Recorded last spring at technologically friendly Koerner Hall, tonight's broadcast features a dream quartet of soloists -- soprano Suzie LeBlanc, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Rufus Mueller (both men return as soloists for this year's Messiah run) and bass-baritone Locky Chung -- the excellent Tafelmusik orchestra and chamber choir and conductor Ivars Taurins hamming it up for all it's worth, dressed up as George Frideric Handel himself.
The audience makes a fantastic choir, sounding every bit like a well-prepared large choral society -- even without Taurins shouting out at the singers at the top of his voice.
The overture is overlaid by clips of the musicians getting ready backstage, and Taurins providing a bit of historical background as he gets into costume. It's too bad the oratorio has been cut substantially to accommodate the 90-minute format, as well as Taurins' commentary.
In my opinion, the real magic of the Singalong Messiah is in being there to participate in the choruses. It's just not the same watching it on TV, no matter how nicely done. However, this is a great way for someone who has never heard the oratorio to check out Messiah without having to commit to buying a ticket. It could be the start of a life-long love affair.
Tafelmusik is running its Singalong Messiah YouTube video contest for the second time. People can submit 2 minutes of video by Sunday to have a chance of winning four free tickets to the Massey Hall concert on Dec. 19 and well as a basket of other goodies. Check out the details here.
While looking for something else, I ran across this fun Channel 4 segment from Faking It two years ago. Here, a 25-year-old punk rocker, Loiner (that's the demonym for people from Leeds, England) Chris Sweeney, discovers what conducting an orchestra means. Even working in simple, 4/4 time doesn't appear to come easily. There are nice cameos by maestro Nicholas Kraemer and his kids.
I'm trying to imagine the advance planning, preparation, rehearsal and overall logistical complexity of mounting a live broadcast of Verdi's opera Rigoletto on location in Mantua. But that's exactly what the BBC and Italy's RAI are planning to do on Sept. 4 and 5.
Expected to sing the title role is evergreen, ever-ready Placido Domingo.
The cost of this sort of enterprise must be staggering, as well, costing, I'm sure as much as a full-scale, full-run new production of the same opera for a stage. It says a lot about the undimmed appeal of opera that there is money available to do this.
On Feb. 7, I blogged about what one could call some reset-in-Toronto operas, just for fun (my top suggestion was La clemenza di TTC).
Toronto couturièreRosemarie Umetsu (who has slipped some pretty impressive gowns on Measha Brueggergosman, Karina Gauvin and Nicole Cabell, among other artists) responded with a couple of great suggestions, which I never posted here. The Mantua Rigoletto reminded me that I still had her note:
'Lucia di Landsdowne+Bloor' The neighborhood has cleaned up considerably, however a few years back and Donizetti may not have needed the inspiration of Sir Walter Scott to write Lucia (di Lammermoor). Not to mention, the number of locals that may answer to the name Lucia's to cast!!
'The Barber of Yorkville' Given it probably holds the largest number of hair salons per capita over one little plot of land in Toronto!
Here's a little clip of a different kind of live, on-location opera, courtesy of Chcago's experimental Redmoon Theater:
Following its world début in Manchester, Luminato co-commissioned opera Prima Donna, by Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright opens at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto tonight.
Today's performance is sold-out, but there are still tickets available for the subsequent three shows.
I'll be reviewing tonight, and, I have to say, it's one of the most high-pressure reviews I've had to face in my five-year stint as music critic at the Star.
My biggest problem is prejudice. Given all the hype over this opera, it's very difficult to me to walk into the Elgin Theatre without a whole lot of preconceptions rattling around in my brain. The biggest is an antipathy toward its creator.
Bravo! TV is airing a 55-minute version of the making-of documentary tonight at 9 p.m. (EDST). The title says it all: Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna. It's well worth watching, but it didn't help me get over the impression that Wainwright is a supremely self-obsessed person with a hugely inflated sense of who he is, and what the role of the composer is in the collaborative world of classical music and opera.
Over the past five years, my greatest pleasure has come from meeting and talking to singers, conductors, instrumentalists and composers -- the bulk of whom are not only deeply engaged in their personal journeys, but also deeply attuned to the people and dynamics around them.
Absolutely nothing in the world of opera (or music, or theatre, or publishing) happens in isolation. The finished product that we consume has been carefully crafted, often over many years, by many pairs of hands.
Prima Donna, the opera, is no different. Except that Wainwright appears to think that it is all about him. Oh, his poor, tortured soul. Oh, the inability of other people to relate to his vision. Oh, the beauty of putting all of one's personal suffering into song.
Ultimately, I have to put Wainwright aside before tonight's curtain goes up. I have to appreciate the opera as an opera -- a combination of singers (including some mighty fine Canadians), orchestra, conductor and staging, wrapped around a story and a musical arc. The personal stuff will need to get left on the sidewalk.
Here is a pirate video of Wainwright singing the aria "Les feux d'artifice t'appellent" from Prima Donna at a Niagara winery concert last summer:
First it was High School Musical. Now it's Glee giving a new generation a fresh appreciation for the pleasures of singing and dancing on stage.
Here's the opening of an article on the positive influence of Glee on some typical suburban high school students, from Saturday's Boston Globe (for the full article, click here):
Chino Lopez, a junior at Waltham High School, didn’t mean to join the school’s show choir, Music Unlimited. Two of his friends, who were members, dragged him along.
Still, he thought it would be smart to keep it to himself. “People would make fun of me, and I didn’t know what to say back,’’ said Lopez, 18. “They’d say, like, ‘It’s for gay people.’ ‘I wouldn’t do that.’ ’’
Around the middle of the year, though, things started to change. “Now they come up to me, and say, like, ‘I take it back,’ ’’ Lopez said.
Could this have anything to do with “Glee,’’ the Fox television series about an Ohio high school glee club full of losers? A club that bears a striking resemblance to Music Unlimited? Lopez prefers to think the change of heart occurs when his classmates see how good his show choir is. Still, he says “Glee’’ has made a huge difference in his life. The series “brought more of my personality out,’’ said Lopez, who had never danced before. “I used to be really shy. I used to have stage fright. I used to be scared, a lot. Now I’m not scared of going up on stage anymore.’’
“Glee,’’ which just returned after a four-month hiatus, has struck a chord among high school choral students. It has emboldened students who are tired of being seen as dorky, and bolstered music programs across the country, with students lobbying for show choirs at their own schools.
The National Association for Music Education recently polled choral teachers to see whether the Fox show has had an impact on their music programs: 43 percent said it had, reporting that students had been turning out in record numbers for auditions and pleading for choral arrangements of songs from the show.
Here's further inspiration, from the other coast: the Sound Express show choir from Carlsbad High School in California, preparing for a competition in Burbank earlier this year (there's a nice a cappella moment about 4 minutes in:
Please take at least 5 minutes to watch this closing section from Puccini's La Bohème: -- Maija Boog is Mimi, Saimir Pirgu, Rodolfo:
What makes it special is that it was made for its medium, television. Not just a stage-to-screen effort filtered by a camera lens, it's been directed and staged in the real, contemporary world with no worry that the music would jar with the 21st century setting.
You can thank Swiss broadcaster Schweizer Fernsehen for this Bern-set La Bohème im Hochhaus (Highrise La Bohème). And, just like the Metropolitan Opera has discovered at the cinema, there's a much larger market of eager eyes and ears than they could have expected.
You can read all about Schweizer Fernsehen's successful opera-for-TV initiative in an article in today's New York Times.
Here is some Verdi in the same vein -- the 2008 La Traviata im Hauptbanhof Zürich (La Traviata at Zurich train station). Eva Mei is Violetta, Vittorio Grigolo, Alfredo, Angelo Veccia, Germont:
I was one of those high school kids who lived for band practice, choir practice and drama group. Life began after 3:30 p.m., as far as I was concerned. (I think back on everything I did, including piano lessons and, in my senior year, taking on organist duties at church, and I wonder how the day managed to have so many hours back then.)
My TV heroes were the kids on Fame. Their hopes and fears felt like a mirror of my own roiling teenage hormones.
So it's no surprise that I've joined the legions of fans of the new TV series Glee. Much of the adult stuff is way more cynical than anything I would've seen way back when, but the teenage angst -- and ability to channel it and overcome it through music and movement -- is exactly the same.
Just as Fame helped validate my decidedly unpopular artsy cravings, there's a whole new generation of musical drama queens who can gain strength and comfort from realising that there are so many more like-minded souls out there.
There's a nice little story in The New York Times on how the theatre community has been drawn to Glee, like Neil Patrick Harris to an awards show.
Here, to cap my little burst of nostalgia, is Valerie Landsburg (who is 51 now) singing her stuff in Fame:
It takes a load of creativity to put a symphony together -- whether it's for a 100-piece orchestra or 1,000 cellphones. It says a lot about our world that some of the most creative moments in art come from advertising and marketing these days.
But fun is fun.
The first clip was posted this week by Vodaphone New Zealand. Kiwi music producer Jol Mulholland is the mastermind (as well as the conductor).
The second and third clips give us a behind-the-scenes glipse at some of the logistics involved in making those 60 silly seconds possible:
Today begins the two-week countdown to a festival of organ music being organized in Toronto as part of the 100th anniversary celebration and convention of the Royal Canadian College of Organists.
More on that soon.
In the meantime, have a listen to French master Olivier Latry -- titular organist at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and regular Toronto visitor -- as he mixes The Simpsons' theme into one of his fabulous improvisations. It just so happens that this 9-minute wonder was recorded at the organ in Roy Thomson Hall. Serious and fun can coexist.
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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