At the end of 2015 I said the following:
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.
What a difference a year makes.
If “the Pollyanna sentiment seemed to be in the ascendancy” now i wonder if she is ready for the glue-factory, past her best-by date, out of touch. And so, while I continue to emulate her principles, best understood via the maxim “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all,” it rings hollow right now. Yes i can avoid being mean or destructive, but as I look back I can’t help wondering, is my ability to be appreciative altered by my own mood? I have more enjoyment of a good dinner if I sit down hungry rather than sated & full from a recent meal. Events in November left me with less of an appetite for living, less interest in having fun, as though I misplaced my sense of humour. Lately I have become unaccustomed to the sound of my own laughter.
And so, that’s my subtext as I look back at 2016. Is it the reason that the first half of a year shone so hopefully? studded with highlights.
The single best vocal performance of the year blew me away in the first month of the year, as Stefan Vinke impressed on his very first page, emphatically singing the high C that no Siegfried ever sings. His marathon heroics were accompanied in the first two acts by Wolfgang Ablinger-Speerhacke, one of the finest singing actors seen in these parts as Mime, and then –once he’s been killed off—replaced by the dramatic sound of Christine Goerke’s Brunnhilde. Little did I know that the magic of this Siegfried, not just the singing but the majestic COC Orchestra spurred on by conductor Johannes Debus, wouldn’t be equalled in 2016.
The earlier part of the year also included the most ambitious and original moments, all before the end of February, as art transcended its usual disciplinary boundaries:
- Joel Ivany’s original take on the Mozart Requiem with the Toronto Symphony, soloists and the joint efforts of the Elmer Iseler Singers & Amadeus Choir, prepared by Lydia Adams, all under the leadership of Bernard Labadie, who was returning from a hiatus due to significant health issues.
- Going Home Star, Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s bold contribution to Truth & Reconciliation, a ballet about the residential schools with a brilliant score by Christos Hatzis
- Betroffenheit, from Kidd Pivot, as much a work that felt like therapy as art.
The year started to tank with the whole Melanson affair, an omen for what has been a post-factual year. I suppose –as a liberal—I should admit that it’s a knife that cuts in both directions. Justin & Sophie Trudeau have been encased in a magical halo of admiration for months, a halo that’s beginning to slip off as the cognitive dissonance builds. The question of whether Melanson was doing a good job leading the TSO was perhaps secondary to the issue of optics in the fund-raising world, just as optics led to Melanson’s cancellation of Valentina Lisitsa’s performance with the TSO. Is it ironic or apt that they would both exit the same way? which is to say, due to circumstances having nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs. She plays the piano well but that was secondary, in light of her tweets. And as far as I could tell, the TSO was in the midst of a resurgence that, hopefully, can continue without the big guy, given that many of his initiatives –the TSO Sunday night radio show, the commissions of Canadian composers to celebrate the Sesquicentennial in 2017, the films with live accompaniment—continue.
I won’t mention the things or the people that disappointed, although I want to properly nod at the other great moments of 2016:
- Opera 5’s Die Fledermaus was the single most enjoyable night of theatre I saw all year. From the inclusiveness of Jennifer Nichols’ choreography –with bodies of every shape & size and no one left behind—to the boldness of Aria Umezawa’s Brechtian adaptation including aerials, burlesque and drag, and not to forget the free beer, this was simply a brilliant undertaking.
- Against the Grain didn’t disappoint, whether in A Little too Cozy or the highlight of the autumn, Ayre, allowing me to be uplifted in spite of myself.
- Lucio Silla was an unexpected joy from Opera Atelier, just as we’d been promised. How wonderful to discover a new work!
- Sondra Radvanovsky’s Norma was unforgettable, surrounded by a brilliant team especially tenor Russell Thomas (also wonderful in Carmen in the spring) and conductor Stephen Lord.
- Tapestry Music Theatre had a banner year, but I was most impressed by Rocking Horse Winner, in an adaptation by Anna Chatteron (libretto) and Gareth Williams (music ) starring Asitha Tennekoon & Carla Huhtanen, and yes, the inspired set, designed by Camellia Koo.
- And it seemed that I couldn’t get enough of Ariodante, loving the COC Orchestra & chorus, Johannes Debus & Sylvain Bergeron so eloquent in the pit, the puppetry and dance, and the singing of Ambur Braid, Alice Coote, Owen McCausland, Jane Archibald and Varduhi Abrahamyan.
MVP (most valuable player)?
Toronto continues to lean heavily upon a few key players, in the literal sense when we include Jonathan Crow with the TSO, or behind the scenes (thinking especially of the TSO’s logistical wizard Chris Walroth), people who ensure that we’re always entertained and edified, such as Johannes Debus with the COC Orchestra, their chorus under Sandra Horst; Opera Atelier’s music director David Fallis who also leads the Toronto Consort; and Guillermo Silva-Marin of Opera in Concert, Toronto Operetta Theatre and Summer Opera Lyric Theatre, notable for the commission of Isis & Osiris by Peter Togni. And there are lots of others I could name who wear multiple hats, doing brilliant work with companies big and small.
When you consider Joel Ivany’s work on the COC’s Carmen in the spring and Toronto Summer Music’s Rape of Lucretia, alongside his Against the Grain brilliance with A Little too Cozy and Ayre, without even mentioning his exploratory work out in Banff that likely will be seen here before too long, I’d have to call Ivany the MVP of the past season.
Sorry Joel. There’s no trophy.