La Scena Musicale

Monday, February 8, 2010

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 8 - 14)

COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts RCM Orchestra on Feb. 12.
Photo: courtesy of Michael Cooper Canadian Opera Company

With practically all the major music organizations going full steam this week, one can choose from a delectable selection of events. Conductor Johannes Debus, appointed last year as the COC's music director starting this current season, comes to town to conduct the RCM Orchestra in the RCO In Concert Series at Koerner Hall on Feb. 12 8 pm. The program features Prokofiev's Symphony Classique, Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos, Ravel's Sheherazade, and Stravinsky's Firebird. Soloists are mezzo Wallis Giunta, a RCM alumna and now with the COC Ensemble Studio, as well as pianists Nicholas King and Lucas Porter. Debus conducts the upcoming COC production of The Flying Dutchman. Concert is at the RCM Koerner Hall at 273 Bloor Street West. Tickets are a bargain at $20.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 with guest conductor Douglas Boyd on Feb. 10 and 11, 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. Also on the program is the Beethoven's Overture to Fidelio, plus the North American premiere of a percussion concerto, A table of noises, by Simon Holt.

On Friday Feb. 12th 8 pm, Canada's Angela Hewitt, one of the foremost Bach interpretors of the world, celebrates the 25th anniversary of her win at the International Bach Piano Competition, with a concert at Roy Thomson Hall, the very venue of her triumph in 1985. On the program is Bach's Italian Concerto, Beethoven's Sonata in D Major, Op. 10, no.3, and Brahm's Sonata in F Minor. I understand this program is a reprise of her winning concert.

There are several interesting offerings on the vocal scene. First of all, the great Karina Gauvin is coming to Roy Thomson Hall in a recital as part of the RTH Vocal Series on Sunday Feb. 14, 2pm. In keeping with Valentine's Day, she will have a program of love songs by Scarlatti, Chausson, Bizet, Ravel, and Kurt Weill. She will be accompanied by collaborative pianist Michael McMahon. On Wednesday Feb. 10 at 7:30pm, the Aldeburgh Connection presents A Night in Spain, as part of it Discovery Series featuring up and coming singers. It is a program of love songs by Schumann. Soloists are soprano Johane Ansell, mezzo Erica Huang, tenor Christopher Enns, and baritone James Baldwin. As usual, with Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata at the piano.

The Talisker Players presents a program called To the Sea in Ships: Songs of Swashbucklers. The soloists are Vicki St. Pierre, Keith Klassen, and Alexander Dobson. It takes place on Feb. 9 and 10 at 8 pm at the Trinity St. Paul's Centre. For a free preview, you can line up at the COC Noon Hour Chamber series on Feb. 9 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre, when the artists will present selections from the program. Be sure to line up at least 45 minutes early for a seat.

The Canadian Opera Company continues its winter season with Carmen (Feb. 9 and 11 at 7:30 pm and Feb. 14 at 2 pm) and Otello (Feb. 10 at 7:30 pm). Both shows have received excellent reviews and are not to be missed. All performances at the Four Seasons Centre. For something much more modest in scale but presented with enthusiasm, try the Toronto Opera Repertoire, which is in its 43rd year of existence. It is a community-based organization supported by local opera enthusiasts and volunteers. Its program of typically two staged operas with piano accompaniment per season constitute a course with the Continuing Education Program of the Toronto District School Board. It is the brainchild of former tenor Giuseppe Macina, who has run it since its inception in 1967. The singers are non-professionals. This year, the TOR is presenting Marriage of Figaro (Feb. 10, 13, 19, 21, 24, 27) and the double-bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci (Feb. 12, 13, 17, 20, 26, 28) . All performances are at the Bickford Centre 777 Bloor Street West in downtown Toronto. Go to for additional information.

Finally, the retired National Ballet of Canada's ballerina Veronica Tenant will be appearing this evening (Monday Feb. 8 at 7:30 pm) as part of the Roy Thomson Hall Unique Lives and Experiences Series. I have great memories of Tenant - she was my first Aurora and Giselle. This series has presented some of the highest profile women in the past and is always interesting, entertaining, and often thought-provoking and moving.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Canadian Opera Company announces new season - and new music director

Johannes Debus Photo credit: Michael Cooper
I just returned from the COC press conference at the Four Season's Centre, where its new intendant Alexander Neef announced the 2009-10 season.

The season opens with Madama Butterfly, a whopping 15 performances worth of this Puccini warhorse, double cast - Adina Nitescu and Yannick Muriel-Noah shares the title role; David Pomeroy shares Pinkerton with Bryan Hymel, a name new to me. James Westman and Brett Polegato (Sharpless) and Allyson McHardy/Anita Krause (Suzuki) round out the cast. This is followed by a Robert Lepage world premiere of The Nightingale and other Short Fables, which includes a Lepage cutting edge treatment of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol, plus a piece based on the animal fable The Fox, and the jazz inspired orchestral piece, Ragtime. This is a coproduction with Aix en Provence and Lyon. Soprano Olga Peretyatko, whom I heard in the recording sessions of Wuthering Heights in Valencia last September, will be the Nightingale.

The winter season begins with a revival of the Montreal Opera production of Carmen, with American mezzo Beth Clayton in the title role. I last heard Clayton in Santa Fe where she makes her home, as Olga in Onegin. She also sang in the COC Cunning Little Vixen some years ago if I remember correctly. Bryan Hymel is Jose. This Carmen is paired with Otello, marking the return of heldentenor Clifton Forbis. It will also mark the return of the popular Paolo Olmi as conductor.

The Company continues with an expanded Spring season, opening with a revival of Dutchman, starring Russian Yvgeny Nikitin and American Julie Makerov. Mats Almgren returns as Daland, and Robert Kunzli returns to sing Erik. This show will be conducted by the new COC music director, Johannes Debus, who made a remarkable company debut last fall in War and Peace. This 34 year old conductor received excellent critical and audience acclaim and had great rapport with the orchestra. I heard his conducting of Elektra in Munich last July and he was extremely impressive. I was so taken by his work that I e-mailed him at the time, and I received a gracious reply. Little did I know 6 months later he would be the COC music director! His is an inspired choice.

Dutchman will be followed by a rare foray into bel canto by the COC, in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. It stars one of my favorite Italian sopranos, Serena Farnocchia in the title role, opposite the Elisabetta of Alexandrina Pendatchanska, a terrific Bulgarian soprano whom I heard as Ermione and Vitellia previously. American tenor Eric Cutler sings Leicester and Patrick Carfizzi is Talbot - a great cast! The season closes with a new production of Idomeneo, with American tenor Paul Groves making his COC debut in the title role. Former COC Ensemble members Krisztina Szabo returns as Idamante and Michael Colvin as Arbace. Isabel Bayrakdarian is Ilia, a role tailormade for her. Early music specialist Harry Bicket conducts. One performance will feature the current crop of COC Ensemble artists.

In addition to the above shows - a great season, by the way - will be a Ben Heppner concert, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the COC. Neef mentions that Heppner is booked up for the next few seasons, so we are fortunate to have him back in a gala concert.

There you have it - a mixture of war horses and the unfamiliar, with some exciting casting. I was hoping for a Parsifal or Tristan, or an Ariadne, but that was not to be. Still, it promises to be an excellent season.

- Joseph So
> COC Season Press Release

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