Talisker Players opens another concert season of innovative programming with City of the Mind, a mix of vocal music and literature evoking life in the city. Put together by artistic director and principal violist Mary McGeer, the program ranges from 1500s France to contemporary Toronto and includes Talisker instrumentalists, baritone Joel Allison and reader John Fraser. It also features mezzo-soprano Vicki St Pierre and soprano Erin Bardua, who in off-stage life happen to be married to each other.
St Pierre brings us Vienna, Venice via Victorian London and Toronto, while Bardua sings New York City, London via an Italian composer, and a very concrete Toronto. I asked them to tell us more about their pieces.
“I’ll be singing Viennese folk songs, which have been arranged by the cellist Laura Jones,” St Pierre says. “They are written in the Viennese dialect and are a real storytelling opportunity.” Then there is the “Venetian Boat Song,” which sounds like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan. “The composer Jacques Blumenthal, who became Queen Victoria’s pianist, would have been very familiar with Sullivan’s work. This particular piece is a cute little boat song featuring a singer —me — and viola.”
Bardua will sing the one 18th-century number in the program, “Addio di Londra” by Tommaso Giordani. Giordani worked in London for a number of years, composed operas and even ran a theatre in Dublin. “The “Addio di Londra” was written in honour of the departure of a prima ballerina, Frau Heinel, who was leaving the Haymarket theatre for Paris, and it’s as flattering and over-the-top as anything that was ever written honouring royalty,” Bardua says.
She promises the songs from Leonard Bernstein’s musical about a day of shore leave in New York City, arranged for a string quartet by Laura Jones, will be equally intriguing. “I’ve loved 'On the Town' for a long time, and I’m particularly thrilled to have a chance to sing 'Come Up to My Place,' which I’ve seen in hilarious concert versions before but which was cut from the otherwise excellent movie version. The character of Hildy is a great one.” Baritone Joel Allison will join Bardua in the Bernstein segment.
The three singers will join forces for Clément Janequin’s “Cris de Paris,” which aims to put to music the cries of the 16th-century Parisian street vendors. “We are trying to give each cry its own hint of character,” Bardua says. How common was this type of secular part-song at the time? “There are a number of these 'street-noise' type pieces from this era — I’ve heard a few in English; for instance, the famous 'Cries of London' by Gibbons. The English consort songs like Gibbons’ were usually accompanied by viols. The Talisker Players arrangement makes our rendition of this Janequin version closer to the English style.”
Both St Pierre and Bardua will perform a Toronto piece. St Pierre and Allison open with jazzy “Ellis Portal” by Andrew Ager, and Bardua concludes the evening with Peter Stoll in a soprano-saxophone duet “Concrete Toronto,” composed by Erik Ross, which she calls “probably the biggest musical challenge I’ve ever faced.”