La Scena Musicale

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (26 oct à 1 nov) / This Week in Montreal (October 26 to November 1)

Musique, danse, théâtre, et arts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine
Music, dance, theatre, and fine arts in Montreal this week

Theatre: This fall, Tableau D'Hôte Theatre ambitiously presents Suburban Motel, George F. Walker’s six-play cycle consisting of Problem Child, Adult Entertainment, Criminal Genius, Featuring Loretta, The End of Civilization, and Risk Everything. Try to catch more than one play in this cycle, as they echo and relate to each other through theme and character, thus enhancing the experience. —Jessica Hill

Art visuel : Gabor Szilasi. L’éloquence du quotidien, Ottawa, Musée canadien de la photographie, jusqu’au 17 janvier 2010. —Julie Beaulieu

Jazz : Lun. 26 Ensemble Denis Chang (Jazz manouche). Centre culturel de Pierrefonds. (19 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Classical music: Pianist Dang Thai Son takes the stage at the Salle Maisonneuve on October 26 as part of Pro Musica’s Emerald Series. Known for his dazzling technique and impeccable sense of style, Son will perform works by Ravel, Debussy and Chopin. 514-842-2112, —Hannah Rahimi

Musique d’orchestre : Les 27 et 28 octobre, Bernhard Klee dirigera l’OSM dans l’orchestration de Ravel des Tableaux d’une exposition de Moussorgski ainsi que dans le Concerto pour piano no 27 de Mozart avec la soliste invitée Mari Kodoma. 514-842-9951, —Hannah Rahimi

Danse : À l’Agora, Nuit_Nacht_Notte de Jocelyne Montpetit, du 27 au 31 oct. —Aline Apostolska

Jazz : Mer. 28 et jeu. 29 The Kandinsky Effect. (Trio du saxo Warren Walker.) Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Jazz : Ven. 30 Yannick Rieu Quartet. Jazz bar resto Le dièse onze. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Contemporary music: Let’s Talk About New Music - Montreal’s Molinari Quartet, a leading proponent of contemporary music, conducts its first Dialogue of the season on October 31 at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. Audiences are invited to discuss the works performed, which include quartets by Alexina Louie and Benjamin Britten. 514-527-5515, —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz : Dim. 1er nov Trio du pianiste Tyler Summers. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard


Thursday, October 22, 2009

TSO principal clarinetist delivers in Mozart concerto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

It was sweet and robust at Roy Thomson Hall last night, when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra first featured one of its own on centre stage, followed by “the greatest symphony since Beethoven.”

Now in his 30th year with the TSO, principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas delivered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beloved Clarinet Concert in A Major, K. 622 with grace, temper, and delight.

Valdepeñas, also a founding member of Toronto’s celebrated Amici Chamber Ensemble, began the opening Allegro with flawless technique, in a courtly Mozartian style led by conductor Peter Oundjian. The tone Valdepeñas produced in both high and low registers of his instrument was warm and expressive.

In the Adagio, Valdepeñas displayed a deep and sensitive reading of the score. Both soloist and orchestra demonstrated first-class ensemble work in this poignant movement.

In the finale Rondo: Allegro, Valdepeñas tackled the composer’s intricate runs with lucid articulation and phrasing. Written in October 1791, the Clarinet Concerto was one of Mozart’s last fully completed instrumental works before he died two months later. Mozart did not write a cadenza for this concerto, but Valdepeñas showed off his polished fingering and controlled breathing effortlessly nevertheless.

However, the clarity of sound coming both from Valdepeñas and the orchestra was not always there, although that may have had to do more with the acoustics of the hall rather than the musicians.

With no intermission, the second and final piece of work on the program was English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, completed in 1934, which British composer William Walton once said was "the greatest symphony since Beethoven."

Valdepeñas didn’t get the star treatment and joined his colleagues on stage to tackle this brassy four-movement work.

Vaughan Williams, often known for his collection of English folk music and song, wrote nine symphonies. Fueled with anger, humour, and mania, the fourth is one of his most dissonant and frequently-performed works.

The TSO, under the baton of Oundjian, sculpted a sensible structure for the complex piece that is centred around a four-note motif.

Here, romantic at times and full of surprises, every attack, pizzicato, and pluck was powerful and reached the back of the hall.

The concert, which began at 6:30 p.m. and wrapped up five minutes before 8 p.m., was one of TSO's new Afterworks concert series. The program repeats Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. and Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m., with the addition of the Canadian premiere of Sid Ramin's orchestration of Leonard Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lepage's Nightingale and Other Short Fables a Feast

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I never sat so straight at an opera as I did at the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables Tuesday night.

Only once 16 years ago, when I chanced on COC’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung at the then O’Keefe Centre and came out feeling like I had just seen something so cool that I was therefore cool from having seen it.

It’s no surprise then that the mastermind behind that still-talked-about double bill in Toronto is the very same one responsible for my straight back throughout the two-hour program at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts — Canadian director Robert Lepage.

Lepage’s new and second production for the COC is a collage of Igor Stravinsky’s two short operas —The Nightingale and The Fox — and other vocal and instrumental pieces, including RagtimePribaoutki, and three pieces for solo clarinet, played beautifully by Ross Edwards.

Yes, there was the much-publicized swimming pool (67,000 litres of water in the orchestra pit), in which singers stood and sang in The Nightingale, a three-act 45-minute fairy-tale opera set in ancient China.
The orchestra played on stage.

Different as the reversed arrangement may seem, when the opera premiered in Paris in 1914, singers were also placed in the pit by Sergei Diaghilev, who commissioned Stravinsky some of his best-known works — The FirebirdPetrushka, and The Rite of Spring.

Aside from the water, there were puppets, 75 in total, including eight Japanese Bunraku puppets and 37 Taiwanese and Chinese puppets.

Again, the puppets alone are not that different. Lepage said he saw puppetry used in an opera several years ago, and last year, in Anthony Mighella’s staging of Madama Butterly for the Metropolitan Opera, a Bunraku-style puppet actually took a child’s place to play Cio-Cio-San’s son.

What made Lepage’s production so mind-boggling is the way he pulls various elements together and layers them in seamlessly with the orchestration, the singing, and the drama.

Russian lyric soprano Olga Peretyatko, who launched her career in 2007 after placing second at Placido Domingo’s Operalia singing competition, was a seductive and charming nightingale, her night calls clear as a whistle.

One of the most spellbinding moment for me was the opening of The Nightingale, when German tenor Lothar Odinius as the fisherman, whose supple voice moved the story along, walked out in waist-deep water with a boat and a puppet, the orchestra's humming murmur under Jonathan Darlington's baton floating amidst the fog.

Even if I knew nothing about Stravinsky, or opera, or classical music, it was an arresting scene I would have paused and pressed replay if I could.

With lavish costumes for the singers and their puppets, Lepage's Nightingale is a feast to the human eye. There was so much to see, the only downside was deciding where to focus your gaze on.

The first half of the program, consisting of Stravinsky's short works, was presented continuously with intriguing and complex hand shadow and full-body acrobatic shadow puppetry on a scrim.

Quite frankly, I found the puppetry so fascinating I barely had time to look at the singers, who were propped up on either side of the swimming pool.

The Nightingale and Other Short Fables is by far the most visually imaginative creation I have ever seen in a musical performance. It was like watching Cirque du Soleil at the opera without the high jumps.

The music and the singing were fantastic, but opera has never looked so cool and I have definitely never been cooler.

The Nightingale and Other Short Fables continues at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets for the remaining shows are sold out. However, the COC has added an extra performance on Monday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office (145 Queen St. W., Toronto).

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Week in Toronto (October 19 - 25)

Franz Welser-Most conducts the Cleveland Orchestra (Photo courtesy of Roy Thomson Hall)

Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, directed by Robert Lepage (photo: Michael Cooper)

For opera fans, the big news this week continues to be the COC production of Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, directed by Robert Lepage. It opened on Saturday and it was a complete triumph. It was what an operatic experience should be but rarely is - one that dazzles, surprises, delights and inspires, all at the same time. Lepage turned operatic conventions upside down with a myriad of novel ideas regarding presentations, incorporating elements previously untouched and unrealized in the western opera. If you were struck by his Damnation of Faust at the Met last season, he has outdone himself here. The singing was uniformly excellent, particularly the clear, bell-like tones of Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, whom I heard last year in Valencia, Spain, in the recording sessions I covered of Frederic Chaslin's new opera Wuthering Heights. She impressed me then, but she is even better here - this high coloratura role is tailor-made for her. As the Canadian reviewer for Opera, a UK magazine, I will write a full review there to be published in a future issue. As I understand it, all the tickets are pretty much sold, but there may be returns, so do check the COC website for updates. Performances this week are on Oct. 20, 22, and 24 at the Four Seasons Centre. The other show, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, continues on Oct. 21, 23, and 25. I have seen it twice already, and I am told that in recent performances, the audience have been extremely enthusiastic.

More operas are on offer this week. This being the Haydn bicentenary, University of Toronto Opera Division is presenting his Il Mondo della Luna, in a one-hour excerpt format, at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre at noon, Tuesday 20. The U of T publicity material also cites that this is the International Year of Astronomy - so it is a double celebration! It features students of the Faculty of Music, so this is a good chance to hear up and coming voices. This is a sneak preview to the fully staged production to take place on November 5-8 at the MacMillan Theatre at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. The COC noon hour performance is free, but as usual, you will need to arrive at least 30 minutes before to line up.

Opera in Concert will be presenting another rarity, Rossini's La Donna del Lago, one of his relatively rare forays into opera seria. It is based on the Sir Walter Scott poem and the "lady" is a real star vehicle for a prima donna who has the chops to do the florid music justice. I have never seen it fully staged, and the OIC version obviously won't be staged either. It does have a very fine soprano in Virginia Hatfield, who has developed by leaps and bounds since her COC Ensemble Days. The show is on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2:30 PM at the Jane Mallet Theatre of the St. Lawrence Centre.

Symphonically speaking, the big event this week is the appearance of the august Cleveland Orchestra on Tuesday Oct. 20 8 pm in Roy Thomson Hall. The conductor is its current music director Franz Welser-Most. On the program is Fetes, a Debussy opener, followed by Haydn Symphony No. 85 and Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. Welser-Most exudes youthful vigor combined with a well-tempered, mature style. He is a bit of a controversial figure in Cleveland, where he is adored by the public but disliked by one particular critic who was subsequently released from his long-held position at the local newspaper. You'll get to see and hear what all the fuss is about on Tuesday. Any visiting orchestra is an event and this one is not to be missed.

Finally, the equally august Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents Handel's Israel in Egypt at the newly minted Koerner Hall, with soloists Suzie LeBlanc and James McLennan. Noel Edison leads the Festival Orchestra. I attended the Frederica von Stade Farewell there last week and can truly say this new hall is a magnificent venue, not just for its beauty but its wondrous acoustics. If you haven't been to a concert there, this would be a good choice as the hall is very acoustically choir-friendly.

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