La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Toronto Summer Music Festival Announces its Fifth Anniversary 2010 Programme

Photo: Agnes Grossmann, Artistic Director, Toronto Summer Music Academy and Festival

I just received an exciting press release from Toronto Summer Musical Festival. Now in its Fifth Season, this festival fills a big void in Toronto's music scene. With the absence of a summer home for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and with both the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company in hiatus, there is a dearth of classical music activities in town. Thanks to TSMF, Torontonians don't have to travel for their music fix. I'm sorry to say that, for the second year in a row, there won't be any staged opera from TSMF. But my disappointment is assuaged by the presence of the great German baritone Matthias Goerne, who is making one of his infrequent visits to our city. He is giving a recital with pianist Andreas Haefliger on July 27. The last time I heard Goerne in Toronto was April 2004, during the sad winter and spring of SARS in Toronto. Many artists, fearing an epidemic, cancelled their appearances at the time. But to his great credit, Matthias Goerne fulfilled his obligations and showed up at Roy Thomson Hall. He sang beautifully a program of Mahler with the symphony, if memory serves. Incidentally, Goerne is giving a public masterclass on July 26, 7 - 10 pm in Walter Hall - not to be missed!

Other vocal delights this summer include an evening of German lieder with three of Canada's brightest singers- tenor Colin Ainsworth, soprano Lesley Ann Bradley and baritone Peter McGillivray. Another interesting concert is a TSMF-commissioned piece, Song of the Earth, by Canadian composer Glenn Buhr. Soloists are Romanian alto Roxana Constantinescu and tenor Gordon Gietz. This is paired with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (chamber version). This takes place on August 7th.

For more information, go to

See below for the complete press release:


“…a virtual oasis in the musical desert of the Toronto summer.”
—The Globe and Mail

2010 marks the fifth annual TORONTO SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVAL (TSMF), and Artistic Director Agnes Grossmann is delighted to unveil her plans for this year’s edition devoted to the theme Songs of the Earth. The Festival takes place in downtown Toronto from July 20 to August 13, and features an array of Canadian and international stars including Matthias Goerne, Andreas Haefliger, Anton Kuerti, Menahem Pressler, Connie Shih and Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi; top flight international chamber ensembles the Pacifica String Quartet, the Vienna Piano Trio, the Gryphon Trio and the Penderecki String Quartet; and four imaginative concert programmes that combinemusic with an added dimension: the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe from the United States together with Japan’s Imada Puppet Troupe; The Art of Time Ensemble with musical transformations based on Korngold-inspired themes; a tribute to the legendary choreographer, the late Pina Bausch, with a film of her ballet set to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring projected as duo-pianists Anagnoson and Kinton perform the composer’s chamber version of this volcanic dance score; and the Gryphon Trio with James Campbell performing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time against the backdrop of evocative paintings by Stephen Hutchings. Another highlight of the Festival will be a performance of Mahler’s masterpiece, Song of the Earth in the Schoenberg/Rhien chamber version. Landmark anniversaries of composers Schumann, Chopin and Mahler will be celebrated in concert programmes throughout the four-week Festival, which includes the world-premiere of a new Mahler-inspired work by Glenn Buhr.
“As the Toronto Summer Music Festival enters its fifth season, I am truly thrilled with the opportunity to share these 13 concerts inspired by the theme Songs of the Earth. With Mahler’s eponymous masterpiece as my cue, I have selected music that celebrates the beauties of the earth and reflects the profound love that many of the featured composers felt for nature. I am sure that audiences will find these concerts fascinating, engaging and thought-provoking,” says Agnes Grossmann.

Toronto Summer Music Festival at a Glance
Honouring two of the most inspiring piano-composers of the Romantic era
July 20, 8 pm at Koerner Hall
Anton Kuerti, piano
Master pianist and 2007 Schumann prize-winner Anton Kuerti launches the 2010 festival with a solo homage to Schumann’s 200th anniversary. Praised as “one of the truly great pianists of this century” (CD Review, London), Kuerti’s past three Festival appearances have sold out. His gala performance in the superb acoustics of Koerner Hall on a brand new Hamburg Steinway includes Schumann’s Novelettes, Op. 21, Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 11, the Fantasy in C major, Op. 17, and the Toccata in C major, Op. 7. July 27, 8 pm at Koerner Hall
Masters of Song — Matthias Goerne, baritone and Andreas Haefliger, piano
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Ryan McClelland
Known as “perhaps the greatest Lieder singer of our day,” (Chicago Sun-Times), baritone Matthias Goerne makes his highly anticipated Festival debut. He is joined by his long-time collaborator, the superb pianist Andreas Haefliger in a programme of Lieder including Schumann’s Three Songs to texts by Heinrich Heine, Liederkreis, Op. 24, and Brahms Lieder, Op. 32. Haefliger also performs the Three Intermezzi, Op. 117 — among the best-loved of Brahms’ music for solo piano. August 3, 8 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Piano Legends — André Laplante, piano
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Don Anderson
One of the great Romantic pianists of our time, André Laplante returns to the Festival to pay tribute to the Chopin bicentenary. He performs the rarely-heard chamber version of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 with string quartet. Franz Liszt’s Book 2 Pilgrimages (Italy), which was inspired by timeless masterpieces of painting, sculpture and poetry by Raphael, Michelangelo, Petrarch and Dante, completes the programme.
August 10, 8 pm at Walter Hall
Romantic Duo — Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, cello and Connie Shih, piano
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Robin Elliott
Japan’s revered cellist Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi returns to share the stage with the Canadian-born,
Germany-based young pianist, Connie Shih. The programme features virtuoso Romantic cello
sonatas by Mendelssohn and Chopin and is completed by folk-flavoured selections including
Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style, Op. 102 and Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major, Op. 3.
Wednesday concert:
August 4, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
An Evening of German Art Song — Colin Ainsworth, tenor; Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano;
Peter McGillivray, baritone This celebration of German art song features three of Toronto’s most remarkable and accomplished young Lied-singers. The programme includes some of the most beautiful songs by Robert Schumann, and shows the evolution of German art song into the 20th century through Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss.
Thursday series: MUSIC PLUS SERIES
Music experienced through multi-disciplinary forms
July 22, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Music & Theatre — Buraku Bay Puppet Troupe and Imada Puppet Troupe
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Martin Holman
Bunraku [boon-rah-koo]: a vivid, sophisticated style of puppet theatre that originated in Japan more than 300 years ago. TSMF is thrilled to present the Toronto premiere of the only American troupe that performs traditional Japanese Bunraku puppetry. The Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe is joined by its Ina Valley, Japanbased mentors, the Imada Puppet Troupe, which was founded in 1704. Using half life-size puppets and accompanied by chanted narration and music played on traditional instruments, the two companies perform a series of delightful, inspiring short plays. Chicago Weekly praised the Bunraku Bay Troupe’s “wonder in craftsmanship and coordination,” remarking, “the entrance was enough to send chills down everyone’s spines ....”
July 29, 8:00 pm at Walter Hall
Musical Transformations — Erich Korngold: Source and Inspiration
Andrew Burashko and Art of Time Ensemble
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Andrew Burashko
Andrew Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble performances have earned the reputation for being among Toronto’s most engaging concert experiences, with programs that are thought-provoking and compelling. TSMF is proud to present Art of Time’s programme inspired by Erich Korngold, the father of the classic Hollywood film score. Korngold’s Suite, Op. 23 for Two Violins, Cello and Piano anchors the evening. A performance of six contemporary songs inspired by Korngold’s Suite are performed by their composers, the singer-songwriters Martin Tielli, “who paints aural pictures from the heart” (Chart Attack), John Southworth, who is “delightfully eccentric, and seems to have emerged out of a time vacuum,” (New York Press), and Danny Michel, “one of this country’s most undiscovered musical treasures.” (Toronto Star).
August 5, 8:00 pm at Walter Hall
Music & Dance — James Anagnoson, piano and Leslie Kinton, piano
This performance is presented in memory of choreographer Pina Bausch (1940–2009)
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Michael Crabb
The dynamic combination of dance on film with live music promises an unforgettable experience.
The Festival honours the celebrated modern choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, with a film of her thrilling ballet set to Stravinsky’s 1912 landmark composition The Rite of Spring that forever changed the way we listen to music. Festival favourites, the piano duo Anagnoson and Kinton perform the composer’s four-hand piano transcription of the score. The programme includes cornerstones of the two-piano repertoire: Brahms’s Haydn Variations and the spectacular Suite No. 2 by Rachmaninoff.
August 12, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Music & Painting — Gryphon Trio with James Campbell, clarinet
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Stephen Hutchings
One of Canada’s pre-eminent chamber ensembles, the Gryphon Trio returns to the Festival following four previous sold-out concerts. In the grand finale to the 2010 Festival, they are joined by clarinetist James Campbell to perform Olivier Messiaen’s prophetic Quartet for the End of Time. Paintings by artist Stephen Hutchings, inspired by Messiaen’s music, will be projected above them. The Trio closes the Festival with a final song of the earth, Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80.
Friday concert
July 30, 8 pm at Walter Hall
New Compositions — Penderecki String Quartet
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Glenn Buhr
Canada’s renowned Penderecki String Quartet continuously pushes the envelope of their musical
medium with repertoire that ranges from Brahms and Britten to collaborations with a wide spectrum of contemporary musicians from trip-hop performer DJ Spooky to Chinese pipa player, Ching Wong. For this concert, the Quartet performs works by four emerging composers who are in residence at this year’s Toronto Summer Music Academy. The programme also includes Quartet No. 4 by Academy composition coach, Glenn Buhr.
Concerts created around the music of Gustav Mahler
July 24, 8:00 pm at Walter Hall
Mahler & Friends — Vienna Piano Trio with Sharon Wei, viola
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Robin Elliott
The Vienna Piano Trio, hailed by BBC Music Magazine for performances that are “quite simply,
stunning,” presents a programme of early works by composers who enjoyed close ties. Arnold
Schoenberg’s love poem Transfigured Night is paired with Piano Trio, Op. 3 by Alexander Zemlinsky and Mahler’s one-movement Piano Quartet in A minor.
July 31, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Mahler’s Heroes and Admirer —Pacifica String Quartet with Menahem Pressler, piano
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Colin Eatock
Profound experience joins hands with youthful passion in this concert, as revered pianist Menahem Pressler – who toured the world for more than 50 years as a member of the illustrious Beaux Arts Trio – teams up with the brilliant young artists of the Grammy Award-winning Pacifica String Quartet. They salute the Mahler anniversary with music by two of the composers he most admired – Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, Op. 18, No.6, and Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44. The String Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73 by Shostakovich — a composer who was deeply influenced by Mahler — completes this programme.
August 7, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Song of the Earth — Roxana Constantinescu, mezzo-soprano, Gordon Gietz, tenor
TSM Festival Ensemble
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Jürgen Thym
The stunning Romanian alto Roxana Constantinescu and the outstanding tenor Gordon Gietz are
the featured artists in Song of the Earth, a TSMF-commissioned vocal work by the prominent
Canadian composer Glenn Buhr. It is paired with a chamber version of Mahler’s monumental Das Lied von der Erde, the work that provided the thematic anchor for the entire 2010 festival.
Public Master Classes Rewarding behind-the-scenes experiences, master classes offer insight into the development of exceptional musicians. Observers may attend and listen as top artists pass along their musical expertise to artists in the Toronto Summer Music Academy. $20 per master class.
Vienna Piano Trio —Friday July 23, 3:00 - 6:00 pm at Edward Johnson Building, Room 330
Matthias Goerne — Monday July 26, 7:00 - 10:00 pm at Walter Hall
Menahem Pressler — Sunday August 1, 10:00 am - 1:00 pm at Walter Hall
Pacifica String Quartet — Sunday, August 1, 2:30 - 5:30 pm at Walter Hall
Janos Starker — Sunday, August 8, 11:00 am - 1:00 pm at Remenyi House of Music
Rising Stars In Concert — FREE!
Wednesday, July 28, 7:30 pm at Walter Hall
The Festival is proud to present excellent up-and-coming musicians in a FREE concert as they
interpret some of the most moving and challenging pieces in the repertoire.
Emerging Artists in Concert at Walter Hall — FREE!
Wednesdays at 12:30 pm on July 21, July 28, August 4 and August 11
Fridays at 7:30 pm on July 23, August 6, August 13
Saturday July 31 at 2:00 pm
TSMF offers a series of FREE concerts featuring emerging artists at the threshold of their
professional careers. These exceptional musicians study with Festival performers in master classes at the Toronto Summer Music Academy.
Toronto Summer Music Festival 2010
July 20 Anton Kuerti, piano
July 22 Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe and Imada Puppet Troupe
July 24 Vienna Piano Trio
July 27 Matthias Goerne and Andreas Haefliger
July 29 Andrew Burashko and The Art of Time Ensemble
July 30 Penderecki String Quartet
July 31 Pacifica String Quartet and Menahem Pressler, piano
August 3 André Laplante, piano
August 4 Peter McGillivray, baritone, Colin Ainsworth, tenor and Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano August 5 James Anagnoson and Leslie Kinton, piano duo / Pina Bausch film
August 7 Roxana Constantinescu, alto, Gordon Gietz, tenor and TSM Festival Ensemble
August 10 Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, cello and Connie Shih, piano
August 12 Gryphon Trio and James Campbell, clarinet
Festival passes ($130 - $345) and single tickets ($30 - $75) are available at or by calling (416) 408-0208.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, August 14, 2009

Opera Extravaganza a Fitting Finale to Toronto Summer Music Festival

Melinda Delorme, soprano
Teiya Kasahara, soprano
Desiree Till, soprano
Lauren Segal, mezzo
Erica Iris Huang, mezzo
Joey Nicefore, tenor
Paul Ouellette, tenor
Stephen Bell, tenor
Phillip Addis, baritone
Tomislav Lavoie, bass-baritone

Arias, duets and ensembles from Cosi, Zauberfloete, Barber of Seville, L'elisir d'amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Carlo, Adriana Lecouvreur, Ariadne auf Naxos, Der Rosenkavalier, Falstaff, and La Traviata

National Academy Orchestra,
Agnes Grossmann, conductor

MacMillan Theatre, Thursday August 13, 2009

The fourth annual Toronto Summer Music Festival concluded its highly successful season last evening, in a sold out Macmillan Theatre at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. It was billed as an Opera Extravaganza, starring young Canadian singers at the beginning of their professional careers, all under the leadership of conductor and TSMF artistic director Agnes Grossmann conducting the National Academy Orchestra.

It would be less than truthful of me if I didn't mention that I missed terribly the fully staged opera that has characterized TSMF in the past, especially after last summer's wonderful Ariadne auf Naxos. It was obviously a financial decision, but given the serious economic downturn, the decision was probably prudent. This very enjoyable opera extravaganza last evening has gone a long way to ease the disappointment. Like the blockbuster Ehnes-Parker opening concert, this closing concert also had a festive air, and Toronto's musical community turned out in force. They were rewarded with a scintillating program, perhaps a tad on the long side for an orchestral concert since it went from 7:30 to 10:45 with a single intermission, but any true opera lover would never complain when the music making is so good.

An event like this is designed to showcase fine Canadian singers, and there were cetainly plenty of them last evening. It is really great to hear young, healthy, fresh voices, well schooled and well prepared. Of course each brings to the stage his or her unique gifts - some are totally ready for prime time, while a small minority might require some more fine tuning, but every single one has the talent for a professional career. Having said that, a few I found particularly impressive. Let me mention the ladies first. Top on my list is soprano Melinda Delorme, who has blossomed beyond expectations since her tenure at the COC Ensemble Studio. As an Ensemble member, one didn't get to know what she is capable of, and frankly she was overshadowed by some of the other, flashier singers. I was very pleasantly surprised by her beautifully sung Ariadne last year. Newly svelte with a lovely new hair style and colour, hers is now a complete package. Of the two Mozart selections, I prefer her "Come Scoglio," beautifully sung, complete with big if somewhat steely high Cs, and she has the requisite agility for this most exacting of Mozart aria. Delorme saved her best for last - the Final Trio from Der Rosenkavalier. She was able to float an exquisite pianissimo B-flat, and the timbre of voice is ideal as a youthful Marschallin. She should have a very good future.

I was also very impressed by mezzo Erica Iris Huang, whom I saw as a fine Komponist last summer. She sings with even more authority, security and expression this year, in the extended duet with Desiree Till, who was a most engaging Zerbinetta. This scene is rarely excerpted in concert, and the conversational style (without surtitles) is challenging for a non-German audience. The ladies were superb here, as well as in the Octavian-Sophie final duet in Rosenkavalier, although not having the Marschallin and Faninal there for their couple of lines proved a little disconcerting! It was also a little curious that Huang would choose to sing Principessa di Bouillon's Act Two aria - frankly not great music and hardly something for a young singer, but the slam-dunk 90 seconds worth of melody after a tediously long recitative always bring down the house. Huang sang it with panache, and with fresher, more youthful tone than many a Principessa di Bouillon.

Of the men, I really enjoyed the singing of Phillip Addis, whose beautiful lyric baritone never sounded better. His "Cruda, funesta smania" from Lucia was very enjoyable, as was the duet "Dunque io son" with the gleaming-voiced Lauren Segal as Rosina. I had not heard bass-baritone Tomislav Lavoie before, and he made a huge impression with "Ella giammai m'amo", one of the greatest bass arias every written. To my ears, this aria should be sung by a true bass, and someone further on in years. So I missed the solid low notes of a true bass, but Lavoie has an easy, brilliant top as compensation. I also prefer a more hushed, sotto voce opening to the aria, but other than that, I liked everything else he did - bravo!

What is an opera gala without a tenor, right? Well, we had three last evening, with two of them - Joey Niceforo and Paul Ouellette as "head-liners". The two guys are the same height and looks like they could be brothers. They also shared "una furtiva lagrima" - I confess this is the first time I have heard this aria as a duet! They also shared, with the third tenor Stephen Bell, "La Danza", "A vucchella" and the obligatory "O solo mio". (I am glad none of them started waving a white hankerchief) Nicefore and Ouellette are both engaging and relaxed on stage, no doubt due to their affinity and experience in the cross-over repertoire to which their modest-sized voices are more suited than the day-to-day singing in large unamplified opera houses. In any case, the audience loved them.

The long evening was nicely held together by conductor Agnes Grossmann, who led the youthful forces with care and sensitivity. I particularly loved her conducting of the Strauss, which had a freedom and lyricism that was a pleasure to the ear. The concert ended with "Libiamo" from La Traviata - minus champagne unfortunately, but enjoyable just the same. I think we are very lucky in Toronto to have TSMF, a true oasis in the summer musical desert. I wish them well and look forward to another brilliant summer in 2010.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ehnes-Parker Recital an Auspicious Start to Toronto Summer Music Festival

Left: James Ehnes and Jon Kimura Parker taking a bow (Photo: Joseph So)
Below: James Ehnes (Photo: Anna Keenan)
and Jon Kimura Parker

The 2009 Toronto Summer Music Festival got off to a suitably festive start last evening at the Carlu, the legendary concert venue that used to be known as the Eaton Auditorium, in the building that used to house the old Eaton's department store. Now we know it as College Park, of course. After years of disuse and neglect, the refurbished concert hall re-opened a few years ago. The concert last evening attracted a very diverse crowd of music lovers - I noticed many long time supporters of the Toronto music scene in attendance, as well as many youngsters who are participating in the 'academy' part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. I was of course looking forward to the joint concert of violinist James Ehnes and pianist Jon Kimura Parker, two of the shining lights in Canadian music today. As unbelievable as it may seem, this was their first time playing together. They have chosen a very challenging program -

Mozart Sonata in G Major, K 301
Prokofiev Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80
Aaron Jay Kernis Air
Ravel Sonata for Violin and Piano

The hall was completely sold out, and this being opening night, there was a real sense of occasion. The harmony and precision of the two artists making music in a duo recital was exceptional - it is hard to being this was their first time playing together. Ehnes's trademark singing tone was very much in evidence throughout. Parker, a celebrated soloist in his own right, adopted just the right dynamic level, never overpowering the violin but at no time receding into the background either. I understand the two had just a single day of rehearsals, but they played as if they had been doing this together all their lives - a remarkable achievement. If the Mozart set a happy tone, the Prokofiev sonata was one of the composer's darkest works. Ehnes brought out its inherent lyricism without glossing over its pain. (This work, incidentally, was performed by Oistrakh and Richter at Prokofiev's funeral) For those in the audience who were not chamber music aficionados, this piece was challenging, but ultimately rewarding.

In the second half, the mood changed considerably. It began with a work by American composer Aaron Jay Kernis. A violinist himself, Kernis composes gratefully for the instrument, with a full spectrum of tone colours. I find this very lyrical piece totally accessible and delightful - it was a highlight of the evening. There are moments of extreme high tessitura, an acid test for the violinist's technical control. As expected, Ehnes played with power, nuance, and ethereal tone. The formal part of the concert concluded with the Ravel Sonata for Violin and Piano, a real tour de force, and arguably the centerpiece of the evening. Stylistically it echoes the Kernis piece - their pairing, back-to-back, is an inspired stroke. The first movement was exquisitely played by both artists. Ehnes played the second movement with its jazzy rhythms and extra sound effects with great panache. The meaty third movement, the "perpetual motion", is a bravura showcase for the violin, and Ehnes demonstrated why he is the Canadian violinist non pareil today, one with a prodigious technique, but always at the service of the composer and the music. This brought the audience to its collective feet time and again. This was probably the most vocal and demonstrative chamber music audience I have witnessed in a very long time! The two artists rewarded the sold out crowd with two peices, the rousing Square Dance, and a second encore by Ravel.

The musical values of this concert were of the highest order, but I must point out that the venue left something to be desired. Perhaps because of its infrequent use, the two stage spotlights were aimed too far into the auditorium, blinding the audience. It was painful and distracting - a situation that must be corrected the next time this hall is used for a concert again. Also, surprisingly I find the acoustics a little cold, especially for the piano. But my major complaint is the lighting. Even when all the lights are turned on, the auditorium remains dimly lit. The seats, while padded, are put too close together, making for very uncomfortably seating. After the concert, everyone was invited for champagne, strawberries and cookies in the spacious lobby - a generous gesture by the evening's sponsors.

The next concert of TSMF is tomorrow (Thursday July 23 8pm), with the legendary Menahem Pressler joining forces with violinist Alexander Kerr, violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins in an evening of Mozart and Dvorak, at the MacMillan Theatre.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This Week in Toronto (July 13 - 19)

After a brief hiatus in late June and early July, the classical music scene in Toronto and beyond has come alive again with a number of festivals that are well worth investigating. Now in its fourth season, the Toronto Summer Music Festival and Academy under music director Agnes Grossmann (July 21 to August 13) has proven singularly successful in offering high quality performances that Torontonians previously could only get by leaving the city. I remember fondly last year's production of Ariadne auf Naxos. The Festival opens on July 21, 8 pm at the Carlu with violinist James Ehnes and pianist Jon Kimura Parker, playing together for the first time in a program of Mozart, Ravel Prokofiev and Kernis. If you haven't been to the beautifully restored Carlu at the downtown College Park location, it is well worth experiencing. For information and tickets, visit or call (416) 597-7840.

Several other southern Ontario festivals are currently in full swing. The venerable Elora Festival (July 10 - August 2) opened with Berlioz Requiem, with tenor soloist Lawrence Wiliford, the Elora Festival Singers, the Mendelssohn Choir, andthe Elora Festival Orchestra under Noel Edison. Go to for more details and ticket information. Starting this week is the Festival of the Sound (July 17 - August 9) in its 30th anniversary season. Located in Parry Sound - a little farther afield from Toronto but well worth the effort. It opens on July 17 with Gold Medal Brass, a program of brass fanfares played by the Hannaford Street Silver Band under conductor Curtis Metcalf. On Saturday July 18, the Canadian Brass offers Swing that Music - A Tribute to Louis Armstrong. For more information, go to or call toll free at 1-866-364-0061 to purchase tickets.

Also of note is the Westben Concerts at the Barn in Campbellford, in the rolling countryside of eastern Ontario, a comfortable drive from Toronto. On Saturday, July 18 will be Schubertiad: Esterhazt 1809. It contains three separate segments - Segment 1 at 5 pm is Haydn Chamber Music, Segment 2 at 7 pm is Songs of Haydn, Schubert and Mendelssohn sung by soprano Virginia Hatfield, and Segment 3 at 9 pm is Mendelssohn Chamber Music. Go to for more information. Going in the other direction is the Brott Music Festival, under the artistic directorship of conductor Boris Brott. It has been under way since June 13 and will go until August 20. This week, pianist Sarah Davis Buechner plays Beethoven's Emperor Piano Concerto, with the National Aacademy Orchestra conducted by Brott. For light fare, on Saturday July 18 is Gilbert and Sullivan Go to the Proms featuring music from Priates of Penzance, plus such perennial Proms favourites as Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory, and Rule Britannia. For information and tickets, go to

Finally, I want to mention Digiscreen's Summer Cinema Series of productions from the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, to be shown in selected Empire Theatre locations across Canada. In Toronto, it will be at the Empire Theatres in North York. It opens on July 25 and 26, with BBC's Last Night of the Proms from the Royal Albert Hall in London. It is conducted by Sir Roger Norrington in his first Last Night at the Prom's appearance. This and other shows are pre-recorded, but the sense of occasion is still very much in evidence. Tickets are at $19.95 per adult, $16.95 senior and $9.95 per child, tax extra. For exact cinema locations and to purchase advance tickets, visit

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sparkling Ariadne auf Naxos closes Toronto Summer Music Festival

Photo: Melinda Delorme (Ariadne) and Steven Sherwood (Bacchus)

Thanks to conductor Agnes Grossmann and her Toronto Summer Music Festival, local opera lovers enjoyed a high calibre, fully staged opera in the dog days of summer, something that had not been possible until the last couple of summers. The offering this year was Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. A connoisseur's piece, Ariadne represents Strauss at the height of his powers, a clever juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy, filled with sublime melodies for the four principals. I had the good fortune of attending the opening night of Munich Opera's new production of Ariadne last month, starring Canada's own Adrianne Pieczonka. TSM's Ariadne might not be on the same grand scale, but on the "enjoyment meter", it was right up there.

Seen on opening night (August 14), it featured an excellent quartet of principals, headed by soprano Melinda Delorme as Ariadne. During her tenure as a member of the COC Ensemble Studio, Delorme was rather overshadowed by her more high profile colleagues. She never received the plum roles, with the possible exception of Aksinya in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk two seasons ago. This Ariadne really showed what Delorme is capable as an artist. Becomingly costumed, Delorme sang powerfully and with stamina, her bright tone ringing out impressively in the McMillan Theatre. Yet she is also capable of delicacy and nuance, as her nice pianissimi in "Ein schoenes War" amply demonstrated. I heard her "Es gibt ein Reich" at the Ensemble Farewell Concert in June. Back then it was a work in progress, but now her singing was altogether lovely. Her German was very good, as was almost everyone in the youthful cast - kudos to diction coach Adi Braun.

Sharing top honours with Delorme was Erica Iris Huang as the Komponist. Her high mezzo has the right timbre for this role and her portrayal of the impulsive, idealistic Composer was spot on. If I were to nitpick, her high pianissimo needs greater security and the same beautifully rich tone colours as her middle voice. I look forward to hearing more from this singer.

Zerbinetta is one of the greatest coloratura soprano roles in the repertoire. Her 11 minute "Grossmachtige Princessin" is an acid test of vocal technique and endurance. Soprano Desiree Till has a small but pretty voice to match her petite stage presence. Though hampered by an unattractive costume, Till was a fine Zerbinetta, singing her big aria with nice tone and sure sense of pitch, all the way up to a totally secure high F. The only thing lacking in her voice is a decent trill, not at all in evidence on opening night. Much of Zerbinetta's music requires a well developed trill. Hopefully it is something Ms. Till will work on in the future.

While Strauss may have lavished his best music on the female voice, he was singularly cruel to tenors. Just about all Strauss tenor roles - from the Kaiser in Die Frau, to Menelaus in Die Aegyptische Helena, Matteo in Arabella, or Bacchus in Ariadne - are ridiculously high. Dramatically these characters aren't terribly rewarding either, so the biggest challenge in any Ariadne production is finding a good Bacchus. Tenor Steven Sherwood was a workmanlike Bacchus. His voice has a pleasant timbre, although a bit small and didn't sufficiently project, especially when paired with a big-voiced Ariadne. Still he acquitted himself honourably.

The rest of the cast was strong, with kudos to the terrific trio of Rhinemaiden-like Nymphs of Anna Bateman (Najade), Laura McAlpine (Dryade) and Ada Balon (Echo), their voices blending beautifully. Also deserving of mention was the sturdy baritone of Gene Wu as the Musiklehrer. The youthful comedians sang and acted with enthusiasm, with Stephen Bell an amusing if stereotypically swishy Tanzmeister.

The production is quirky, but it's par for the course when it comes to modern stagings of Ariadne auf Naxos, surely one of the most likely candidates for postmodernist updating! Overall I feel the direction by Austrian Titus Hollweg was good. (Incidentally he did a superb job as the Major Domo) The Prologue, set in the lobby of an "island resort", works surprisingly well. Using the same basic set for the Opera proper however is more problematic. Furnitures are covered with white sheets, signs set askew, giving it an appropriately dusty, disheviled look. Have we wandered into the living room of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations? Onstage is Ariadne's wedding cake, which she samples, eliciting snickering from the audience. There were more belly laughs from this audience over the antics of the comedians than I have ever experienced in the many Ariadnes I have seen. Yes this is a comedy to be sure, but is it really that funny? A surfeit of rip roaring laughs takes away from the profundity of this work as far as I am concerned. Another misfire is the shadow play right in the middle of Zerbinetta's great scena. In this sublime musical moment, we don't need any irrelevant staging to take the attention away from Zerbinetta herself. On the other hand, the arrival of Bacchus, standing behind the cutout of a cardboard ship's captain uniform is suitably pompous and amusing.

The musical side of things were commendable. Agnes Grossmann gave a precise, tightly controlled reading of the score, perhaps a little metronomic at times, as in the orchestral prelude to the entrance of Bacchus, but overall her conducting was enjoyable. The opening minutes of the Prologue was marred by some balance problems, with the brass and woodwinds overwhelming the strings. But things settled down quickly soon after and the youthful orchestra played well, a few sour notes from the horns notwithstanding. All in all, an audacious but highly rewarding production of a scintillating opera. I look forward to the offering next summer!

Labels: , ,