This press release just arrived from Opera Lyra in Ottawa:
Opera Lyra Ottawa (OLO) announced today that, despite presenting two artistically acclaimed productions earlier this fall, it has cancelled the two remaining productions of its 2011-2012 season due to a lack of financial resources. The company said it is reorganizing its operations to emerge in a stronger financial position next season.
Opera Lyra will return for its 28th season with a main stage presentation of La Bohème in Sept. 2012, and La Traviata in concert in March 2013.
"Since the economic downturn in 2008, we have had three consecutive years of severe financial challenges and simply do not have the funds available for these two productions," said Malcolm McCulloch, Chair of Opera Lyra's Board of Directors. "Opera Lyra is acknowledged as one of Canada's foremost opera companies, but our subscriptions, single-ticket sales and private sponsorships have nevertheless declined significantly."
The cancelled productions are The Flying Dutchman in concert, scheduled for February 29, 2012, and Tosca, scheduled for March 31 and April, 2, 4 and 7, 2012. OLO is doing this now to be fair to the artists, production staff, and everyone affected by the decision.
McCulloch emphasized the productions were cancelled only after other administrative and production cost-cutting measures were taken. "This was a very difficult decision, but one that is necessary to ensure we can continue providing the community with the highest-quality opera in the future," he said. "We want to thank our donors and subscribers for their ongoing support and understanding as we deal with these financial pressures, which many other performing arts groups are also facing."
All ticket holders will be contacted by Opera Lyra within the next two weeks by mail with details about their options, including ticket exchanges and refunds.
Opera Lyra expects to continue its support of emerging opera singers and its initiative to introduce students to opera through a yearly children's production that tours elementary schools. Opera Lyra will also be launching a new outreach program aimed at the same young audiences in the spring of 2012. More information about Opera Lyra's plans will be available in the near future.
Opera Lyra is dedicated to the music and adventure that is opera. The company presents first-class main stage productions, showcasing top Canadian and international talent. It inspires and educates young audiences through its Young People's outreach programs.
For more information about Opera Lyra Ottawa, please visit the website www.operalyra.ca
Michael Kaiser, president of Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center, has written in the Huffington Post about the slow but steady extinction of professional arts criticism in mainstream media. He is deeply worried.
His final paragraph:
No one critic should be deemed the arbiter of good taste in any market and it is wonderful that people now have an opportunity to express their feelings about a work of art. But great art must not be measured by a popularity contest. Otherwise the art that appeals to the lowest common denominator will always be deemed the best.
As a recent former critic who still has one foot -- okay, more like a big toe -- in the game, I agree. But that doesn't mean there is no way to find creative ways to join the crowd's, or the cloud's, or the swarm's conversation in a constructive, engaging way.
The cultural universe as we've known it for the past century and a bit is in the middle of a massive realignment -- larger than most of us can even imagine. And I don't think I'm being hyperbolic.
Here is a tiny sliver of an example of what I mean, taken from the pop music side of the business.
Social media isn't really about a new way of communicating, it's a new way of expressing all the weird little quirks that make us human.
Today's AHA! moment came from a story that illustrates a couple of ways people are circumventing Facebook's penchant for spreading our personal news and preferences all over the place.
Guilty pleasures suddenly become public pleasures. Wouldn't I be embarassed if my friends discovered I listen to Il Divo, or Leroy Anderson, when I should be savouring the complex pleasures of Elliott Carter?
Wouldn't you know it, there's now a service available that will mask your true listening pleasures on Facebook with a fake playlist that can help you tailor your image to whatever you feel your peer group would best approve of.
I've learned from painful experience in my occasional forays into composing or arranging music for my church job that some keys simply don't suit some instruments (my orchestration basics are lost far back in the mists of time, and I'm almost always too lazy or frazzled to go back to my reference materials, which I've kept since university).
That means having to apologise to grimacing players at the one-and-only pre-performance rehearsal.
My review of Philippe Jaroussky's Toronto début is on the Star's entertainment website this morning. You can check it out here.
To share the pleasure of last night's concert a little more, here is Jaourssky singing his encore aria, "Alto Giove" from the opera Polifemo, by Nicola Porpora, with Ensemble Artaserse in what looks a lot like the royal opera theatre at Versailles:
The American Ying Quartet -- violinist Ayano Ninomiya along with Janet (violin), Phillip (viola) and David (cello) Ying -- has just released a gorgeous album of chamber music by Russian composer Anton Arensky (1861-1906). It is late-Romantic music at its most vivid, intelligently and expressively interpreted. The disc is also an eloquent argument in favour of programming Arensky's music more often.
(Toronto's Gryphon Trio has programmed Arensky's gorgeous and relatively well-known Piano Trio in D-minor for its Nov. 17 Music Toronto recital.)
The Yings' album doesn't really have a title, but it could have been called The Arensky Variations, because each of the three pieces on the disc contains intricately rendered variations. The most substantial come in the String Quartet No. 2, in A minor. The second of its three movements contains a theme, seven contrasting variations and a coda. The Finale movement includes expert displays of both canon and fugue.
The first and second Quartets date from 1888 and 1894, respectively, written while the gold-medal composition graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory was teaching at the Moscow Conservatory (where his students included Sergei Rachmaninov).
The Piano Quintet, recorded with the help of Arensky-loving pianist Adam Neiman, dates from 1899. At this point, Arensky had moved back to St. Petersburg, where he had been appointed music director of the Imperial Choir in 1895.
All of the music here displays a deep mastery of classical musical structure and counterpoint as well as a facility with melody -- in particular being able to fold in the soulds of Russian folk music. There is nothing adventurous in the architecture, but the careful proportions of each movement feel so right, that I don't feel like anything's missing.
Listening to this particular music at this time of year is a music-lover's equivalent of lighting up the fireplace and settling down in a comfortable chaise for a moment of escape from the world's many noises and demands.
I haven't always been a fan of the Yings' interpretations, which I've sometimes thought a bit shallow. Perhaps the addition of Ayano Ninomiya last season made a difference. They are wonderful here, finding poise, balance and extroversion where necessary. Neiman is fleet and elegant, playing as one with the quartet.
It wasn't just the usual zombie ride to work on the subway for me this morning.
Standing next to me from Bloor to King stations was a young man, probably in his early 20s, who was giving a friend an expertly detailed critique of a ballet choreographed by the late master, Sir Kenneth Macmillan. This man didn't look or carry himself like a dancer, but he spoke as if he had intimate knowledge of the artform.
At one point, he spoke of "breathe and express," as a way for dancers to pace their performances, as well as give them a better defined emotional shape.
It was one of those moments that focused so much of what any artist needs to do in performance -- be it an author shaping a manuscript, to a string quartet working together on stage. It also has a wonderfully Zen feel to it.
it could also be a new form of morning yoga: Breathe and express.
Last night, one week after singing his last performance as Orestes in the Canadian opera Company production of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, Rusell Braun stood on stage at Koerner Hall for an intense, all-Mahler programme that began with a performance of Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) that I'll treasure for a long time.
Also on the program was Das Lied von den Erde (Song of the Earth). The accompanists were a chamber ensemble of strings, winds, piano, harmonium and percussion made up of the Smithsonian Chamber Players as well as Royal Conservatory of Music faculty and alumni. The chamber arrangements were crafted by American cellist Kenneth Slowick, in the spirit of Arnold Schönberg's short-lived, post-World War I Society for Private Musical Performances.
(Slowick conducted, wearing an eye patch. I was told that he almost didn't make it to the concert because of a detached retina, wasn't allowed to fly, and so drove up to Toronto from Washington D.C.)
The tenor for Das Lied was Thomas Cooley, who did a nice job, but who sounded strained negotiating some of Mahler's very difficult vocal leaps. Braun, however, was flawless, curling not only his gorgeous baritone but every nuance of possible expression around this arresting music.
After sitting through the concert, I think I prefer the chamber arrangements to Mahler's original full orchestration. The small number of people on stage, as well as the nakedness of each instrumental part further underlines the subject matter, of a person confronting the intense emotions and loss and the inevitability of all things coming to an eventual end, weighed against the eternally regenerative cycle of life.
The songs are written in such a way that the singer is a lone wanderer among the crowd of people and emotions, which are represented by the instruments. They all intertwine in a strange harmonic tangle and travel from dark to light and then back again.
(I imagined it staged as a chamber opera, with the orchestra members and singer moving around a lamplit sitting room with a view of mountains through a large window.)
There are many examples of fine music depicting the messiness of human life, but few pieces present it in as concentrated and highly defined form as Kindertotenlieder. I would have been content to simply hear those five songs performed again after intermission, to further savour the many, many layers of meaning and expression.
I could suggest something to listen to from YouTube, but am not going to. There's a very fine performance of Kindertotenlieder by Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, with conductor Lorin Maazel, from the 1960s, but it just doesn't have the same impact as what I heard last night.
John Terauds started at the Toronto Star as a freelance writer in 1988, and has been on staff since 1997. He began writing on classical music in 2001, and has been the full-time classical music critic since 2005.
He is also the organist and choir director at St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish founded in 1863 in downtown Toronto.
If he's not listening to, writing about or playing music, it means he's either asleep, unconscious, walking his dog -- or all of the above.
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