La Scena Musicale

Monday, November 2, 2009

This Week in Toronto (November 2 - 8)

Opera Atelier Iphigenie en Tauride
Kresimir Spicer (Orestes) ready to sacrifice himself to save his friend Pylades (Thomas MacCleay), with Iphigenie (Peggy Kriha Dye) looking on. Photo: Bruce Zinger

The Canadian Opera Company's fall season draws to a close this week. It will be your last chance to catch the two excellent COC offerings. Tomorrow (Tuesday Nov. 3, 7:30 pm) is the last of fifteen performances of Madama Butterfly. There are still two more performances of Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, on Nov. 4 and 5 at 7:30 pm. The Stravinsky shows are sold out but check the box office for returns. All shows are at the Four Seasons Centre.

Opera Atelier just opened its fall season with a revival of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride. I attended opening night last Saturday, and it was wonderfully sung and played by the excellent Tafelmusik Orchestra under Andrew Parrott. This is the typical OA style of historically informed, super-traditional productions. This show was last seen in 2003. It has lost none of its appeal. OA has assembled a strong cast headed by soprano Peggy Kriha Dye, who has become a Toronto audience favourite. Also returning is Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer in the baritone role of Orestes, in an unusual bit of casting. He was an excellent Idomeneo two seasons ago. His burly voice is best described as a "baritenor", so the lower tessitura of Orestes does not pose any difficulty for him. As Pylade, OA presents a voice new to Toronto audiences - Montreal tenor Thomas Macleay whose lighter timbre made a perfect foil to that of Spicer's. Performances on Nov. 3, 4, 6, and 7, 7:30 pm at the Elgin Theatre.

Also of interest is the North American premiere of And The Rat Laughed, an opera sung in Hebrew, composed by Ella Milch-Sheriff with libretto by novelist Nava Semel, whose parents were Holocaust survivors. It is presented by Opera York, in partnership with the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocause Education Centre and the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto. The cast includes Canadian baritone Andrew Tees and mezzo Adriana Albu. The conductor is Geoff Butler. You can read more about this production at There will be three performances (Nov. 5 and 7 at 8pm and Nov 8 at 2 pm) at the acoustically excellent Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, designed by Jack Diamond who also designed the much bigger Four Seasons Centre, home of the Canadian Opera Company.

A last piece of opera-related event is a free, noon-hour concert given by soprano Simone Osborne. A new member of the COC Ensemble Studio, the BC soprano Osborne has the distinction of having won the 2008 Metropolitan Opera Auditions. She is the complete package, combining a lovely lyric soprano voice with abundant musicality and strong stage presence. This concert is a sneak preview of her upcoming New York concert, as a result of her recent win at the Marilyn Horne Foundation Vocal Competition. On the program is works by Rodrigo, Liszt, Strauss, and a new work by Iman Habibi. Click on this link to download her recital program: The concert is at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre. Remember to show up at least 30 minutes earlier to get a seat.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra Conductor Laureate Andrew Davis leads a concert of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with star Canadian pianist Andre Laplante. The program also includes the ever-popular Also sprach Zarathustra. Two performances (Nov. 4 and 5, 8 pm) at the Roy Thomson Hall.

Finally, a piece of sad news. The COC Diamond Anniversary Gala to take place at the Four Seasons Centre on Saturday Nov. 7 with Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, so looked forward to by opera lovers - me included - has received a big blow. It was announced late Saturday afternoon that Heppner has cancelled, due to a lingering infection he suffered with singing Tristan at Covent Garden in October. I am afraid Toronto audiences have had very bad luck when it comes to Heppner. Two of his recitals in Toronto the last ten years were aborted mid-concert, while other shows like the Millennium Gala found him in poor form. This was meant to be his triumphant return to the company, where he last sang in 1996, as Canio in Pagliacci - not counting a very brief appearance in the FSC opening concerts in June 2006. Alas this is not to be. Replacing him will be tenor Ramon Vargas and baritone Russell Braun, with more artists to be named very soon.

NOTE: Later Monday afternoon, I received news that internationally renowned heldentenor John Treleaven has been added onto the Gala Concert roster. He will sing arias from Die Meistersinger, Tannhauser and Goetterdammerung. The previously announced tenor Ramon Vargas will sing arias from La damnation de Faust and Romeo et Juliette.Canadian baritone Russell Braun will sing Wolfram's aria from Tannhauser, and Mercutio's aria from Romeo et Juliette. This arrangement has the benefit of as little disruption to the original programming as possible, since preparation by the conductor and orchestra had already started some time ago based on Heppner's original program.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

This Week in Toronto (October 26 - November 1)

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel

Toronto music lovers can look forward to a number of high profile events this week. Top on the list is the appearance of conducting phenom Gustavo Dudamel leading the Simon Bolivar Youth Orhcestra. He is in town to receive the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protege Prize, selected by his mentor, Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, who is the Eighth Glenn Gould Prize Laureate. Dudamel conducts the concert this Monday evening at the Four Seasons Centre. Tickets have been on sale for some time, and they are expensive. However, I just heard that rush tickets are available in person at 5 pm this afternoon (Monday) at the FSC box office. Unfortunately I am not able to find out the exact price of the rush tickets, however you can be sure it is going to be much cheaper than the current cheapest ticket at $155. This young maestro from Venezuela is the hottest thing around in the conducting world and well worth experiencing. Below is from a press release of the Glenn Gould Foundation publicizing Dudamel as recipient of the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protege Prize:

The Eighth Glenn Gould Prize Laureate, Dr. José Antonio Abreu, has selected Venezuelan Conductor Gustavo Dudamel as winner of the prestigious The City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize.

Maestro Dudamel, a native of Barquisimeto, Venezuela will receive a cash award of $15,000 from the City of Toronto as he joins an illustrious group of exceptional young musicians who have received this triennial honour. Previous Protégé winners are Roman Patkoló (2005); Jean-Guihen Queyras (2002); Wu Man (1999); Tan Dun (1996), and Benny Green (1993).

Hailed as one of the most exciting and compelling conductors of our time, the 28-year old Maestro Dudamel will begin his tenure as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in fall 2009. Recently named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009, Maestro Dudamel continues as Music Director of the Gothenburg Symphony. Perhaps best known as Music Director of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, his infectious energy and exceptional artistry have made him one of the most sought-after conductors by orchestras around the world.

This week also marks the opening of Opera Atelier's Iphigenie en Tauride, in a production premiered in 2003. A marvelous baroque gem, this Gluck masterpiece require great singing actors. OA's audience favourite Peggy Kriha-Dye returns in the title role, and Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer, who made a huge impression as Idomeneo two seasons ago, sings Orest. This is a must-see for opera lovers. The show opens on Saturday, Oct. 31 7:30 pm at the Elgin Theatre. Go to for a video clip of the production, introduced by co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski.

The COC continues with its long run of Madama Butterfly, with performances on Oct. 27, 29, and 31. Its production of Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables continues on Oct. 30. This show so wowed the critics and audiences that an extra performance was added on Monday, November 2. I am sure it is close to selling out, so if you want to experience opera at its most innovative, don't miss out!

Music Toronto is presenting piano virtuoso Simon Trpceski on October 27, 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. Trpceski was here just three years ago, also under the auspices of Music Toronto. I attended that show and can say he is a truly scintillating performer. On the program this time is Haydn, Mozart, and Chopin. Also on the program is a piece new to me, by Shavov, called Songs and Whispers.

Finally, to celebrate Halloween, North Toronto Institute of Music is presenting a "Monster Concert" at Massey Hall on October 31, at a rather strange time of 3 pm. According to the publicity material, "Monster Concerts" began in the 1830s by the composer Czerny to raise funds for flood victims of the Danube. The concerts featured a large number of grand pianos on stage (usually 10), with 2 players at each, and a conductor. This style of concert was later made popular in the United States by the pianist Gottschalk, and later Eugene List. This concert will feature a program of popular works by Gottschalk, Rossini, Liszt, Saint-Saens and Bizet, performed as solos, duets, and ensembles of 20 or 30 performers. It sounds like fun!

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