Northern Lights, Eastern Fire: Another succsess for the Canadian Sinfonietta and composer Erik Ross

February 22, 2013

By: Lelland Reed

The Dunhuang Chamber Ensemble and the Canadian Sinfonietta kicked off the Chinese New Year on Saturday February 16th at the Glenn Gould Studio with a diverse and fiery concert program.

The first half of the concert featured the Dunhuang Chamber Ensemble led by Anna Guo. The group masterfully performed four pieces of Chinese ensemble music, mesmerizing the audience with their fluid movements and impeccable solos performed by Guo on yanquin and zheng, and Xiao Qui Lin on erhu.

Northern Lights, Eastern Fire, a new chamber opera with music written by CMC associate composer Erik Ross and libretto by Phoebe Tsang was a beautiful conclusion to a great concert. Performed by the Canadian Sinfonietta, with the music directed by Ross himself, the opera tells the story of the fox spirits obsession with the alluring Consort Yang. The fox spirit has taken over the body of the dead beauty, but after a thousand years the Consorts body is run down, and the fox needs a replacement. The fox meets the Taoist nun Taizhen and believes the nun is the reincarnation of the Consorts spirit. The fox needing a new host body seeks out the Consort Yang’s spirit, as well as Taizhen’s body.

The role of the Fox was intensely sung by soprano Charlene Santoni, and the nun Taizhen was articulately performed by soprano Xin Wang. Both performed their roles side by side among a simple yet effective stage design. Ross directed the Canadian Sinfonietta in addition to performing with the group on piano. His precise directing and performance skills definitely gave me the sense that I was hearing the composer’s true realization of the score. The sinfonietta has the command to fill the GGS, and very effectively accompany the two powerful voices of Santoni and Wang. The combination of the singers and the ensembles performance, as well as the wonderful music and libretto created by Ross and Tsang, is an example of artistic collaboration at its best. The intimate space of the Glenn Gould Studio provided the icing on the cake.

Northern Lights, Eastern Fire from an audience standpoint was a very satisfying musical experience, and I hope the reincarnation of this premiere is heard again sometime soon in Toronto.

You can hear the Canadian Sinfonietta perform their next concert A Visit From Lviv at the Glenn Gould Studio on Saturday March 23rd at 8pm.