La Scena Musicale

Monday, December 7, 2009

14th Le Gala Delivers Vocal Delights

by Wah Keung Chan

It’s a credit to the depth of Canada’s vocal talent that Montreal Opera’s 14th annual Le Gala succeeded yesterday afternoon with an all-Canadian cast. Twenty-eight singers and full opera chorus treated the capacity crowd of 2800 to 35 operatic solos, ensembles and chorus lasting over four pleasure-filled hours (including a 35-minute intermission). With a predominantly local cast, there were no cancellations and only Lyne Fortin was announced as indisposed, but she still agreed to perform.

There were many high points starting with Gregory Dahl’s impressive and moving Rigoletto Act II aria “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata.” Dahl’s baritone had previously impressed in Montreal Opera’s season opener where his double performance as Tonio in Pagliacci and Schicchi in Gianni Schicchi revealed in him Canada’s next great Verdian baritone. Ample tone and impeccable legato are the order for a great Verdian baritone, and Dahl’s performance of the Rigoletto aria and the famous “Te Deum” from Tosca did not disappoint. Soprano Marianne Fiset brought beautiful legato and heart felt feeling to Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi. Montreal native mezzo-soprano Nora Sourouzian’s Act I aria from Carmen was sung with beautifully projected voice and professional presence; my only complaint is that she was only asked to sing this short aria. Let’s hope Sourouzian, who has been away from Montreal for ten years and now makes Switzerland home, would be brought back soon. The revelation of the evening was Layla Claire’s touching and vulnerable performance of “Adieu notre petite table” from Massenet’s Manon; her perfect technique allowed her voice to swell and bloom. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson’s engaging voice and presence (including a cell phone and juggling schtick) in the Barber of Seville aria “Largo al factotum” brought the house down. Soprano Aline Kutan’s performance of solo and duet from Lakmé proved again that she’s Canada’s top coloratura. Coloratura soprano Raphaëlle Paquette also acquitted herself well in an aria from Thomas’s Mignon.

The Gala also revealed that recent graduates of the Montreal Opera’s Apprenticeship program have matured and are ready to join the solo ranks. Baritone Etienne Dupuis showed a solid clear voice in his noble performance of Valentine’s aria “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Gounod’s Faust. Bass-baritone Alexandre Sylvestre’s rendition of “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser had a fine legato and evenness of tone. Baritone Phillip Addis demonstrated a well-projected voice in a boring aria from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. Top marks also for soprano Marianne Lambert, tenor Antoine Bélanger, who is showing an Italianated tenor voice, and current Atelier Lyrique member Caroline Bleau who exceeded expectations in her Traviata duet with veteran baritone Gaétan Laperrière. Other noteworthy veterans included Annamaria Popescu, Lyne Fortin and Marc Hervieux, who gave a preview of “Le vaisseau d’or” from the upcoming Spring performance of Nelligan. Conductor Alain Trudel and the Orchestre Métropolitain provided fine support throughout, and the chorus was excellent in their three pieces.

In the first half, Le Gala showcased the three winners of the Montreal Opera’s amateur competition Apéro à l’Opéra: mezzo Lise Brunelle, and sopranos Sophie Lemaire and Annie Sanschagrin. Based on the performances heard yesterday, there was no clear cut winner; after intermission, Montreal Opera artistic director Michel Beaulac announced Sanschagrin as the grand winner, with her prize, the performance of a duet (with tenor David Pomeroy) and Vissi d’arte at the end of the February 13 performance of Tosca.

The Gala began with a touching tribute to the late Father Lindsay who was inducted into the Canadian Opera Hall of Fame. The homage would have been perfect had the organizers prepared a video presentation, an element sadly missing every year.

All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Disappointments include not hearing in solo mezzo Stephanie Marshall, another Canadian who has been making a name for herself in Europe, and why were Fiset and Addis not given arias different from the roles they just performed with the Montreal Opera. Also, missing this year were large female voices, as Canada seems to be following the world shortage in Verdian spinto sopranos. Otherwise, kudos to Beaulac for the fine programming.

Addendum: Le Gala was recorded by Espace musique and will be broadcast on Dec. 26 at 1 p.m. on the program l'Opéra du samedi hosted by Sylvia L'Écuyer, and will be issued on CD by ATMA Classique on January 30, 2010.

See also
> Earlier comments on the La SCENA Twitter Page
> Review in Montreal Gazette
> Review in La Presse (in French)
> Review in Resmusica (in French)

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

À la découverte d’une compositrice méconnue : les œuvres de Francesca Caccini

Par Isabelle Soraru

Le 6 novembre 2009 dernier, dans le cadre de la série Clavecin en concert, on a pu découvrir à la chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours les œuvres d’une compositrice baroque encore mal connue : Francesca Caccini (1587-1640), fille aînée du grand Giulio Caccini. Compositrice, luthiste, chanteuse, elle fut la première femme à composer des opéras. Le roi Henri IV, dit-on, fut charmé par sa voix et Claudio Monteverdi fit son éloge lorsqu’il l’entendit à Florence en 1610. Son écriture vocale, d’une grande beauté, témoigne de sa grande maîtrise de l’art musical et d’une approche parfois audacieuse de l’écriture, influencée par l’Académie florentine dont les recherches musicales visaient à trouver une nouvelle manière d’exprimer les passions, ou affetti.

Ce concert faisait la part belle au chant, alternant canzonettes pleines de légèreté avec des madrigaux et arie, genres plus sérieux, mais on a pu aussi entendre de belles pages de Pellegrini à la guitare baroque et quelques œuvres de Frescobaldi.

L’ensemble musical, composé de trois instrumentistes (Luc Beauséjour au clavecin et à l’orgue positif, Sylvain Bergeron à la guitare baroque et au théorbe, Amanda Keesmat au violoncelle baroque) et de la soprano Shannon Mercier au chant, fait preuve d’une belle homogénéité sonore, tout en délicatesse et en intensité musicale. On retiendra, dans cette interprétation d’une grande qualité, le magnifique aria « Lasciatemi » (« Laissez-moi seule ») aux chromatismes surprenants et poignants d’une grande force dramatique, s’inscrivant dans la tradition des grands lamenti baroques, comme le célèbre Lamento d’Arianna de Monteverdi.

Extraites du Primo libro de Francesca Cacccini, les œuvres présentées donnaient un aperçu de la richesse du recueil de cette compositrice dont les œuvres mériteraient sans nul doute d’être mieux connues tant pour leur qualité musicale que pour la personnalité singulière de leur auteure dans un siècle où les créatrices étaient encore rares.

Ce sera chose faite prochainement, puisque la musique de Francesca Caccini entendue lors de ce concert paraîtra sous l’étiquette Analekta début 2010, avec les mêmes interprètes.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Deadline for Apero à l'opéra July 12, 2009

The deadline for non-professional singers to enter l'Opéra de Montréal's training program Apéro à l'opéra is this Sunday, July 12, 2009.

According to the press release:


To kick off its 30th anniversary activities, the Opéra de Montréal is pleased to announce that it is opening its doors to six non-professional singers chosen by audition to take part in a six-week intensive training programme, at the end of which the two best candidates will be given a chance to sing on stage at Place des Arts.

APÉRO À L’OPÉRA is the Opéra de Montréal’s latest outreach project, which allows talented, non-professional singers to show off their abilities on the Opéra de Montréal stage: in December at the Gala, and in January 2010 during a performance of Tosca at the Opéra de Montréal.

Non-professional singers must be fluent in French as that is the language of instruction. The application, including a letter of motivation, 2 photos, a CV and a home video of two performances including one opera aria, must be postmarked by July 12, 2009 (although it is a Sunday, try mailing it from a post-office in a pharmacy).

For more information, visit

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Concours de Montréal (CMIM) 5e journée - demi-finale II

CMIM – Samedi 24 mai,

Dernière journée de l’épreuve demi-finale. Une journée chargée (10 candidats) et riche en émotions. Chez les femmes, les sopranos Angela Meade et Yannick-Muriel Noah ont particulièrement dominé. Deux sopranos à la voix puissante et à la technique infaillible, produisant un pianissimo étonnamment bien contrôlé dans l’aigu. Impressionnant, tout ce qu’Angela Meade peut faire avec sa voix, ce qu’elle a particulièrement démontré dans l’extrait de Il Trovatore de Verdi. Quant à Yannick-Muriel Noah, elle module admirablement sa voix au timbre chaud, spécialement dans l’extrait de La Forza del destino.

Chez les hommes, le baryton Falko Hönish a démontré sa versatilité, sa compréhension du texte et du style en présentant un programme très varié. D’abord Mozart, Wagner et Bach. Suivent le très court La Grenouillère de Poulenc et Black Max de William Bolcom, dans lesquels il se révèle un vrai comédien et conteur. Il termine sa prestation par Erlkönig de Schubert, en interprétant de façon explicite les voix du père et du fils. Voilà ce qu’on peut appeler toute une palette de couleurs! Vient ensuite le baryton Sidney Outlaw qui a obtenu en 2006 une 1re place aux auditions du Metropolitan Opera. On ne sera pas surpris de découvrir un chanteur solide qui possède une voix riche et puissante, habilement modulée. Son programme consistant comprenait entre autres deux Mozart, l’un en italien et l’autre en allemand. On retient surtout du troisième baryton, Andrew Garland, une belle voix au registre large qui chante avec facilité jusque dans l’aigu. Son talent de comédien a bien fait rire l’auditoire. Dernier candidat à se produire, le ténor Seil Kim a souffert d’un problème de santé en après-midi et sa prestation a dû être reportée à la fin. On sentait chez lui une certaine prudence, mais il se rendit au bout de son programme sans difficulté apparente. Ceux qui l’ont entendu en quart de finale savent qu’il peut faire encore mieux.

Les délibérations du jury on duré moins d’une heure. Le président, M. André Bourbeau, est venu le présenter à la salle et a donné les noms des 8 finalistes par ordre alphabétique : Jennifer Borghi, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Andrew Garland, Falko Hönish, Seil Kim, Angela Meade, Yannick-Muriel Noah et Sidney Outlaw.

L'ordre de passage:

Lundi le 25 mai à 19 h 30 :

1. Anthony Roth Costanzo
2. Falko Hönish
3. Sidney Outlaw
4. Yannick-Muriel Noah

Mardi le 26 mai à 19 h 30 :

1. Jennifer Borghi
2. Seil Kim
3. Andrew Garland
4. Angela Mead

Pour savoir plus :

L’épreuve finale avec l’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction d’Alain Trudel, aura lieu lundi 25 mai et mardi 26 mai à 19 h au Théâtre Maisonneuve et sera diffusé en direct. Pour information :

Dimanche 24 mai : Deux classes de maître ont lieu à la Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, en après-midi et en soirée. Pour information : (514) 872-5338

- Renée Banville

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Concours de Montréal (CMIM) 4e journée - demi-finale I

CMIM – Vendredi 22 mai,

L’épreuve demi-finale du CMIM a débuté en présence d’une salle presque remplie. Six candidats se partageaient la soirée. Deux hommes : le contre-ténor américain Anthony Roth Costanzo, le baryton canadien Stephen Hegedus et quatre femmes : les trois sopranos canadiennes Pascale Beaudin, Charlotte Corwin, Mariane Lemieux et Catrin Aur Davies du Royaume-Uni.

Anthony Roth Costanzo avait étonné et séduit en quart de finale avec sa voix magnifiquement contrôlée au timbre émouvant. Il a récidivé en interprétant un Handel expressif, dont il manie les vocalises avec une facilité déconcertante, et un touchant Gluck qui convient mieux à une voix de contre-ténor que Mahler et Debussy. La sobriété et la classe marquent la prestation du baryton Stephen Hegedus. Possédant une très belle voix aux intonations toujours justes malgré les difficultés du Handel, il termine avec un Bizet très expressif.

Du côté des femmes, Pascale Beaudin a dominé la soirée en montrant beaucoup de souplesse et de dextérité dans le Haydn et le Strauss. Son excellente technique lui permet de tout chanter sans difficulté apparente et sa prononciation de l’italien et de l’allemand est excellente. La Regata vénéziana de Rossini était très expressive mais un peu longue. Quant à Charlotte Corwin, l’opéra lui va comme un gant et on aura sûrement du plaisir à l’entendre éventuellement en Violetta.

Peu à dire sur les deux autres sopranos : Mariane Lemieux et Catrin Aur Davies. On sent les difficultés chez la première qui ne semble pas prête à affronter un concours aussi important et la seconde a été très décevante. Que le jury les ait préférées à une Christina Tannous qui avait ébloui le public en quart de finale par la qualité de sa performance, c’est à n’y rien comprendre. Mais chaque concours comporte son lot de mystères…

Soirée intéressante en définitive, malgré la redondance dans les choix musicaux (Handel et Strauss). Le public pourra juger par lui-même à partir du 25 mai. Les séances de la demi-finale seront diffusées sur Espace classique de Radio-Canada : et disponibles pendant un an. Le dimanche 24 mai à 12 h, les meilleurs moments de l’épreuve demi-finale seront présentés dans une émission spéciale. Animation : Sylvia l’Écuyer – Commentateur : Fabrizio Melano – Réalisation : Michèle Patry. En ligne sur Espace classique dès le 25 mai.

> 3e journée
> 2e journée
> 1e journée

- Renée Banville

Editor's Note: I tried to connect to the live webcast at Espace classique, but the experience proved frustrating. The picture and sound would interrupt every 3 seconds and pause for an additional 3 seconds. Consequently, I gave up for the evening. The webcast requires Microsoft's Silverlight plugin, but that doesn't seem to be the problem as the Naxos Music Library uses the same plugin and streams fine from my wifi connection. Espace classique should provide a lower bandwidth version of its webcast. - Wah Keung Chan

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Friday, May 22, 2009

CMIM - 3e journée

CMIM – Jeudi 21 mai,

Dernière journée de l’épreuve quart de finale. Un après-midi riche en surprises et en découvertes. Dès le départ, le ténor coréen Seil Kim donne le ton. Ténor lyrique d’une grande musicalité, il interprète le Lied et l’oratorio avec beaucoup de couleurs et de raffinement et nous offre ensuite un extrait de Don Giovanni très expressif.

La deuxième surprise nous vient de la soprano canadienne Christina Tannous qui éblouit l’auditoire avec une voix magnifique d’un contrôle absolu, variant les couleurs avec un égal bonheur. Les airs tziganes de Dvorak qu’elle chante en tchèque sont captivants et elle réussit si bien à soutenir l’intensité que le public retient ses applaudissements entre chacun des airs. Comédienne accomplie, elle nous offre de mémoire un Kulesha très fantaisiste, s’inventant intérieurement une histoire que l’auditoire vit avec elle, comme une pièce de théâtre aux acteurs invisibles. Une interprétation qui lui a valu une ovation.

La découverte est venue avec la dernière candidate, la soprano américaine Angela Meade. D’une stature imposante, elle possède une voix puissante, une technique impeccable et l’aisance d’une chanteuse d’expérience. Magnifique dans l’opéra, elle chante le Lied de Strauss comme si elle chantait La Marschallin dans le Rosenkavalier. Détentrice en 2007 d’un 1er Prix Opéra au Concours International de chant, Hans Gabor Belvedere et en 2008 d’un 1er Prix au Concours international de musique José Iturbi, elle a fait ses débuts au Metropolitan Opera en mars 2008 et au San Francisco Opera. Avec une telle feuille de route et une carrière si bien amorcée, on peut se demander pourquoi une chanteuse continue à entrer dans des compétitions avec des jeunes qui attendent une rampe de lancement pour leur carrière.

Les autres candidats en après-midi : La soprano Jegyung Yang (Corée du Sud) et la basse Taehyun Jun (Corée du Sud), ainsi que la soprano canadienne Maghan Stewart-McPhee complétaient le programme de l’après-midi.

En soirée, avant les délibérations des juges, on entendit le ténor coréen Kijong Wi, la soprano américaine Yannick-Muriel Noah et le baryton américain Andrew Garland.

Voici, par ordre alphabétique, la liste des 16 candidats retenus pour la demi-finale :

Pascale Beaudin (Canada), Jennifer Borghi (Italie), Charlotte Corwin (Canada), Anthony Roth Costanzo (États-Unis), Catrin Aur Davies (Royaume-Uni), Andrew Garland (États-Unis), Stephen Hegedus (Canada), Falko Hönish (Allemagne), Seil Kim (Corée du Sud), Mariane Lemieux (Canada), Angela Meade (États-Unis), Yannick-Muriel Noah (Canada), Sidney Outlaw (États-Unis), Irina Shishkova (Russie), Maghan Stewart-McPhee (Canada), Jegyung Yang (Corée du Sud).

Pour connaître l’ordre de passage des candidats :

Vendredi, 22 mai

1ère séance :

19 h 30 : Anthony Roth COSTANZO, contreténor, États-Unis
20 h: Catrin Aur DAVIES, soprano, Royaume-Uni
20 h 30 : Pascale BEAUDIN, soprano, Canada
21 h : Pause

21 h 30 : Stephen HEGEDUS, baryton-basse, Canada
22 h : Mariane LEMIEUX, soprano, Canada
22 h 30 : Charlotte CORWIN, soprano, Canada
23 h : Fin

Samedi, 23 mai

2e séance

13 h 30 : Irina SHISHKOVA, mezzo-soprano, Russie
14 h 00 : Falko HÖNISCH, baryton, Allemagne
14 h 30 : Jennifer BORGHI, mezzo-soprano, Italie
15 h : Pause

15 h 30 : Sidney OUTLAW, baryton, États-Unis
16 h : Seil KIM, ténor, Corée du Sud
16 h 30 : Jegyung YANG, soprano, Corée du Sud
17 h : Pause

3e séance :

19 h 30 : Maghan STEWART-McPHEE, soprano, Canada
20 h : Angela MEADE, soprano, États-Unis
20 h 30 : Yannick-Muriel NOAH, soprano, Canada
21 h : Andrew GARLAND, baryton, États-Unis

21 h 30 : Délibérations

> 2e journée
> 1e journée

- Renée Banville


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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Anne-Sophie Mutter bringing Mendelssohn to Montreal

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter rejoins the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal after an absence of 20 years in time to celebrate Mendelssohn’s bicentennial. Mutter’s program will include one of her specialties, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, op.64, also found in her new album Mendelssohn. Appropriately, 2008 saw Mutter receive the Leipzig Mendelssohn Prize as well as the coveted Ernst von Siemens Music award, thereby cementing her place amongst the elites.

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts: February 10, 11 at 8 PM.

In Saturday’s Montreal Gazette, Arthur Kaptainis interviews Mutter.

- Lisala Halapua

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens charment à nouveau la métropole

C’est le 30 décembre que se concluait à Place des Arts le cycle magique du ballet Casse-Noisette. Après 10 représentations, depuis le 13 décembre dernier, la petite Clara et son merveilleux monde laissent place à l’année 2009. Retour sur les traces enneigées de cet univers unique, bercé par les immortelles mélodies de Tchaïkovski.

Ce qui charme à tout coup tout au long des aventures de Clara et de son cher Casse-Noisette, c’est l’harmonie de l’auditoire, cette symbiose entre petits et grands. Les regards sont lumineux, la magie opère : l’atmosphère des fêtes irradie. L’interprétation joliment ensorcelante de l’Orchestre des Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal et la maîtrise de son chef d’orchestre Allan Lewis lancent le bal de cette féerie musicale. Fête des couleurs des costumes imaginés par François Barbeau, des décors fabuleux de Peter Horne, le ballet nous replonge directement dans le rêve d’une enfant qui devient le nôtre, encore en 2008.

Casse-Noisette recèle une richesse multiculturelle par les danses des peuples divers de la seconde partie. Que ce soit à travers la danse chinoise, russe, arabe ou flamenco, l’harmonie règne et chacun y a sa place. L’authenticité des traditions, des sources qui définissent chaque individu, parsème avec bonheur le ballet. La classique chorégraphie de Fernand Nault, datant de 1964, est exécutée par les danseurs avec justesse. Le talent débordant des danseurs épate. L’inoubliable Fée Dragée, personnifiée par la première soliste japonaise Mariko Kida, ensorcelle. Quant à la mise en scène de Gradimir Pankov, elle cadre parfaitement avec le plus universel des hymnes hivernaux. Vivement l’édition 2009 !

- Hélène Boucher

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Discussion for a New Montreal Cultural Event

Subject: Ideas for a New Montreal Cultural Event to replace the Grand Prix

Now that Montreal has been bumped from the Grand Prix circuit for 2009, the City of Montreal is looking for a high caliber summer event to draw tourists and put Montreal back on the international map.

La SCENA invites businesses, politicians and the arts community to propose a new summer event with an arts theme. What will our rallying call be?

Sujet : Solutions de remplacement culturelles au Grand Prix de Montréal

Puisqu’elle ne fera pas partie du circuit de la Formule Un en 2009, la Ville de Montréal est à la recherche d’idées d’événements de grande envergure pour la saison d’été afin de conserver à Montréal son rayonnement international et son attrait touristique.

LA SCENA invite gens d’affaires, politiciens et artistes à proposer des projets d’événements centrés sur les arts. Sous quelle bannière nous regrouperons-nous?

Envoyez vos suggestions à ou


International Arts Festival - highlighting classical/opera music, theatre, dance, foreign films, paintings/sculptures, ...
Venue: Old Montreal and PDA area
Duration: 7 full days of spectacular highlights of the various arts disciplines

- Lilian Liganor



Au lieu d'avoir, un casino, pourquoi pas un complexe multi salle de concert pour toutes sortes d'événements : concert de jazz, concert classique, salle pour un opéra, pour le Broadway, un autre pour de la musique contemporaine, un autre pour la musique électro-acoustique, un autre pour les chorales et encore pour des groupes populaires etc.

Le cirque du soleil aimerait probablement investir dans un tel endroit avec d'autres partenaires qui ont une pensée plus éthique et plus verte. Le cirque pourrait avoir un spectacle permanent et au lieu de passer à travers un casino pourquoi pas une salle avec des oeuvres d'art.

Il pourrait même y avoir des salles pour diffuser des films musicaux.

Il pourrait y avoir des concours(national et international) de tout genre et dans tous les styles musicaux.

Bien sûr, il faudra trouver un site pour une telle attraction ou bien en construire un.


Richard Quinn


It seems to me that Montréal is just as capable as Toronto of having an International Art Fair. Why not invite Art Basel to think of a venue in our fair city? Look what Art Basel has done for Miami.

Jacqueline Hébert Stoneberger
Collins, Lefebvre, Stoneberger


Is there anything that could be done with Le Cirque du Soleil? Maybe some kind of circus festival.

Marguerite Corriveau
Vanier College


Problem is we have too many “cultural” festivals right now.

I think everyone agrees on that point. So if we were smart, we would rethink, restructure and reorganize (dates, venues, etc.) what we have now. This should be done in the spirit of what is best for the city and its citizens, without any one festival (even Spectra /FIJM) throwing its weight about. They are all getting public funding and most of them are grabbing a slice of the other’s turf. Think of the confusion between the jazz fest and the different festivals of world music. Last year, the FIJM was more world than jazz. Where does that leave the others, who are getting public funding too.

We should use this unique moment to pause, rethink and reorganize.

The media should not create and feed an artificial sentiment of loss, a void that has to be filled quickly or else. Rushing in at full speed is the worst-case scenario. Think of the mess around Le Festival des films du monde.

My God! What a mess that was. It did hurt the cinema scene of Montreal too.

-- Jean-Pierre Sévigny

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Premier passage au Canada pour le chœur corse Barbara Furtuna

par Hélène Boucher

Le 3 novembre dernier, une rare performance avait lieu, à la Salle Pierre-Mercure. En vedette : les chants polyphoniques de la Corse interprétés par le quatuor Barbara Furtuna. Une invitation de l’ensemble Constantinople qui s’est rendue jusque sur l’Île de Beauté, à la rencontre de ces chanteurs. Rencontre toute en harmonie entre ces deux formations qui a mené à la création originale Canti Di A Terra. Un voyage musical d’inspiration orientale, nous transportant aussi loin qu’au 14e siècle, avec Kiya Tabassian au sétar perse et Ziya Tabassian aux percussions. Barbara Furtuna a partagé la scène avec Constantinople ainsi qu’en solo, a capella, sans instrumentation. Puisant à la fois dans la tradition du chant corse, avec ses folias et ses lamentes, le quatuor vocal a également offert au public des chants inédits de son répertoire. L’évolution du chant corse et sa pérennité passe par son renouvellement constant, comme l’a évoqué Jean-Philippe Guissani, chanteur terza. Grâce à ses interprétations contemporaines, Barbara Furtuna jouit d’une réputation internationale et ne cesse de conquérir un large auditoire sur le continent européen. Le concert présenté le 3 novembre a été enregistré par CBC Radio 2 qui diffusera ces splendeurs des polyphonies corses à travers le pays. Barbara Furtuna a enregistré deux albums, Adasgiu en 2004 et son plus récent opus, In Santa Pace. L’art vocal du quatuor se déploie par l’intensité de l’appartenance à leur terre natale (1) : « C’est sans aucun doute l’amour immodéré que nous portons à notre terre qui façonne nos chants et nous pousse à continuer avec la même passion intacte une aventure commencée au sortir de l’enfance. Nous poursuivons simplement notre chemin, sans presser le pas, avec nos doutes, certains cependant que l’avenir nous apportera autant de beauté que de douleur et bien décidés à jouir de chaque moment qui nous est donné »

(1)Infos Buda Musique

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Upcoming Fall Theatre Productions in Montreal

August 28-September 13

Montreal Theatre Ensemble, in association with the John Abbott College Department of Theatre and Music, presents Of Mice and Men at the Casgrain Theatre in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. This also marks the inauguration of the Stage Two initiative where the College welcomes outside companies to share their experience and open their rehearsals to the present theatre students. The first mentoring company is the Montreal Theatre Ensemble.

September 7-September 28

The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre presents Dangerous Liaisons. Directed by Alexandre Marine and featuring a mainly local cast, this promises to be one of the most lauded productions of their season. Sunday-@-the-Segal is September 7 and opening night is September 11.

September 10

Fundraiser for Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre's upcoming production of Life is a Dream. The evening will feature an exciting dramatic reading of scenes from the script, as well as an introduction to the play and the world of Baroque Spain by an expert in Spanish literature. At the Centre Green.

October 16

Auberge Shalom…pour femmes presents an evening with superstar lecturer Stephen Pinker who will speak on 'The Decline of Violence'. Mr. Pinker is considered one of the world's top 100 public intellectuals. At the Gelber Conference Centre.

October 22-November 1

Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre presents an adaptation of the Spanish classic Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderon de Barca as part of Centaur Theatre's Brave New Looks. Directed by Alison Darcy, the cast of this hilarious and profound work features some of the most exciting Montreal actors including Andreas Apergis, Peter Batakliev, Julian Casey, Gemma James-Smith, Leni Parker, Julie Tamiko-Manning and Eric Digras, along with two live musicians.

October 26-November 16

The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre presents Cat on a Hot Tin Roof directed by Greg Kramer. Expect another outstanding production, cast and design team from the Segal Centre. Sunday-@the-Segal is October 26 and opening night is October 30.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Knowlton's Festival Bel Canto: From Dream to Reality

The fifth and final report from Festival Bel Canto 2008 in Knowlton by Paul E. Robinson

In a mere matter of months, three gifted idealists – Swiss-Quebec businessman Marco Genoni, OSM (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) music director Kent Nagano and Santa Cecilia National Academy director Bruno Cagli – created a new music festival with international scope in one of the most unlikely of places – Knowlton, Quebec – and carried it off with huge success!

Now that the applause has died away, the performers have gone home and the chapiteau (tent) has been folded and put away, it is time to take stock of what was accomplished and to consider what the future might hold.

Festival's Major Events Drew Larger than Expected Audiences
The day after the festival, I sat down for a chat over a cup of cappuccino with festival founder Marco Genoni. While he was obviously still basking in the glow of success, Genoni was already hard at work analyzing what took place and planning next year's festival. He could look back with pride on the fact that all the major events were virtually sold out, that the artistic standard met or surpassed expectations and, not least of all, that there was no significant rainfall during the festival. Although advance publicity advertised a tent seating 600, for some events there were as many as 817 people in attendance.

Time and Talent of Local Volunteers Much Appreciated
On the negative side there were rumblings that local residents were dismayed by the high prices, couldn’t get tickets or couldn’t relate to the unfamiliar musical fare. As a reaction to some of the criticism, Genoni announced during the festival that as a way of “giving something back to the community” the OSM would give a free concert in Lion’s Park in Knowlton on Labour Day weekend. Unfortunately, it turned out that this free concert would not take place after all. The problem was that the concert would have been in direct conflict with the annual Brome Fair, a major local event. In addition, the local volunteers who worked so hard and so well for Festival Bel Canto could not handle another major event so soon. As Genoni put it, “it was a mistake made with goodwill in mind.”

Bel Canto and the Santa Cecilia Connection
As Genoni, Nagano and Cagli look to the future they must try to clarify the mission of the festival. Given the origin of this year’s festival as a collaboration between the OSM and the Santa Cecilia National Academy in Rome, the bel canto feature is important. Or perhaps it is less bel canto than Italian singing that is important. Most music-lovers can surely relate to a celebration of Italian singing and vocal music in the broader sense, but even that repertoire can be very limiting. I suspect the festival would have greater appeal if it could include symphonic repertoire and instrumental concertos.

Clearly, Genoni and his colleagues realize on the one hand that a concert featuring pop singer Gino Vanelli hardly fits any meaningful definition of bel canto; on the other hand, any festival devoted solely to bel canto will probably appeal largely to connoisseurs.

The Santa Cecilia connection is a good one and provides an interesting training component. Each year the festival will feature international singers but also some newcomers who can benefit from working with the stars. Knowlton will also have the opportunity to see some outstanding young singers before they become well-known.

I like the concept of a festival with a bel canto focus. Nagano and the OSM will enjoy their annual immersion in this repertoire, and I believe they will attract an audience for it. At the same time it may not be wise to limit the festival to a single theme.

Even Mozart’s huge repertoire has been found too limiting by some international festival organizers to carry an annual festival on its own. The founders of Festival Bel Canto may find that they too need to broaden their concept beyond bel canto style. Broadening it enough to include pop singer Gino Vannelli may, however, be going too far.

I would suggest rather broadening the musical scope to include non-vocal fare. After all, the OSM, one of the stars of this festival, is a world-class orchestra and most of the bel canto repertoire for orchestra is very limiting. It is interesting for them to work on the style but there are no great bel canto symphonies or concertos. Bel canto describes a certain period in the history of Italian opera and it was a period in which the orchestra was largely limited to an accompanying role.

If the facility in Knowlton is to be limited to less than 1,000 seats, the size of the orchestra may have to be limited too as it was this year, to something around 50 players. This means the OSM cannot do Berlioz, Mahler or Tchaikovsky but they can do Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. I am sure Nagano can come up with plenty of interesting programmes with this broader repertoire base.

The challenge then, is to market the festival in future as featuring bel canto but definitely not limited to it. The bel canto “plus” programming should attract not only fans of bel canto who will soon discover what wonderful work Nagano and Cagli are doing in Knowlton, but also customers with a more general love of classical music.

Addressing the Question of Acoustics
Another question mark is the performing facility itself. The tent used this year was expensive and not well-suited to classical music. The acoustics were only fair at best. According to Genoni, festival organizers would like to keep the size of the facility to less than 1,000 seats to simulate the experience of a small Italian opera house. Next year, he said, in addition to the refinements planned for the tent, the OSM will bring to Knowlton the portable shell which has served it well in its regular concerts in the parks in and around Montreal.

Where Have all the Critics Gone?
Overall marketing of this new festival’s debut was certainly not what it should have been. As far as I know, there were no critics from New York, London or Toronto and even coverage in Montreal was far less than the festival deserved. I suspect that this was one of those organizational aspects that failed to get enough attention due to the festival’s somewhat impetuous launch.

Festival Bel Canto Richly Supported by Knowlton Community
Finally, how does one answer those critics who say that Quebec or Canada already has enough festivals and that the money is spread too thin already? While very little taxpayer money went directly to the festival this year, festival organizers will soon be drawing up their grant applications for future years. If they can enrich the community, attract audiences and do a better job than competing organizations then they can claim legitimacy. It is early yet, after only one festival, to make firm pronouncements, but Genoni, Nagano, Cagli and their colleagues have at least earned the right to continue the realization of their dream.

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

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Bellini's Norma Triumphant Finale for Festival Bel Canto

This is the fourth in a series of reports from Festival Bel Canto 2008 in Knowlton, Quebec, by Paul E. Robinson

The organizers of Festival Bel Canto 2008 programmed a lot of music by the great bel canto composers – Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini – but only one full-length opera. And they chose well in the inaugural season; Bellini's Norma is generally regarded as perhaps the greatest of the genre. But Norma has always been problematic too in that it requires an exceptional artist to conquer the challenges of the title role. Callas, Sutherland and Gruberova have done it, but very few others in recent memory. Micaela Carosi accepted the challenge in Knowlton this past Sunday, in the closing performance of the festival, and acquitted herself admirably, as did the rest of the cast, conductor Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM).

Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) is one of those composers – Mozart and Schubert are the prime examples – who died well before his time and accomplished extraordinary things during a short life. Bellini wrote very little instrumental music, preferring to compose operas. He is sometimes dismissed as "superficial." Musicians point to the simple harmonies and accompanying figures as evidence that he had nothing new or profound to say, but one could argue that Bellini's "simplicity" is often like Mozart's: with simple means both composers could portray great depth of feeling. The character Norma, for example, is one of the most complex personages in opera; she is a Druid leader dedicated to throwing off the yoke of the hated Romans and yet she has had two children by the Roman leader Pollione. When she discovers that Pollione has been having an affair with her fellow priestess Adalgisa, her sorrow and rage lead her to thoughts of kill ing her children, Pollione and Adalgisa. In the end she decides to sacrifice her own life.

Wagner might have depicted all of Norma's varied emotions with distinct musical ideas, but like Mozart, Bellini proceeds with more subtlety. He never forgets that his medium is primarily vocal music and that vocal music can never be less than beautiful.

Bellini's vocal lines are often florid and highly ornamented, thereby conveying extremes of emotion from the heights of joy to the depths of sadness. It is the measure of a bel canto performer how well he or she uses this ornamentation to convey emotion. For many singers the goal seems to be accuracy; this approach reduces Bellini's art to empty display. Yesterday afternoon Micaela Carosi treated the bel canto festival audience not only to a mastery of the notes but also to a clear understing of how the notes can be used to enhance expression. She has a large and beautiful voice and gave a convincing portrayal. Her performance of the famous "Casta diva" was both accurate and moving.

As good as Carosi was, I felt others in the cast provided a greater range of emotion. Mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich as Aldalgisa has an even more beautiful voice than Carosi and brought her character to life with much more intensity. Aldrich conveyed a great deal through facial expression and careful attention to rhythmic detail.

Tenor Francisco Casanova was also in command of the technical requirements of Bellini's score and in the final scenes he captured the pain and agony of the situation with remarkable power. And he did it without resorting to the Italian tenor's usual tricks of holding high notes for effect or adding crude sobbing. With strong singing and a few well-chosen gestures he helped to make these scenes intensely poignant.

Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea played the chief druid Oroveso, also Norma's father, and showed why he has rapidly risen to become a star at many of the world's great opera houses including the Met. While hardly old enough to be credible as Norma's father, he sang with strength and an uncommonly beautiful sound.

Special credit must be given to Kent Nagano who masterminded the entire production. He set the tempi, adjusted the delicate balances between singers and orchestra and within the orchestra, and gave clear guidelines as to the style of singing and playing. In conversation onstage with the CBC's Kelly Rice before the performance Nagano commented on how much the orchestra had learned about bel canto style from being immersed in it for the past few weeks. Nagano pointed out how a recent Mendelssohn performance by the OSM sounded quite different, and appropriately so, from this concentrated work on the music of one period.

But Nagano is that kind of conductor - very serious about his work and always curious about learning something new and better. Montreal is lucky to have his inquiring mind, not to mention his enormous conducting skill. Norma is full of recitatives which many conductors find either boring or impossible to sort out. Nagano gave clear and strong directions for every recitative passage; it may not mean much to the audience but I am sure the singers and the members of the OSM were very appreciative. The orchestra played superbly throughout the performance and the OSM Chorus was excellent too.

Incidentally, there was a huge gong which sat on the left front of the stage throughout the performance but it was never used. In Act 2 Scene 7 Norma strikes a sacred gong three times to indicate that it is time to go to war against the Romans. In the Jürgen Rose production of Norma given in Munich in 2006 and issued recently on DVD, Norma (Edita Gruberova) is seen to strike a remarkably similar gong. What happened in Knowlton? We heard the three strokes on the gong but the strokes were delivered by the percussion section of the OSM. Why have the gong on stage if it is never going to be used? It reminded me of Chekhov's old maxim about a gun; if a pistol is seen on the wall in the first act one expects it to be fired later in the play or it shouldn't be there.

Breaking News From Knowlton:

At the Norma performance on Sunday, Honorary Chairman of the festival Marco Genoni announced that at next year's festival the featured opera will be Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, sung in French.

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

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bel Canto Diva Sumi Jo Wows Festival Audience!

The third in a series of reports from Festival Bel Canto 2008 in Knowlton, Quebec, by Paul E. Robinson.

Korean-born Sumi Jo is well-known as an international artist specializing in the coloratura soprano repertoire. She was an excellent choice for the first Festival Bel Canto with her success in a wide range of roles in operas by Bellini and Donizetti. In addition, Sumi Jo studied at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome, one of the artistic collaborators on the festival with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM). Sumi Jo gave us a taste of this repertoire last night but she also dazzled the audience with superb performances of Mozart's Exultate, jubilate and, as a much deserved encore, with a highly theatrical excerpt from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman.

Once again Le Chapiteau on Tibbits Hill overlooking Lac Brome was filled to capacity as Festival Bel Canto 2008 entered its second and last weekend. And in this summer of near legendary rainfall in the Eastern Townships the sun was shining and the temperature was, well, as it should be in the middle of summer – warm. Kent Nagano and the OSM opened the evening with Haydn's Symphony No. 101, nicknamed "the Clock" for its tick-tock effect in the second movement. How this piece fits into a bel canto festival is a mystery to me, and Dieter Rexroth's essay on bel canto in the festival's programme book sheds no light on the matter. More likely than not, we were treated to the Haydn simply because the OSM presented this entire Tibbits Hill programme in Montreal just a few days ago minus the bel canto focus.

In any case, Nagano gave us a welcome taste of his current approach to music of the classical period. To my ears, it shows the influence of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. This means a preference for quick tempi, particularly in slow movements and minuets, very little vibrato, lots of expressive variety in bowing, strong accents, and forceful trumpets and timpani. Whether one agrees with all of the interpretative decisions or not, Nagano's Haydn is fresh and thoughtful and on this occasion the OSM gave him everything he asked for.

Even before she sang a note Sumi Jo's first appearance in a tight low-cut blue green evening gown was greeted with oohs and aahs and even cheers. The same thing happened again in the second half when she reappeared in an even more dazzling gold gown. Sumi Jo is a beautiful woman and her sparkling form-fitting gowns were designed to show her off to the max. After only a few bars of Mozart's Exultate, jubilate it was clear to all in the hall that she is not only a great beauty, but also a great artist. Her bel canto runs and trills were delivered with effortless clarity and the top note in the final Alleluia rang out with confidence and fullness. Nagano and the OSM were with her every step of the way.

After intermission Nagano warmed up the band again with Rossini's La scala di seta overture. Wonderful playing especially from the oboe soloist. It is a challenge to keep track of who is playing on any given night at the festival since the OSM has split the 100-piece orchestra into two sections, and sends only one section for each concert. I can't be sure but I believe it was associate principal Margaret Morse who played so many notes so quickly and so well in the oboe solos. Later, Nagano led a performance of the overture to Bellini's Norma, perhaps for those unable to get a ticket for the full opera in its two performances at the festival.

Ultimately, the night belonged to Sumi Jo who was featured in excerpts from Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix, Bellini's I Capuletti e I Montecchi, and Bellini's I Puritani. All were performed with total involvement and mastery of the numerous technical challenges. It should be emphasized that Sumi Jo chose arias of substance rather than those with crowd-pleasing virtuosity, just as June Anderson had done in her concert in the festival last weekend. My favourite in Sumi Jo's bel canto group was Giulietta's romance from I Capuletti e I Montecchi, not least of all because of the hauntingly beautiful French horn obbligato.

Sumi Jo has recently enjoyed great success in performances of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann and on the basis of what she showed us last night one can see why. Offenbach is not one of the "official" bel canto composers but much of this opera draws heavily on stylistic features of the vocal writing of Bellini and Donizetti. With Kent Nagano alternately wielding a baton and a key, Sumi Jo sang the great aria for Olympia the mechanical doll. Music and movement were presented with almost uncanny skill in this immensely entertaining aria. The audience demanded more and Sumi Jo sent them home even happier with "O mio babbino" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

I'll be at Bellini's Norma today, the festival's final offering in this inaugural season. I'll post a report on that and then offer an overview of the festival's achievements and shortcomings based on my own thoughts and observations and a conversation with the festival's founding spirit and honorary chairman, Marco Genoni.

> 2nd report

> 1st report


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

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bel Canto "Greatest Hits" Program Thrills Audiences

The second in a series of reports from Festival Bel Canto 2008 by Paul E. Robinson

Although Festival Bel Canto had its official inaugural concert in Knowlton, Quebec on Friday, August 15 with a recital by Jennifer Larmore, one could argue that the real opening came the next night with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) making its first appearance and with a program that amounted to a virtual bel canto –“Greatest Hits.”

American soprano June Anderson provided star power and was joined by members of the Opera Studio of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in operatic excerpts from works by Donizetti and Rossini. There were copious excerpts from the Barber of Seville by Rossini, and shorter arias, ensembles and overtures from various Donizetti operas including L’elisir d’amore and Lucia di Lammermoor. The best-known piece on the programme was undoubtedly Rossini’s overplayed warhorse, the William Tell overture.

If the idea was to send the audience members away with a smile on their faces and a desire to hear more bel canto then the festival organizers certainly achieved that goal; all the performances were at least competent and some were even memorable. To my taste June Anderson provided the musical highlights beginning with an exquisite ‘Piangete voi…Al dolce guidami’ from Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. The duet with English horn was especially beautiful. Later came an aria from Rossini’s Otello. Verdi’s Otello is, of course the finest opera ever written based on this Shakespeare play but Anderson and Nagano reminded us that parts of Rossini’s Otello are also well worth hearing from time to time. Members of the OSM matched Anderson’s finely-controlled expressiveness with notable obbligato contributions.

Santa Cecilia Academy’s Maestro Carlo Rizzari Shares Podium With Nagano

Kent Nagano, the OSM’s music director, shared the podium with the young Italian conductor Carlo Rizzari. This was another example of the festival’s collaboration between the OSM and the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome. Rizzari is the assistant conductor of the Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, a distinguished and wholly professional ensemble connected with the Academy. Rizzari proved to be highly competent if a little flamboyant in his gestures especially as compared to the austere Nagano. But then Nagano is a special case. Like the legendary Fritz Reiner, Nagano is a minimalist who gets maximum results. More on that subject in a later blog.

The young singers from Italy acquitted themselves well, although I doubt that we were seeing any stars in the making. Although Italy prides itself on being the country that gave birth to bel canto and often suggests that it produces the finest current practitioners, one might justifiably question that claim; Jennifer Larmore and June Anderson are both Americans. That too is a subject for a later blog.

Making Music in a Tent an Acoustical Conundrum

I have now heard two concerts in the Chapiteau Tibbits Hill, the tent especially constructed for Festival Bel Canto 2008, and I can offer at least a preliminary assessment of its acoustics. As one might expect, a canvas tent seating 600 with nothing like a proper shell to reflect sound on the stage is not going to sound like Symphony Hall in Boston or the Musikverein in Vienna. It will not even sound like Place des Arts in Montreal. It is, after all, a small tent. Classical music needs space and it needs reflecting surfaces. For symphony orchestras a big shoebox design usually gets the best results. The size of the tent also forced Nagano to reduce the size of his orchestra to about 50 players. Fortunately, that is about the optimum size for an orchestra specializing in bel canto repertoire.

With all of this in mind Nagano and the festival organizers prepared themselves to improve on nature by bringing along a sound system. All the instruments are miked and a sound engineer at the back of the tent tries to mix the sound as best he can to produce a pleasing effect. At the Friday afternoon dress rehearsal for “Norma, the result was far from pleasing. In fact, it was harsh and unmusical. But that is why orchestras (and sound engineers) have rehearsals. Last night the sound quality was much improved.

In quiet passages the winds sounded focused and clean. I was reminded of the classic RCA recordings from the 1950s in which wind solos were always prominent and not recessed somewhere at the back of the orchestra. Solo cellos sounded fine too in the beginning of the “William Tell” Overture. When the music got loud, however, the strings virtually disappeared and we were often left with a brass band effect. Unfortunately, this is a criticism often made of the orchestral writing of Bellini and Donizetti at the best of times. The last thing a conductor wants to do is emphasize this quality.

Kent Nagano is a very perceptive musician and no doubt he was very much aware of the problems of making music in a tent. Between the “Norma” rehearsal on Friday and the bel canto highlights concert last night he had obviously had a heart-to-heart with his brass players; they were now playing nearly everything at about half the normal dynamics. Another factor that should be mentioned is that in taking bel canto as his theme for the festival Nagano was interested not only in celebrating the glories of the human voice, but also in learning as much as he could about bel canto orchestral playing. With this in mind he hired violinist Riccardo Minasi, a specialist in early nineteenth-century performance practice, to work with the OSM string players. Minasi was particularly involved in the Norma rehearsals but his approach is probably going to be reflected in every Nagano-conducted performance of music from this period.

Nagano’s new approach undoubtedly means less vibrato and a more sustained and inflected melodic line, analogous to bel canto singing. It also means trying to achieve a much lighter, less Germanic style of orchestral playing.

Lighter, More Authentic Approach Makes a Virtue of Necessity

The best example of what Nagano has achieved so far was on display last night in his conducting of Rossini’s William Tell overture. With modern instruments and the size of today’s orchestras this piece is invariably done today in a “hell for leather” fashion for maximum noise and excitement. But in the early nineteenth century orchestras were much smaller and orchestral instruments capable of producing much more limited volume. The trombones we hear blazing away today in the “Storm” section of the overture had much smaller bores in Rossini’s day and produced a far lighter and more blended sound. Cynics might say that Nagano made a virtue out of necessity by going for a lighter approach last night but in fact his search for a lighter, more authentic bel canto orchestral sound is real. More on this subject after I attend the Norma performance next Sunday.

Incidentally, those attending one of the Norma performances in Knowlton should look in the OSM brass section for another example of Nagano’s search for authenticity. Instead of the usual tuba, you will see a large and strange-looking trombone called a cimbasso; apparently, Bellini called for it in Norma and Verdi was also very fond of it.

Breaking News From Knowlton

At last night’s concert, Marco Genoni, Honorary Chairman of Festival Bel Canto 2008, announced from the stage that the OSM will be performing a free concert in the park in Knowlton on Saturday, August 30. As Mr. Genoni put it, the orchestra “wishes to give something back to the community” in return for its generosity and cooperation in hosting this new festival. Perhaps this was another way of saying that the festival organizers were responding to criticism that most tickets for their concerts were sold out far in advance and few “local” music-lovers had a chance to attend any of the major offerings. If so, credit is due to festival organizers for being sensitive to host community concerns and for acting quickly.

> First Report

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Report from Bel Canto, New Music Festival in Quebec

The first in a series of reports from Festival Bel Canto 2008 by Paul E. Robinson

In a feature article last week, Christopher Huss of Le Devoir chose the heading “Knowlton, le Glyndebourne du Nouveau Monde?” (Knowlton, Glyndebourne of the New World?). Even with the question mark attached, this was heady stuff. Knowlton is a charming but tiny town (population: 5,000) in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, with scarcely a single memorable concert to its name let alone a world-class festival. What is going on here?

Festival Bel Canto was created almost overnight by the combined talents and energy of two men: Kent Nagano, music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal (OSM), and Marco Genoni, a Swiss businessman who has a home in Knowlton (Lac Brome). Late last year Nagano came to Knowlton as Genoni’s guest and before the visit was over they had inspired each other to launch a new festival. The initial inspiration had a lot to do with the natural, unspoiled splendour of the area – “One of the most beautiful places in the world” Nagano enthused at his Press Conference at the festival site held just hours before opening night – and its proximity to Montreal.

But reality usually sets in a few days later when the visionaries float back to earth and face the problem of finding the money. In most cases, that is the end of it, especially when the dream involves an orchestra and major artists. But Nagano and Genoni are not most cases. Genoni formed an advisory group of Knowlton residents and among them and their friends they found the money. The game was on!

For Nagano and Genoni it was not enough to create a festival with Nagano and his orchestra as the prime focus. They had bigger dreams. One idea led to another and before long they were in touch with Bruno Cagli, director of the famed Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome. Cagli is one of the greatest living authorities on Italian opera, and particularly that period – 1820-1840 – in which Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini produced their greatest works. This is often called the Age of Bel Canto although the term is also used to describe virtually the whole history of singing in Italy.

For Nagano and Cagli the term will be used primarily in its narrower sense at their new festival. Thus, the major event at the inaugural festival will be Bellini’s opera “Norma”, and music by Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini figures in almost every concert. The festival runs from August 15 to August 24 and features some of the biggest stars in opera, and all of them have excelled in this repertoire. Not only will they be heard singing this music but they will take time to give master classes too. The vision of Genoni, Nagano and Cagli is not only to create a major festival but to include in its activities an important teaching component.

Opening night at Festival Bel Canto was filled with excitement and anticipation. Patrons and donors rubbed shoulders with local folk and there were even two former prime ministers in attendance (Jean Chretien and Paul Martin). The site itself is in a field overlooking Lac Brome. Patrons leave their cars at the famous Canards du Lac Brome (Brome Lake Duck Farm) and are taken by bus to the site, about a five-minute ride. The performance space is a white tent seating about 600. The shuttle system worked remarkably well on opening night and avoided the problem of where to park nearly 300 cars, especially if it rains and cars are stuck in fields turned into muddy swamps. The tent is not an ideal acoustic for classical music but on opening night it worked well enough. A sophisticated sound system is in place to enhance the sound coming off the stage but Nagano said that this was put in mainly to guard against disaster. For this first festival they had no idea what the sound would be like and wanted to have other options.

As expected on such occasions, there were speeches and more speeches and finally we got to the music. And there was something else. Master of Ceremonies Kelly Rice, a CBC Radio Music producer, asked all the participants in the festival to come on stage together so that when Knowlton residents saw them in town going to the grocery store or sitting in a pub they would recognize them and say hello. This was a fine gesture and an important one if Knowlton is going to embrace this strange encroachment on their idyllic community.

Still another inspired Nagano gesture. This evening was advertised as a recital featuring American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore but before she came on Nagano conducted two short pieces with a small ensemble of recent prizewinners in OSM competitions. The idea was to 1) give pride of place to the musicians of the future who will inherit the festival, and 2) underscore the pedagogical aspect of the festival. For this purpose Nagano chose two short pieces in keeping with the festival’s theme: Boccherini’s very familiar Menuet and Rossini’s little-known “Serenata per piccolo complesso.” Both were played with skill and style by Nagano and his young players.

Jennifer Larmore opened her program with Rossini’s delightful “La Regata Veneziana.” Larmore never loses sight of the fact that she is an entertainer - a point she also emphasized at her master class the next day. She exudes joy and enthusiasm when she takes the stage and she uses her face and body with great skill to tell us about the characters she is portraying and the stories in the music. She is so good at this aspect of her art she could easily have a career as a mime if she ever decides to stop singing.

“La Regata Veneziana” is delightful and funny and Larmore did everything she could to bring it alive for us, but she would have been even more successful had she explained the piece beforehand or had the texts been included in the program. Another option might have the use of the surtitle equipment being used for the festival’s “Norma” performances. Surtitles would be equally effective for vocal recitals.

But make no mistake. While Larmore is a superlative actress, she is also possessed of an extraordinarily beautiful voice. What is more to the point at this new festival is that she knows how to create the beautiful line and toss off the virtuoso requirements demanded by Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini. She gave us excerpts from operas by all three bel canto masters and threw in some Mozart for good measure.

Larmore was in equally fine form the next afternoon as she led a master class devoted to bel canto at Chapelle Saint-Édouard. Some talented young singers presented excerpts from operas by Bellini and Donizetti and Larmore worked with them with obvious love and commitment.

On Saturday morning in the same venue singers from l’Atelier lyrique de l’Opera de Montréal offered their takes on excerpts from more operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi. For each of the events in the chapel there were about 70 people and they seemed to enjoy what they heard. Both events were free.

In my next blog I’ll be able to report on the first concert at the festival involving the OSM. On the basis of what I have heard so far, anyone with the slightest interest in Italian opera should be in their cars and headed for Knowlton. Kent Nagano, his colleagues and friends are in the process of creating something very special.

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

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Opera de Montreal's Madama Butterfly Sold Out - Tickets still available at La Scena Musicale

The Opéra de Montréal just announced that their entire run of Puccini's Madama Butterfly (from May 24 to June 7) has been sold out. La Scena Musicale still has a few tickets left for sale for the May 24th opening night as part of its latest fundraising activity. Unfortunately, the limited available free Madama Butterfly DVDs are sold out. Email or call 514-948-2520.

The O d M also announced that their June 7th performance will be live telecast outside in the promenade of the Place des Arts.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Le Concours Musical International de Montréal - Du 19 au 29 mai 2008

La conférence de presse du Concours Musical International de Montréal (CMIM) avait lieu hier à la Maison de Radio-Canada. Consacrée cette année au piano, la 7e édition du concours a attiré 130 candidats de 28 pays, dont 24 ont été retenus1.

C’est aux épreuves quart de finale, une nouveauté de cette année, que sera entendue l’œuvre canadienne imposée qui a été commandée par la Direction du Concours à Alexina Louie. Présidé par André Bourbeau, le jury est composé de : Arnaldo Cohen (Brésil), Dang Thai Son (Vietnam), André D e Groote (Belgique), Marc Durand (Canada), Louise Forand-Samson (Canada), Piotr Paleczny (Pologne), Imre Rohmann (Autriche), Peter Rösel (Allemagne) et Jacques Rouvier (France).

Le président, André Bourbeau, a annoncé que 100 000$ de prix seront distribués. Le premier prix qui était de 25 000$ est augmenté à 30 000$ et le prix du public sera donné en hommage à la grande pianiste Yvonne Hubert. Pour Joseph Rouleau, l’objectif le plus important du concours consiste à aider les lauréats à développer leur carrière et les responsables ne ménagent pas leurs efforts pour y arriver. Déjà 28 protocoles d’entente sont signés, comprenant deux concerts à Paris et à Londres.

Issu d’une famille de musiciens, Simon Durivage a été désigné comme porte-parole du concours. Amoureux de la musique, il s’est mis à l’étude du piano il ya trois ans avec Alain Lefebvre et se décrit comme un « pianoteux » sérieux.

Hier avait lieu aussi le dévoilement officiel du premier enregistrement pour le label Analekta de la soprano Marianne Fiset, 1er Grand prix chant 2007. Les invités ont eu le grand plaisir de l’entendre interpréter Chant de la lune, extrait de Rusalka de Dvorak, accompagnée au piano par Marie-Ève Scarfone.

C’est à Serhiy Salov, lauréat de l’édition Piano 2004, que revenait l’honneur de terminer la conférence de presse. Originaire d’Ukraine, ignorant tout du Québec à son arrivée, sauf qu’on y parlait français et que la Formule 1 y avait lieu, Sergei Salov habite maintenant en Gatineau. Il a interprété l’Ouverture Fledermaus de Strauss qu’il a adapté pour le piano.

Mario Paquet était fier d’annoncer que Radio-Canada a créé cette année un site web pour accéder directement au CMIM ( Dès le 20 mai, on pourra entendre les prestations des candidats en quart de finale et en demi-finale. Françoise Davoine précise qu’il y aura un petit reportage à chaque jour et que le réputé pianiste Bruno Riguto se joindra aux deux commentateurs. De plus, la finale sera en ligne à partir du 2 juin pour une période d’un an. Kelly Rice du réseau anglais CBC ( indiquait pour sa part qu’il sera aussi présent en compagnie des pianistes David Jalbert et Martha De Francisco.

1 Canada (4), États-Unis (4), Japon (3), Serbie (2), Corée du Sud (2), Russie (2), Taiwan (2), Israël (1), Lituanie (1) et Pologne (1).

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Roma Triumphans

Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal/Christopher Jackson
Atma SACD22507 (61 min 34 s)
***** $$$

Roma triumphans est un recueil de motets (mis à part un Gloria de Benevoli et un Offertoire de Giorgi) composés entre la fin de la Renaissance et la fin du baroque. Les premiers chantés a capella, les derniers accompagnés d’un continuo sobre et subtil (théorbe, violoncelle, orgue positif), ils ont été captés à l’Église de la Nativité de la Sainte-Vierge à La Prairie. L’acoustique offre une réverbération rendant la compréhension du texte un tantinet ardue, mais aussi une somptuosité telle qu’on tombe néanmoins sous le charme. Il faut dire que les troupes de Christopher Jackson maîtrisent parfaitement leur art et font honneur aux œuvres présentées.

-René Bricault

Buy this CD at

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Breaking News- Montreal Reverses Decision on Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur

The City of Montreal has announced today that it will continue to ensure the programming la Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. See below for the press release. Consequently, according to Marie-Chantal Leclair, founder of the Facebook group to save the CHBP, Tuesday's schedule protest will no longer be necessary.

Official statement: MONTREAL, March 17 - At the end of a meeting with the representatives of the Québécois Council of music, the mayor of Montreal, Mr. Gérald Tremblay and Mrs. Catherine Sévigny, advisor associated with Culture and the Downtown area, reiterated the intention of the city of maintain the accessibility of the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. They also gave assurance that the programming of the venue will be maintained. "I am sensitive to the concerns of the cultural community and the importance which it has for this place of diffusion. We will take all the time required to examine [the issue] with all the stakeholders, and more particularly with the Quebec Music Council on how we can ensure the continuity of the mission of the Chapelle", declared the mayor Gérald Tremblay.

Original French language news release:

MONTREAL, le 17 mars - Au terme d'une rencontre avec les représentants du Conseil québécois de la musique, le maire de Montréal, M. Gérald Tremblay et Mme Catherine Sévigny, conseillère associée à la Culture et au Centre-ville, ont réitéré l'intention de la Ville de maintenir accessible la Chapelle du Bon-Pasteur. Ils ont également donné l'assurance que la programmation de la Chapelle sera maintenue. "Je suis sensible aux préoccupations du milieu culturel et à l'importance qu'il accorde à ce lieu de diffusion. Nous allons prendre le temps nécessaire pour examiner avec toutes les personnes intéressées et plus particulièrement avec le Conseil québécois de la musique de quelle manière nous pouvons assurer la pérennité de la mission de la Chapelle", a déclaré le maire Gérald Tremblay.

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