She is a Jacqueline Desmarais Grant Holder, winner of the Third Prize at the Czech and Slovak International Competition, and Second Prize at the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition. Ms Djihanian was a national finalist in the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a semi-finalist in the 2011 Queen Elisabeth Competition and a finalist in the 2011 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. Upcoming performances include Haydn's Die Schöpfung and Micaëla in Carmen at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, Italy with Lorin Maazel conducting."
Ambur Braid as the Queen of the Night - Photo by Diana Di Mauro
Against the Grain Theatre is another local company that has taken the tradition of opera and flipped it on its head, presenting classic works with a laid back attitude, and in interesting places. Against the Grain Theatre is "a collective of Toronto artists - actors, opera singers, musicians, painters, writers, dancers, and arts professionals - with a thing for performing in unique spaces. We want to take the classics and turn them sideways - that is, present them... differently. Cozily. Sometimes with beer and popcorn."
Super Villains is the performance that I attended. There was Steam Whistle on ice (Steam Whistle loves opera, don't they?) and a never-ending supply of candy and chocolates laid out. The theme of the evening was inspired by comic book super villains. Magneto, Green Goblin and the Joker would have been right at home. They presented a unique mix of opera and musical theatre pieces, performed by villainous characters but loosened them up a bit. Whips, beer and razor blades all made welcome appearances.
Smash Furniture Store made for an inspiring performance space, as their merchandise tilts the scale towards theatrical styling than conventional furniture. The exposed brick, vintage fixtures and sale tags on the audience's seats contributed to the warm and easy going atmosphere. The singers were inches from the audience, and as observers we were completely engaged into the scenes by the performers. It came across like audience members were spontaneously getting up to perform. It completely worked.
The repertoire was classic as it gets, and the character choices exposed the complex and evil personalities of Don Giovanni, Carmen, the Queen of the Night (Die Zauberflote), Sweeney Todd, Esclarmonde, Tarquinius (The Rape of Lucretia), Medea Redux, and Javert (Les Miserables).
Yes, opera villains are as appealing as you think. I loved the performance.
Super Villains featured Gene Wu, Stephen Hegedus, Ambur Braid, Vilma Vitols, Christopher Mokrzewski and Noa May Dorn.
Photos are below, video will follow shortly. Don't forget to check out Against the Grain Theatre's production of La Boheme, performed in English at the Tranzac Club December 1, 2 and 3. This opera is actually being performed in a bar. Hallelujah, let's all go!
I like to take opportunities as they come. Most of the time I'm pleasantly surprised with the outcome, and being given the opportunity to attend Tapestry New Opera's Pub Operas was definitely no exception. When I found out about the performance I was super excited. An opera written about a pub, inspired by a pub and performed in a pub, and in the Distillery District no doubt, sounded pretty great to me. Of course I probably should have paid more attention to the description of the venue because once I was past the Distillery's toll booth of a front gate, I spent about ten minutes trying to find the Ernest Balmer Studio. For whatever reason I just couldn't get the idea of an opera taking place in Sloan’s Pub out of my head and I kept circling all the festive looking watering holes hoping that Tapestry would be warming-up inside. I soon realized that they actually have a performance space on the third floor of one of those festive looking buildings. The show was not in a pub.
Alright, I can accept that they didn't perform in an actual bar, it was their studio space dramatically turned into a Scottish pub, complete with bartenders and Steam Whistle on tap. It was pretty cool, plus it gave them control over having a stage set up that worked best for the opera, room for a small orchestra with grand piano and of course, gave the performers a generous backstage area to work with. Ah, reality. Anyway, back to the opera itself.
Tapestry provided us with the operatic equivalent of a five course meal complete with the ghost of Chopin, a crazy lady, happy and angry drunks, live country music, a robbery, a wedding, a serial killer, and a dead guy. The beer was cold, the snacks were Scottish, and the opera was undeniably satisfying. Scottish composer Gareth Williams provided the modern score that at times seemed minimalist inspired and at other moments felt more theatrical. The libretto was written by Canadian, David Brock. He was a way with words that gave the characters life and humanity.
Pub Operas was - Wayne Strongman, Music Director; Xin Wang, soprano; Heather Jewson, mezzo soprano; James McLean, tenor; Benjamin Covey, baritone.
Tapestry New Opera's next production will be, The Tapestry Songbook, January 28, 2012. "This concert will showcase bravura arias from the extensive library of Tapestry produced operas, performed by artists from the Tapestry New Work Studio Company and participants from Tapestry’s New Opera 101 Master Class/Workshop. Soprano Xin Wang, Baritone Peter McGillivray and Collaborative Pianist Christopher Foley return as both performers and master class clinicians."
Pub Opera's Assistant Director, Michael Mori, sent me some artistic rehearsal photos that really capture the mood of the night. You can watch the slide show below, or click through the pic by pic gallery.
Ryan MacPherson as Alfredo and Malcolm MacKenzie as Giorgio in Glimmerglass Opera’s 2009 production of Verdi’s La traviata
Photo by Richard Termine/Glimmerglass Opera
Anne Midgette wrote the New York Times article that opera enthusiasts often refer to when commenting on the decline of "the big voice." Her article mentioned problems in the structure of the university system which may have contributed to the decline in full bodied singers, and questioned the trend towards lighter voices. Olivia Giovetti has written a counter article that recently appeared in Classical Singer Magazine, that asks whether we are focusing on the wrong question when we wonder where the big voices have gone. She comes up with a number of reasons why the industry may be looking for lighter, more agile voices. She cites examples of voices being destroyed from strain, anxiety, drug addiction and fatigue, and claims that the necessity of having a large voice for the sake of filling a big opera house is the real problem, and that perhaps we need to instead look at the small house model that had nurtured many of the voices of the past.
Operanation 8: A Muse Ball, the fundraising gala thrown by the Canadian Opera Company in support of the Ensemble Circle was definitely the highlight of my fall event season. It was my first time attending the bash and I was blown away by how many people (over a thousand) came out to support our great musical talent. I have a bunch of photos that I'll be putting up in a future post, but for now I hope you enjoy this video I produced. The best part is the amazing clip of Rufus Wainwright performing "The Art Teacher." I was standing so close I felt like I could reach out and play some upper harmonies with him on his baby grand. Look out for cameos by the outstanding COC Musical Director, Johannes Debus, and the ever charming General Director, Alexander Neef.