Time for a Summer Opera Festival in Montreal by Wah Keung Chan
/ October 13, 2008
Nagano’s Festival Bel Canto
in Knowlton is a misstep
24, the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute (CVAI) presented a stage version
of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale to an audience of 700 at University
of Montreal’s Salle Claude Champagne, their first time performing
with an orchestra. Production values were great for a graduate production;
most of the leads were veteran participants at CVAI and graduates of
the Atelier lyrique of the Opéra de Montréal.
the only opera presented in the city last summer, shows that it is high
time Montreal offered opera in the summer. And why not? Ever since
attending Seattle Opera 13 years ago for its regular summer Ring Cycle
and Glimmerglass Opera 11 years ago, I’ve wished that Montreal would
host its own opera festival. One could imagine a structure similar to
that of Glimmerglass, combining an academy with outstanding young professionals.
Such a company would also give performing experience to the next generation
of singers and musicians – Glimmerglass Opera North, in a sense. Summer
opera would also be a great form of outreach. During the summer months,
students are out of school, and they usually attend the city’s pop
music festivals; this is the best time to turn young audiences on to
opera and classical music. Also, an opera festival would boost tourism;
both Seattle and Glimmerglass constantly sell out well in advance.
experienced a financial crisis last year, its summer opera program produced
several outstanding productions; Ariadne auf Naxos and Wozzeck
come to mind. Once it gets back on track, the festival should transport
its Orford production to Montreal. Let’s also invite Agnes Grossman’s
annual production from her Toronto Summer Music Festival and Academy.
Although my idea for Glimmerglass North predates the existence of CVAI,
I don’t see why we couldn’t have CVAI as the academic component
feeding singers for secondary roles in the professional productions.
Festival Bel Canto
was taking place, over at Knowlton maestro Kent Nagano was leading a
trimmed down OSM and a world-class cast in Bellini’s Norma.
The problem was that the acoustically challenged tent accommodated only
600 to 800 people. LSM’s correspondent Paul E. Robinson reported (see
facing page) that the festival was a general success.
is a feeling among some music lovers that the concept of the festival
is not in step with the times. Historically, the MSO has held their
summer season in July with the Lanaudiere Festival and Mozart Plus,
as well as playing in the parks. To accommodate Kent Nagano’s July
commitments at the Munich Opera Festival (see Joseph So’s report),
the orchestra members took their vacation in July and fulfilled their
services in August. Since they played Lanaudière only once, the orchestra
was scrambling to keep the musicians busy in August. Why didn’t the
orchestra hold this festival in Montreal?
reports that the idea of playing in Knowlton was worked out at Marco
Genoni’s country home. Bombardier apparently became a sponsor in short
order. Proponents would point out that other orchestras such as the
Boston Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra have summer homes in
Tanglewood and Saratoga, respectively. However, the American model doesn’t
apply here since a significant part (50%) of the OSM’s budget comes
from public funds ($8 million), whereas American orchestras rely largely
on private donations. The presentation of a major work for a select
few at an inaccessible venue also runs counter to Nagano’s efforts
to popularize classical music by collaborating with the Montreal Canadiens
and Celine Dion. Furthermore, Lanaudière has been the MSO’s summer
home; built with public money, it is accessible by shuttle from Montreal.
Given the dissatisfying acoustics for this summer’s performance, there
is sure to be talk of building a concert venue in Knowlton, and then
we have to ask what will happen when Nagano leaves.
by the MSO’s past performances of Tannhauser and Tristan
und Isolde, plus Joseph So’s report from Munich, Nagano excels
in opera; arguably he is better at conducting opera than the orchestral
rep. Unfortunately, there is no chance that Nagano will ever conduct
an Opéra de Montréal production. Let’s hope Montrealers can benefit
from more opera conducted by Nagano by bringing Festival Bel Canto to
Montreal. That, however, will require some political will.
for LSM’s full reports on Munich and Festival Bel Canto.