La Scena Musicale

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lortie not Himself in Chopin Recital

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I was one of the few people who didn’t give Louis Lortie a standing ovation at Koerner Hall this afternoon.

I have a deep respect for Lortie, who has long been a favourite pianist of mine, and not because he's Canadian. I have attended many of his concerts and masterclasses and he has never let me down before. Just last March, when he played Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I quietly shed a few tears during the moving adagio.

However, Lortie was a very different pianist in an all-Chopin recital today. He struggled with some of the most rudimentary things such as memory lapses, which, as human as he is, just should not happen at his virtuoso level.

The program, built around Chopin’s four ballades and key-matching nocturnes (except for the third ballade in A-flat major), flopped from the beginning with the pairing of the G minor Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 3 and the G minor Ballade. Playing them as one continuous piece, the ballade’s solemn and weepy opening introduction in octaves felt out of place after Lortie gave the mazurka-like nocturne a groovy, jazzy treatment. Maybe the gentle Op. 37, No. 1 Nocturne in the same key with its choral middle section would have worked better.

The coupling of the F major Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 1 with the F major Ballade was more successful in character, as was the case between the F minor Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 1 and the F minor Ballade. However, instead of the cheerful A-flat major Nocturne, Op. 32, No. 2, Lortie chose the E-flat major Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2 and the C minor Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 1 to precede the A-flat major Ballade.

The rest of the program was made up with the Berceuse in D-flat major, the F-sharp major Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 2 and the Barcarolle, also in F-sharp major.

Overall, there was some really nice, warm sound coming from the piano, even though the instrument’s higher register seemed often overpowered by its lower counterpart. However, Lortie’s playing came across choppy most of the time due to erratic use of rubato, his chords were not always dead-on, and his running passages, albeit technically brilliant, were sometimes sloppy in their manner of care. All of this is uncharacteristic of the kind of precision player Lortie is known for.

Playing all four Chopin ballades in one concert is a major undertaking for any pianist. Throw in some nocturnes and two of the most popular pieces by the composer and it’s a daunting recital in more ways than one. After an overwhelming standing ovation, and a few shouting bravos, Lortie ended the recital on a good note, playing theD-flat major Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2 to perfection. It was by far the best playing of the afternoon, but it was too little too late.

That being said, I still look forward to Lortie’s next recital when the pianist is likely to be more himself.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lang Lang and Schleswig-Holstein Orchestra Wow Toronto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

If the performance quality of a group of young musicians making their North American debut tour is any indication, classical music is in good hands. On April 6, a near sold-out Roy Thomson Hall erupted for conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra in a program that would appeal to any classical music novice.

Founded by Leonard Bernstein, the Germany-based Schleswig-Holstein trains in the 19th-century Salzau Castle north of Hamburg. It consists of musicians under the age of 27 handpicked through a rigorous auditioning process.

Opening the program with Prokofiev’s Symphony # 1 (the Classical Symphony), Eschenbach, who conducted by memory, got the most out of the players in every quip and quirk. Although the orchestra was not always in synch, the symphony came across fresh and dynamic. The vivace finale was incredibly fast and precise, it was stunning.

The main draw of the night was Mozart’s Piano Concerto # 17 in G major, featuring 28-year-old pianist Lang Lang. It was Eschenbach who gave Lang his now-legendary debut at the Ravinia Festival in 1999.

Lang is a powerhouse. He likes to show off his impeccable skills and does so with drama and flair. In this dreamy and bubbly Mozart concerto, Lang romanced each and every note and rest, soaking up the sound, eyes closed, while his left hand conducted above the keys. It was Mozart with a bit of a Chopin treatment in the styling of phrasings. However, with little use of the pedal, the sound was crystal crisp, the turns articulated clearly, and his soft melodies just about killed it.

The standing crowd insisted on an encore and received Chopin’s Aeolian Harp Etude, Op. 25, No. 1 after many bows from Lang. He played through the massive web of arpeggiated chords in one breath and with total control — it was beyond words.

After intermission, Eschenbach and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra gave a riveting performance of Beethoven’s Symphony # 7. The orchestra excelled here, especially in the famous slow movement markedallegretto. Eschenbach took the tempo at adagio and produced a solemn effect that is in perfect contrast to the subsequent presto and allegro con bio.

For encore, they played the overture of Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus to more standing applause, causing one man to shout, “Sit down!”

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fresh Spin on Bach Has it All

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

It was big-band swinging and hip-hop belly-dancing Bach, the very J.S. like you’ve never heard.

In a program titled Bach Re-Invented, the New York-based Absolute Ensemble made its Canadian debut at Toronto’s Koerner Hall Thursday night. Led by conductor Kristjan Järvi, the 18-piece electro-acoustic ensemble gave Bach’s keyboard inventions a contemporary makeover that is anything and everything goes. Jazz, funk, classical, rock, hip-hop, Latin, Middle Eastern, and whatever else you can identify, it was all there, with funky stage lighting to boot.

Son of conductor Neeme Järvi and brother to Paavo Järvi, Kristjan, who was married to Canadian violinist Leila Josefowicz, co-founded Absolute with composer Charles Coleman in 1993. The group, comprised entirely of multitalented virtuosic players, has established itself as one of the most fascinating new music groups to watch.

Aside from Coleman’s Innovation J.S., loosely based on Bach’s 
Two-Part Inventions No. 5and No. 8, all of the works in this program were composed by current ensemble members.

Guitarist/rapper Gene Pritsker’s piano concerto 
Reinventions, featuring pianist Simone Dinnerstein, was a standout. Despite being a bit fragmented as a whole, the contrapuntal composition was Bach-laden and Pritsker’s turntable scratching on a Mac Book and hip-hop dancing were something Bach the inventor would have found interesting.

Pianist Matt Herskowitz’s piano concerto 
Undertow featured the composer himself on piano. Based on Bach’s Three-Part Invention No. 9 in F Minor, the piece built up a wave of energy that is both lyrical and neurotic.

Cellist Mike Block’s beautiful 
Raga on a Theme by Bach was a relatively laid-back excursion in comparison. It was followed by saxophonist Daniel Schnyder’s wailing and choppy concerto grosso, toopART Reinventions, which saw Dinnerstein return to the piano bench.

Overall, there were some dazzling and robust solo playing, especially from clarinetist Michiyo Suzuki, violinist Adam Taubic, trumpeter Wayne du Maine, trombonist Mike Seltzer, bassist Mat Fieldes, and drummer/percussionist Damien Bassman.

Dinnerstein, also making her Canadian debut, has been an unstoppable rising star ever since her debut recital at Carnegie Hall and recording of the 
Goldberg Variations. She displayed flawless techniques throughout and produced an unusually crisp sound from the keyboard. Her phrasings were concise, imaginative, and boundless.

Mervon Mehta, executive director of the Royal Conservatory of Music, announced before the concert that he is in talks with Dinnerstein to have her back for a 
Goldberg recital.

That day can’t come soon enough.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Leon Fleisher Brings Out True Musicianship at Koerner Hall

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

There was a moment during Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand on Nov. 20 when members of the Royal Conservatory Orchestra watched in wonder the piano man on centre stage.

With his glasses off, his back to the audience, Leon Fleisher, 81, immersed himself in a wash of sound as large as a tsunami; his low hum was audible throughout the cadenza, his left hand worked itself into a blur up and down the keyboard.

As the sound gradually diminished, Fleisher lifted his right hand over the piano — his left hand playing all the same — and masterfully gave cue to the orchestra in a different time signature.

In a program that featured him both as a soloist and conductor, the American pianist who had to abandon the standard piano repertoire at the height of his career at the age of 37, when he lost the use of his right hand due to a neurological movement disorder, dazzled the audience in the sold-out Koerner Hall with his tenacity to do just one thing — make music.

A familiar face in Toronto’s classical music community, especially at the Royal Conservatory of Music where he has given master classes since the inception of the Glenn Gould School in 1997, Fleisher has, thanks to a combination of Botox injections and Rolfing, enjoyed a successful comeback to two-hand playing in the last several years.

In Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, he proved once again that a true musician does not need 10 fingers to make beautiful music on a piano.

Commissioned by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the First World War, the single-movement concerto displays Ravel’s versatility as a composer to write full colour and texture for one hand.

Fleisher’s fast finger work throughout the piece’s harmonic, melodic, percussive, and glissando passages made the dark and mighty piece sound as if it were played with two hands. Conducting the orchestra from the piano bench, he was sensitive to Ravel’s brilliant orchestration and brought out layers of nuances from various sections of the orchestra. Here, the musicians must have been infected with Fleisher’s deep devotion to music, because they sounded like a professional orchestra rather than one that is in training.

The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, comprised of some of the country’s brightest young musicians, produced for the most part an expansive and expressive sound. In Rachmaninoff’s epic Symphony No. 2, the musicians were shamelessly giving to Fleisher’s lyrical and romantic treatment of the big tune. As a whole, there was excessive drama and passion, but that is never overdone in this more-is-more work.

The orchestra suffered, though, in their ability to play together consistently. This deficiency showed especially in the opening work, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, a rhythmically theatrical work that requires dead-on synchronization and chemistry from each player.

But with an orchestra that is so eager to give and please — and give and please they did — one can easily forgive the rest.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jon Kimura Parker Shines from Beethoven to Billy Joel

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Once in a while, a concert pianist comes across as both virtuoso and versatile. That was the case at Koerner Hall on Nov. 8. The pianist was Canada’s own Jon Kimura Parker, whose afternoon recital began with two well-known Beethoven sonatas.

The Pathétique (Op. 13) and Appassionata (Op. 57) are two of Beethoven’s most beloved piano sonatas. Parker played both pieces with conviction and a clear sense of structures that kept the big picture in focus.

With Beethoven, rests are just as important as notes, and while Parker’s rests seemed peculiarly long at times (for example, the Grave in Pathétique), they created extra tension and drama in the beautiful, intimate Koerner Hall. The sound he produced from the shiny black Steinway was warm and luminous, but the contrast in dynamics was overwhelmed at times, especially in loud crescendos. The slow movements were simple and lovely, his voicing and tonal imagination unmatched.

Parker displayed flawless techniques and overactive fingers in the fast movements. However, while his finale in the Appassionata was thrillingly bang-on, it makes one puzzle as to why the infamous hand-crossing passage in the first movement of the Pathétique was not, with the secondary theme in the bass coming in late each time. Overall, Parker’s Beethoven was slightly over-pedaled, but it worked well in the stormy Appassionata.

After intermission, Parker introduced the audience to an entirely different program, which he said he had chosen to reflect Koerner Hall’s inclusion of a wide variety of music.

He began the second half of the recital with three pieces composed by American jazz pianist Chick Corea: Night Streets, Where Have I Known You Before?, and Got a Match?. Parker said he wanted to try something different and, while he didn’t improvise, he showed off his groovy side with equal flair nevertheless.

Next, it was John Adams’ China Gates. Written in 1977 with young pianists in mind, “gates” is a borrowed term from electronics and reflects the moments when the two modes in alternates in China Gates. Here, Parker gave a sensitive reading of the score and produced a poetic undulating realm that was both rich and subtle in colour and texture.

The final piece of the program was Stravinsky’s Petrushka arranged by Parker, who “retranscribed it according to my own ears and technique, and with an effort to reproduce more of the orchestral colours.” As well, he’s added a few of the sections that Stravinsky left out when he condensed the ballet into the piano suite, such as the Bear Dance, his 10-year-old daughter’s favourite. Parker gave his Petrushka a folksy swing that was riveting from beginning to end.

The recital concluded with two encores: Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G major, a piece Parker said he first learned at the Royal Conservatory of Music when he was 15, and Billy Joel’s Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, his high school anthem. If anyone could pull off a piano recital from Beethoven to Billy Joel, rocking the house on his way out, Jackie Parker would be it.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar rock Toronto opera house

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh 

It was good to be Venezuelan at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts last night. If you weren't, you certainly secretly wished you were. Just look at Toronto Mayor David Miller. He went off script on stage flaunting about marrying a Venezuelan and was cheered and applauded for it. 

The fuss? The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Led by 28-year-old dynamo Gustavo Dudamel, the 250-strong ensemble made their Canadian debut during the Glenn Gould Prize Gala, where Dr. José Antonio Abreu — the Venezuelan economist and amateur musician who made all this fuss possible in the first place — received the prestigious triennial prize.

Abreu, who entered the stage to a standing ovation at the Four Seasons Centre, founded the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, commonly known as El Sistema, in 1975. The system involves some 250,000 students across Venezuela and has been credited with improving the lives of young people who might otherwise have been drawn into crime, gangs, and drug abuse.

Instead of accepting the $50,000 award that comes with the Glenn Gould Prize, Abreu chose to turn it into musical instruments for his kids in Venezuela. The Glenn Gould Foundation then went to Yamaha, which turned the money into $150,000 worth of instruments. Abreu is receiving the instruments in Toronto today.

With the Simón Bolívar as its flagship, El Sistema has become one of the finest examples of music education admired and studied around the world. And Dudamel, who has led the orchestra since 1999, was selected by Abreu as the recipient of the $15,000 City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize.

The young conductor recently began his much-hyped tenure as music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Last night, before he and the orchestra even played one note, Dudamel was greeted zealously by Toronto's music and Latino communities, some brought with them large Venezuelan flags.

The Simón Bolívar treated a near full house to a program of Latin-American works and Tchaickovsky's Symphony No. 4, Op. 36 in F minor. It was clear within the first couple minutes of their playing why this orchestra has won audiences of all kinds wherever they go.

Whether it's the seductive Silvestre Revueltas' Sensemaya, the monstrous Tchaikovsky, or the saucy Mambo from Bernstein's West Side Story (one of two encores), the players — ages 12-26 — followed the lead of their maestro and were in synch with Dudamel's every signal, be it as minute as a jerk of a shoulder in the pizzicato movement of the Tchaikovsky.

Every musician, regardless where they are seated, played their instrument as if hugging and dancing with it. The orchestra swayed musically in a sea of wave accented by their spotlighted white cuffs. 

Dudamel, who conducted the entire program from memory, was an exciting wild thing to watch. A wrist toss here, a hand punch there — never did a conductor's back look so intriguing from the back of a hall.

The audience erupted into a roaring standing ovation before the last note was finished. After two encores, they wanted more. The applause went on for about 10 minutes, with people shouting "bravo" and "encore" from Ring 4 and 5.

The night ended with Dudamel hand-signing he's hungry and tired and the musicians waving their instruments good-bye on stage. The audience was left mumbling "bravo" all the more on their way out.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic: A New Era Begins!

by Paul E. Robinson

It seems like yesterday that Esa-Pekka Salonen announced he was stepping down as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to be succeeded by the young Venezuelan phenomenon Gustavo Dudamel. In fact, it was two years ago, in April, 2007.

This month, Dudamel conducted his inaugural concert as music director of the LA Phil and a few nights ago, PBS broadcast the historic event to viewers around the country. On the whole, it was an excellent concert and gave the country a good look at the charismatic Dudamel.

Will Dudamel’s Appointment Build Hispanic Audience Base?

It was a stroke of genius by someone (Salonen? LA Philharmonic executive director Deborah Borda?) to grab Dudamel for LA; the city is more than half Hispanic and Latino and if the orchestra is to flourish in the 21st century, it will have to connect with that community.

In his work with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, Dudamel has demonstrated a rare gift for making music and for making music meaningful and exciting to Spanish-speaking listeners.

I had expected that Dudamel’s opening concert in LA would reach out to the Latino community in a big way. Surprisingly, this side of Dudamel was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, we got the premiere of a new piece by John Adams and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

PBS had hired Andy Garcia as host for the broadcast. Hollywood celebrities Tom Hanks, Quincy Jones, Sidney Poitier and others were in the audience, but few recognizable stars from LA’s Latino community were caught by the camera. Very odd.

City Noir Could Have/Should Have Been Better

For the occasion, the LA Philharmonic commissioned a major new piece from one of the best-known and most respected American composers, John Adams.

Adams’ City Noir is a 35-minute symphonic suite inspired by Los Angeles generally and by Hollywood film noir of the 1940s specifically. Adams also alluded to the influence of the 1950s television series Naked City in remarks included in the broadcast.

Adams talks a good game, but all too often his music is disappointing – at least to me. City Noir was no exception. Last year, I sat impatiently through the pretentious Adams opera Doctor Atomic at the Met. City Noir proved to be just as much of an ordeal.

Other composers might have borrowed from the film scores of Bernard Hermann, for example, as a point of departure. They might have tapped into the work of all the great composers who have chosen to live in LA over the years – Stravinsky and Schoenberg being the most notable. Given the demographics of LA and the fact that it was Dudamel’s debut concert as music director, surely some celebration of Latino music would have been in order. Instead, we got endless impressionistic noodling and flat-footed uninspired rhythms. Finally, at the very end of the piece, the Latin percussion was brought into play, contributing to what sounded like an inferior rendering of the end of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps.

Either Adams has no comprehension of the essence of Latino music, or he deliberately neutered it in favour of some kind of abstract and distorted version of it. Dudamel appeared to conduct City Noir with great efficiency but then any number of conductors could have delivered the same level of competence. The piece was a huge disappointment and a great missed opportunity to say something relevant to the occasion. Many patrons may well have hit the bar at intermission wondering what all the Dudamel fuss was about. Fortunately, the best part of the evening was yet to come.

Dudamel’s Mahler Personal and Persuasive

Only 28-years old, Dudamel already has a long history with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. He says it is the first piece he studied with his mentor José Antonio Abreu, the legendary founder of the ground-breaking El Sistema in Venezuela, and he has conducted it with leading orchestras around the world.

In this performance, Dudamel had the players in the LA Philharmonic on the edge of their seats and many in the audience too. But while he has a well-earned reputation for generating excitement, Dudamel’s Mahler was also well nuanced. I was greatly impressed with the maturity of his approach. even if I didn’t always agree with his decisions about tempo and phrasing. But there was no doubt about it. He had a point a view about the piece and it was consistently engrossing. His phrasing was often personal, but it was never self-indulgent or tasteless. He reveled in the sounds of nature that Mahler incorporated in the first movement, but treated them with subtlety and with a fine ear for balances.

The beginning of the second movement was the most controversial feature of Dudamel’s interpretation of the Mahler First. He took the first four bars very slowly, with heavy emphasis, before moving into a quicker tempo. I don’t know where he got this idea – there is no marking in the score to justify it – but I have to say that it made this quirky dance movement even more fun than usual.

To my ears, the last movement is too long and repetitious in almost anyone’s performance, but Dudamel kept it going and with some tremendous playing from the horn section, got just about all the excitement one could ask for.

Disney Hall Acoustics Well Served by PBS Broadcast

Earlier this year, I was in the Disney Concert Hall for one of Salonen’s last concerts and it was a wonderful experience. Salonen is an outstanding composer-conductor and the hall is excellent. A broadcast, even in HD, is not the same as being there, but some of the acoustical splendor of Disney came through nonetheless.

I was particularly struck by the sound of the bass drum. Even the soft notes had a wonderful resonance. On the other hand, the big climaxes never registered properly. But that was not the fault of the hall; it is an old problem with television sound. The limiters on the transmitter make sure that nothing is too loud or too soft. But this concert was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon and I am sure the DVD will sound a lot better.

LA Phil – Give Us the Dudamel We Know!

I mentioned at the outset that Dudamel was an inspired choice to lead the LA Philharmonic because of his Latino roots and their Latino needs. I also said that I found his inaugural concert somewhat disappointing because this Latino theme was totally ignored. Going further, I had the feeling that he had reined in his conducting style for the occasion. There was far less grimacing than we get in even the average Simon Rattle concert, and nothing like the hopping and jumping that made Leonard Bernstein such a popular podium personality. Even the hair seemed to have been cut back to suggest greater maturity.

But it could be that this image tweaking was a deliberate strategy. With the world watching, Dudamel was presented not as a Latino phenomenon. but simply as a fine musician ushering in a new era in Los Angeles. If this was the LA Phil’s goal, the concert was a great success, Dudamel came across as a very serious conductor and was seen to be very much at home in American contemporary music and in the mainstream German repertoire.

But at what cost?

Do we really want a cleaned-up, trimmed down ready for prime time Dudamel? What made him exciting and unique when he first burst on to the scene was his over the top personality on stage and his infectious enthusiasm. It was also the joy of music he conveyed to his young musicians and to audiences everywhere, and the wonderful Latin music he brought with him. For heaven’s sake let Gustavo be Gustavo and we will all be the richer for it, having more fun with music and discovering melodies and rhythms which can make our world a bigger and more interesting place.

Dudamel and Abreu inToronto

Gustavo Dudamel brings his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra to Toronto (Canada) on October 26 for a week of concerts and educational activities. Both Dudamel and Abreu will be presented with prizes by the Glenn Gould Foundation.

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

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lepage's Nightingale and Other Short Fables a Feast

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I never sat so straight at an opera as I did at the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables Tuesday night.

Only once 16 years ago, when I chanced on COC’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung at the then O’Keefe Centre and came out feeling like I had just seen something so cool that I was therefore cool from having seen it.

It’s no surprise then that the mastermind behind that still-talked-about double bill in Toronto is the very same one responsible for my straight back throughout the two-hour program at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts — Canadian director Robert Lepage.

Lepage’s new and second production for the COC is a collage of Igor Stravinsky’s two short operas —The Nightingale and The Fox — and other vocal and instrumental pieces, including RagtimePribaoutki, and three pieces for solo clarinet, played beautifully by Ross Edwards.

Yes, there was the much-publicized swimming pool (67,000 litres of water in the orchestra pit), in which singers stood and sang in The Nightingale, a three-act 45-minute fairy-tale opera set in ancient China.
The orchestra played on stage.

Different as the reversed arrangement may seem, when the opera premiered in Paris in 1914, singers were also placed in the pit by Sergei Diaghilev, who commissioned Stravinsky some of his best-known works — The FirebirdPetrushka, and The Rite of Spring.

Aside from the water, there were puppets, 75 in total, including eight Japanese Bunraku puppets and 37 Taiwanese and Chinese puppets.

Again, the puppets alone are not that different. Lepage said he saw puppetry used in an opera several years ago, and last year, in Anthony Mighella’s staging of Madama Butterly for the Metropolitan Opera, a Bunraku-style puppet actually took a child’s place to play Cio-Cio-San’s son.

What made Lepage’s production so mind-boggling is the way he pulls various elements together and layers them in seamlessly with the orchestration, the singing, and the drama.

Russian lyric soprano Olga Peretyatko, who launched her career in 2007 after placing second at Placido Domingo’s Operalia singing competition, was a seductive and charming nightingale, her night calls clear as a whistle.

One of the most spellbinding moment for me was the opening of The Nightingale, when German tenor Lothar Odinius as the fisherman, whose supple voice moved the story along, walked out in waist-deep water with a boat and a puppet, the orchestra's humming murmur under Jonathan Darlington's baton floating amidst the fog.

Even if I knew nothing about Stravinsky, or opera, or classical music, it was an arresting scene I would have paused and pressed replay if I could.

With lavish costumes for the singers and their puppets, Lepage's Nightingale is a feast to the human eye. There was so much to see, the only downside was deciding where to focus your gaze on.

The first half of the program, consisting of Stravinsky's short works, was presented continuously with intriguing and complex hand shadow and full-body acrobatic shadow puppetry on a scrim.

Quite frankly, I found the puppetry so fascinating I barely had time to look at the singers, who were propped up on either side of the swimming pool.

The Nightingale and Other Short Fables is by far the most visually imaginative creation I have ever seen in a musical performance. It was like watching Cirque du Soleil at the opera without the high jumps.

The music and the singing were fantastic, but opera has never looked so cool and I have definitely never been cooler.

The Nightingale and Other Short Fables continues at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets for the remaining shows are sold out. However, the COC has added an extra performance on Monday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office (145 Queen St. W., Toronto).

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

LSM Week-end d'opéra à Toronto 2009

[English version]

Joignez-vous à La Scena Musicale pour un week-end d'opéra à Toronto les 17 et 18 octobre 2009 et assistez à deux opéras présentés par la Canadian Opera Company: Le rossignol de Stravinsky (mise en scène de Robert Lepage) et Madame Butterfly de Puccini, ne ratez pas ce week-end mémorable!

Tous les profits de ce week-end exceptionnel serviront à financer les activités sans but lucratif de La Scena Musicale.

Commandez sans tarder: (514) 948-2520 ou

À noter: les billets d'opéra sont vendus par La Scena Musicale.


Le samedi 17 octobre
16 h 30 : Le rossignol de Stravinsky
20 h : souper-bénéfice

Le dimanche 18 octobre
14 h à 17 h : Madame Butterfly de Puccini

  • Le rossignol : 62$ (sec 5A), 97$ (sec 4A), 162$ (sec 1B)
  • Madame Butterfly : 68$ (sec 5A), 106$ (sec 4A), 178$ (sec 1B)
  • *5% de rabais pour les abonnées de La Scena Musicale
  • Souper : à communiquer

* 515 948.2520

Date limite: 1 octobre 2009

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LSM Opera Weekend in Toronto 2009

[Version française]

Join La Scena Musicale in an opera weekend in Toronto on October 17 and 18, 2009 to see two operas over two days presented by the Canadian Opera Company: Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables (directed by Robert Lepage). Don't miss this unforgettable weekend!

All funds raised from this exceptional weekend will go towards the non-profit charitable activities of La Scena Musicale.

Order Now: (514) 948-2520 or

Note: La Scena Musicale will sell the opera tickets. Check back here for a recommended hotel.


Saturday, October 17
4:30 pm: Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables (directed by Robert Lepage)
8:30 pm: Dinner

Sunday, October 18
2 pm to 5 pm: Puccini's Madama Butterfly

  • The Nightingale: $62 (sec 5A), $97 (sec 4A), $162 (sec 1B)
  • Madama Butterfly: $68 (sec 5A), $106 (sec 4A), $178 (sec 1B)
  • Dinner: to be announced
Special Discounts for LSM Subscribers: 5% off.

  • 514 948.2520

Deadline: October 1, 2009

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Friday, September 5, 2008

LSM Opera Weekend in Toronto 2008

[Version française]

Join La Scena Musicale in an opera weekend in Toronto on October 25 and 26, 2008 to see two operas over two days presented by the Canadian Opera Company: Prokofiev's War and Peace and Mozart's Don Giovanni. Don't miss this unforgettable weekend!

All funds raised from this exceptional weekend will go towards the non-profit charitable activities of La Scena Musicale.

Order Now: (514) 948-2520 or

Note: La Scena Musicale will sell the opera tickets. Contact Voyages LM for your travel needs at 1 888 371 6151


Saturday, October 25
4pm: Prokofiev's War and Peace
8:30 pm: Benefit Dinner

Sunday, October 26
2 pm to 5:30 pm: Mozart's Don Giovanni

  • War and Peace: $60, $95, $160 $195
  • Don Giovanni: $60 , $160, $195
  • Dinner: to be announced
Great Deals:
  • Save 5% if you buy two tickets!
  • Save 10% if you buy four tickets

  • * 514 948.2520

Deadline: October 9, 2008

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LSM Week-end d'opéra à Toronto 2008

[English version]

Joignez-vous à La Scena Musicale pour un week-end d'opéra à Toronto les 25 et 26 octobre 2008 et assistez à deux opéras présentés par la Canadian Opera Company: Guerre et Paix de Prokofiev et Don Giovanni de Mozart, ne ratez pas ce week-end mémorable!

Tous les profits de ce week-end exceptionnel serviront à financer les activités sans but lucratif de La Scena Musicale.

Commandez sans tarder: (514) 948-2520 ou

À noter: les billets d'opéra sont vendus par La Scena Musicale. Pour le voyage et l'hébergement, communiquez avec Voyages LM au 1 888 371 611


Le samedi 25 octobre
16 h: Guerre et Paix de Prokofiev
20 h 30: souper-bénéfice

Le dimanche 26 octobre
14 h à 17 h 30: Don Giovanni de Mozart


*Guerre et Paix: 60$, 95$, $160$, 195$
*Don Gionvanni: 60$, 160$, 195$
*Souper: à communiquer
* moins 5% si vous achetez deux billets
*moins 10% si vous achetez quatre billets


* 515 948.2520

Date limite: 9 octobre 2008

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Canadian Opera Company announces new Director

A long awaited announcement of the directorship of the Canadian Opera Company will take place at 10:30 am this morning, from the stage of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. I will be attending the press conference. You can be there also since the event will be webcast!

Go to the COC website at and follow the instructions on the homepage.

Update: Unanimous choice - casting director at the Paris opera under Mortier for the past four years. It is 34 year old Alexander Neef, a native of Ebersbach an der Fils near Stuttgart, Germany. He did his internship at Salzburg Festival. He has worked with many Canadians - Robert Lepage, Robert Carsen, Michael Levine, Russell Braun, Ben Heppner, Adrianne Pieczonka. He forsees more coproductions with other companies in North America. His English is impeccable. In response to questions about repertoire, he mentions looking at producing operas that has not been produced before, like Parsifal. Measha Brueggergosman was in attendance, as were a few other singers. Neef mentions he has a project with Measha and Mortier at NYCO - he did not elaborate. Could it be Measha singing her first Valentine in Les Huguenots?

> Official Press Release

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