La Scena Musicale

Saturday, April 18, 2009

This Week in Toronto (April 18 - 24)

Frederique Vezina (Mimi) and David Pomeroy (Rodolfo) in COC's La boheme
Photo: Michael Cooper
The Canadian Opera Company's spring season is in full swing, with Simon Boccanegra and La boheme taking turns at the Four Season's Centre this week. I attended the second performance of Boccanegra on Tuesday, and was very impressed by the production overall, and particularly by Italian baritone Paolo Gavanelli, who has a true Verdi baritone, even and smooth in production (albeit with a slight tremolo that comes and goes). He totally dominated the stage, and Boccanegra is on stage about 80% of the opera! Of the other principals, I thought the best was Mikhail Agafonov as Gabriele. He isn't the most sublte of artists, but he sure has his money notes! The Covent Garden production is lovely, and Italian conductor Guadarini made an auspicious debut. This show is not to be missed.

Yesterday was the opening night of La boheme, which unfortunately conflicted with Renee Fleming at Roy Thomson Hall. But I am going to Boheme tomorrow and will have more to report. I spoke to a couple of friends who attended the opening and they enjoyed it, even though it was a revival of the ancient - and rather threadbare - Skalici production with three intermissions. But the singing of the youthful (mostly) Canadian cast made up for it. I look forward to seeing it tomorrow.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Mar. 21 - 27)

Yannick Nezet-Seguin brings his artistry and charisma to Roy Thomson Hall this week (March 25, 26, 28)
Photo: Marie Reine Mattera

Today is the first day of Spring, and not a moment too soon! After suffering from an unusually severe winter, we Torontonians can finally look forward to warmer days. As I write this on Saturday morning, it is 3 degrees Celsius and brilliant sunshine. Too bad I am going to be wasting a chance to enjoy the rays by sitting for three and a half hours inside a movie theatre this afternoon. But given it is the Met in HD La Sonnambula starring the incomparable duo of Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez, the sacrifice is worth it :)

This new production of Sonnambula opened two weeks ago to near-unanimous negative reaction. Stage director Mary Zimmerman's reworking of this piece, set in a rehearsal studio of this opera, was vociferously booed on opening night. The critical reaction was preserved for posterity since the performance was broadcast on Sirius Radio live. I find it humorous that in the first minute of so of the booing, Margaret Junwait (the Met announcer) totally ignored it in her voice-over. The booing continued unabated and eventually she couldn't ignore it any longer, only to say somethng innocuous and lame like "there are different reactions to the show from the audience" or some such thing. Wouldn't it have been better to acknowlege it right at the beginning, whether she agrees with it or not? Now we have a chance to decide for ourselves today whether the boos were justified. Zimmerman won't be taking a curtain call since it is not the premiere, but it will be interesting to see if she is going to be interviewed at intermission. (However I must say Dessay and Florez received nothing but the loudest cheers) The venues are at selected Cineplex theatres in the GTA, including Sheppard Grande, Scotiabank Theatres, and Silver City (Yonge and Eglinton).

My theatre of choice for Met in HD is Sheppard Grande. I noticed that when I went to see Madama Butterfly two weeks ago, the management has made vast improvements to their concessions arrangements, greatly reducing the wait time. They are also experimenting with "Intermission Table Service", where patrons can pre-purchase drinks and food ahead of time. On the menu are sandwiches, wraps, sushi, sweets, hot and cold drinks. The prices are not cheap, but par for the course in theatre concessions. At intermission, the order will be ready and waiting for the purchasers in a reserved seating area. This is a great idea!!! But because it was a new procedure, very few people took advantage of this service and the seating area was practically deserted. I would imagine this time around, it will be better patronized.

The other important musical event this week is the welcome return of conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin and pianist Louis Lortie to Toronto. On the program are the two Ravel piano concertos, his Alborada del gracioso, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. Notice that there are different starting times and variations in the program! March 25 concert is only 75 minutes long, start time of 6:30 pm, with no intermission. Ravel's G Major and Alborada del gracioso are NOT performed. Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is NOT on the March 28 concert. Also, the March 28 is a "Casual Concert" with informal attire and a reception with live music after the show. If hearing the full program is important to you, then March 26 is the show to attend. On the other hand, if you want an early evening, then March 25 is worth considering.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Mar. 14 - 20)

The Silk Road Ensemble brings their unique program to Roy Thomson Hall (March 19 and 20, 8 pm)

While this column is about classical music in the Toronto area, I can't help but mention the appearance of Art Garfunkel, of the iconic Simon & Garfunkel fame, on March 14, 8 pm. Interesting that the Roy Thomson Hall website lists him as a countertenor! I must say this is the first time I heard him referred to as such. He still has a big following among us Baby Boomers :-) For ticket information, go to,2 and follow the link.

The other exciting event this week is the appearance of Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble at RTH (March 19 and 20, 8 pm). According to information on the Ensemble with its multimedia presentations has performed in 25 countries in more than 100 venues, ranging from concert halls to stadiums to museum galleries, in festivals around the world. Inspired by the cultural traditions of the historical Silk Road, this project is "a catalyst promoting innovation and learning through the arts". Their vision is to "connect the world's neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe." If you have not experienced their performance before, I urge you to give it a try. For tickets, go to,3 and follow the link.

The premiere early music group in Toronto, the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir under Music Director Jeanne Lamon, is performing Handel's Ode to St. Cecilia March 12 -15 at the Trinity St. Paul's Centre. I believe there has been a cast change, with Canadian soprano Nathalie Paulin replacing British soprano Sophie Daneman. Others on the cast is alto Vicki St. Pierre, tenor Rufus Muller, and bass Peter Harvey. For ticket information, go to

On the recital front, the Aldeburgh Connection is presenting A James Joyce Songbook (March 15, 2:30 pm in Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto). The quartet of soloists are soprano Katherine Whyte, mezzo Lynne McMurtry, tenor Michael Colvin, and baritone Peter Barrett. The Sunday Series is intelligent programming at its best - "each show is set around a theme, be it literary, musical, or historical, weaving the musical selections around interesting readings from letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, and poetry." Complimentary tea is served at intermission. Tickets can be ordered by telephone at: 416 735-7982.


Friday, March 6, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Mar. 7 - 13)

Nicole Cabell's Debut Disc on Decca. Cabell sings a recital at Roy Thomson Hall on Sunday March 8.
(Photo: Decca Records)

With the weather finally warming up this weekend, it's time to come out of hibernation and sample some of the music around town. This Saturday at the Cineplex movie houses, we have a continuation of the Met in HD season with Puccini's Madama Butterfly. This production is significant in the history of the Met Opera in more ways than one. It ushered in the Peter Gelb era when the opening night performance was shown live on big screen in Lincoln Center and in Time Square (!) in September 2006. The Gelb regime represents a new marketing and promotion direction that has brought opera (and the Met) to the masses. It was a brilliant stroke of audience outreach. It is also important to remember that this Butterfly replaced the super-realistic and old-fashioned Zeffirelli production, complete with cherry blossoms and Suzuki washing clothes in a little stream in front of Cio Cio San's house! Very quaint but alas also very dated. This new Butterfly incorporates a lot more contemporary theatre aesthetic in the Met's design and staging. Now for the first time it is going to be transmitted worldwide via the Met in HD theatre chains. The original star soprano, Chilean Cristina Gallardo-Domas, has been replaced in the eleventh hour this week by American Patricia Racette. Pinkerton is Italian tenor Marcello Giordani and Sharpless is American baritone Dwayne Croft. This is definitely NOT to be missed, if you can still get a ticket!

American soprano Nicole Cabell gives a recital at Roy Thomson Hall on Sunday as part of the RTH Vocal Series. It won't be easy following in the footsteps of the magnificent La Bartoli who wowed the Toronto audience, even if not one of the local critics. But Cabell is well worth hearing. She burst onto the opera scene by winning the Cardiff Singer of the World several years ago. She combines a lyric soprano of beautiful timbre with a willowy and attractive stage presence. I saw her Musetta three years ago in Santa Fe opposite the Marcello of Canadian baritone James Westman. In the few short years since Cardiff, Cabell achieved the near impossible for a young singer these days - a recording contract with a major label, Decca. Her debut album garnered critical acclaim when it appeared two years ago (see photo above). Her RTH program includes songs by Liszt, Obradors, Guastavino, Bernstein, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Spirituals, with Spencer Myer at the piano.

Another interesting recital this week is that of Canadian soprano Joni Henson. A graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, Henson was a member of the COC Ensemble Studio, where she sang a number of high profile mainstage roles - Gutrune in the COC Ring, Fiordiligi, Elisabetta in Don Carlos (two performances replacing an ailing Adrianne Pieczonka), and most recently the Foreign Princess in Rusalka. Her instrument is unusual in that it has true spinto weight, with dramatic soprano aspirations in the future. It is powerful and rich, with a very lovely middle register. At the Music Toronto "Discovery" recital (Thurs. Mar. 12, 8 pm St. Lawrence Centre), Henson will be singing Beethoven's Ah! Perfido and Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, both pieces tailor-made for her voice. Also on the programs are Britten's cycle On this Island, and Oskar Morawetz's Songs from the Portuguese. Stephen Ralls is at the piano.


Friday, February 27, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 28 - Mar. 5)

Photo of Cecilia Bartoli from Maria the Album (courtesy of )
The biggest news this week is the appearance of superstar Italian mezzo Cecilia Bartoli at Roy Thomson Hall. Her frequent visits to Toronto have always been eagerly anticipated, and this time is no exception. Her concert, scheduled for Sunday March 1, 2 pm, is totally sold out. Amazingly, La Bartoli agreed to second concert, on the same day (!) at 7 pm. As of today, tickets to the secondconcert are still available. I admit to being a big fan of Bartoli - there isn't anyone today with her combination of technical brilliance (with its incredible agility), exceptional musicality (her penchant of unearthing forgotten repertoire) and charismatic stage presence. There may be some singers today with remarkable technique - Vivica Genaux comes to mind, and perhaps even Simon Kermes whom I have only heard on disc - but none can approach Bartoli in her felicitous combination of voice, looks, musicianship and personality. If you don't have a ticket, by all means get one! The tariff to a Bartoli event is no small sum but it is worth it.
I attended the first of two concert performances of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust last evening at Roy Thomson Hall, featuring the return of French conductor Charles Dutoit. It was an overwhelming experience. In this repertoire, Dutoit can hardly be bettered. He led the TSO in a dramatically taut, powerful, yet delicate performance that kept everyone in rapt attention throughout its 2 hour 10 minute duration (without intermission). It was one of the most enjoyable concerts in recent memory. The quartet of principals were exceptional, led by tenor Gregory Kunde, who was in wonderful voice. He has previously sung this piece with Dutoit in San Francisco . Kunde has been in front of the public for well over 20 years, yet the voice remains fresh and appealing. Hard to believe he actually sang Camille in Merry Widow for the COC back in the 1980s! His instrument has changed a lot since then, gained in size and power, yet still capable of hitting those requisite high notes, and god knows Faust is high! In the duet with Marguerite, he had to hit two high Ds which he switched to head voice, an acceptable solution. Willard White was a fabulous Mefistopheles, singing and acting with great initensity. Both of these artists sang their respective roles with Dutoit and the San Francisco Symphony in 2007, and their experience of having collaborated previously was all to the good. The mezzo at the time, Ruxandra Donose, is replaced here by American Susanne Mentzer. It was great to have Mentzer back in a lead role. Her voice has taken on a bit of fluttery quality of late, but it remains an attractive instrument and she was a most creditable Marguerite. She sang an affecting "D'amour l'ardente flamme". I was really impressed that all the principals sang without music - the way it should be in a concert performance! In the small role of Brander was New Zealand bass baritone Jonathan Lemalu, who impressed with his powerful voice and youthful timbre. Everytime I hear the Mendelssohn Choir, I never failed to be moved, and their performance was sensational last evening. There is another performance on Saturday Feb. 28 - not to be missed!
Finally, I want to draw your attention to Opera York's production of Puccini's Tosca, to take place at the spanking new Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre, located north of Toronto at Yonge Street north of Major McKenzie. This new theatre is designed by Jack Diamond who also designed COC's Four Seasons Centre. This Tosca stars Albanian-Canadian soprano Mirela Tafaj as Tosca. Tafaj moved to Canada about 10 years ago and has sung for Opera Ontario (Musetta), Toronto Opera Repertoire (Tosca, Violetta), Opera York (Micaela, Mimi), the Montreal Opera Gala, plus many concerts and recitals. Hers is an interesting soprano with a rich, dark timbre, just right for Tosca. Partnering her as Cavaradossi is young tenor James Ciantar, who has a very good, Italianate sound. He studies voice with retired Canadian tenor Ermanno Mauro, who also coaches tenor David Pomeroy and soprano Sinead Sugrue, among others. Rounding out the trio is baritone Nicolae Raiciu as Scarpia. Sabatino Vacca conducts the Opera York Orchestra and Chorus. Three performances (two in Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre March 5, 7) and one at the Markham Theatre (March 13). For tickets call (905) 787-8811 for Richmond Hill and (905) 305-7469 for Markham.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 20, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 21 - 27)

Conductor Charles Dutoit

The highlight this week is the welcome return of Charles Dutoit to the Toronto Symphony to conduct a concert version of Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust (Feb. 26 and 28, 8 pm, at Roy Thomson Hall). Despite the very striking Robert Lepage production mounted at the Metropolitan Opera that was shown as part of the current Met in HD series, this piece is problematic as a staged work due to its static nature. Here we will have a performance as originally intended.

Heading the cast is a trio of operatic veterans - mezzo Susanne Mentzer as Marguerite, bel canto tenor Gregory Kunde as Faust, and Sir Willard White as Mephistofeles. Also featured is a rising star, New Zealand bass baritone Jonathan Lemalu in a supporting role. Mezzo Mentzer has sung at the COC in the past, and I have heard her on a number of occasions in Santa Fe. A noted Rosina, Cherubino and Octavian, among other roles, Mentzer has moved - perhaps too soon - to character mezzo parts in recent years, as the voice is still in fine shape. It is good to know that she has not left the leading roles entirely behind her and I look forward to her Marguerite. Having made his name in the bel canto repertoire, tenor Gregory Kunde has branched out to a broader repertoire as his voice has grown in size and heft, including a very fine Aeneas in Berlioz's Les Troyens a few season's back. He is known for his handsome stage presence and high notes to burn, which I had the pleasure of hearing several seasons ago in a Santa Fe Opera Ermione. I also recall his Camille in Merry Widow for the COC more than 20 years ago. His voice is undoubtedly very different now, and he will have the power and presence to be a creditable Faust. Completing the trio will be Sir Willard White. He is the Wotan in the current Ring at Aix en Provence, so it will be interesting to hear him in a French role.

Elsewhere in the concert scene, violinist Midori will give the third of her performances of Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Toronto Symphony on Feb. 21, 7:30 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. A frequent visitor to Toronto, Midori has a huge local following. Also on the program is Schumann's Spring Symphony. Saturday's performance is called a "Casual Performance", starting a half hour earlier than usual, and part of the program is cut, in this case Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia. After the show, there will be some sort of entertainment in the lobby, usually a Jazz Ensemble. Leading the TSO is Czech guest conductor Jun Maerkl.

Finally, for something different, check out the world premiere of Ines, a chamber opera inspired by Portuguese Fado music. The composer is Canadian James Rolfe of Beatrice Chancey fame, with a libretto by Paul Bentley. It is a tragic love story based on the Portuguese legend of Ines de Castro, with the story adapted to Toronto's Portuguese community experience in the 1960's. Soloists are Giles Tomkins, Shannon Mercer, Thomas Goerz, and Elizabeth Turnbull, all well known in the Canadian music scene. The show also features Portuguese Fado singer Ines Santos. There are five performances at the Enwave Theatre in the Toronto Harbourfront (Feb. 21, 25, 26, 28, and March 1). Call Harbourfront Centre Box Office at 416-973-4000 for tickets, or visit or

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Feb.14-20)

The big event in classical music in Toronto this week is the appearance of pianist Radu Lupu at Roy Thomson Hall, for two performances (Feb. 12 and 14 8 pm) in Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3, conducted by Peter Oundjian. Also on the program is Stravinsky's Scherzo fantastique and Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances. Beethoven No. 3 has appeared frequently in Lupu's program, ever since he won the top prize in Leeds in 1969 with this work. I did not attend the first show but I understand it was very well received, as expected of course, by the audience. Given the economic downturn, concert attendance has been soft lately, but the hall was near capacity, a credit to his drawing power. You can catch the second performance this evening.

On the operatic front, be sure to catch Fidelio (Feb. 15, 18) and Rusalka (Feb. 14, 17, 20) if you haven't already, at the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre. I went back to see Fidelio a second time on Feb. 12, to hear Richard Margison taking on Florestan. His attack on the opening "Gott!" in his Dungeon Aria was completely pianissimo, without the typical crescendo - it makes for a very interesting effect. He sang very well and received a well deserved ovation at the end. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka continues her very lyrical Leonore, full of womanly warmth and gleaming tone. Mats Almgren blew me away with his magnificent black bass, and I was particularly impressed with the totally convincing (vocally and dramatically) Marzelline of Virgina Hatfield. This Fidelio is not to be missed.

It doesn't get a lot of press, but the COC has a wonderful free concert series. On Thursday Feb. 19, the COC Ensemble Studeio artists will give a noon hour concert of Czech arias and songs by Dvorak, Smetana, Janacek and Fibich, under the direction of Liz Upchurch. The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre is not large, so if you want to get in, do show up at least 45 minutes early to line up.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 6, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 7 - 13)

Richard Margison takes over the role of Florestan at the COC
Photo: Henry Grossman
(Courtesy of Moira Johnson Consulting)

By Joseph So

The Canadian Opera Company is in full swing this week, with performances of Fidelio and Rusalka at the Four Seasons Centre. The major news is the cast change on Feb. 12, when Canadian tenor Richard Margison takes over from Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson as Florestan. Readers may remember the eleventh hour withdrawal of American Jon Villars from the production. Fortunately the COC was able to secure the services of not one, but two Florestans, no mean feat as heldentenors sure don't grow on trees!

I attended the performance on Feb. 4. and found Mr. Ketilsson to be a fine Florestan, much better than his reviews on opening would indicate. Although the media is always invited to attend opening night, there is something to be said about attending a later performance, when all the first night jitters have subsided and any potential problem ironed out. It could not have been easy for Mr. Ketilsson to step in at the last minute and without adequate rehearsal. By Feb. 4, he had had three performances under his belt and was able to relax and sang up to his potential. His compact tenor has a pleasant timbre with a strong top register. Many tenors have come to grief in the final minutes of the Dungeon Aria with its impossibly high tessitura, but Mr. Ketilsson sang it very well. I find his Florestan altogether satisfying. On Feb. 12, Richard Margison takes over the role for five performances. The Canadian tenor has been branching out into the Germanic repertoire in recent years, in roles such as Bacchus, Aegisth and Florestan, the latter he sang to critical and audience acclaim at the Vancouver Opera. He has not sung at the COC for some years now, so it is good to have him back. This will be his Four Seasons Centre debut.

Although not exclusively a Toronto event, a highlight this week is the Met in HD showing of Lucia di Lammermoor on Saturday Feb. 7, with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. It was announced two days ago that the wildly popular Mexican tenor Villazon has cancelled due to illness - best laid plans of mice and men, as they say! This comes as a blow to his legions of fans, but perhaps it was not totally unexpected. On opening night last week, Villazon ran into heavy weather, sounding strained and cracking on several occasions. The audience was in shock when Villazon came to a complete stop during the ensemble before the Mad Scene. The conductor halted the orchestra and there were several seconds of tense silence, until Villazon cleared his throat and resumed. Clearly he was not in good voice, and Peter Gelb came out at the intermission to make an announcement. Villazon regrouped and finished the performance without incident. He was replaced in the second performance by Italian tenor Giuseppe Filanoti. On the telecast, it will be Polish tenor Piotr Beczala. I saw Beczala as Werther last July in Munich, and he will be a worthy replacement. He has an ingratiating voice and looks fine onstage, but without the same measure of energy and magnetism as Villazon. So don't expect the high voltage charisma a la Villazon, nor the special chemistry between Villazon and Netrebko tomorrow. And let's hope the setback of the beloved Mexican tenor is only temporary.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, January 31, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 31 - Feb. 6)

Tenor Michael Schade
(Photo courtesy of Moira Johnson Consulting)

By Joseph So

This week's highlight is the Canadian premiere of Dvorak's Rusalka. This rarely performed opera is best known for its hit aria - "Song to the Moon", sung by the water nymph Rusalka. Frequently programmed in concerts and recital CDs by sopranos blessed with silvery tone and good top notes, this aria is really the only genuine hit tune in the opera. I have seen this piece twice, once with Renee Fleming and the other time with Czech diva Gabriela Benackova, both memorable in terms of star power. The tenor role of the Prince, considered a dramatic tenor role, has a few good moments, but overall it really isn't a particularly showy role. Canadian Ben Heppner has done well with this, although he appears to have dropped it from his active repertoire.

Now we have Canadian tenor Michael Schade trying his hand in this high-flying part. Schade started his career as a Mozart specialist, but with the passage of time, the voice has grown heavier and bigger. Now such roles as Idomeneo and Tito are in his repertoire, although he still sings the lyric tenor roles of Tamino and Ottavio. The Prince will be a bit of a stretch for him vocally, as the role requires a large, heroic sound more in line with the voices of a Heppner, Paul Frey, Peter Seiffert, Siegfried Jerusalem, Johan Botha, and the late Sergej Larin. In the title role is American Julie Makerov, who was a very good Freia and Donna Elvira for the COC. I also saw her several times, including a marvelous Tosca in Sarasota some years ago. I look forward to her Rusalka especially after being disappointed that her all important Mi tradi was cut from the recent COC Doon Giovanni, an idiotic decision as far as I am concerned. Also in the cast are Richard Paul Fink, a local favorite. The production comes from Theater Erfurt. I have not seen the dress rehearsal, but as I understand it, the sets are typical regional German house Regietheater type, ie, bleak, dark, short on colour, and symbolic in approach. I will reserve my judgement until I have seen the show. However, as is typical of new-fangled productions that favor "concept" and "meaning" over practicality, functionality and visual appeal, these modern sets can be a minefield for the perfomers. I understand at the dress rehearsal, the fountain with water onstage where the singers splashes about meant an inevitable wet floor. When Michael Schade took a fish bowl out of the fountain, he slipped on the wet floor that sent him flying, landing on his behind right in center stage - not a very elegant staging for the Prince!!! The fishbowl careened toward the lip of the stage, thankfully without tumbling into the auditorium. Stage accidents do happen, but it would be nice if stage directors and set designers take the welfare of singers into consideration when they come up with their "concepts"...

Speaking of tenor Schade - this Canadian is known as a superlative recitalist, and he will be giving a recital at the Four Seasons Amphitheatre on Tuesday Feb. 3 at noon. It is free and not to be missed. It is first come first serve so get there early!

Labels: , , ,

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Jan 24 - Jan 30)

Photo: Adrianne Pieczonka sings her first-ever Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio for the COC

(photo credit: Andreas Klingberg)

By Joseph So

The Toronto vocal music scene in this, the last wintry week in January, is dominated by the return of Beethoven's Fidelio to the Canadian Opera Company, in a co-production with L'Opera national du Rhin and Opera Nurnberg. The COC has assembled a superb cast, where all the prinicpals - except one - are well known to and well loved by Toronto audiences. It stars Canada's reigning prima donna, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, in the title role of Leonore. She is making an infrequent foray into the dramatic soprano repertoire and it will be her debut in this role. I think this Fidelio may actually be her debut in a trouser role! Slim and statuesque, Pieczonka certainly looks more believable as a man than many sopranos who sing Leonore, Christine Brewer and Elizabeth Connell, for example. While the Canadian won't have quite the powerhouse volume or the cutting edge to her tone as these two dramatic soprano ladies, Pieczonka will bring her trademark gleaming tone and dramatic conviction to Leonore.

American tenor Jon Villars was to return to the COC after several seasons as Florestan. He last sang here as Calaf in Turandot. So it came as a bombshell when it was announced that Villars had been replaced after Wednesday's final dress reheaersal. There had been disagreement between him and the conductor Gregor Buhl over tempi throughout the rehearsal process, and the disagreemenet came to a head when, according to eye witnesses at the final dress, Villars threw up his hands and walked off the stage in the final ensemble. It was also reported that he was in poor voice throughout the rehearsal period and appeared unprepared - rather strange when you think he has sung Florestan previously as well as having recorded it with Sir Simon Rattle. Villars is certainly a "big name" and it is regrettable that he has departed, but the COC were able to pull not one but two Florestans out of the hat! It was announced Thursday that Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson and Canadian tenor Richard Margison will share the ten performances of Fidelio, with Ketilsson singing the first five. Heldentenors don't grow on trees, so my guess is that the COC had been working behind the scenes to line up the two replacements just in case. The internationally ranked Ketilsson has sung Florestan in Gothenberg and Marseille. Canadian tenor Richard Margison has sung with the COC on several occasions in the past - I remember a Trovatore about seven or eight years ago. He has been expanding his repertoire into the Germanic heldentenor repertory, such as Bacchus and Florestan, the latter he has sung at the Met and Vancouver. This will be his debut in the new opera house.

The evil Don Pizarro is taken by another COC stalwart, bass Gidon Saks, who has made operatic villains his specialty all over the world. His Scarpia in the Bregenz Tosca, now available on DVD, is guaranteed to make your skin crawl. He last sang with the COC in the title role of Boris Godunov. Swedish bass Mats Almgren, who made a sensational COC debut as Hagen in the inaugural Ring Cycle, returns as the more sympathetic Rocco. Rounding out the principals will be current COC Ensemble member Adam Luther as Jacquino and former Ensemble member soprano Virginia Hatfield as Marzelline. German conductor Gregor Buhl, who received critical acclaim in his conducting of the Ring Cycle in Stockholm, will make his COC debut. Performances of Fidelio run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 24 at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, January 16, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 17 - 23, 2009)

Photo: conductor Bernard Labadie

By Joseph So

Welcome to the first installment of the weekly column on the classical music scene in the Greater Toronto Area! In this space, I plan to highlight a few noteworthy concerts and events that are of particular interest. I should say right off that there is no attempt to be comprehensive, as my focus has always been things vocal and operatic, plus a smattering of others.

At the top of the list is the continuation of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Mozart Festival that runs Jan. 10 to 24. The centerpiece of this festival is the the Magic Flute in Concert, to take place on January 22 and 24, 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. It stars a completely Canadian cast - well almost, since Canadian bass-baritone Gary Relyea, originally announced for Sarastro, has been replaced by Oren Gradus. Quebec maestro Bernard Labadie leads an exceptionally strong cast, led by Karin Gauvin as Pamina, Benjamin Butterfield as Tamino, Joshua Hopkins as Papageno, and Aline Kutan as Queen of the Night! All four have not performed in Toronto for some time so this is a great opportunity to hear them. I saw Hopkins sang Papageno opposite the divine Natalie Dessay in her first-ever Pamina about four years ago. He was a particularly engaging birdcatcher and I look forward to hearing him again. Another highlight for me will be the Qeen of Aline Kutan. She sang Der holle Rache at a COC Gala to celebrate the opening of the opera house. When she interpolated the coloratura but singing the HIGH option, the audience let out a collective gasp! Before this, I had not heard a modern-day performance where the soprano dared do such a stratospheric attempt. I wonder if she will do it again...perhaps rather unlikely since this will be a serious performance and not a gala concert.

Supporting cast members include Nathan Berg (Sprecher), Gillian Keith (Papagena), Shannon Mercer (First Lady), Krisztina Szabo (Second Lady), Allyson McHardy (Third Lady), Rufus Muller (Monostatos). Everyone of these singers are well known in Canada and elsewhere, and well worth hearing. The U of T MacMillan Singers will provide the choral voices. I think this will be semi-staged, sung in German with English Surtitles. This is an event absolutely NOT to be missed! I bought myself a ticket several days ago and as I understand it, it is practically sold out.

Other than this blockbuster, I can also recommend the encore performance of Berlioz's La Damnation du Faust, as part of the Met in HD series. It will be on Saturday Jan. 17 at the Cineplex chain. I will attend the show at the Sheppard Grande location. Do call to inquire about ticket availability. When it was shown on Nov. 22, the Robert Lepage direction was stunning. The Quebec director Lepage will bring his cutting-edge sensibilities to the COC for a production of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol, bound to be a highlight of the 2009-10 season.

Labels: , ,