What they don’t tell you in Going-To-Concert-School: Open Chambers by Opera 5

Who: Opera 5

What: Open Chambers: Hindemith & Shostakovich

Where:  Factory Theatre studio space

When: November 28 – December 1, 2018

How was it: Awesome

It won’t be a surprise to you if I told you that Toronto usually has a lot to offer in musical flavours every weekend. From the local, hidden avant-garde happenings at the Music Gallery, Gallery 345 or 918 Bathurst to the more illustrious offerings of Koerner Hall and the Canadian Opera Company and anything in-between, the choice is often a spoiling one.

What Opera 5 had to offer last week though, was something very fresh and this here little concertgoer would like to see much more of it. The groups took one instrumental composition by Paul Hindemith, his Oboe Sonata, then his Die Serenaden little chamber cantata and after that Shostakovich’s Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok, and turned them into a theatrically staged work full of symbolism, atmospheric and highly evocative. An oboe, piano, viola, cello and two sopranos lead us on a journey of melancholy, anguish, love, sweet memories and intimate poetry.

Jacqueline Woodley and Rachel Krehm in Open Chambers. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz


Paul Hindemith: Oboe Sonata, Die Serenaden

Hindemith wrote his Oboe Sonata in 1938, a worrying and tumultuous time for Hindemith in his native Germany. Only two years later he would be forced to abandon it and emigrate to America. It is a beautiful piece and if I am correct it was meant to “serve” as an overture of sorts to the whole evening. Oboist Melissa Scott and pianist Vadim Serebryany calibrated their sound to perfection and gave a mournful, somewhat nostalgic and at the same time warm rendition of this surprisingly beautiful piece. You will read a few times in this text about the space and how Opera 5 worked diligently and brilliantly to utilize the intimacy of the Studio Theatre at Factory Theatre.

Miss Scott has a warm and assured tone on the oboe and she didn’t let all the physical movements in space choreographed for her to distract her, or us for that matter, from the beauty of Hindemith’s music. It was winter, it was nostalgic, it was memories of warmer days and hearts, fleeting and dreamy, almost to the point one starts to doubt whether one lived through it or read about it in a book.

During the sonata, we were gently nudged in the direction of theatricality and were told without a single word what to expect: the singers moved freely around, there were little “moments” between them and the other musicians. Everyone on stage, everyone taking part. I loved it!

We were eased into Die Serenaden by Hindemith. It is a sizeable work, the poetry of each song is by a different author. I read somewhere that this chamber, baroque-like cantata was composed as a wedding present from Hindemith to his wife, Gertrud.

At this moment we discovered the crux of Opera 5’s idea – the two sopranos. Alternating between them, they created not only a variety, which would be otherwise lacking in a regular concert setting, but the interplay between them, the little unspoken interlude gave us a loose plot of a relationship.


It is my first encounter with soprano Jacqueline Woodley and I am already an admirer. Her warm, clean and seductive voice seems perfect for this kind of repertoire and setting. It fitted the space like a hand-in-glove and drew us in into the music invitingly and with open arms. In addition, her movement around the space when not singing was gracious, relaxed and inconspicuous enough so not to distract us from the music. I would be quite curious to see and hear her in more diverse repertoire, including a full scale chamber opera for example.

Rachel Krehm, our second soprano of the evening, possesses a powerful but well-controlled voice and we were treated to a few instances of her power as well as the ability of her voice to invoke gentler emotions. She seemed to have worked and thought about this performance more of as a role, with its own progress throughout the evening and its character’s arc, if I can use this theatrical analogy. I am a bit more familiar with the work of Miss Krehm and this evening only confirmed my conviction: she is an operatic talent to be reckoned with.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the two other instrumentalists, who contributed considerably to the evening’s success. Yosuke Kawasaki, on viola and violin, played deftly, with warm and beautiful tone, always listening and responding to his colleagues. A true collaborator, his playing left little to be desired throughout the whole evening. Another name I should put down on my list of “musicians I would love to work with”.

Wolfram Koessel, on cello, was another wonderful member of the group. I am very impressed with his musicality and tone and also, his technical ability. I should mention here an especially fiendish passages in Shostakovich’s 4th Romance: “The City Sleeps”, with double stop to wake you up sweating. That’s just my guess here. Mr. Koessel not only played throughout the whole evening with vitality and nice tone but also played his role as a character in the drama behind the music.

Yosuke Kawasaki, Viola/Violin PhotoCredit: Dahlia Katz

Shostakovich: 7 Romances on Verses by Blok

The second half of the musical offerings consisted of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 7 Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok, op. 127. It was staged similarly but what a different work this is. Bigger contrasts, climbing and dropping on the ladder of Love and Despair, our slavic souls were strangely satisfied with this one. Yes, there is sadness, there is nostalgia, there is winter blues. But there is also a Storm (sung formidably by Rachel Krehm) and our collective favourite, Gamayun, the bird of prophecy. We would have loved to hear the original Russian poetry even clearer but the discreet subtitles screen was utilized, so this is not a major complaint.

We should mention the professional and tasteful work of Patrick Hansen, director and designer of the evening; David DeGrow, Lighting Designer, and the contributions of Tamara Vuckovic, Quinn Hoodless and Rebecca Gray, for their team effort and professionalism.  Also, many thanks go to Dahlia Katz, for her wonderful publicity images, which captured perfectly the atmosphere and dramaticism of this work.

Unfortunately, for you that is, there were only 3 performances where I would like to see a whole season of concerts put on by somebody, employing theatrical or multimedia elements to otherwise purely concert works and bringing them to new life. One can only dream.

In the meantime, check out Opera 5 and their team, it will be worth your time.

From left to right: Rachel Krehm, Jacqueline Woodley Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz