La Scena Musicale

Monday, June 15, 2009

This Week in Toronto (June 15 - 21)

The centerpiece of this week's vocal scene is the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio's production of Cosi fan tutte. This must be one of the most popular operas for opera schools and young artist programs, and for good reason. First of all, Mozart is good for young voices still in development - it is said that the ability to sing Mozart well is a sign of vocal health and good technique. Cosi is particularly popular because it allows six soloists to show off their voices in many delightful arias and ensembles. The Royal Conservatory of Music's Cosi last April was a smashing success, so it will be interesting to compare it to the COC Ensemble's production. Current and former COC Ensemble Studio members who will be singing in the production are: Sopranos Betty Allison, Ileana Montalbetti and Laura Albino (Fiordiligi), Erin Fisher and Lauren Segal (Dorabella), Alexander Hajek and Justin Welsh (Guglielmo), tenors Michael Barrett and Adam Luther (Ferrando), sopranos Lisa DiMaria and Teiya Kasahara (Despina), and Michael Uloth and Jean-Paul Decosse (Don Alfonso). Conductors are Martin Isepp and Steven Philcox. There will be four performances starting this evening (June 15) at the Imperial Oil Theatre at the COC headquarters on 227 Front Street East. Three more performances take place on June 17, 19, and 21. All performances at 7:30 pm except June 21 at 2 pm. Tickets were all gone a long time ago, which led the COC to add extra seats. Do call the company to ask about availability.

For those who missed the Met in HD documentary The Audition, this evening is your last chance, at selected Cineplex theatres at 7:00 pm. There are quite a few theatres in the GTA carrying these Met shows - the ones I am familiar with are Sheppard Grande at Yonge and Sheppard, Scotiabank Theatres at Queen and John, and Silver City at Yonge and Eglinton. I enjoyed this show enormously the first time around and will see again tonight. In this feature-length documentary you will see American soprano Angela Meade, who won the Montreal competition back in late May. If you like the tenor voice, this documentary of the 2007 auditions is a real treat, with four tenors in the finals. Unfortunately this was one year without a Canadian finalist - soprano Miriam Khalil, seen in the beginning of the documentary, did not make the cut. 2006 had Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser, and in 2008 we had Vancouver soprano Simon Osborne. Of the eleven finalists, six were declared "winners", although anyone who reached the finals against such fierce competition should be considered winners. There are also offstage, real life drama in the documentary as well, but I don't want to give it away by mentioning the details here.

While on the subject of Met in HD, it has just been announced that there will be a series of six Met Summer presentations - I Puritani (June 27), Magic Flute (July 11), Eugene Onegin (July 25), Barber of Seville (Aug. 8), La fille du Regiment (Aug. 22). All on Saturdays at 12 noon. These shows are repeats of previous seasons. Tickets are at a bargain price of $9.95, and children age 3 -13 can get in free! These will be at the usual Cineplex locations. Do check your favourite locations for availability.

The mini Bartok-Strauss Festival of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra continues with pianist Emanuel Ax playing Strauss's Burleske, as well as Bartok's Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion. Although I do find the combination of Strauss and Bartok to be a little eclectic, any chance to hear Ax is not to be missed. Also on the program is Strauss's delicious Suite from Der Rosenkavalier. Performances are June 17 and 18 at 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

A Sparkling Cosi fan tutte from RCM's Glenn Gould School

Inga Filippova-Williams (Fiordiligi) and Wallis Giunta (Dorabella) in Royal Conservatory of Music's Cosi fan tutte

Photo: Nicola Betts

April is opera month in Southern Ontario, with a veritable treasure trove of productions from mainline companies like the COC, Opera Atelier, and Opera Hamilton. But we mustn't forget the venerable Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music, whose shows are invariably enjoyable and give us a chance to discover voices of the future. This is particularly true this spring as I attended the opening night of a semi-staged Cosi fan tutte on Thursday April 2. It was so good that I went back a second time yesterday afternoon. As this production of Cosi clearly demonstrates, there is a wealth of vocal talent in Canada. Rarely has Cosi been as genuinely funny as this one. At the risk of sounding ageist, I have to say the roles in this opera are best taken on by singing actors at the bloom of youth, when it comes to dramatic verisimilitude. In this production, there are eleven soloists altogether, all double-cast except for Don Alfonso. The six soloists in the first cast that I saw are certainly up to the task - I think all of them are young artists in the Glenn Gould School Artist Diploma program. They are well schooled, throughly prepared and expertly directed by Jennifer Parr.

Heading the cast was soprano Inga Filippova-Williams as Fiordiligi. She was a finalist in the Julian Gayarre Singing Competition last September. Her beautiful and flexible full lyric voice, even from top to bottom, is tailor made for this most exacting of Mozart heroines. On both April 2 and 5, she sang a fiery "Come scoglio" with excellent floritura and huge high Cs. She was also able to scale down her big voice for the even longer, fiendishly difficult "Per pieta", touchingly sung and only a little short on a truly solid trill and totally clean scale work. She also used her expressive face to comic effect. Filippova-Williams was well matched by the Dorabella of Wallis Giunta, who has been given several high profile assignments including the title role of Dean Burry's Pandora's Locker at the RCM. Blessed with glamorous looks, a gleaming high mezzo and good dramatic instincts, Giunta's Dorabella was an unalloyed pleasure. Soprano Taylor Strande was a bright-voiced, spunky Despina, her soubrette a nice complement to the two ladies.

The men in this production are also on a high level. Montreal native and McGill graduate lyric baritone Matthew Cassils was an engaging Guglielmo, singing with firm, attractive tone. Ferrando, his partner in crime, was sung by tenor Adam Bishop with a sweet lyric sound, ideal in the lighter Mozart roles. His "Un aura amorosa" was well sung, even if his top notes were produced with some pressure. He also acted very well - arguably the funniest guy onstage! Bass-baritone David English brought equally vivid sense of drama to his role of Don Alfonso, using his imposing height to advantage. I'd be remiss if I don't mention the excellent stage direction of Jennifer Parr. Given the small size of the stage already occupied by the orchestra (there is no pit), space is at a premium. Parr shows impressive creativity in using the minimal space onstage as efficiently as possible - it is amazing what one can do with two modest-sized benches! She also uses the aisles and doors in the auditorium for entries and exits for the chorus and principals. On both April 4 and 5, the performance was anchored by the marvelous conducting of Mario Bernardi, once again showing to all that at the grand age of 78, he is still a fabulous Mozartian. He was very supportive of the singers and covered for them when there was an occasional slip-up. The youthful orchestral musicians played their hearts out, and the performance as a whole, while not note-perfect, was of a very high level indeed.

There is one last performance tomorrow (Tuesday April 7th at 1 pm) with the second cast which I have not heard but is reported to be fine. The location is Mazzoleni Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor Street West in downtown Toronto. Remember - due to limited seats, it would be wise to get there at least 45 minutes early to secure a voucher.

(l. to r.) Matthew Cassils (Guglielmo), Wallis Giunta (Dorabella), Inga Filippova-Williams (Fiordiligi), and Adam Bishop (Ferrando)

Photo: Nicola Betts

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

W.A. Mozart: Così fan tutte

Barbara Frittoli (Fiordigili), Angelika Kirchschlager, Bo Skovhus (Guglielmo), Michael Schade (Ferrando), Monica Bacelli (Despina), Allesandro Corbelli (Don Alfonso)
Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Riccardo Muti
Stage Director: Roberto de Simone
Video Director: Brian Large
Medici Arts 2072368 (2 DVD – 187 min)
***** $$$$

Opera on DVD went from strength to strength during the past year. There have been a number of sensational new works on the medium and chart-topping productions of standard repertory. This 1996 staging from Vienna’s historic Theater an der Wien can be safely recommended as a first choice for both seasoned collectors and newcomers to the work. With an excellent cast of motivated soloists, superb conducting from Muti, marvelous sets (Mauro Carosi), gorgeous costumes (Odette Nicoletti) and musically informed stage direction, this is the version to have and to return to. In every respect it surpasses Muti’s 1989 Milan performance (Opus Arte/Scala).

Così fan tutte was the third Mozart collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte. Like Don Giovanni, it is designated as a Dramma giocoso but the opening credits proclaim ‘Opera buffa’ in the manner of Figaro. Buffa is presumably what director Roberto de Simone had in mind for this production. His Così presents split-second comic timing fully integrated with the score. The hapless couples (Barbara Frittoli, Angelika Kirchschlager, Bo Skovhus and our own Michael Schade) enter the fray with enthusiasm while the fulcrum of trickery and deceit is provided by Monica Bocelli and Allesandro Corbelli. The director exploits the intimate stage-frame of the Theater an der Wien while the 18th century Neapolitan landscapes of Jacob Philipp Hackert are adapted very effectively to provide sumptuous backdrops. Swift, stylish and constantly amusing, this production exemplifies the definition of opera as, “The ultimate art.”

- Stephen Habington

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