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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Monday, January 11, 2010

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 11 - 17)

Photo: Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca burns up the stage in a new Metropolitan Opera production of Bizet's Carmen, coming to your nearest participating Met in HD Cineplex on Saturday Jan. 16 at 1 pm. (photo courtesy of Metropolitan Opera)

Now that we are into the second full week of the new year, the winter concert season is in full swing. Since Mozart's 250 anniversary celebration in 2006, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has turned January into more or less a "Mozart Month". Last year we had concert performances of Die Zauberfloete. This year's offerings, billed as Mozart@254, are a little more modest in scale but hopefully just as enjoyable. On January 13 and 14 at 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall, and January 17 at 3 pm at the George Weston Recital Hall in North York, Peter Oundjian conducts a mixed program consisting of Symphony No. 25, a horn concerto with soloist horn player Neil Deland, the famous concert aria Ch'io mi scordi di te....Non temer, amato bene with soprano Shannon Mercer, and the even more famous Piano Concerto No. 21, which for years was called the "Elvira Madigan" because the gorgeous slow movement was used in the soundtrack of a 1967 Swedish film by that name. Interestingly there is absolutely no mention of the film in the TSO promotional material, so I guess with the passage of time, this little bit of trivia is forgotten. The pianist is Jonathan Biss. At the intermission on January 13 and 14, audience members will get an opportunity to hear the performers speak about the program. On Jan. 14 at 7:15 pm, broadcaster Rick Phillips will give a pre-concert talk in the lobby. On Saturday Jan. 16 at 7:30pm, the National Arts Centre Orchestra visits Roy Thomson Hall. Pinchas Zukerman does double-duty as conductor and violin soloist in Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 "Turkish". Also on the program is Clarinet Concerto in A Major (second movement) with soloist Kimball Sykes. The beloved Canadian baritone Russell Braun sings Songs for an Acrobat, a cycle of love songs by Linda Bouchard. This is a "Casual Concert", with no intermission and a chance to mingle with the performers after the show in the lobby with live music.

On January 14 at 8 pm at the St. Lawrence Centre, Music Toronto presents a joint recital featuring cellist Rachel Mercer and pianist Minsoo Sohn. Mercer plays on 1696 Stradivarius cello on loan to her from the instrument bank of the Canada Council. Korean pianist Sohn is the first Laureate of the 2006 Honens International Piano Competition in Calgary. On the program are cello sonatas by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Schostakovich. Tickets are a real bargain at $15!

On Tuesday in Walter Hall at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, soprano Leslie Ann Bradley gives a noon hour recital. Those of you who followed the Montreal International Vocal Competition may remember her in the semi-finals three years ago. She is the recipient of the Charlotte and James Norcop Song Prize at the Faculty. No information on the program is available - I went to the U of T Faculty of Music website and found no details whatsoever, not even the name of the singer!

On Sunday, Jan. 17 at 2 pm in Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music on 273 Bloor Street, cellist Bryan Epperson, principal cello of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, together with pianist Dianne Werner, give a recital of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Panufnik. It is a good opportunity to hear the excellent Epperson out of the pit and on the main stage.

And as the photo at the top of my post makes clear, this Saturday is another must-see event from the Met in HD series - a new production of Bizet's Carmen starring Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca and French tenor Roberto Alagna. Originally the Carmen was supposed to be Angela Gheorghiu, but she bowed out because she didn't want to sing opposite her estranged husband Alagna now that they are divorcing. I don't miss her one bit - I'd much rather hear a genuine mezzo in this role any day. However, if you are a Gheorghiu fan, she is scheduled to sing two performances later in the run, opposite German tenor sensation Jonas Kaufmann. This is worth attending for Kaufmann's Don Jose alone. Micaela is Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli and Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien is Escamillo. Canada's own Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts. Preliminary reports from opening night praised Garanca and Nezet-Seguin, with a mixed response for Alagna. Frittoli and Kwiecien were both tepidly received. But I am sure everyone will give his/her all for the telecast. Not to be missed!

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