La Scena Musicale

Friday, February 27, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 28 - Mar. 5)

Photo of Cecilia Bartoli from Maria the Album (courtesy of )
The biggest news this week is the appearance of superstar Italian mezzo Cecilia Bartoli at Roy Thomson Hall. Her frequent visits to Toronto have always been eagerly anticipated, and this time is no exception. Her concert, scheduled for Sunday March 1, 2 pm, is totally sold out. Amazingly, La Bartoli agreed to second concert, on the same day (!) at 7 pm. As of today, tickets to the secondconcert are still available. I admit to being a big fan of Bartoli - there isn't anyone today with her combination of technical brilliance (with its incredible agility), exceptional musicality (her penchant of unearthing forgotten repertoire) and charismatic stage presence. There may be some singers today with remarkable technique - Vivica Genaux comes to mind, and perhaps even Simon Kermes whom I have only heard on disc - but none can approach Bartoli in her felicitous combination of voice, looks, musicianship and personality. If you don't have a ticket, by all means get one! The tariff to a Bartoli event is no small sum but it is worth it.
I attended the first of two concert performances of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust last evening at Roy Thomson Hall, featuring the return of French conductor Charles Dutoit. It was an overwhelming experience. In this repertoire, Dutoit can hardly be bettered. He led the TSO in a dramatically taut, powerful, yet delicate performance that kept everyone in rapt attention throughout its 2 hour 10 minute duration (without intermission). It was one of the most enjoyable concerts in recent memory. The quartet of principals were exceptional, led by tenor Gregory Kunde, who was in wonderful voice. He has previously sung this piece with Dutoit in San Francisco . Kunde has been in front of the public for well over 20 years, yet the voice remains fresh and appealing. Hard to believe he actually sang Camille in Merry Widow for the COC back in the 1980s! His instrument has changed a lot since then, gained in size and power, yet still capable of hitting those requisite high notes, and god knows Faust is high! In the duet with Marguerite, he had to hit two high Ds which he switched to head voice, an acceptable solution. Willard White was a fabulous Mefistopheles, singing and acting with great initensity. Both of these artists sang their respective roles with Dutoit and the San Francisco Symphony in 2007, and their experience of having collaborated previously was all to the good. The mezzo at the time, Ruxandra Donose, is replaced here by American Susanne Mentzer. It was great to have Mentzer back in a lead role. Her voice has taken on a bit of fluttery quality of late, but it remains an attractive instrument and she was a most creditable Marguerite. She sang an affecting "D'amour l'ardente flamme". I was really impressed that all the principals sang without music - the way it should be in a concert performance! In the small role of Brander was New Zealand bass baritone Jonathan Lemalu, who impressed with his powerful voice and youthful timbre. Everytime I hear the Mendelssohn Choir, I never failed to be moved, and their performance was sensational last evening. There is another performance on Saturday Feb. 28 - not to be missed!
Finally, I want to draw your attention to Opera York's production of Puccini's Tosca, to take place at the spanking new Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre, located north of Toronto at Yonge Street north of Major McKenzie. This new theatre is designed by Jack Diamond who also designed COC's Four Seasons Centre. This Tosca stars Albanian-Canadian soprano Mirela Tafaj as Tosca. Tafaj moved to Canada about 10 years ago and has sung for Opera Ontario (Musetta), Toronto Opera Repertoire (Tosca, Violetta), Opera York (Micaela, Mimi), the Montreal Opera Gala, plus many concerts and recitals. Hers is an interesting soprano with a rich, dark timbre, just right for Tosca. Partnering her as Cavaradossi is young tenor James Ciantar, who has a very good, Italianate sound. He studies voice with retired Canadian tenor Ermanno Mauro, who also coaches tenor David Pomeroy and soprano Sinead Sugrue, among others. Rounding out the trio is baritone Nicolae Raiciu as Scarpia. Sabatino Vacca conducts the Opera York Orchestra and Chorus. Three performances (two in Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre March 5, 7) and one at the Markham Theatre (March 13). For tickets call (905) 787-8811 for Richmond Hill and (905) 305-7469 for Markham.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 13, 2008

MARIA: The Barcelona Concert & Malibran Rediscovered

Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano
Decca DVD 0743252 (CD1: 79 min; CD2: 68 min)
****** $$$$
Now twenty years into an exceptional career, the mature Cecilia Bartoli remains a unique artist at the height of her powers. This latest venture focusing on Maria Malibran finds Bartoli in superb form, her charismatic personality as fresh and spontaneous as ever. With her wide-ranging voice and stunning technique, it's natural for Bartoli to gravitate towards the legendary Malibran. As in her previous projects, a tremendous amount of research has gone into this as evidenced by the film included in this release, Malibran Rediscovered – The Romantic Revolution. This documentary gives us a fascinating glimpse into Bartoli the singer, the artist, the scholar, and the person. Like Malibran, Bartoli is the daughter of singers, and both made their debuts as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia – if you don't count Bartoli's Shepherd Boy in Tosca at the age of 8! Her technique, with its remarkable range and incredible flexibility, is said to resemble Malibran’s, though of course no sound record of that exists. The camera captures Bartoli and filmmaker Sturminger to the museums, examining historical documents on Malibran, to a coaching session with Christopher Raeburn, to meetings with Bartoli's remarkable parents, and to Malibran’s grave. Extremely interesting are snippets of Bartoli singing “Casta diva” from Norma; even more amazing is her “Sempre libera” (!) from La traviata, albeit with a B natural in lieu of the interpolated E-flat at the end.

The centerpiece of this release is the Barcelona concert, in which Bartoli sings an intriguing program combining rarities of Garcia, Persiani and Hummel with bel canto standards like the Willow Song and Prayer from Rossini's Otello, and “Ah! Non giunge” from Bellini's La sonnambula. (Sadly missing is “Casta diva”) Everything is performed with her unique brand of stupendous technique and singular artistry. The camera work is exemplary throughout, with the possible exception of the grainy, home movie-like short glimpses backstage, but even that has a cinema verité fascination. A desert-island disc that I will return to again and again, this is an absolute “must-have” release, not just for admirers of Cecilia Bartoli but for lovers of great singing.

- Joseph K. So

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: June 4 (Bartoli, Merrill)

1966 - Cecilia Bartoli, Rome, Italy; opera and concert soprano and mezzo-soprano

Wiki entry

Cecilia Bartoli sings "Siam navi all 'onde algenti" from Vivaldi's Ottone in Villa (Il Giardino Armonico, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris)

1917 - Robert Merrill, New York, U.S.A.; opera baritone

Wiki entry

Robert Merrill sings "Il balen" from Verdi's Il Trovatore (1957)

Labels: , , ,