Pollyanna looks back at 2015

The year isn’t quite over yet, but already we’re looking back at 2015 as 2016 draws closer.   When we remember Pollyanna’s credo –“if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”—no wonder we look back.  As the dollar continues to plummet, as rumours of war abound, retrospectives are safer.

It was a year when the Pollyanna sentiment seemed to be in the ascendancy.

  • Trudeau beat Harper. I can’t help wondering, would that have been the case if the Paris attacks had come just a few weeks earlier, possibly dampening our enthusiasm and our willingness to open our hearts?
  • Merkel –who welcomes refugees–rather than Trump –who would slam the door– was Time Magazine’s person of the year. Here’s hoping that it isn’t Trump in 2016, because you know what that’s likely to mean in an election year (gulp!).
  • Refugees have been a big news item in Canada, where the prevailing impulse is welcome & assistance. I’m proud of my country.

I can’t help remembering some of the big stories of the year through those rose-coloured glasses.

  • January & February is usually the coldest time of year, but can see some wonderful explorations. The Toronto Symphony had their New Creations Festival, curated by George Benjamin, including a residency by soprano & conductor Barbara Hannigan.  Opera Five paired a new opera by Darren Russo with Wolf-Ferrari’s Secret of Susanna. Soundstreams gave us Whisper Opera.   The COC’s pairing of Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni and Egoyan’s Die Walküre occasioned some fun headlines at the very least (both “Some resist seduction by Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni” and “Don Giovanni or Don JianGhomeshi…?“), and several brilliant performances.
  • March and April can be times of optimism, and I was hopeful traveling to hear Opera Lyra’s Figaro, even though the company would close in the autumn. But this was a heady time of possibilities, including Opera Atelier’s Orpheus and Eurydice (as Marshall Pynkoski showed signs of breaking free of the historically informed strait-jacket), Metro Youth Opera’s Béatrice et Bénédict, a workshop performance of Mozart’s Requiem directed by Joel Ivany comes to fruition next month with the TSO.  One of my highlights of the year was Adrianne Pieczonka singing Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” followed by Wagner’s Tristan Prelude & Liebestod.  And while we’re speaking of the TSO, the Toronto Symphony were the centre of a major controversy, replacing Valentina Lisitsa with Stewart Goodyear, then eliminating the programmed Rachmaninoff concerto altogether when SG became an online target of harassment.  Although TSO President Jeff Melanson took some heat over the cancellation, I think that he did the right thing.
  • May and June? The COC offered a new Barber of Seville with the Lepage Bluebeard-Erwartung pairing, while later Against the Grain presented Death & Desire, a curious mix of two composers’ song-cycles.  I mostly recall a couple of brilliant performances, namely Alek Shrader in Barber¸ but particularly the work of Krisztina Szabó in the COC’s Erwartung and AtG’s Harawi.  In high-diving you get marks for what they call “degree of difficulty”; if artistic performance recognized such things, Szabó ’s work on these two jagged pieces of modernity would have her on whatever podium properly recognizes brilliance.

    Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo (photo: Bo Huang)

    Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo (photo: Bo Huang)

  • For July and August, Nik Beeson’s Dive, and Karita Mattila’s concert for Toronto Summer Music were highlights in a period when I otherwise seemed to be asleep, busily preparing for a few things in the weeks that followed. Bicycle Opera came to Toronto on the Labour Day weekend to finish their summer tour, another lovely anthology of short littles pieces showcasing great singing actors.
  • September and October begin a new season. My highlight was an old film offered by tiff in collaboration with the TSO, namely Vertigo, including an appearance by Kim Novak.  But I was far more intrigued by the live score with film, seeing two more in the weeks that followed, namely Back to the Future and Psycho on Halloween night.  It may be too soon to call this a trend, but I am hoping we see more of these films with live performances of the score.  The COC offered us a new Traviata plus the first opera by a Canadian composer in a very long time.  The undertaking is admirable even if I was conflicted by the project.  Opera Atelier meanwhile went in the opposite direction, bringing us up to date with the 17th century’s Armide, in a very strong production. 

    Jack Rennie (Amor) holds Peggy Kriha Dye (Armide). Photo: Bruce Zinger

    Jack Rennie (Amor) holds Peggy Kriha Dye (Armide). Photo: Bruce Zinger

  • November and December? More experiments, including Tapestry’s “Tap: Ex METALLURGY”, Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah, Soundstreams’ co-production with Canadian Stage of Boesmans’s opera Julie, CASP’s “The Living Spectacle”, combining adventurous song with movement/dance, and another wonderful concert from Sondra Radvanovsky.

And while I am thinking of Pollyanna looking back in gratitude, I’m thinking especially of a group of women who either call Toronto their home or who have chosen to come here:

  • Canadian Barbara Hannigan, who has been here a few times lately after a long gap, and returns in 2016

    soprano & conductor Barbara Hannigan (photo: Elmer de Haas)

    soprano & conductor Barbara Hannigan (photo: Elmer de Haas)

  • American Christine Goerke, who did her first Walküre Brunnhilde last winter (earlier in 2015) , and soon will return to do her first Siegfried Brunnhilde in a few weeks, before taking the role elsewhere.
  • Sondra Radvanovsky: one of the great singers in the world who happens to live here, and fortunately sings here sometimes as well
  • Ditto for Adrianne Pieczonka, one of the great singers in the world
  • And I mentioned Krisztina Szabó who was back for the fall COC season as well.

There are men too even if I seem to be blinded by the aura of these women.  The key men in the picture for me are executives, builders such as Alexander Neef of the COC, Jeff Melanson of the TSO, Michael Mori of Tapestry Opera, artists such as,  David Fallis, Johannes Debus, Topher Mokrzewski, Jan Liesicki and Stewart Goodyear.

And yes let me echo what Stewart’s name seems to imply. Have a good year!

This entry was posted in Cinema, video & DVDs, Music and musicology, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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