La Scena Musicale

Saturday, January 30, 2010

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 1 - 7)

Photo: Italian conductor Paolo Olmi

The Canadian Opera Company's winter season continues with the opening of Verdi's Otello on Feb. 3. It marks the return of Italian conductor Paolo Olmi to the company, after a highly successful French version Don Carlos replacing the late Richard Bradshaw in the fall of 2007. I attended a working rehearsal of Otello last week, and the musical values bowled me over. First of all, we are fortunate to have American heldentenor Clifton Forbis as Otello. Hard to believe he debuted at the COC in 1997 as Lensky! Well, he is the genuine article as a heldentenor and I look forward to his Otello. Italian Tiziana Caruso is a true dramatic soprano, with a big voice of lovely quality. Given the size of her voice, it isn't so easy for her to sing high pianissimos, but other than that, she will be a vocally and dramatically rewarding Desdemona. Scott Hendricks, last seen locally as Rodrigo in Don Carlos, is a very youthful Iago, perhaps his lyric baritone a bit light especially when paired with the helden voice of Forbis, but the sounds Hendricks makes is gorgeous. It opens on Feb. 3 at 7:30 pm, and a second perforrmance on Saturday Feb. 6. The production is modern and a bit glitzy, with fairly traditional staging by Paul Curran, who was the director behind the wonderful Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk several years ago. a show not to be missed.

Meanwhile, the COC Carmen continues. I saw opening night, and it was a terrific show. Rinat Shaham is a scintillating Carmen - not the biggest of voice, but with lovely quality, variety of shading, and dramatically interesting. Bryan Hymel fulfills all the requirements of Don Jose. Canadian soprano Jessica Muirhead is the best Micaela vocally I have heard in many years - brava! Rory Macdonald conducted briskly and excitingly. The production has its weaknesses, but overall it did the job. Carmen can be seen on Feb 2 an 5 at 7:30 pm, and on Feb. 7 at 2 pm.

Met in HD continues with Simone Boccanegra on Saturday Feb. 6 at 1 pm at selected Cineplex theatres in Canada. It stars the great Placido Domingo in the baritone role of Boccanegra. He has already sung it in Berlin recently and received critical kudos. I heard snippets of it - he doesn't sound like a baritone but a tenor. In other words, he does not artificially darken his voice, yet his full lower register can fully do justice to the role. Amelia is Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka. This role fits her voice like a glove. Marcello Giordani is Gabriele. The director is Giancarlo Del Monaco, the son of the later tenor Mario del Monaco. James Levine conducts.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 25 - 31)

Conductor of MSO Kent Nagano
Photo credit: Nicolas Ruel

This week marks the start of the Canadian Opera Company's winter season, with the opening of Carmen on Wednesday, Jan. 27. (The other production, Verdi's Otello, will open a week later, on Feb. 3) The Bizet opera is a true warhorse - the showing of this opera on Met in HD broke all attendance records recently. It was last staged in Toronto only five years ago, with Ukrainian mezzo Larissa Kostiuk as the Gypsy, in the Montreal Opera co-production. Much drama has already transpired offstage, with the American mezzo Beth Clayton withdrawing from all twelve performances. The COC scrambled to find a replacement, and it was announced a week ago that Israeli mezzo Rinat Shaham will sing the first six performances, which has now expanded to the first eight. I saw Shaham as Carmen just five years ago at the Montreal Opera and she was wonderful. I look forward to hearing and seeing her again. Two days ago, I received a COC press release that the young Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili will make her Canadian debut as Carmen here, singing the last four shows. Rachvelishvili, a young artist at La Scala, was chosen to sing the title role of Carmen at the La Scala 2009-10 season opening on December 7, opposite the sensational Jose of Jonas Kaufmann under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. The show was telecast live in selected movie theaters and transmitted on Italian Television. Despite the high pressure situation, Rachvelishvili acquitted herself well and received a big ovation from the audience. The rest of the COC cast include American tenor Bryan Hymel as Jose, Canadian soprano Jessica Muirhead as Micaela, and Paul Gay as Escamillo. Rory Macdonald makes his COC conducting debut. There will be a total of twelve performances, with shows on Jan. 27 and 30 this week.

Another important event this week is the return of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra to Roy Thomson Hall under the baton of Kent Nagano. On the program is Weber's Overture to Oberon, Stravinsky's Firebird, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 with pianist Till Felner. The concert is on Monday Jan. 25 at 8:30 pm, an unusually late start. On Jan. 28 and 30 at 8 pm, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents the grand Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, with conductor James Gaffigan. Also on the program is the Canadian premiere of Thomas Ades' Violin Concerto "Concentric Paths" played by soloist Leila Josefowicz.

On Thursday Jan. 28, the Canadian Opera Company presents a free noon hour concert, Songs of Heaven and Earth by Olivier Messaien, performed by members of the COC Ensemble Studio, with Steven Philcox at the piano. This is a good opportunity to hear this comparatively rare work. Remember to show up at least 30 minutes early to secure a spot.

On Sunday, Jan. 31 at 2:30 pm, Opera in Concert presents Handel's Giulio Cesare, with countertenor David Trudgen, soprano Charlotte Corwin, mezzo Catherine Rooney, and baritone James Levesque. Kevin Mallon conducts the Aralia Ensemble. Jane Mallet Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Canadian Opera Company Announces its 2010-11 Season


Toronto, Ontario – Today, at a press conference at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the Canadian Opera Company proudly announced its 2010/2011 season. Featuring two new productions of opera classics, two COC premieres, and three brilliant productions from around the world, the COC’s 2010/11 season consists of a diverse line-up of operas featuring some major star power. The company presents two new productions of operatic favourites Aida and The Magic Flute; COC premieres of the 20th century opera Nixon in China and the COC’s first Gluck opera,Orfeo ed Euridice; and the long-awaited returns of Death in Venice, La Cenerentolaand Ariadne auf Naxos.

Making their COC debuts in the upcoming season are singers Jane Archibald, Lawrence Brownlee, Michele Capalbo, Alice Coote, Sondra Radvanovsky, and conductors

Sir Andrew Davis, and Pablo Heras-Casado; and directors Yoshi Oida and Diane Paulus. Returning artists include singers Isabel Bayrakdarian, Tracy Dahl, Robert Gleadow, Scott Hendricks, Richard Margison, Adrianne Pieczonka, Brett Polegato, Michael Schade, and Lawrence Zazzo; directors Tim Albery, Neil Armfield, Robert Carsen, and James Robinson; and conductor Harry Bicket. All performances are in the company’s home, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, and feature the renowned COC Orchestra and Chorus.

The 2010/2011 season is representative of my pledge to present opera of the highest international standards. With great new productions of classic favourites, the introduction of works never before seen on our stages, and brilliant, imaginative productions from around the world, you have a perfect opera season,” said Alexander Neef, COC’s General Director.

The Canadian Opera Company’s 61st season opens with a new COC production of Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic masterpiece Aida, last produced by the COC in 1986. Created by the same team responsible for the COC’s 2008 award-winning production of War and Peace, Aida is conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus and directed by Tim Albery. Aida is the story of an Ethiopian princess enslaved in Egypt whose love affair with her enemy’s military commander, Radames, seals their fate. American dramatic sopranoSondra Radvanovsky makes her much-anticipated company and role debut as Aida, and shares the role with Canadian soprano Michele Capalbo who also makes her COC debut. American baritone Scott Hendricks (Don Carlos, and the upcomingOtello) returns as Amonasro, the King of Ethiopia. Also making their COC debuts are Australian-born tenor Rosario La Spina singing the role of Radames, and American mezzo-soprano Jill Grove as Amneris, daughter of the King of Egypt, also in love with Radames,. This new production is designed by War and Peace collaboratorsHildegard Bechtler (set) and Thomas C. Hase (lighting), and costumes are designed by Jon Morrell. Aida runs for 12 performances on October 2, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, and November 2, 5, 2010 and is sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™.

The fall season continues with Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice, not performed by the COC since 1984. Britten’s final opera, based on Thomas Mann’s novella, is about an aging writer in crisis, who, while seeking salvation and creative inspiration in the light and splendour of early 20th-century Venice, instead becomes bewitched with the vitality and beauty of a young boy. Returning to lead the COC Orchestra and Chorus is British conductor Steuart Bedford(1993’s Hänsel und Gretel), recognized as one of today’s leading experts on the works of Benjamin Britten. Notably, Mr. Bedford conducted the world premiere of the opera in 1973. Acclaimed Japanese-born Yoshi Oida, who as part of Peter Brook’s renowned theatre company has worked as an actor and director, makes his COC debut directing this production. Singing the lead role of Gustav von Aschenbach is British tenor Alan Oke who received widespread acclaim for his portrayal. British baritone Peter Savidge (2005’s Rodelinda) returns to the COC to sing the role of the Traveller. Making his company debut singing the voice of the Greek god Apollo is British countertenor William Towers. Death in Venice is a co-production between the Aldeburgh Festival, Opéra national de Lyon, Bregenz Opera and Prague State Opera. It is sung in English with English SURTITLES™ and runs for eight performances onOctober 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, and November 3, 6, 2010.

A new COC production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s mystical fairytale The Magic Fluteopens the winter season. Director Diane Paulus, Tony Award®-nominated director of Broadway’s HAIR, and Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater, makes her COC debut. The Magic Flute weaves a timeless story of Prince Tamino, and his friend Papageno’s magical quest to rescue a beautiful princess, Pamina, from the sorcerer Sarastro. This new production is designed by Myung Hee Cho and will appeal to all ages. Singing the lead roles of Tamino and Pamina are COC favourites tenor Michael Schade (2009’s Rusalka), and celebrated Armenian-Canadian sopranoIsabel Bayrakdarian (2008’s Pelléas et Mélisande). They share their roles with young Canadian singers, tenor Frédéric Antoun and COC Ensemble Studio member soprano Simone Osborne. Baritone Rodion Pogossov (2007’s The Barber of Seville) returns to the COC to sing the role of Papageno, and recent Ensemble Studio graduate soprano

Lisa DiMaria is his sweetheart, Papagena. Canadian soprano Aline Kutan makes her mainstage debut in her signature role as The Queen of the Night. Russian bassMikhail Petrenko is Sarastro, and former Ensemble bass-baritone Robert Gleadow(2009’s La Bohème and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) sings the Speaker of the Temple. Leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus in some of Mozart’s most sublimely beautiful and infectious melodies is COC Music Director Johannes Debus. Last performed on the COC mainstage in 1993,

The Magic Flute runs for 12 performances on January 29, February 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, 18, 20, 23, 25, 2011 and is sung in German with English SURTITLES™.

Experience the exciting young singers of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, as they perform Mozart’s The Magic Flute on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. This special performance stars the Ensemble members with the full COC Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of COC Music Director Johannes Debus. For casting, please visit the COC website at Tickets are accessible priced at $20 or $50 per person.

Continuing the winter season is a COC premiere of John Adams’ opera, Nixon in China. Considered one of the major operas of the 20th century, Nixon in China recounts President Richard Nixon’s famous, five-day 1972 trip to China. Hailed by critics in his “sensational portrayal of Richard Nixon” (Houston Chronicle) is leading American baritone Robert Orth (1990’s The Barber of Seville). Canadian soprano Tracy Dahl(1995’s Ariadne auf Naxos) makes her return to the COC as Madame Mao. American bass-baritone Thomas Hammons makes his COC debut portraying Nixon’s diplomatic advisor Henry Kissinger, a role he premiered in Houston in 1987, and subsequently performed in Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt and Los Angeles. Singing Chairman Mao is British tenor Adrian Thompson. Making his COC debut leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus is young Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, who was unanimously voted winner of the 2007 Lucerne Festival Conductors’ Competition by a jury headed by Pierre Boulez and Peter Eötvös. Returning to the COC to direct this production he originally staged at Opera Theatre of St. Louis is American James Robinson (Elektra,Turandot, Norma, Lucia di Lammermoor and Il viaggio a Reims). The COC premiere of Nixon in China runs for eight performances on February 5, 9, 11, 13, 19, 22, 24,and 26, 2011 and is sung in English with English SURTITLES™.

Opening the COC’s spring season and performed for the first time since 1996, is Gioacchino Rossini’s delightful opera buffa La Cenerentola, based on the beloved fairytaleCinderella. This colourful and imaginative production from Houston Grand Opera (a joint venture with Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, Welsh National Opera and Grand Théâtre de Genève) features a spectacular cast of Rossini specialists. Returning to the COC to sing Angelina (Cenerentola) is American mezzo-soprano

Elizabeth DeShong who made her company debut as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“stunningly rich and powerful voice” Toronto Star). American Lawrence Brownlee, known as one of the most prominent bel canto tenors on the international stage, performs the role of Don Ramiro. Mr. Brownlee, who sang this role in Houston, makes his COC debut as the Prince. Dandini, Ramiro’s valet, is sung by COC favourite, baritone Brett Polegato (2009’s Madama Butterfly and 2008’s Don Giovanni). American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (2001’s The Girl of the Golden West) returns to sings Alidoro. Returning to the COC as Don Magnifico, Cenerentola’s father, is Italian bass Donato DiStefano (2007’s The Marriage of Figaro and Le Comte Ory). Making his COC debut leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus is Italian conductor Leonardo Vordoni, who recently made his debut with the prestigious Wexford Opera Festival and the internationally-renowned Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro in 2008. This vibrant and animated production is ideal for all ages and is directed and designed by the creative Spanish theatre troupe Els Comediants led by director Joan Font. La Cenerentola runs for nine performances on April 23, 28, May 1, 7, 10, 13, 19, 22, and 25, 2011 and is sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™.

Continuing the spring season is Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Last performed by the COC in 1995, this opera-within-an-opera’s madcap backstage melodrama is just a precursor to onstage expressions of love, loss and spiritual transformation. Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Music Director and Principal Conductor, makes his much-anticipated company debut leading the COC Orchestra. Leading the stellar cast are Canadian stars, soprano Adrianne Pieczonkaand tenor Richard Margison. Ms Pieczonka and Mr. Margison last appeared together in the COC’s 2009 production of Fidelio. Canadian soprano

Jane Archibald sings Zerbinetta, the charming comedienne of the faux opera, and recently sang this role to rave reviews with the Berlin Deutsche Oper. Renowned British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote sings the Composer. Both Ms Archibald and Ms Coote make their highly anticipated COC debuts in this production. Returning to the COC is multiple award-winning Australian director Neil Armfield (2001’s Billy Buddand 2009’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Ariadne auf Naxos is a Welsh National Opera production, and runs for eight performances on April 30, May 3, 12, 15, 18, 21, 27, and 29, 2011 and is sung in German with English SURTITLES™.

Closing the 2010/11 season is the COC premiere of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Canadian director Robert Carsen (world premiere of 1992’s Mario and the Magician and Katya Kabanova) makes his highly anticipated return to the COC with his acclaimed Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Gluck’s masterpiece. American countertenor Lawrence Zazzo and Isabel Bayrakdarian star in the title roles. Mr. Zazzo recently sang Oberon to rave reviews in the COC’s 2009 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and currently can be seen as Ottone in L’incoronazione di Poppea with Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Ms Bayrakdarian is currently performing the role of Ilia in Opéra national de Paris’s production of Idomeneo (a role she will perform with the COC this spring) and also performs earlier in the COC’s 2010/11 season in The Magic Flute. Leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus is renowned British conductor Harry Bicket, who conducts the COC’s new production of Mozart’sIdomeneo this season. Orfeo ed Euridice runs for eight performances on

May 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 24, 26, and 28, 2011 and is sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™.

Subscriptions to the seven mainstage operas for the COC’s 2010/11 season range from $287 to$1249, with Grand Ring (box level) seat subscriptions available at $1,694 and $2,079, and may be purchased online at, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office, 145 Queen St. W., Toronto. Subscriptions are available to renewing COC subscribers on January 20, 2010 and to the general public on April 5, 2010.

Single tickets are available to the public as of August 16, 2010 for the fall run, December 13, 2010 for the winter run and March 7, 2011 for the spring run. Single ticket prices for all performances range from $62 to $190, with Grand Ring (box level) seat tickets available at$229 and $281 plus applicable taxes.

Special young people’s tickets for all performances throughout the season are priced from $31to $95 plus applicable taxes. These ticket prices apply to those who are 15 years of age or under, accompanied by, and sitting next to an adult. Young adults between the ages of 16 to 29 may purchase specially-priced $20 tickets through the COC’s Opera for a New Age program approximately one week prior to each of the fall, winter and spring seasons. Opera for a New Age is presented by TD Bank Financial Group. A total of 150 seats, each priced at $20, will be reserved for every COC performance and will be available for purchase through Opera for a New Age to student groups and subject to availability on the day of a performance.

New in the 2010/11 season are Standing Room Only tickets available on the day of all performances. Tickets are $12 and go on sale 11 a.m. the day of the performance. For more information please see the separate press release.

All repertoire, dates, pricing, productions, and casting are subject to change. For more complete casting, please see the Show Pages.

The Canadian Opera Company will webcast the announcement of its 2010/11 season live on January 20, 2010 at 10 a.m. from the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in theFour Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The webcast will be available for streaming after the press conference.

For more information on the Canadian Opera Company’s 2010/11 season, please visit

Nixon in China Production Co-sponsors: CIBC and CIBC Mellon

The Magic Flute has been generously underwritten by The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation.

The Magic Flute Production Sponsor: RBC

This production of Orfeo ed Euridice is owned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and was made possible by generous gifts from An Anonymous Donor, The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust/The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, Stephen A. Kaplan and Alyce K. Sigler, Sidley Austin LLP, and Howard A. Stotler with additional funding by AT&T.

Presenting Sponsor of SURTITLES™: Sun Life Financial

Official Automotive Sponsor of the COC at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts: Jaguar Land Rover Canada

Broadcast Partner: CBC Radio 2

Official Media Sponsors: CTV and The Globe and Mail

Digital Marketing Sponsor: Delvinia

The COC Ensemble Studio is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals and provides advanced instruction, hands-on experience, and career development opportunities. The Ensemble Studio is supported by the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage, RBC, and other generous donors.

About the Canadian Opera Company

Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and fifth largest in North America, and celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2009/10. Under its new leadership of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC continues its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation. The COC currently enjoys a remarkable 99% attendance rate and one of the highest subscription rates in North America. The COC performs in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, designed by Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc. From its inauguration in 2006, the Four Seasons Centre has been internationally hailed as one of the finest opera houses in the world. The Four Seasons Centre is also the performance venue for The National Ballet of Canada.

Canadian Opera Company Website

The Canadian Opera Company’s award-winning website,, contains information on all productions and programs and includes video interviews with members of the creative team, as well as many other fun, informative and interactive features.


Monday, September 28, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 28 - Oct. 4)

Photo (l.) COC Butterfly with Adina Nitescu and David Pomeroy (photo credit: Michael Cooper) Photo (r.) Evgeny Kissin (Photo: Sheila Rock)

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra opened the season with a bang, bringing to town last week Joshua Bell for two concerts. This week, the TSO offers two consummate musicians, the great pianist-pedagogue Leon Fleisher and the extraordinary Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin. Fleisher plays Mozart Piano Concerto No. 12 K414 on Sept. 30 8:00 pm, in a program that also includes Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, conducted by Peter Oundjian. Then on Sunday Oct. 4, 3 pm at Roy Thomson Hall, the ever-popular Evgeny Kissin makes a return to TO in a performance of Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2. On the program is (once again) Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, and Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin, conducted by Oundjian.

On Saturday, Oct. 3 8 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio, pianist Minsoo Sohn, the first Laureate of the Honens' Competition in Calgary, will give a recital, playing Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, and Liszt's Transcriptions of Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart. In case you don't know, the Honens Competition is heating up this month in Calgary and well worth following. I think at least the finals will be carried on CBC - I will check and report on this later.

For opera fans, the COC's Madama Butterfly continues this week for its run of an unprecedented fifteen performances at the Four Seasons Centre. I understand limited tickets for the shows are still available, including rush tickets for seniors. I attended opening night on Saturday. This Puccini warhorse can be a little hackneyed in a routine performance, but with good singing and a good orchestra like the COC, it has a sweep and power that is almost unequaled in verismo. The old Brian Macdonald production is very basic but serviceable, and the stage direction is traditional. The singing is generally very good. Adina Nitescu is a celebrated Butterfly, having sung it in many of the major houses, including La Scala in 2004. The voice isn't so fresh now five years later, and there is no high pianissimo. Hers is a mature Butterfly - this is not meant to be a criticism - I've always thought it was wicked of Puccini to expect a spinto soprano with the vocal heft to sing this very dramatic music while pretending to be a 15-year old geisha - this is an impossibility! Nitescu bears an uncanny facial resemblance to the mature Teresa Stratas, with dramatic intensity to match. I was very impressed with her acting, especially in Acts 2 and 3 (performed together in this production). On opening night, Canadian David Pomeroy was a ringing-voiced Pinkerton with excellent high notes; baritone James Westman was an extroverted, highly sympathetic Sharpless, and mezzo Allyson McHardy a luscious voiced Suzuki. The tempo of the opening overture conducted by Carlo Montanaro was at breakneck speed, as a result there was some ragged playing by the musicians struggling to catch up. Things settled down soon afterwards for a fine performance. Montanaro knows the verismo style well and he milked the climaxes for a big, exciting sound.

Tomorrow is the alternate cast of Canadian soprano Yannick Muriel Noah in her role debut as Cio Cio San, American tenor Bryan Hymel as Pinkerton, Canadian baritone Brett Polegato in his first Sharpless, and Canadian mezzo Anita Krause reprising her Suzuki. This cast will sing 6 performances of the 15-performance run. Not to be missed.

Finally, to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, I will mention Jerry Springer: The Opera, playing from Sept. 24 to Oct. 10 at 8 pm at The Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, University of Toronto. Calling this piece an opera is an inspired stroke to some, and an insult to the Heiligen Kunst to others. If you don't mind a vulgar "libretto" where four letter words are used allegedly 96 times, this "opera" is for you. I have never seen it, but I just might give it a try. I am told that when this was first shown on the BBC, it received a record number of complaints. So there you are - attend at your own risk!

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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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