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Today: Two very different takes on French art song, from Continuum and Neapolitan Connection

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The words of French literary and film icon Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) animate today’s premiere by Continuum Contemporary Music.

Every now and again — like today — the sun, moon and stars align to create curious musical eddies of Frenchness around the city. Here are two very different options for our Dominical delectation:

Continuum Contemporary Music

The musicians of Continuum premiere Victoria composer Christopher Butterfield’s full adaptation of French poet Jacques Prévert’s 1947 collection Contes pour enfants pas sages (Tales for Unruly Children) with the help of the composer’s brother, pillar-of-strength tenor Benjamin, sister-in-law, soprano Anne Grimm, and Toronto’s contemporary-focused Choir 21, led by David Fallis.

Christopher Butterfield is a fascinating guy, one of the rare contemporary composers of any nationality to willingly fold humour into the creative process.

Look around the Anglo-Germanic worlds of visual art, literature, theatre, opera and art music, and you realise what a rare — and rarely respected — commodity laughter is.

Laughter is unsettling, unpredictable and subversive. That comes up frequently in the oft-nonsensical world of Prévert, an icon of French literary and film culture for most of his adult life (born with the 20th century, he died in 1977).

Contes pour enfants pas sages is a collection of eight weird-and-wonderful allegories, filled with the kind of smart, twisted contrasts that make children’s eyes open wide before they guffaw at the improbability of it all.

Many composers — art and pop — have set Prévert’s poems and stories to music. Most recently in Canada, Quebecer Benoît Côté set Contes to music a couple of seasons ago for a multi-displinary show that involved dancer Marie-Josée Chartier.

Christopher Butterfield, never afraid to stir in a pinch of this and a dash of that, like a mad-genius chef, will have produced something strange and memorable. Whatever the result, the musical forces gathered to pull off the stunt are as good as they get.

If you’re feeling brave — perhaps a bit unruly, even — check out the show in the friendly upstairs performance space tucked into the soaring roof at the 918 Bathurst centre, just north of Bloor St. at 8 p.m.

The run includes two school shows and a repeat all-ages performance on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Check out all the details, including a preview video and programme notes, here.

These two videos, which have nothing at all to do with the Continuum show, are an excuse to see the “elevator” sequence from Le roi et l’oiseau (The King and the Bird) Prévert’s longest (and final) film collaboration Paul Grimault, and to hear Yves Montand sing Prévert’s words in Feuilles mortes (which later became known in the English-speaking world as Autumn Leaves) in a 1951 film:

Neapolitan Connection

This loose collection of collaborators presents a salon programme centred around Impressionism and the music of Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and, to stretch a bit, Francis Poulenc. Broadcaster and author Rick Phillips hosts.

Singing are soprano Eve Rachel McLeod, mezzo Ramona Carmelly and tenor Derek Kwan. The instrumentalists are pianist Ronée Boyce, cellist Liza McClellan and flautist Laura Chambers. There will even be a bit of dance, as well as visual art, pour étoffer.

The performance starts at 3 p.m. in the intimate, acoustically fine Studio Theatre, tucked into the back corner of the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

For more details, click here.

Here’s the gang last year performing Beau soir, a particularly sweet confection of Debussy’s:

John Terauds

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