La Scena Musicale

Monday, October 5, 2009

This Week in Toronto (October 5 - 11)

left: Frederica von Stade

right: Alexander Neef, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company (Photo: Michael Cooper)

In addition to the continuation of COC's long run of Madama Butterfly at the Four Seasons Centre (Oct. 8 and 10, 7:30 pm), there are a number of very interesting vocal and opera-related events this week. On the top of the list is American mezzo Frederica von Stade's likely final appearance in Toronto. She will be at the newly minted Koerner Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music, in a program of Mahler, Massenet, Mozart, Berlioz, Heggie, and Bernstein. Joining her will be Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, herself a graduate of the RCM Glenn Gould School. von Stade has been in front of the public for some forty years - I remember seeing her in a Met performance of La fanciulla del West in 1970. No, she wasn't Minnie - that was my favourite soprano at the time, Renata Tebaldi. Flicka sang the Indian squaw Wowkle, believe it or not! If I remember correctly, she only had one or two lines that go something like "Neve, neve...Ugh, ugh..."! From that tiny comprimaria, von Stade went on to become a wonderful mezzo soprano, with many memorable performances from Massenet to Strauss. She was my favourite Octavian in the early 1980s. This is our last chance to see Flicka onstage and this concert is not to be missed!

If Flicka is at the end of her career, four Canadians at the bloom of youth are giving a recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (Four Seasons Centre) at 12 noon, Tuesday. Soprano Yannick Muriel Noah, mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor David Pomeroy and baritone James Westman will sing arias and duets. Subject to change, I believe among the selections will be the ever-popular Pearl Fishers Duet with Pomeroy and Westman, love duet from Act One Madama Butterfly with Noah and Pomeroy, and Germont's aria from La Traviata. The concert is free, and as usual this will be totally jammed, so you must be in the line-up at least 30 minutes before for a chance to get in.

On Thursday Oct. 8, 7:30 pm at Walter Hall, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, COC General Director Alexander Neef gives the inaugural Herman Geiger-Torel Lecture. Given that the late Geiger-Torel was a COC intendant back in the 60s and 70s, it is fitting that Neef has been invited to give the lecture. I interviewed Neef in October of last year for an article in The Music Scene. Youthful, energetic, articulate, and extremely bright, you will enjoy his talk on Thursday. The event is free, but as usual, it is best to arrive early.

Also of interest is a concert the following evening 7:30 pm at the MacMillan Theatre. David Briskin conducts the U of T Symphony Orchestra in a program of Webern, Mahler and Beethoven. This is not free, but at a modest tariff of $18 ($10 for seniors/students) this is a bargain. Of particular interest is Mahler's Ruckert Lieder with baritone Vasil Garvanliev

Saturday Oct. 10 marks the start of the Met in HD series in your local theatres. It is the blockbuster Tosca starring Finnish soprano Karita Mattila as the Roman diva. Marcelo Alvarez is Cavaradossi. This production was booed on opening night by a few fanatics, and critical opinions are divided. From what I have read, the Luc Bondy "updating" appears to be quite tame - if the Met audiences think this is crazy, well, they should avoid European houses! See for yourself by going to the box office or online to purchase a ticket. Almost all the theatres have reserved seating this season. This is all to the good as you won't need to line up way early to get a decent seat. If you cannot attend, an encore presentation will be on Oct. 30.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Canadian Opera Company announces new season - and new music director

Johannes Debus Photo credit: Michael Cooper
I just returned from the COC press conference at the Four Season's Centre, where its new intendant Alexander Neef announced the 2009-10 season.

The season opens with Madama Butterfly, a whopping 15 performances worth of this Puccini warhorse, double cast - Adina Nitescu and Yannick Muriel-Noah shares the title role; David Pomeroy shares Pinkerton with Bryan Hymel, a name new to me. James Westman and Brett Polegato (Sharpless) and Allyson McHardy/Anita Krause (Suzuki) round out the cast. This is followed by a Robert Lepage world premiere of The Nightingale and other Short Fables, which includes a Lepage cutting edge treatment of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol, plus a piece based on the animal fable The Fox, and the jazz inspired orchestral piece, Ragtime. This is a coproduction with Aix en Provence and Lyon. Soprano Olga Peretyatko, whom I heard in the recording sessions of Wuthering Heights in Valencia last September, will be the Nightingale.

The winter season begins with a revival of the Montreal Opera production of Carmen, with American mezzo Beth Clayton in the title role. I last heard Clayton in Santa Fe where she makes her home, as Olga in Onegin. She also sang in the COC Cunning Little Vixen some years ago if I remember correctly. Bryan Hymel is Jose. This Carmen is paired with Otello, marking the return of heldentenor Clifton Forbis. It will also mark the return of the popular Paolo Olmi as conductor.

The Company continues with an expanded Spring season, opening with a revival of Dutchman, starring Russian Yvgeny Nikitin and American Julie Makerov. Mats Almgren returns as Daland, and Robert Kunzli returns to sing Erik. This show will be conducted by the new COC music director, Johannes Debus, who made a remarkable company debut last fall in War and Peace. This 34 year old conductor received excellent critical and audience acclaim and had great rapport with the orchestra. I heard his conducting of Elektra in Munich last July and he was extremely impressive. I was so taken by his work that I e-mailed him at the time, and I received a gracious reply. Little did I know 6 months later he would be the COC music director! His is an inspired choice.

Dutchman will be followed by a rare foray into bel canto by the COC, in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. It stars one of my favorite Italian sopranos, Serena Farnocchia in the title role, opposite the Elisabetta of Alexandrina Pendatchanska, a terrific Bulgarian soprano whom I heard as Ermione and Vitellia previously. American tenor Eric Cutler sings Leicester and Patrick Carfizzi is Talbot - a great cast! The season closes with a new production of Idomeneo, with American tenor Paul Groves making his COC debut in the title role. Former COC Ensemble members Krisztina Szabo returns as Idamante and Michael Colvin as Arbace. Isabel Bayrakdarian is Ilia, a role tailormade for her. Early music specialist Harry Bicket conducts. One performance will feature the current crop of COC Ensemble artists.

In addition to the above shows - a great season, by the way - will be a Ben Heppner concert, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the COC. Neef mentions that Heppner is booked up for the next few seasons, so we are fortunate to have him back in a gala concert.

There you have it - a mixture of war horses and the unfamiliar, with some exciting casting. I was hoping for a Parsifal or Tristan, or an Ariadne, but that was not to be. Still, it promises to be an excellent season.

- Joseph So
> COC Season Press Release

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