La Scena Musicale

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This Week in Toronto (November 16 - 22)

Adrianne Pieczonka (Photo: Andreas Klingberg)

Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, in my mind - and the minds of many - is Canada's reigning prima donna. Possessing a beautiful and versatile lyric soprano and generous stage presence, Pieczonka is enjoying a high powered international career, in demand from Munich to San Francisco to the Met. Since moving back to Canada after spending some fifteen years living in Vienna and London, she has managed to enjoy the best of both worlds- continuing her European appearances in the leading houses there, as well as singing and living at home and in the U.S. She will appear as Amelia opposite the Simon Boccanegra of the great Placido Domingo at the Met in January, and it will be part of the Met in HD series shown in 42 countries around the world. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, you can hear Adrianne - for free! - when she gives a noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheater, at the Four Seasons Centre. She will be accompanied by Elizabeth Upchurch in a selection of arias from her new all-Puccini CD, recently released on the Orfeo label. I am not positive about this, but I imagine there will be discs for sale at that time. This is sure to be a full house so I advise anyone interested to show up at least 45 minutes early to line up.

Another interesting recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheater, FSC is that of pianist Sergei Saratovsky, on the very next day (Nov. 18th noon). Saratovsky received the best Canadian at the 2008 Montreal International Musical Competition, piano edition. I recall his excellent playing when I covered the finals last year, and this recital is well worth attending. On the program is Debussy's Estampes and Schumann''s Carnaval.

On the subject of pianists, Chinese-Canadian piano phenom Yuja Wang is in town with the Shanghai Symphony at Roy Thomson Hall on Nov. 16, 8 pm. She is one in a long line of Chinese pianists with a big technique, which she will be showing off in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, conducted by Long Yu. Also on the program is a Chinese piece and Mussorgksy's Prelude to his opera Khovanchina.

Now that the COC's fall season is over, the opera house becomes a ballet house, featuring the National Ballet of Canada's Sleeping Beauty from Nov. 13 to the 22. Performances this week are on 18, 19, 20, 21 at 7:30 pm, and 22 at 2 pm. Aurora will be shared by a whole bunch of ballerinas, with the prima danced by Heather Ogden. Others are Xiao Nan Yu, Sonia Rodriquuez, Jillian Vanstone and Stacey Minagawa. The Prince is led Guillaum Cote, with Jason Reilly, Zdenek Konvalinaa and Piotr Stanczyk to follow. The great Rex Harrington is now a character dancer, as King Florestan. The roots of the NBC are in the classics, and this piece, with its wonderful Tchaikovsky score and Petipa choreography, remains a perennial favourite. It is definitely not to be missed.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Jan 24 - Jan 30)

Photo: Adrianne Pieczonka sings her first-ever Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio for the COC

(photo credit: Andreas Klingberg)

By Joseph So

The Toronto vocal music scene in this, the last wintry week in January, is dominated by the return of Beethoven's Fidelio to the Canadian Opera Company, in a co-production with L'Opera national du Rhin and Opera Nurnberg. The COC has assembled a superb cast, where all the prinicpals - except one - are well known to and well loved by Toronto audiences. It stars Canada's reigning prima donna, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, in the title role of Leonore. She is making an infrequent foray into the dramatic soprano repertoire and it will be her debut in this role. I think this Fidelio may actually be her debut in a trouser role! Slim and statuesque, Pieczonka certainly looks more believable as a man than many sopranos who sing Leonore, Christine Brewer and Elizabeth Connell, for example. While the Canadian won't have quite the powerhouse volume or the cutting edge to her tone as these two dramatic soprano ladies, Pieczonka will bring her trademark gleaming tone and dramatic conviction to Leonore.

American tenor Jon Villars was to return to the COC after several seasons as Florestan. He last sang here as Calaf in Turandot. So it came as a bombshell when it was announced that Villars had been replaced after Wednesday's final dress reheaersal. There had been disagreement between him and the conductor Gregor Buhl over tempi throughout the rehearsal process, and the disagreemenet came to a head when, according to eye witnesses at the final dress, Villars threw up his hands and walked off the stage in the final ensemble. It was also reported that he was in poor voice throughout the rehearsal period and appeared unprepared - rather strange when you think he has sung Florestan previously as well as having recorded it with Sir Simon Rattle. Villars is certainly a "big name" and it is regrettable that he has departed, but the COC were able to pull not one but two Florestans out of the hat! It was announced Thursday that Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson and Canadian tenor Richard Margison will share the ten performances of Fidelio, with Ketilsson singing the first five. Heldentenors don't grow on trees, so my guess is that the COC had been working behind the scenes to line up the two replacements just in case. The internationally ranked Ketilsson has sung Florestan in Gothenberg and Marseille. Canadian tenor Richard Margison has sung with the COC on several occasions in the past - I remember a Trovatore about seven or eight years ago. He has been expanding his repertoire into the Germanic heldentenor repertory, such as Bacchus and Florestan, the latter he has sung at the Met and Vancouver. This will be his debut in the new opera house.

The evil Don Pizarro is taken by another COC stalwart, bass Gidon Saks, who has made operatic villains his specialty all over the world. His Scarpia in the Bregenz Tosca, now available on DVD, is guaranteed to make your skin crawl. He last sang with the COC in the title role of Boris Godunov. Swedish bass Mats Almgren, who made a sensational COC debut as Hagen in the inaugural Ring Cycle, returns as the more sympathetic Rocco. Rounding out the principals will be current COC Ensemble member Adam Luther as Jacquino and former Ensemble member soprano Virginia Hatfield as Marzelline. German conductor Gregor Buhl, who received critical acclaim in his conducting of the Ring Cycle in Stockholm, will make his COC debut. Performances of Fidelio run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 24 at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

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