Orfeo ed Euridice by Laurence Equilbey streaming on demand

Orfeo ed Euridice by Laurence Equilbey streaming on demand

Thadieu was wondering why on earth I wasn’t posting last night during my favourite conductor’s concert, but I was — only on Twitter, while consuming G&Ts and yakking to a number of other people of the increasingly tipsy Twitteriat fellowship.

I had to deal with a hungover of the musicoholic kind all day today.

So the Gluck is on replay here (on Medici.tv also). Not a fan of the counter-tenor voice, so I was secretly casting Marianne Crebassa, Anna Bonitatibus et bloody cetera in the title role while Fagioli sang. He sang well, but it just doesn’t compare, as Bette said to Tina apropos Jodi. (She was wrong about Jodi, mind, so my parallel is rather a wasted one too.)

Amid some splendid music, I was trying to capture a screen grab that would show Equilbey’s lip gloss. Such a thing did appear last night — an extraordinary occurrence. Not much luck with the closeup-weary streaming director, however. And as I was about to give up, this interview appeared.

Ladies and gents, I introduce to you The Lip Gloss.

(For the French-challenged, I translated the convo in Thadieu’s comments section here.)

We interrupt regular programming

We interrupt regular programming

My interview with the great Margaret Drabble now online over on The Believer web exclusives:

The Believer: The golden baby of your novel has a mother who decided to give up a lot. The mother in The Ice Age also, and they both do it quite happily. Before I read the book, I wondered if it was in any way like The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing.

Margaret Drabble: To tell you the truth, I couldn’t really read The Fifth Child. I knew Doris Lessing quite well and I knew I wasn’t going to like it and I know one or two people with children with problems who were cross with her about that book. They thought she’d shown a very bad side of care. She had not been without her own problems and they felt she shouldn’t perhaps be describing other people’s problems in this harsh tone.

BLVR: And the book is almost more about motherhood than about a child with special needs.

MD: Well, Doris was a problematic mother.

BLVR: I didn’t know this before reading it in Gold Baby, but she also had a son with special needs.

MD: From what I’ve learned about The Fifth Child through the grapevine, I imagine she was reflecting on the experience she had had with him. I think it’s lucky that he died before she did.

BLVR: A bit surprised to hear you say that Lessing was a problematic mother.

MD: But she would know that. She left two children behind and brought one with her and clung on to him very close. It’s a strange pattern of mothering. She has also said on the record that she hated her mother. I think the whole area of mothering is to her extremely problematic. She really loved the boy who stayed with her but it was not a calm relationship.

BLVR: And as many of your other novels, this one isn’t just about our own time. It’s also about the period of the British colonization of Africa, and goes back much further, into the archaeological history of the continent. The Seven Sisters hasThe Aeneid in its basis. The Peppered Moth has the matrilinear genetic history of the species and Hellenistic Egypt.

MD: For me, that’s entirely natural, to interpret what’s happening now in terms of the mythology. We get new insights. Some of what we read in classical literature is not relative to our condition, but then many women novelists and poets have turned it upside down and told the stories from the other point of view. I find that fascinating. But it seems natural to put women’s lives today in the context of what went before—either as a contrast or as a development.

I remember I had a lot of fun looking at various translations of the Aeneid. I enjoyed having a sort of background structure that is so far removed from the characters’ lives. In their real lives, a lot of them are quite washed up, really. And then they go off on this heroic journey. And yes, they’re all women.

BLVR: And in your novel A Natural Curiosity it is said that “when we meet our Gorgon, we die”—one character wonders if her sister, who had run away, “had met her Gorgon”. The ancient stuff comes to life in our otherwise mundane present.

MD: It’s very common in poetry, but in the novel you’re being a bit more adventurous when you do it. But it’s just that—I see symbols all around me. And apropos that trilogy I got very interested in things about the severed head and confronting the fate.

For MD’s musical choices, head over to Desert Island Discs, where of course she chose all the right people (i.e. Monteverdi, Bach and Handel; surprisingly no Mozart but bigup for Kurt Weill in the earlier DID).

I am in need of music: Elizabeth Bishop, sung


I AM IN NEED OF MUSIC – Songs on poems by Elizabeth Bishop. With Suzie LeBlanc, soprano & various composers. All the info you need

I am working on a profile of Suzie LeBlanc for Opera Canada, so naturally I’ve been listening to her recordings, including the recently published compilation of songs on poems by Elizabeth Bishop put to music by five living Canadian composers.

The texts are, as it is to be expected, fantastic, and the music – by the variety of its vocabulary and the painstaking attuneness to the language – does them more than justice.

Some of Bishop’s poems are anything but ‘realist’, and several on this list are rather oneiric and nocturnal, delving in dreamwork and symbols. “Sunday 4 A.M.” is one such poem, and the care that the composer John Plant took to create for its polysemy a corresponding musical polysemy is extraordinary. He explains some of the process in the liner notes; each composer does this at length, except for Emily Doolittle who chose to do a cryptic note and leave the music to speak for itself.

And does it ever speak. Her interpretation of “A Short, Slow Life” keeps you on your toes for the entirety of its 9-plus minutes. The musical whirlwind that come after the line “along the dark seam of the river” which ends in a silence pierced by a dialogue of a couple of woodwinds, which then grows to include the other instruments while the vocal line prevails over all that stirring with the beautiful echo-y melody – is but one of the details in this piece. Further along, she achieves great effects by sculpting out the musicality of a word for everybody to see, then finding it a mirror/dance partner among the instruments.

The opening three songs are set to the most ‘straightforward’ texts, but their composer Alasdair MacLean luckily did not opt for a straightforward or simple music. Each of the concluding four songs composed by Christos Hatzis has something of the musical and ‘big band’ flair to it, which may or may not be your thing, but “The Unbeliever” is the most complex and unexpected of the four and deserves a close listening.

All songs are sung by Suzie LeBlanc, the godmother of this project and a Bishop devotee ever since she stumbled upon a brochure about the poet in a church in rural Nova Scotia. A bonus DVD disc comes with the CD—the 36min film about a walking/hitchhiking tour through Newfoundland that LeBlanc and filmmaker friend Linda Rae Dornan undertook in 2007 following in the footsteps of Bishop herself. It too is worth seeing.

And of course, I can’t sign out without some EB Herself. Here’s “Close Close”, set to music by MacLean in the disc.

Close close all night
the lovers keep.
They turn together
in their sleep,

close as two pages
in a book
that read each other
in the dark.

Each knows all
the other knows,
learned by heart
from head to toes.

PS: To keep in mind, there was a feature film on EB recently and Barbara Hammer told me in an interview back in March that she was working on some wonderful experimental biographical Bishop madness of her own.

Margarethe von Trotta & Mezzo Love

Margarethe von Trotta & Mezzo Love

Three of my films have music sung by Janet Baker. She was my favorite singer for a very long time. In Christina Klages there’s the Bach cantata, in Sisters there’s Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and in Die bleierne Zeit I put Handel’s cantata “Lucrezia.” I’ve always loved Baker’s singing. For the first film, I couldn’t get the rights… but I happened to meet Alfred Brendel at a dinner, he was friend of a friend, and I told him, “I would like so much to include this song in the film, but the reproduction rights are too expensive,” and so on… He said, “write a letter to Janet Baker and I will give it to her.” So I did, and she wrote me back a wonderful letter in long hand, beginning with “I am so honoured that you would like to include the song…” I made a copy of that letter, and sent it to the publisher and got the permission. I used this letter for the second and the third film as well. There are still two arias of hers that I wanted to put in my films. One is by Monteverdi, Ottavia’s “Addio, Roma.” The other one is a song by Mahler, this perhaps I’ll put in my next film if I get the rights. (In my many moves I seem to have lost the letter!) It’s one of the Rückert Lieder, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”—“I am lost to the world.” Baker has the most wonderful piano. I was a singer myself and I know that to produce a wonderful piano you need great strength. And she has it. [sighs]

Read my interview with von Trotta on The Believer online.

The Vintage von Otter Series continues

The Vintage von Otter Series continues

von Otter as?Anybody know what the production is? I stumbled on the picture many moons ago on the interwebs, but no information. Any guesses? Could be Sesto in a traditional production, but I really wanted to set my eyes on an image of one of her early bel canto roles which she abandoned promptly, so this was simply calling to be called Tancredi. (But probably incorrectly.)

I got into a conversation with an older gent on YouTube last year and he promised he’d scan his copy of the ROH program of von O’s Cenerentola debut for me but he never did it (ball-dropper). So… any programs lurking at the bottom of anybody’s drawers, ladies, gents and inbetweeners, you know how to reach me.


Laurence, Always

Laurence, Always

Excuse me a moment while I worship Laurence Equilbey.

Laurence Laurence 1

THE SHIRT.  Should have its own Twitter account.
Laurence Laurence 2

Laurence Laurence 3

The Mass in C minor, for everything.

The first documentary on this list, for the Gremlin-looking doggie

Her tongue-in-cheek yet serious presidential platform (NB: “l’onglet” is a tab on a website)

This delightful long interview on things musical (one highlight: her techno name is Iko)

My new desktop background
Laurence Laurence 4

Miriam Margolyes as Dickens’ women (and a man or two)

Miriam Margolyes as Dickens’ women (and a man or two)

The ever so fabulous Miriam Margolyes was in Toronto last week, for the next-to-last North American stop of the tour of her play Dickens’ Women. (The tour ends in Chicago tonight.) Even though I wasn’t able to make it, DtO’s newest and, fingers crossed, returning contributor Nina Levitt agreed to share her impressions with us

Miriam Margolyes. Photo credit Prudence UptonShe is probably not more than five feet tall even in heels, but Miriam Margolyes is a towering thespian—especially if you somehow manage to get front row seats. That’s where I sat at the Young Center for Margolyes’ final Toronto performance of her one-woman play, Dickens’ Women. The moment the self-described “fat Jewish lesbian” strode onto the stage with her floppy grey “Jewfro” and fiery eyes, I was riveted.

Granted, it is a one-woman show, but Margolyes demanded attention through her powerful presence, and the seemingly endless varieties of English accents she conjured, while using minimal props: three large upholstered chairs, and a replica of a lectern Dickens designed for his readings. (According to Margolyes, the only time Dickens ever earned a significant income was during his reading tours of America). Plus, she seemed to relish performing, something that made her, in and of itself, sparkle somehow. For nearly two hours, Miriam Margolyes-Photo by Prudence Uptonshe effortlessly wove in and out of a sumptuous buffet of Dickens’ female characters—the majors and the minors­—sprinkled with morsels of biography of the man himself.

Margolyes was at her best when she created an assignation between the lecherous Mr. Bumble and the calculating Mrs. Corney (from Oliver Twist). She was able to capture both genders, and the implied physicality of the two characters, simply through voice and gesture while hopping back and forth between two chairs.

I must admit that some of the portraits were difficult to follow. Having only read David Copperfield and Great Expectations (high school English was eons ago), I wasn’t familiar with any of the minor characters. But regardless, listening to Margolyes’ faultless monologues was sheer joy. And who knew Dickens had a lesbian character — Miss Wade, in Little Dorritt?

Thanks, Ninotchka! Let’s hope the Margolyes sparkle gets preserved on DVD for the rest of us to enjoy. Full production credits here. MM was accompanied by the local pianist Peter Tiefanbach. The two photos are by Prudence Upton.

The Death of Maria Malibran by Werner Schroeter

The Death of Maria Malibran by Werner Schroeter

Just found out about this film and about this event on Sunday:

Werner Schroeter made a film (a “delirious biography”) about one of the greatest mezzos in history. The Tiff-Cinemateque has a Schroeter retrospective happening this month and the film is being shown on November 25. The COC’s GenMan Alexander Neef introduces the work.

Anybody seen it? Apparently Foucault was a fan.

Suzie LeBlanc and Robert Kortgaard Recital Series ‘Tis the last rose of summer’

Suzie LeBlanc and Robert Kortgaard Recital Series ‘Tis the last rose of summer’

A serendipitous night was had.

Soprano Suzie LeBlanc is currently touring with pianist Robert Kortgaard the ‘Tis the last rose of summer’ series, mostly in smaller towns in Ontario and Quebec. It’s a carefully programmed recital loosely based on the theme of the rose – and this includes a wide range of Lieder, as well as some Acadian folk, the Irish traditional giving the name to the series, a chanson, and two newly commissioned pieces for the Elizabeth Bishop Legacy Recording Project.

I attended the concert they gave last night in Waterloo, hosted by Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, which is an entirely privately run music presenter with a remarkable reputation. (Have a look at their season.) The venue itself is the presenter’s own home, with the biggest room in the house equipped as a concert hall. Tickets and CDs are bought in the kitchen. It really is a nifty idea and execution, and it beats me why more people of means in Toronto don’t do this kind of thing. (James Stewart’s Integral House concerts are for his friends only.)

LeBlanc started with Schubert, moved to Mozart, then to the eighteen-year-old Richard Strauss, and ended with Poulenc. Kortgaard played Schumann‘s ‘Arabeske’ and Poulenc’s ‘Homage à Edith Piaf’. LeBlanc is a great communicator, so each song was introduced with a little narrative, either poetic and melancholy, or funny, or personal. She did her research. They both commented on the shifting between C Major and C Minor among the songs they chose for the first section, the somewhat more ‘rosey’ part of the concert.

After the intermission, the tone was significantly changed with Fauré‘s ‘Les Roses d’Ispahan’, ‘Nuit d’étoiles’ by a contemporary composer Jeff Smallman, and back to Strauss with ‘Die Nacht’. Acadian ‘Evangéline’, Kosma/Prévert, the ‘Tis the last’ traditional and Mendelssohn‘s piano variation of the same bridged us to the final song, Ben Moore’s setting of Elizabeth Bishop‘s ‘I am in need of music’. Before that, however, LeBlanc talked about how Bishop’s poems changed her life and got her to move to Nova Scotia from Montreal, and the EB Legacy Recording Project, essentially a series of new commissions of art songs based on Bishop’s poems. Then she read a poem by Bishop — possibly the highlight of the evening: a great artist delving in her non-primary medium, an intimate setting, and a very erotic and very complicated to read poem. Which happens to be about another woman. (You can read ‘Vague Poem (Vaguely Love Poem)’ on page 16 of this file.)

After the concert, since the rumour had spread around the room that I was the crazy person who took a bus to get there, Robert offered to give me a ride back to town. Suzie LeBlanc was in the same car. (!!!! That is how concerts should end: the artists leave with you. Thank you, Waterloo.) It was the most pleasant ride in the history of slow Ontario rides in wee hours through thick fog and lanes of construction work.  (Thank you, construction works.)

The recital itself was the sort of event we rarely see in Toronto any more. The Koerner Hall is closing down its recital series, the Aldeburgh Connections was 1) unaffordable ($50 for all tickets, non-negotiable, was not reasonable), 2) closing this year. The Glen Gould Studio Canadian Voices Series happens every once in a blue moon–Alyson McHardy’s recital is all the way in April. Gallery 345 and the odd small venue do recitals, but again infrequently. From the other direction comes Michael Holt and Marcel Aucoin’s The Piano Salon, a series taking place in private homes, but the energy of that series is petering out these days. More people should know about it and more musicians should embrace it, so more money will be earned from it–at the moment it is PWYC, with most people paying nothing at all. Till the twain meet,  there shall be a visible gap.

People with decent houses in Toronto — the ball is in your court.

Prima Donna — Karina Gauvin’s new CD

Karina Gauvin Prima Donna with Arion Orchestre Baroque, music director Alexander Weimann. ATMA Classique, 2012. Presto Classical, Grigorian, Amazon.

All the arias by Handel in this collection were either created or reworked in revivals specifically for soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pò.

A few on the playlist are little known Handel, the role of Adelaide in Lotario, and Elmira from Sosarme, for instance. “Scherza in mar” from Lotario is one of those treasures in miniature form, with the A section stating that a small ship sailing serenely will be easily drowned by the sea storm that is likely gathering, and the section B insisting that no, the narrator’s soul will not yield to fear if faced with similar rage of fate, even if it brings death. The music expresses all the changes of imagery and the coloratura runs in waves of a restless sea.

“Dite pace” from Sosarme is probably the fastest, most fireworks-y aria on the disc, a scream aimed toward the implacable heavens. “Tortorella se rimira” from Astianatte, not by Handel but by Leonardo Vinci (1696-1730), is in a resigned andante, about a turtle dove observing her companion caught in a snare. In addition to the usual (agile, dazzling Gauvin coloratura), there are moments of onomatopoeic gurgle of a turtle, and also some incredibly measured and mellifluous ornamentation in the second round.

In the less obscure group, there are two Angelica arias from Handel’s Orlando (“No, non potra” and “Verdi pianti”) and one from Flavio (“Da te parto”). Then there is the block-buster section of the recording, comprised of Alcina arias, the role also written for del Pò. You may think, do I need to hear Alcina’s arias one more time, after so many brilliant renditions, recorded and live? Yes, you do: Gauvin reinvents these to sound like you’re hearing them for the first time. Beginning from the recit “Ah Ruggier crudel” which sounds like a dramatic aria in Gauvin’s treatment, continuing with “Ombre pallide”, “Si, son quella” and “Ah mio cor” all sounding unfamiliarly beautiful. There’s the usual Gauvin metallic sheen and ease across the registers, serious darkness in the gravi, the muscle in the middle, and the gleaming top, but also a dramatic subtlety of the type in evidence in a live opera performance, and a full ownership the text.

One qualm: would have been nice to read the names of musicians and what instruments they are playing, but the booklet only lists the director Alexander Weimann for the entire Arion Orchestre Baroque. One big cheer: it’s fantastic that the government of Canada, through Canada Music Fund, invests in musical culture by helping to fund recordings like this one.