La Scena Musicale

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This Week in Toronto (March 8 - 14)

Baritone Nathan Gunn (Photo: Dario Acosta)

The big news for voice fans this week is the first Toronto appearance of American baritone Nathan Gunn, in town on Wednesday, March 10 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall as part of its Vocal Series. Mr. Gunn is the archetypal "bari-hunk", a term invented some years ago by person unknown to describe baritones who are as pleasing to the eye as to the ear. There is a long tradition of singers of this ilk, from Lawrence Tibbett in the 1930's to Sherrill Milnes in the 1970's - hunky baritones with great voices. But there seems to be many more of them today, undoubtedly a reflection of the public favoring singers who look good on stage. In addition to Nathan Gunn, baritone poster boys today include the New Zealander Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Italian Luca Pisaroni, Uruguayan Erwin Schrott, American Jason Hardy, and Canada's own Dan Okulitch. There are many more, but these ones come to mind readily. They all have beautiful voices and are convincing actors onstage. With Mr. Gunn in town for a recital at Roy Thomson Hall, we'll get to judge for ourselves. I first heard him thirteen years ago, as Orestes in the famous Francesca Zambello production of Iphigenie en Tauride in Glimmerglass, arguably the show that propelled him to fame. He is singing better than ever. On the program are songs by Schubert, Charles Ives and American spirituals, accompanied by his wife Julie Gunn.

On the subject of voice, a worthwhile concert to attend is one given by Canadian soprano Yannick Muriel Noah. Several years ago, she was plucked out of the COC Ensemble to fill in for an indisposed soprano as Tosca. Critics and audience were impressed with her huge, gleaming lirico-spinto. She has since sung La Wally at Klagenfurt in Austria, and was Cio-Cio-San in COC's Madama Butterfly last fall. This spring, she returns to Klagenfurt as Aida. Noah will be giving a recital of songs and arias by Weill, Strauss, Verdi, and Puccini, with Liz Upchurch at the piano. It takes place on Saturday March 13, 8 pm at the Runnymede United Church, 432 Runnymede Road. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and arts workers) and can be purchased as her website

On Sunday March 14 2:30 pm at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building at the U of Toronto Faculty of Music, the Aldeburgh Connection presents Hugo Wolf: Mighty Miniaturist. Soloists are soprano Monica Whicher, tenor Michael Colvin, and baritone Brett Polegato, with Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata at the piano. As usual, there will be tea at intermission! I have attended a few of their concerts in the past and they are never less than delightful.

Elsewhere, the Canadian Opera Company free noon hour concert series presents The Composer and His Music, on Thursday March 11, at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, with student soloists from the University of Toronto Opera Division under the music directorship of Sandra Horst. It is an eclectic - and highly interesting - program with arias and ensembles from Nixon in China, Hamlet, Leoncavallo's Boheme, Rigoletto, Gloriana, Ghosts of Versailles, Don Pasquale, Madama Butterfly, and Candide. Remember to show up a good 45 minutes early to ensure a seat. On Tuesday, March 9 is another noon hour concert - 18 year old pianist Suren Barry plays music by Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Enigma Variations on March 11 at 3 pm and March 13 at 8 pm, with soloist Lars Vogt playing the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor. Also on the program are Elgar's Enigma Variations, Sibelius Suite from King Kristian II and Magnus Lindberg's Chorale. Robin Ticciati conducts.

Tafelmusik, Canada's premiere baroque orchestra, presents Bach in Leipzig, with Jeanne Lamon directing the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chorus in a program of Bach and Telemann. Performances on March 10, 7:30 pm, March 11, 12, and 13 at 8 pm, at the Trinity-St. Paul's Centre.

Finally, a bit of very sad news. The great British tenor Philip Langridge passed away from cancer this week at the age of 70. He carried on the tradition of English tenors in the mode of Peter Pears, championing the music of Benjamin Britten - he was a supremely moving Peter Grimes - as well as a wide ranging repertoire from Mozart to Janacek to Stravinsky. When I first heard the news two days ago, it just didn't seem possible - after all, he was singing as recently as December and January as the Witch in the Met's revival of Hansel und Gretel! He is survived by his widow, mezzo-soprano Ann Murray and four children. As a remembrance, here is a link to his most moving rendition of Comfort Ye from Handel's Messiah on Youtube -

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Monday, December 14, 2009

This Week in Toronto (December 14 - 20)

Baritone Russell Braun gives a lieder recital in celebration of Jeunesses Musicales du Canada's 60th anniversary at the Toronto French School on December 9th. Pianist is Talisa Blackman
(Photo: Joseph So)

The feast of Holiday Season music continues this week with literally dozens of concerts and events big and small, all over the GTA. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra bills its Messiah as Toronto's favourite - it probably is among the most august of Messiah traditions in Canada and likely has the highest attendance numbers. This year's version begins on Dec. 16 at Roy Thomson Hall and continues on Dec 18, 19, 20, and 21, all at 8 pm except for Sunday Dec. 20 at 3 pm. The soloists are soprano Shannon Mercer, countertenor Matthew White, tenor Colin Balzer, and baritone Tyler Duncan. Quebec conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads the TS forces and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. This is a massive Messiah and well worth attending if you like this work performed by huge forces. For a more intimate Messiah, I can recommend Tafelmusik's baroque Messiah. Ivar Taurins conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and a quartet of soloists (soprano Ann Monoyios, mezzo Meg Bragle, tenor Benjamin Hulett, and bass Sumner Thompson). Performances from Dec. 16 to 19 7:30 pm at the Trinity-St. Paul Centre. On Dec. 20 2 pm is the ever-popular Sing Along Messiah at Massey Hall. There is something about a whole Massey Hall audience raising their collective voice to the Hallelujah Chorus that is awe-inspiring - so if you haven't experienced it before, go! This is general admission so be sure to get there early if you want a good seat!

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale offers An Indigo Christmas at the Glenn Gould Studio on Dec. 16 and 19, at 8 pm. According to the promotional material, this choral group is called "magical and transformative, their voices....will carry you on a journey through the beauty and intricacies of Afrocentric music from around the world" - I couldn't agree more. Also of note is the Via Salzburg Chamber Orchestra performing on Dec. 17 and 18 at the Glenn Gould. On the program are music of Handel, Vivaldi and Mendelssohn, plus Imant Raminsh singing Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Joy, in a work commissioned by Via Salzburg in 2003.

On December 17, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, who received a degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto before she went into a musical career, headlines a concert in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the U of T Engineering Science program. It takes place at the Hart House Theatre at 6:30 pm on Thursday. Julian Kuerti conducts the Skule Orchestra in a program of arias and orchestral pieces of Verdi, Rossini, Dvorak and Mozart. There is also a post-concert dinner. I have no idea of the ticket availability - go to for more information.

Finally, I'd like to report on a concert I attended last week, given by Canadian baritone Russell Braun, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Jeunesses Musicales of Canada. It took place at the Toronto French School on December 9th, attended by a small group of invited guests. Also in attendance was Mr. Jacques Marquis, the Executive and Artistic Director of JMC, and Mr. Joseph Rouleau, the President of JMC. In fabulous voice, Braun sang songs by Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Ravel, all delivered with beauty of tone and depth of feeling. No wonder is he one of Canada's greatest singers today. He concluded the evening with a most heart-felt 'Avant de quitter ces lieux', Valentin's prayer from Gounod's Faust. It was a truly memorable evening.

Joseph Rouleau thanks Russell Braun after the concert and spoke a few words to the audience. (Photo: Joseph So)

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