Most of the big Shakespeare celebrations have come and gone. In case you missed it, 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Just a few years ago, we were celebrating the 450th anniversary of his birth (a date not quite as fixed as his death) in 2014. If the math fails you, that's 1564 - 1616 for good ol' Will Shakespeare.
I spent a whole year back in 2014 celebrating the 450th. Productions connected to Shakespeare's works on the stage: Giulio Cesare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I Capuleti e i Montecchi, a huge scenes program featuring excerpts of both the Shakespeare plays and their operatic treatments: scenes from The Tempest, Othello, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and The Merry Wives of Windsor with the opera versions by Hoiby, Britten, Gounod, Nicolai, and Verdi, and a special evening of "Songs and Sonnets" focused on songs with Shakespeare texts by Tippet, Finzi, Quilter, Korngold, Thomson, and Vaughan Williams (his Serenade to Music was the finale.) We documented the whole year via the talents of videographer Anne Kostalas. The documentary, which is fascinating in all that it encompasses, is viewable here (highly recommended!): Shakespeare at Opera McGill
This year, I missed the big celebration in London, England (by just a few days) put together by The Globe. It looked amazing and I hope it was a huge success. Here's a link to that site: Shakespeare400 at the Globe
There were, are still, many more celebrations ongoing. One of them is happening toward the end of July at the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Again, another link: July 27th Shakespeare Serenade at the TSMF
This is a combination of the Shakespeare scenes program and the evening of songs and sonnets from the Opera McGill 450th celebration and I'm really looking forward to putting these two evenings together for a Toronto audience. It's such a huge program that I couldn't play the whole thing, so I invited the wondrous Michael Shannon to share the program with me at the piano. It's all happening at the University of Toronto's Walter Hall on July 27th. Check that link out for ticket info and don't miss it!
Putting this program together has been a rather huge challenge. There are 16 singers involved, most of whom live in the Greater Toronto Area and are leading very busy lives this summer. The scenes program is slightly easier because it involves a trio or a quartet of people -- that's easy to schedule. The Serenade second-half of the program, however, is staged with all 16 singers moving about as individuals. There's only one way to do this and that's to have everyone present in order to make the interactions work. We're basically doing it in one night, so wish us all luck.
Not that I'm worried because the talent of the performers is huge, as is their experience. These singers have graced Canadian stages from Vancouver Opera to the Canadian Opera Company to L'opéra de Montreal as well as performing in hundreds of opera productions at their schools (yes, the majority did go to McGill but, hey, I wanted to work with my former students again!), summer training programs throughout Canada and the United States, and Indie opera companies like Opera5, Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal, and Stu&Jess Productions. Michael Shannon, who is also a former student, has been spending his time learning his operatic trade at places like the San Francisco Opera and the C.O.C.; not too shabby!
It's a concert inspired by the Bard, with a traditional kind of opera scenes program yet with the twist being that the audience will first watch the singers act the original Shakespeare scene and then watch and hear what it looks like when adapted for the operatic stage. Truly a unique way of presenting these scenes and one that informs both the Shakespeare and the operatic version. It's also quite challenging for the singers to act the Shakespeare!
The second half is a non-traditional approach to a song recital. Normally, a singer walks out onto the concert stage with a pianist in tow, bows to the audience and then sings through a cycle of songs by someone, with the emphasis being on the text and the music. Dramatic energy and action is typically frowned upon (god knows why…) by many who view the recital as something quite conservative and stolid for, um, serious people. The audience sits in silence and reads translations of texts while they listen. (Sometimes I think I might as well be listening to a recording at many of the recent recitals I've attended.) When taken to its extreme, a singer can take away any original perspective on the piece, giving up any sort of personal stamp on a set of songs in order to give, I don't know, some sort of justice to the purity of the composer perhaps? This drives me crazy because, of course, with the great recitalists that is the last thing they do.
Well, this second half won't be like that at all. There'll be over a dozen singers on the stage, casually drinking and listening to each other express their love, anger, betrayal, dismay, or hope via the most amazing texts by Shakespeare set to music by some of the greatest composers of the 20th century. The idea is that these people onstage have just left some sort of summer dinner party and have entered the garden to enjoy more of each other, while some are inspired to recite poetry (via a number of the Sonnets) and fall in and out of love. It all ends with all of the singers performing the magical Vaughan Williams Serenade To Music, which if you've never heard it sung by soloists with piano accompaniment is sure to please. In fact, my favourite song - ever - is featured on the evening's program and I can't wait to perform it live!
And make sure to check out the other amazing evenings at the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Here's the link to their home site: Toronto Summer Music Festival website