By Robert K. Stephen
(TORONTO, ON) – Bravo for the Toronto Consort to turn up the heat in the midst of a nasty cold winter in Toronto and for that matter throughout Canada. You may recognize the concept of “Carnival” through Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans.
In more traditional, and perhaps less commercial times (14 and 15 centuries), Carnival was the last blast of earnest sensuality before 40 days of fasting during Lent. Forty days of self deprivation prior to Easter.
Food, comedy, parades, and laughter before the hatches were battened down.
The Toronto Consort, Canada’s leading ensemble specializing in music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and early Baroque (1200-1675) performed “Carnival Revels” on February 28 and March 1 at Trinity St-Paul’s Centre in Toronto.
By the late middle ages, the Carnival celebrations became increasingly raunchy and suggestive. If you think Mardi Gras in New Orleans is devoid of any historical significance try and remember during the 1500’s the Medici family in Florence were actively encouraging masquerades, parades, carnival songs, and comedy immediately prior to Lent. The focus of the performance was entirely Italian.
David Fallis, artistic director of the Toronto Consort, introduced the evening concert by stating that it was a shame there was no Carnival in winter ravaged Toronto and his thoughts were greeted by a grumble of very warmth deprived patrons.
The history of Carnival in Italy was explained in great historical detail in the programme for the evening. The Toronto Consort commenced with several songs and an instrumental number under the rubric of Welcome to the Land of Cockaigne, a fantasy land of plenty where indulgence of all kinds was made easy.
The music was pulsating with the hurdy gurdy and a crowd that was warming up both appreciatively and physically from the never ending cold.
Carnival also had a rough edge to it with masquerading songs that mocked many classes of society from poor farmers to wealthy bankers. The playful choral harmonies of Matona, mia cara (My Lovely Lady) won a few whistles and enthusiasm from a sunshine starved crowd.
Better yet, the head bobbing, body language, and big smiles of the Toronto Consort indicated they were enjoying themselves. After seeing many a Toronto Consort performance, that’s usually indicative of a powerful and emotional performance.
Noi L’amozone siamo (We are Amazons) had the audience laughing as if it had been struck by a ray of warm springtime sunshine.
Totally innovative for the Toronto Consort was the presence of a troupe of three performers of the commedia dell’arte tradition which created a bit of quasi mime comedic performance often while the Toronto Consort was in the midst of its performance.
Commedia dell’arte performers were enveloped in the 16th century and became a dominant force in Euro theatre for some 200 years, although their introduction in the midst of a performance was totally new for the Toronto Consort to the appreciative delight of the audience, particularly of the suggestive sex scene during Tich toch, Che Quel (Knock Knock! Who’s there?)
There was a certain silliness in several numbers of the Toronto Consort, particularly near the conclusion of the performance with all the choral animal sounds of Contrappunto Bestiale alla mente (Improvised Counterpoint by the Animals). The audience, unused to such deviant behaviour by the Toronto Consort, roared in approval.
But not all was silly, particularly with Chichilichi! Cucurucu (Cock-a-doodle-do Cucurucu!) where the Consort delivered a powerful if not majestic choral performance.
Just prior to the intermission Canzon de Contadini (Farmer’s Song) with its animalistic sounds and the chicken soup performance of the commedia dell’arte troupe (Neil Babcock, Gabrielle Houle, and Stephen La Frenie) had the audience heading into intermission with a happy amused look on their faces. No doubt the troupe made a very positive impression amongst the audience. A daring innovative move by the Toronto Consort that paid big audience appreciative dividends.
The second half commenced with two excerpts from Claudio Monteverdi’s 1643’s opera The Coronation of Poppea which relates the story of Emperor Nero’s repudiation of his wife Ottavia and his schemes to make his gal pal Poppea empress.
This was perhaps the most solemn point of the performance with a breath-taking closing duet of Vicki St Pierre and Michele DeBoer.
The performance concluded with a drinking song Cicirlanda and sent the audience home in, yes, another a snowstorm. What better way to conclude than with lyrics from a song entitled Cicirlanda.
What do you command?
Whence comes this drink?
The drink comes from Bevagna
Drink it up! Drink it Up!
A toast everyone
May it do you good! Drink it all,
For good wine always bears fruit.