La Scena Musicale

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This Week in Toronto (May 23 - 29)

The bursts of musical activities this spring seem to be subsiding.  The Canadian Opera Company's mainstage season comes to an end this weekend, with the final performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream today. Tomorrow afternoon is the last performance of La boheme
For those who missed the showing of Met in HD La Cenerentola with the scintillating Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca, the encore performance takes place today, at 12:30 pm, at selected Cineplex theatres in the GTA. 

For something a little different, I can recommend the world premiere run of The Shadow, put on by Tapestry, with performances at the Berkely Street Theatre Downstairs from May 21 to 30. I attended the opening on Thursday and was thoroughly entertained. The Shadow is a morality tale with a twist. Set in Barcelona, a poor postman, Raoul (acted and sung magnificently by baritone Peter McGillivray) assumes the identity of a rich suitor to win the hand of a beautiful woman (Carla Huhtanen) by borrowing money from a loan shark, played by Theodore Baerg.  When he is unable to repay the loan, a shadow (sung and acted with striking effectiveness by countertenor Scott Beluz) haunts the poor guy. Set and costume designer Camellia Koo has come up with an ingenious unit set that captures the flavour of Barcelona, and the use of a turntable allows seamless scene changes.  The libretto mixes an essentially serious story with a surfeit of humour - some of which perhaps were unintended. The music is a little too percussion-heavy for my taste, but there were some lyrical moments.  The vocal writing is very challenging - for example, the main character of Raoul/Hernando goes from basso profundo low notes all the way up to falsetto highs.  The singers, especially McGillivray, gave their all on opening night, and their voices were almost too big for the intimate space of the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs. It was a really enjoyable evening and I can highly recommend it.

And finally, you can catch the proceedings of the 2009 Montreal International Musical Competition (Chant 2009) right at your computer.  Espace Musique is carrying it live.  The semifinals started last evening, and continues today (Saturday) at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm. Sixteen candidates, including six Canadians, are set to impress the judges.  Eight will go on to the two-day finals on Monday and Tuesday. You can follow the drama at

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Friday, May 8, 2009

This Week in Toronto (May 9 - 15)

Isabel Bayrakdarian

Photo: Dario Acosta

A concert of interest this week is the appearance of Isabel Bayrakdarian as soprano soloist with the Amici Chamber Ensemble, in a program of Schubert and Tango - talk about eclectic programming! It takes place on Sunday, 3 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio. (There is a pre-concert chat with host Keith Horner at 2:30 pm, so be sure to arrive early!) This is the Ensemble's last concert of the season. On the program are three Schubert pieces - Sonatensatz in B-flat Major D28, Notturno, Piano Trio in E-flat Major D897, and Rondo for Violin & Piano D895. I seem to recall that Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock was originally announced but it is no longer being performed - too bad. The Tango half of the concert features Bayrakdarian singing tangos from around the world, including pieces by Carlos Gardel, Astor Piazzolla, and Kurt Weill, among others. Members of the Amici Ensemble include Joaquin Valdepenas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello), and its newest member, Serouj Kradjian (piano), replacing the retired Patricia Parr. Kardjian happens to be the husband of Bayrakdarian, and he is very much involved in the research and arrangements of a lot of the repertoire sung by Bayrakdarian, including the recent project of Gomidas Songs. Any performance by Bayrakdarian and Kradjian is a treat, so this concert is not to be missed!

On Saturday, the Met in HD wraps up with Rossini's La Cenerentola, starring the Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca as Angelica. She is currently one of my very favourite singers - a wonderful high mezzo with fabulous musicality and perfect technique, combined with personal beauty and alluring stage presence - what more does one want? Partnering her is American tenor Lawrence Brownlee. I've only heard him once, in the Montreal Gala about seven years ago, and he sings with bright tone and a stratospheric top along the line of a Florez. With the absence of the Peruvian in this Met revival, Brownlee is the next best thing. The opera also stars the inimitable Alessandro Corbelli. The show is carried in the usual Cineplex locations across Canada. For more information, go to Tickets can be purchased online at

The Canadian Opera Company continues with performances of La boheme and A Midsummer Night's Dream, now that Simon Boccanegra has concluded its run last evening. The Verdi was one of the best shows I have seen at the COC in recent years - its thirty year absence was worth the wait! I attended the opening night of the Britten, and was struck by the beauty of the production. Aesthetically it reminds me a little of the COC Pelleas. No, the music isn't easy, or even as accessible as early Britten like Grimes. It is a connoisseur's piece, and sadly like Pelleas last time, there was a substantial exodus at intermission. Too bad as they missed a scintillating Act 3 with its hilarious comic turn. Thanks to the youthful cast made up of mostly COC Ensemble artists, they managed to make it come alive.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Austin Lyric Opera Goes Hollywood!

Classical Travels with Paul E. Robinson

Austin Lyric Opera may not be able to afford the most famous singers but it invariably provides first-class entertainment. They’ve done it again with the current production of Rossini’s comic opera La Cenerentola which opened this past Saturday at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Garnett Bruce is the stage director and he created this production for Lyric Opera of Kansas City in 2004. It moves the well-known Cinderella story from Italy to 1930s Hollywood and the world of movie-making. From beginning to end in this production we are immersed in the fantasy world of fame and fortune. The fairy tale search for a royal wife becomes a search for a new leading lady in this updated telling of the story. With surprisingly little doctoring of the libretto and none at all of the glorious music, Rossini’s classic romp comes to life once again, and I think the greatest operatic showman of them all would have loved it.

The gist of the revised story line is acted out in mime while the orchestra plays the overture. Without any contrived additional dialogue we get the idea and the opera unfolds in pretty much its usual fashion. Musically, the production was well in hand with Robert Tweten wielding the baton. This young man has a remarkable flair for Rossini, invariably finding the right balance between singers and orchestra and capturing all the wit and sparkle in the score. He also had the courage and the skill to ‘press the pedal to the metal,’ as it were, with some blazing fast tempos. This fine cast and orchestra had apparently been rehearsed within an inch of their lives and in this opening night performance, they responded to Tweten’s beat with enthusiasm and musicality.

But there can be no La Cenerentola without a great leading lady. The role of Cinderella requires a great comedienne and a mezzo-soprano with mastery of bel canto lyricism and virtuosity. Sandra Piques Eddy may not have erased my personal memories of Cecilia Bartoli’s Cinderella in the near-legendary Houston Grand Opera production of a few years back; nevertheless, she was superb. Her voice is rich and full from top to bottom and she knocked off the technical stuff with almost effortless mastery. Her acting was somewhat less impressive. She handled the transformation from servant to star with conviction, but often seemed less involved than her colleagues. Perhaps director Garnett Bruce simply didn’t give her enough bits of business.

Not that the production wasn’t ‘busy’ enough! Bruce’s direction created a convincing illusion that the backstage lot at “Palace Pictures” was teeming with a ‘cast of thousands,’ and each person who showed up on the ‘set’ came to life as a distinctive character. While the inclusion of a couple of Marx brothers was fun, however, Bruce might have worked a little harder to make them more like the people they were supposed to be. Harpo could have been busier annoying people or blowing his horn and Groucho could have at least walked like Groucho. In the dance rehearsal scene – choreographed a la Busby Berkeley - the costumes of the chorus-line girls were appropriately ‘over the top’ and the dancing of the male group was amusingly inept.

Amongst the cast I would single out Cara Johnston and Liz Cass as Cinderella’s sisters, for both their vocal and histrionic efforts. They sang beautifully, their antics were hilarious, and their zany attire certainly added to the fun! Steven Condy as their father, Mr. Magnifico, practically cornered the market on the funny business in this production with endless mugging and all sorts of physical comedy. Tenor Michele Angelini as film director Don Ramiro looked every inch a 1930s Hollywood star with enough grease on his hair to lubricate a fleet of eighteen-wheelers. He was light on his feet too, sang with control, and his exposed top notes were generally ‘spot-on.’ John Boehr as Dandini – Ramiro’s chauffeur in this version – was funny and appealing and Kristopher Irmiter as the film producer Alidoro looked the part and sang with authority.

General Director Kevin Patterson never forgets that he is in the entertainment business; his Austin-oriented Die Fledermaus from last season was a great triumph and this fresh and funny version of La Cenerentola was not far behind.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website at

Blog Photos: Mark Matson

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