TSO knocks it out of the park with Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins!

TSO's The Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

In the most stunningly creative undertaking of the season, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra mounted a performance of Kurt Weill’s “sung-ballet”, Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins). Led by Music Director Peter Oundjian, the orchestra moved upstage, took off their formal jackets and fittingly looked the part of a German cabaret band of the 1930s. This was not just a home run for the TSO, it had the drama of a walk-off in the ninth inning of a World Series game.​

Stage director Joel Ivany, Artistic Director of Against the Grain Theatre, mounted a production that included strategic use of film, striking choreography, magnificent singing, English sur-titles, costumes and theatrical lighting. Together, Ivany, choreographer Jennifer Nichols​, lighting designer Jason Hand and costume designer Krista Dowson created a magnificent theatrical experience. The orchestra took on the role of an opera-orchestra on this night.

The story of The Seven Deadly Sins is one in which Anna I and her alter-ego Anna II leave home in Louisiana to seek their fortune in seven cities of America, each of which represents a different deadly sin. As the two 'Annas' become victim to the sins of sloth, pride, anger, gluttony, lust, covetousness and envy in the goal of making their fortune to build a home for their family, they lose both their integrity and their soul. Librettist Bertholt Brecht created an allegory of an absurdist, satirical look at capitalism.

Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, whom I last heard in the Opera Atelier’s Dido and Aeneas, sang the role of Anna I with passion and acted with conviction. She was paired perfectly with her dancing alter-ego Anna II, Jennifer Nichols of the Opera Atelier Ballet. Nichols found the perfect combination of refined dance and bawdy physicality. Together Giunta and Nichols had a chemistry that lifted the performance to magical heights.

The four male singers, tenor Isaiah Bell, tenor Owen McCausland, baritone Geoffrey Sirett, and bass Stephen Hegedus sang with energy and blend, especially in their barbershop parodies. They complemented Giunta and Nichols with convincing performances in both dancing roles and as characters in the drama.

TSO's The Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

Music Director Peter Oundjian, mezzo soparano Wallis Giunta, dancer Jennifer Nichols and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

Remarkably, this work was only the second half of a superb concert, one of three concerts celebrating the music of the 1930s in the TSO’s Decades Project. In the first half, as commentator Tom Allen said, music of both sides of the Atlantic represented two very different realities of the decade. Samuel Barber’s well-known masterpiece Adagio for Strings was played with as much sensitivity as I have heard from the TSO. The warmth of the melodic lines in each of the voices, and the shimmering harmonies that built from silence gave me shivers.

Bela Bartok’s complex Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta was notable for its transparency and emotional journey. The bleakness of the fugal opening set the tone for the striking first movement. Oundjian brought out the antiphonal transparency and the plethora of colours in the work. The timpani, harp, piano, various percussion and small sections of the divided string sections all contributed to a superb performance. The symmetry in the work gave rise to a hopeful spirit as the opening fugue returned with a regal and majestic energy in the finale.

The concert opened with the now customary Sesquie for Canada’s 150th. This time, it was first nations composer, Andrew Balfour’sKiwetin-acahkos (North Star) -Fanfare for the Peoples of the North, ​a fascinating gem inspired by the northern celestial landscape. The 150th celebrations have brought awareness to the fact that the indigenous population has been largely left out of confederation. It goes without saying that giving recognition to the music of our First Nations is just one small step in the reconciliation process.

This outstanding concert will be repeated tonight, Thursday June 15th at 8pm at Roy Thomson Hall and will once again include an intermission conversation with CBC host Tom Allen and Professor Kim H. Kowalke, Musicologist and Trustee of The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.

The final concerts of the Decades Project and the TSO season will take place Wednesday Saturday, June 21st-24th. Conducted by Music Director Peter Oundjian, they will included the renowned violinist Nicola Benedetti,  and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Toronto Children’s Chorus, soprano Aline Kutan, countertenor Daniel Taylor and baritone Phillip Addis

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON June 15th 2017


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