operaramblings review | Carmina Burana

O Fortuna

October 28, 2023

I attended the second of two performances of their season opener by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Roy Thomson Hall last night.  It was an enjoyable and well constructed programme.  It opened with two pieces by composer in residence Tracy Wong.  Patah – Tumbuh (Broken – Renewed), for choir and children’s choir (Toronto Children’s Chorus) riffs off Malaysian proverbs and gamelan.  It’s an upbeat, rhythmic piece that got a really nice performance, especially from the children.  Then they got their own place in the sun for a medley of Malaysian folksongs; which was also fun.  Was this the first time Malaysian music has been performed at Roy Thomson?

Next up was Brahm’s Schicksalied Op.54.  It’s quite a short piece (16 minutes or so) in three distinct sections.  In the opening the choir sings celestially of the eternally blissful life of the Olympian gods, then comes the bit about the miseries we Earthlings (leidenden Menschen) endure before it reverts to a reprise of the blissfulness but for orchestra alone.  It’s very Brahms and was beautifully performed by the choir and a small orchestra drawn from the TSO.

After the interval we got Orff’s Carmina Burana, which was mostly what the very decent turnout had come for.  It was well done.  The grand bits; like the opening and closing “O Fortuna”s were impressively grand and the humour was never far away.  Baritone soloist Geoff Sirett made the most of it.  He sang beautifully and wittily and there was just a hint in his body language of the rather good physical comedian he can be.  Ryan McDonald; the evening’s roasted swan, made the most of “Olim Lacus Colueram” and Lesley Emma Bouza was an attractive soprano soloist, managing the tricky high section of “Dulcissime” rather well.  Both the TMC and the children sounded precise and opulent.

I really liked Jean-Sébastien Vallée’s conducting.  He got a big sound from choir and orchestra where appropriate but he also throttled things back to allow his soloists to shine.  Not every conductor manages that at Roy Thomson.  I’m a big fan of the more intimate performances by the core Toronto Mendelssohn Singers but last night made a very strong case for the larger scale deployment of the full TMC plus bells and whistles in a grand venue.  Good stuff!


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