If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you know that Friedrich Hölderlin is my favourite poet and I consider his novel Hyperion one of the most profound and meaningful books ever written (in a league with Camus' La peste). He spent the last decades of his life (from 1807 to 1843) in the town Tübingen (where I went to university), imprisoned in the little yellow tower you see in the picture. Scholars still discuss whether he was actually mad or only pretended to be mad to escape a world that had become unbearable to him since the discovery (and therefore the end) of the secret relationship with the love of his life, Susette Gontard, a banker's wife from Frankfurt to whose children Hölderlin had been a tutor.
My family and I are in Southwestern Germany to visit my parents and the rest of my family. It was the first time in almost ten years that I had returned to Tübingen. Amazing, that almost nothing has changed. Only my favourite bookstore had moved, but when we finally found it I got some great German books (to keep my German in shape).
Tomorrow, we are off to Salzburg for the last week of the Festival.
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On Friday I drove up to Haliburton for two days with the Highlands Opera Studio. Started a few years ago by the great Canadian tenor Richard Margison and his wife Valerie Kuinka, the Studio is a summer training program for emerging Canadian opera singers. They are carefully selected in a nation-wide audition process and over the month of August work on staged productions of two operas, give recitals and work with internationally acclaimed teachers and coaches like John Fischer (the former Head of Music at the Met and now General Director of Welsh National Opera in Cardiff), Tim Noble (who also teaches the members of the COC's Ensemble Studio), Canadian baritone John Fanning, the General Director of Hamilton Opera David Speers and many more. The Studio has established a remarkable connection with the local community, using the high school (including its theatre) as a teaching and performance facility, a church as recital hall and providing free lodging for the participants. Also, because of the support of a few generous donors, the program is tuition-free for all participating singers.
This year, there is a group of 18 singers from all over Canada. I spent half an hour with each of them, listening to (and commenting on) their audition repertoire. I was extremely impressed with the group, not only with the high level of singing, but also with the high level of artistry and commitment from every single participant. I will certainly be back next year.
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Our wonderful stay in Santa Fe is slowly coming to an end. Today, we will finish our cultural program with a visit to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and tomorrow, we will return to Toronto.
The past two days were completely devoted to the Santa Fe Opera. In the morning, I attended the annual auditions of the Apprentice Singers. The program has existed for over fifty years, since the inception of the Santa Fe Opera, and is always a fantastic resource for young singers. This year, the group was a little bit older than usual, following a deliberate decision to take singers that would be ready to be hired by the companies attending the auditions. The level was very high and I am sure you will see a few of these talented young singers on our COC stage in the future. There were no Canadians this year, but there were quite a few great Canadians in the performances we attended.
In general, I found the performances this year to be on a higher level than the ones I attended last year. In his second season as General Director Charles McKay is already starting to see the results of his work. Charles is a very hospitable and generous man, a true gentleman and one of the most highly esteemed of my North American colleagues. We are talking about a few co-productions and I hope we will make some of them work. The COC could benefit greatly from a partnership with this prestigious festival.
This year, we were also able to see all five productions of the festival, finishing with The Magic Flute on Thursday and yesterday's Life is a Dream.
Tim Albery's wonderful production of The Magic Flute looks deceivingly simple, but it is exactly from this simplicity that it draws its strength and its universal character. Tim makes it magnificently clear that this is a tale about the human condition that concerns us all and will concern us for a long time to come, without sacrificing the playfulness and humour of the piece. A great achievement. The performance also had a few world-class performers, notably the absolutely amazing Pamina of Ekaterina Siurina and the Tamino of Charles Castronovo. I have known Ekaterina and Charles (also a couple in real life) for many years and was so pleased to see how they have grown into the most accomplished Mozartians one could imagine. As Papageno, Joshua Hopkins added another triumph to his Sid in Albert Herring. Joshua certainly is one of the most talented singers of his generation, and a Canadian, of course. I am glad we have now found a debut role for him at the COC.
Lewis Spratlan's Life is a Dream, after Pedro Calderón de la Barca's incomparable 17th century play, had been waiting for its world premiere for more then twenty years. It is an edgy piece asking for a lot from the audience, but also extremely demanding for the singers. Leonard Slatkin's full commitment in the pit made a compelling argument for the piece and the excellent cast contributed to last evening's success as well, especially Ellie Dehn, who made the part of Rosaura sounds like one of Richard Strauss' great soprano roles, and the Canadian tenor Roger Honeywell. Roger not only met all the vocal demands of the extremely difficult part of Prince Segismundo, he also succeeded in bringing a deep humanity to his character. This was a truly outstanding singing actor's performance. Chapeau, Roger!
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