Review by David Richards
It is almost impossible to attend any event involving students from The Glenn Gould School (GGS) and experience anything less than a completely professional performance. Such was the case, March 18th, at the Royal Conservatory’s production of Handel’s “Alcina”, in Koerner Hall. If this had been hockey, it would have been a Canadian championship junior team winning another international gold medal. GGS has indeed become a mecca for the professional training of musicians from around the globe. As such, the expectation for great music precedes any event at the school.
Photo by Nicola Betts
A full length opera, however, can be daunting at the best of times. Yet last night proved to be one of the really special evenings on the GGS musical calendar. Alcina is a tale of passion, control, deception, jealousy and revenge. The opera reminded the audience of how lust and desire can make people lose their rationality and ignore all that is important. These themes are as relevant today as they were in London in the year 1735. Being a baroque ‘opera seria’, there are of course disguises, gender changes, threats of a duel, mythological references and magical powers. By giving the opera a contemporary setting, and by encouraging a physicality in the acting, Director Leon Major was able to make this 300-year-old opera highly accessible to today’s audience.
Alcina is not an easy opera to pull off from either a dramatic or a musical perspective. The singers must maintain a sustained dramatic intensity throughout the lengthy arias and draw attention to the beauty of the musical line. Vocally, the opera requires superb singing with aria after aria exposing range and dexterity that only the finest of singers can manage. Meghan Jamieson (Alcina), Irena Medvedeva (Morgana), Christina Campbell (Ruggiero), and Lillian Brooks (Bradamante/Ricciardo), handled their roles convincingly in scenes of lust, betrayal, vengeance and tenderness. They sang with confidence, maturity, tonal beauty, superb technique and a sense of refined artistry. The other artists in supporting roles maintained dramatic integrity and vocal clarity. Indeed, each of the cast members provided artistically fulfilling moments. Everything about the production was first class. Koerner Hall was transformed from a concert hall into an opera house complete with orchestra pit, surtitles, and stage lighting. With Leon Major as director, the lack of a proscenium arch, wings and flies did not in any way hamper the production. GGS’s decision to bring in both Leon Major and music director Ivars Taurins, a specialist in Baroque music, gave the students every chance for success.
On a personal note, this reviewer first met Major almost 50 years ago while performing in the chorus of the opera Louis Riel directed by Major. To see him as a creative force some 50 years later was a delight to say the least. In last night’s opera, Major kept the entire cast on stage throughout the performance. He effectively used lighting and a minimalist set to focus our attention. Taurins has been a fixture in Toronto as Director of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir since its inception some 35 years ago. He created an exhilarating musical experience from an excellent ensemble of instrumentalists and singers. Together, Major and Taurins brought close to a century of experience to the production. This depth of experience showed. The acting, the singing, and the orchestra combined to produce a truly magical evening.
Upcoming GGS performances will include the Rebanks Family Fellowship concerts on March 29 and April 12 in Mazzolini Hall and Leon Fleisher conducting the Royal Conservatory Orchestra on April 8th in Koerner Hall.