La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 24 May 2015

This Week in Toronto (May 25 - 31)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of May 25 to 31)

~ Joseph So

Sir Andrew Davis

Music lovers can look forward to performances this week of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, who is in town to conduct a series of performance to mark the 40th anniversary of his association with the TSO.  Just last week, he led the TSO in a series of transcendent performances of the Verdi Requiem. It was music-making at its finest, but sadly attendance wasn't what the shows deserved. Anywhere in Europe and UK, the three performances would be jammed to the rafters. I hope more TO music lovers will show up to the Mussorgsky. The great Canadian pianist Louis Lortie is the soloist in Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1, Also on the program is Berlioz' Le corsaire, and Davis' own composition, La serenissima.  Performances on Wednesday May 27 and Thursday May 28 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. http://tso.ca/en-ca/concerts-and-tickets/2014-2015-Season/EventDetails/Pictures-at-an-Exhibition.aspx

Pianist Louis Lortie (Photo: Elias/Handout Image)


It's the great good fortune of Toronto music lovers that the mega-star cellist Yo Yo Ma comes to our fair city for music-making on a regular basis. He is back this week to play the Elgar cello concerto, my desert island piece.  He played it here a few years ago, and I am really looking forward to hearing it again. On the program is Holst's The Planets, a Sir Andrew's specialty!  The concert opens with a TSO commission and world premiere, The Stolen Child for orchestra and children's chorus, by Ed Frazier Davis, presumably no relationship to Sir Andrew?  This is an important concert not to be missed.  http://tso.ca/en-ca/concerts-and-tickets/2014-2015-Season/EventDetails/Yo-Yo-Ma.aspx


Cellist Yo Yo Ma (Photo: Stephen Danelian)


A very unusual work this week (May 26 to 29) is the world premiere of M'dea Undone, put on by Tapestry Opera in co-production with Scottish Opera, with music by John Harris and libretto by Marjorie Chan. Principals are mezzo Lauren Segal (M'dea), baritone Peter Barrett (Jason), tenor James McLean (President), and Jacqueline Woodley (Dahlia). Tim Albery directs and Jordan de Souza conducts. The unorthodox venue is Evergreen Brickworks at 550 Bayview Avenue.  There will be a shuttle bus made available for attendees.  Go to their website for details about the opera and other information.  https://tapestryopera.com/category/shows/current/


Mezzo Lauren Segal 

This week marks SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival (May 27 to 31). There are all sorts of concerts - not exactly classical in the traditional sense. One that caught my eye is the kick-off concert featuring the Nathaniel Dett Chorale on May 27 8 pm at Koerner Hall.  It is billed as And Still We Sing, a tribute to the music of Billy Strayhorn.   http://www.singtoronto.com/concerts-2/events-schedule/



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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

CD Découverte - Ewald Cheung et Philip Chiu

 
Ewald Cheung et Philip Chiu

 
Cette semaine, La Scena Musicale en collaboration avec Espace 21 offre à ses abonnés un enregistrement d'oeuvres de Brahms par Ewald Cheung (violon) et Philip Chiu (piano).

Les deux artistes s’impliquent de manière significative au niveau de la scène musicale actuelle et dans leurs champs respectifs. Ewald Cheung est l’un des membres fondateurs du groupe de musique Geistrio et du Quatuor à cordes Roddick. De son côté, Philip Chiu est le fondateur et le directeur du programme de piano d’accompagnement du Domaine Forget.



Pour un apercu, téléchargez la piste 1.



En 2012, L. H. Tiffany Hsieh a fait une entrevue avec Philip Chiu. Vous pouvez la trouver sur notre blogue. Philip Chiu sera en concert à la salle Bourgie le 20 mai. http://philipchiu.ca/events/


Pour en lire plus, rendez-vous sur le site de la Fabrique culturelle pour voir une entrevue video des deux musiciens. www.lafabriqueculturelle.tv

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Discovery CD - Ewald Cheung and Philip Chiu

 
Ewald Cheung and Philip Chiu


This week, La Scena Musicale, in collaboration with Espace 21, offers you a recording of Brahms' work done by Canadians Ewald Cheung (violin) and Philip Chiu (piano) for our Discovery CD.

Both artists are involved in the musical scene and in their respective fields. Ewald Cheung is one of the founders of the music groups Geistrio and the Roddick String Quartet. As for Philip Chiu, he’s the founder and director of the Domaine Forget Collaborative Piano Program.

You can download the first track here : Track 1
Back in 2012, one of our writers, L. H. Tiffany Hsieh, interviewed Philip Chiu. You can find it on our blog.
Philip Chiu will be on stage in Montreal on May 20 at Bourgie Hall. http://philipchiu.ca/events/

If you want to read more, La Fabrique culturelle conducted an interview with the artists. You can find it on their wesite: www.lafabriqueculturelle.tv

As announced in the editorial of the September issue, La Scena Musicale is pleased to bring back the Discovery CD as a weekly download - that's 52 hours of music in 52 weeks. The Discovery CD was launched in 2009 in partnership with Espace 21 Records. Its aim is to allow LSM Subscribers to discovery a new generation of musicians, along with discovering great musicians of the past.

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Un Noël en mai un peu triste


Marianne Fiset (Anna Sorensen) et Joseph Kaiser (Nicholas Sprink) (Photo: Yves Renaud)

Un Noël en mai un peu triste

Marc-Olivier Laramée



Beaucoup d’entre nous connaissent le film Joyeux Noël réalisé par Christian Carion en 2005, qui a inspiré l’opéra Silent Night. Il avait reçu de nombreux prix ou nominations. L’opéra Silent Night, des Américains Kevin Puts, compositeur, et Mark Campbell, librettiste, n’éblouit pas autant. Il suit somme toute la même trame narrative, mais adaptée en musique. L’Opéra de Montréal le présente avec une distribution exclusivement canadienne.


Parmi les treize chanteurs d’ici, une seule voix se démarque vraiment. La soprano Marianne Fiset serait la seule ou presque à mériter les applaudissements. Dans le rôle d’Anna Sørensen, elle chante a capella un Dona nobis pacem où elle est tout simplement sublime. Rares sont les chanteurs d’opéra qui parviennent à toucher les gens par leur voix seule. Dans une salle Wilfrid-Pelletier en silence complet, elle entonna cet air sorti tout droit du paradis. Il est facile de perdre le ton et de terminer l’aria un demi sinon un ton plus haut, mais Marianne Fiset garda le ton. Dommage qu’elle ne soit pas soutenue par des voix masculines aussi bonnes et intéressantes que la sienne. Un déséquilibre se crée – et c’est peut-être une des raisons qui explique le départ d’une bonne partie de l’auditoire au cours de l’entracte.


Cet opéra n’est pas une grande œuvre où l’on accourt. Il est d’autant plus risqué de présenter Silent Night en mai que le sujet est une trêve qui s’est opérée sur le front la veille de Noël pendant la Première Guerre mondiale. Le décalage temporel est persistant.


Pour ce qui est des rôles masculins, deux des douze chanteurs méritent une mention. Tout d’abord, le ténor Joseph Kaiser dans le rôle de Nikolaus Sprink, amoureux d’Anna, chante d’une voix juste et énergique. Sa voix se marie bien avec celle de sa partenaire. Les deux autres ténors ont encore du travail à faire. Le baryton Phillip Addis, dans le rôle du lieutenant français Audebert, se défend très bien. Sa voix a l’agilité d’un ténor et la richesse d’une basse.


Avant la représentation, on annonce l’utilisation de projections, de coups de feux et d’explosions. Les dix premières minutes de l’opéra ne sont qu’une scène de bataille. Les décors sont réussis, les costumes aussi, mais c’est bien trop long avant qu’on entre dans le vif du sujet, soit le chant. Toujours côté mise en scène, l’utilisation d’un rideau filtre pour y projeter des images nuit à la projection du chant. Le chœur de l’Opéra de Montréal fait un très bon travail tout au long de l’œuvre.


Silent Night, de Kavin Puts et Mark Campbell, Opéra de Montréal, 16-19-21-23 mai 2015, salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, http://www.operademontreal.com


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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

28 Young Musicians Chosen for Toronto Summer Music Academy

 For Immediate Release: May 19, 2015
Twenty-eight exceptional young musicians chosen for one-of-a-kind
opportunity at 2015 Toronto Summer Music Academy 

TORONTO…Twenty-eight young chamber musicians and singers (18 – 35 years old) have been awarded full scholarships to the 2015 Toronto Summer Music Academy. These exceptionally gifted musicians on the threshold of a professional career were chosen through a rigorous selection process by an international jury panel of specialists led by TSM Artistic Director Douglas McNabney.  This year, twenty-four of the musicians selected for the Academy are Canadian.  Academy Fellows, as the program participants are named, study with international faculty of the highest quality and reputation, known as TSM Mentors in one of the following programs: The Chamber Music Institute (July 13 to August 8) for piano and strings, or The Art of Song Program for singers and pianists (July 12 to 25).

The 2015 TSM Academy Fellows in The Art of Song program are:  Voice: Carolyn Beaudoin (Canada), Samuel Chan (Canada), Clare Demer (USA, Italy), Marcel d’Entremont (Canada), Danika Lorèn (Canada), Ema Nikolovoska (Canada), Elizabeth Polese (Canada), Erik Van Heyningen (USA); Piano: Maria Hwa Yeong Jung (Canada), Jérémie Pelletier (Canada), Melisande Sinsoulier (Canada), and Andrea Van Pelt (Canada).  Upon completion of the intensive training program, participants perform in the Art of Song Recitals at Walter Hall on July 24 at Noon and 4:30 p.m. as part of the 2015 Toronto Summer Music Festival.

The 2015 TSM Academy Fellows in The Chamber Music Institute program are:  Violin: Alicia Choi (USA), Daniel Fuchs (Canada), Meredith Riley (Canada), Elizabeth Skinner (Canada), Aysel Taghi-Zada (Canada), Teresa Wang (Canada); Viola: Catherine Chen (Canada), Ryan Davis (Canada), Laurence Schaufele (Canada); Cello: Cameron Crozman (Canada), Sarah Gans (Canada), Daniel Lim (USA), Emma Schmiedecke (USA); Piano: Qiao Yi Miao Mu (Canada), Alexey Pudinov (Germany), and Todd Yaniw (Canada).  As part of the Academy experience these young musicians are integrated into the Toronto Summer Music Festival’s performance schedule and have the opportunity to play in eight of the festival’s twenty-four concerts along with their mentors.

“It’s certainly an extraordinary experience for students, but it is also invigorating and inspiring for the mentors to be performing with talented young artists who are thrilled to be learning the repertoire for the first time,” says McNabney, who chooses mentors for the Academy who are skilled both as performers and teachers.

The 2015 TSM Mentors include: Violin: Martin Beaver, Jonathan Crow, Mark Fewer, Ernst Kovacic, Harumi Rhodes, Axel Strauss; Viola: Paul Coletti, Steven Dann, Eric Nowlin; Cello: Henrik Brendstrup, Denise Djokic, Mark Kosower; Soprano: Soile Isokoski; Piano: Martin Katz, Pedja Muzijevic, John Novacek, Steven Philcox, and Huw Watkins.

The Mentors & Fellows concerts at Walter Hall feature artist mentors and festival guest artists sharing the stage with TSM Chamber Music Institute Fellows at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.:

July 18 – Mark Fewer, Axel Strauss, Paul Coletti, Denise Djokic, and John Novacek
July 25 – Ernst Kovacic, Jonathan Crow, Steven Dann, Henrik Brendstrup, and Huw Watkins
August 1 – Martin Beaver, Harumi Rhodes, Eric Nowlin, Mark Kosower, and Pedja Muzijevic
August 8 – Aaron Schwebel, Shane Kim, Eric Nowlin, Sarah Jeffrey, Emmanuelle Beaulieu-Bergeron, and James Anagnoson

Academy Fellows are also showcased in a series of free concerts performing with guest artists at the festival.  The first TSM Academy Concert is July 17 at 2 p.m. at the AGO, followed by performances at Heliconian Hall (35 Hazelton Avenue) starting at Noon on July 22, 23, 30, 31, August 6 and 7.

Toronto Summer Music gratefully acknowledges the support of TD Bank, BMO Financial Group and the RBC Emerging Artists Project.

About the 2015 Toronto Summer Music Festival

Celebrating its 10th Anniversary, Toronto Summer Music Festival (July 16 - August 9) features over 20 mainstage concerts performed by renowned Canadian and international artists at Koerner Hall and Walter Hall, plus masterclasses, lectures, interviews, workshops, and free outreach concerts.  The 2015 Festival theme, The New World, pays homage to the Pan Am Games and explores the rise to pre-eminence of American culture in the 20th century.  The festival encompasses the dizzying multitude of genres and new musical forms that emerged and celebrates the great composers of the Americas, as well as those composers whose works were inspired by the Americas.  With a line-up of international stars including pianistsGarrick Ohlsson and Ingrid Fliter, soprano Karita Mattila, jazzman Danilo Pérez, the Danish and Borromeo String Quartets, a Broadway musical and a gala Tango concert – the 2015 Toronto Summer Music Festival is an apt reflection of culture and music in the Americas today.  For information on all 2015 Toronto Summer Music Festival activities call 416-408-0208 or visit www.torontosummermusic.com .

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This Week in Montreal : May 18-24


Soprano Marianne Fiset


20th anniversary of the FMCM – March 12-June 21 2015
The celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Festival de musique de chamber de Montréal takes off this spring with the Celebrity Series, beginning in March with the Swingle Singers and continuing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (April 2) and the Emerson String Quartet (May 12). The Elegance Classique and JazzTD Series will take place from June 6-21. Soprano Marie-Josée Lord, spokeswoman for the festival, will perform her show Femmes, paying tribute to the great sopranos of the twentieth century. Developed by Denis Brott, the festival programming embodies a spirit of celebration, resilience and hope. This year’s festival will take place in various concert halls. www.festivalmontreal.org RB


Put's Silent Night (Montreal Premiere)
The 70th anniversary of the end of WWII has been a boom for American composer Kevin Put and librettist Mark Campbells’ 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, based on the true story of the impromptu truce during Christmas 1914 (WWI). Last November, Calgary Opera staged it, and now it’s Opera de Montreal’s turn in an all-star, all-Canadian singing cast including Marianne Fiset, Joseph Kaiser, Philip Addis, Daniel Okulitch, and Alexander Hajek. American conductor Michael Christie leads the Orchestre Métropolitain, and staging is provided by American Eric Simonson. May 16, 19, 21, 23, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. www.operademontreal.com WKC


Musica Camerata – The Mendelssohn Octet
For the first time in its history, Musica Camerata, in collaboration with young up-and-coming musicians, will perform Mendelssohn’s String Octet, one of the culminating works of the great composer. The program Homage to Mendelssohn will begin with his fourth piano quartet and the String Trio Op. 2. Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, May 23, 4:00 pm. RB


Mathieu Lussier, Les Violons du Roy
Mathieu Lussier conducts the Violons du Roy in André Grétry's opéra-comique Zémire et Azor, Beauty and the Beast. With stage direction by legendary filmmaker Denys Arcand, soloists include Florie Valiquette and Jean-Michel Richer. May 23, 7:30 p.m. at the Maison symphonique. www.violonsduroy.com



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Cette semaine à Montréal : 18 au 24 mai 2015




20e anniversaire du FMCM – 12 mars au 21 juin 2015
Les célébrations du Festival de musique de chambre de Montréal sont lancées dès le printemps avec la série Célébrité qui commençait en mars avec les Swingle Singers et se poursuit avec le Preservation Hall Jazz Band (2 avril) et l’Emerson String Quartet (12 mai). Les séries Élégance classique et JazzTD se dérouleront du 6 au 21 juin. Porte-parole pour le festival, la soprano Marie-Josée Lord a conçu le spectacle Femmes qui rend hommage à de grandes sopranos du 20e siècle. Élaborée par Denis Brott, la programmation reflète l'esprit de la fête, mais exprime aussi la résilience et l'espoir. Le festival se déploie cette année dans diverses salles de concert. www.festivalmontreal.org RB


Le Silent Night de Put (première montréalaise)
Le 70e anniversaire de la fin de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale a été fructueux pour l’opéra Silent Night, gagnant du prix Pulitzer en 2011, du compositeur Kevin Put et du librettiste Mark Campbell. Les deux Américains ont basé leur œuvre sur l’histoire vraie de la trêve impromptue de Noël 1914 (Première Guerre mondiale). En novembre dernier, le Calgary Opera a mis en scène Silent Night; maintenant, c’est au tour de l’Opéra de Montréal, avec une distribution prestigieuse de chanteurs canadiens, incluant Marianne Fiset, Joseph Kaiser, Philip Addis, Daniel Okulitch et Alexander Hajek. Le chef d’orchestre américain Michael Christie dirige l’Orchestre Métropolitain et l’Américain Eric Simonson signe la mise en scène. Les 16, 19, 21 et 23 mai à la salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. www.operademontreal.com WKC


Musica Camerata – l'octuor de Mendelssohn
Pour la première fois de son histoire, Musica Camerata interprétera, en compagnie de jeunes musiciens de la relève, l'Octuor pour cordes de Mendelssohn qui figure parmi les œuvres culminantes du compositeur. Son Hommage à Mendelssohn débutera avec son deuxième quatuor pour piano et le Trio à cordes op. 2. Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, 23 mai, 16 h. www.cameratamontreal.com RB


Mathieu Lussier, Les Violons du Roy
Mathieu Lussieur dirige les Violons du Roy dans l’opéra comique Zémire et Azor  d’André Grétry. La mise en scène est effectuée par le renommé cinéaste Denys Arcand. L’opéra mettra entre autre en vedette Florie Valiquette et Jean-Michel Richer. Le 23 mai à 19h30 à la Maison symphonique. www.violonsduroy.com

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Sunday, 17 May 2015

This Week in Toronto (May 18 - 24)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of May 18 to 24

~ Joseph So

The big news this week is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's presentation of the Verdi Requiem. This is such a divine work that for me totally defines the art of the great Giuseppe Verdi. A sacred piece that is at once spiritual and operatic. I first heard it in my freshman year at university and fell in love with it, and this love affair continues to this day. Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor Laureate of the TSO, is bringing with him his own fantastic quartet of soloists, soprano Amber Wagner, mezzo Jamie Barton, tenor Frank Lopardo, and bass Eric Owens. Toronto opera audiences should be very familiar with three of the four soloists. Ms. Wagner sang opening night of the COC Ariadne auf Naxos when Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka was indisposed. Wagner was simply a sensational Ariadne vocally. Jamie Barton won the last Cardiff Singer of the World, and she sang Emilia in Otello here. Eric Owens of course was in the title role of Hercules last season. I also saw him as a superb Dutchman at the Washington National Opera two months ago. This is the event of the season for voice fans - don't miss it! Three performances May 21, 22, 23 at 8 pm (except May 22 at 7:30 pm). Choral forces supplied by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
http://tso.ca/en-ca/concerts-and-tickets/2014-2015-Season/EventDetails/Verdi-Requiem.aspx

Soprano Amber Wagner (Photo courtesy of IMG Artists)

This being the final week of the Canadian Opera Company's season, this is your last chance to catch The Barber of Seville and Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung. I understand the final performance of Bluebeard on May 23 is sold out, but you can always try for returns on the day of performance, but be sure to call the box office first! On May 19th and 21st, you can catch the second cast of Barber, starring Cecelia Hall (Rosina), Francisco Brito (Almaviva), Nicolay Didenko (Bartolo) and Burak Bilgili (Basilio). Joshua Hopkins (Figaro), indisposed the last couple of shows, hopefully will be back. Rory Macdonald conducts.  http://www.coc.ca/Home.aspx

Russian mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova (Photo: en.wikipedia.org)

There are three very interesting, and free, noon hour concerts at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre this week. Russian mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova, currently wrapping up her appearance as Judith in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, will sing the dramatically riveting Mussorgsky's song cycle Songs and Dances of Death, as well as three familiar Tchaikovsky songs. The last time I heard the Mussorgsky was sung by contralto Ewa Podles, probably ten years ago, a much lower voice than Gubanova's. Pianist is Rachel Andrist. This promises to be a very interesting recital (Tuesday May 19th). Full program information at http://files.coc.ca/pdfs/concert150519.pdf

Tenor Owen McCausland will be singing Janacek's equally dramatic song cycle, Diary of One Who Disappeared. This piece was inspired by the elderly composer's love for Kamila Stosslova, a woman forty years younger than Janacek. I last heard  this just a couple of years ago at Against the Grain Theatre with Colin Ainsworth and Lauren Segal. The tenor's music is quite challenging, with two high Cs right at the end of 40 minutes of strenuous singing. The short role of the Gypsy girl will be sung by mezzo Charlotte Burrage. There's a chorus of three Gypsy Women - interestingly, the three singers in this recital are going to be two sopranos (Aviva Fortunata and Karine Boucher) and a tenor (Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure)! Jennifer Szeto is the pianist. It's not clear from the COC website if it's sung in Czech or English. Program at http://files.coc.ca/pdfs/concert150520.pdf


Tenor Owen McCausland

The third noon-hour concert is Death and Desire, a sneak preview of Against the Grain Theatre's presentation that brings together two seemingly disparate song cycles, Schubert's Die schone Mullerin and Olivier Messiaen's Harawi:Chant d'amour.  Mezzo Krisztina Szabo and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus are the soloists, with Christopher Mokrzewski at the piano. Be sure to show up an hour ahead to ensure a place. http://files.coc.ca/pdfs/concert150521.pdf

Mezzo Krisztina Szabo (Photo: www.krisztinaszabo.com)

For lovers of new music, this is a very important week as it marks 21C: Twenty-first Century Music Festival.  This Festival was launched successfully last year and it's returning to RCM with a very rich and varied program of new music. The billing is 8 concerts over 5 evenings, including no less than 34 premieres.  All events take place at Royal Conservatory of Music venues - Koerner Hall, Mazzoleni Hall, and the Conservatory Theatre. Among the well known composers and performers are Kaija Saariaho, Jon Kimura Parker, Gryphon Trio, Ensemble contemporain de Montreal, Afiara Quartet, Soundstreams and the ARC Ensemble. The Festival opens on May 20th and closes on May 24th.  Here's an interesting trailer promoting the Festival on Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBmJJwWaf2w For more information and performance schedule, go to http://performance.rcmusic.ca/21c




Opera by Request is presenting one of Mozart's most divine creations (and my personal favourite), Idomeneo. As usual it's with piano accompaniment by pianist/conductor William Shookhoff. It takes place on College Street United Church at 452 College St. downtown on May 23 7:30 pm.
http://operabyrequest.ca/wordpress/

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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Triumphant Ensemble Studio Barber Augurs Well for the Future (Review)

Special Ensemble Studio Performance of The Barber of Seville (Review)

Clarence Frazer (Figaro)
Charlotte Burrage (Rosina)
Andrew Haji (Almaviva - act one)
Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (Almaviva - act two)
Iain MacNeil (Bartolo)
Gordon Bintner (Basilio)
Karine Boucher (Bertha)
Jan Vaculik (Fiorello)

Rory Macdonald, conductor
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
May 15th 2015

A true pleasure for me as an opera lover is to witness the growth and maturity of our young Canadian singers through their tenure in the COC Ensemble Studio. These artists come into the program with the requisite beautiful voices and solid training. During their time in the Ensemble, they learn the tricks of the trade and further hone their skills for a professional career. Last evening, audiences in the Four Seasons Centre got to witness the end result, in the special ensemble performance of The Barber of Seville. If this show was any indication, these young artists are totally ready to make their mark in the opera world.

Finale to Act 2 The Barber of Seville (Photo: Robert Cooper)

This year's Ensemble is a particularly strong one, which explains why the show last evening was so enormously enjoyable. Having seen opening night when there were some rocky moments, all the kinks are now worked out, and the orchestra under Scottish maestro Rory Macdonald sounds wonderful. It set the stage for the young artists to do their best, and we were not disappointed. Interestingly, baritone Joshua Hopkins, the main-stage Figaro, had come down with an infection and Ensemble baritone Clarence Frazer was pressed into service with an unscheduled debut last Saturday. I wasn't at that performance but I've heard very favourable reports. Then on Wednesday, Frazer had to deputize for Hopkins yet again in the evening, after having sung the Ensemble performance dress rehearsal earlier in the day. The pressure on him must have been tremendous, so it's a real feather in his cap for rising to the challenge. Even though he's a young guy with a healthy voice, this sort of double-duty is definitely not advisable!  Last evening was his third performance and he once again rose to the occasion. There was no sign of tiredness other than a few fleeting moments of softness in his sound. The rest of the time, he sang with firm, attractive tone, his excellent top very much in evidence.  The ham that he is, he also acted up a storm.  Given his remarkable artistic growth in the Ensemble in the last two years, Frazer can be very proud of his accomplishments.   

Charlotte Burrage (Rosina) and Andrew Haji (Almaviva) Photo: Michael Cooper

It must be an extra thrill for Frazer to be onstage with his girlfriend and Ensemble colleague, mezzo Charlotte Burrage as Rosina. They had excellent chemistry in the duet "Dunque io son." This was Burrage's main-stage debut in a lead role, not to mention her first ever Rossini and coloratura. Her clear, focused, beautiful lyric mezzo with its firm top and fine coloratura was a pleasure. Dramatically, her Rosina was a well mannered yet lively and smart young woman, endearing but without the madcap, over-the-top, vixenish qualities that some mezzos bring to this role.  

Bartolo (Iain MacNeil) and Basilio (Gordon Bintner) (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Almaviva was split between tenors Andrew Haji (Act One) and Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (Act Two). Haji is blessed with a golden timbre and hall-filling volume, with plenty of squillo but fortunately none of the sharp edges one sometimes hear in lyric tenors singing Rossini. His top is now more secure than ever, and he actually sang a firm high C at the end of his aria, something that Alek Shrader didn't do. Haji's coloratura while good is a work in progress, especially in the runs near his passaggio. But all in all it's a major voice in the making. He moves very well for a big guy, and acted beautifully.  Fortier-Lazure's sweet, soft-grained tenor is a joy, and he sang beautifully except for a fleeting moment when he put too much pressure on his top.  Almaviva in Act Two requires strong comedic skills and Fortier-Lazure was totally up to the task, turning the music lesson into a rip-roaring highlight of the evening. 

Curtain Call (l. to r.) Karine Boucher, Iain MacNeil, Charlotte Burrage, Clarence Frazer, Andrew Haji, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure

Even more remarkable was the Bartolo of Iain MacNeil. On the surface, he would not be an ideal Bartolo - he's too young and he's thin, when one is used to invariably a portly Bartolo. Well, MacNeil exceeded my expectations by giving a totally convincing performance. Basilio has less to do, but bass-baritone Gordon Bintner made the most of his few brief moments in the sun, his La calunnia showed off his beautiful voice.  The same can be said for Karine Boucher, who turned the rather thankless comprimaria Bertha into almost a starring role.  Bertha's aria isn't Rossini at his best, but Boucher managed to make it interesting. And I mustn't forget the excellent work of COC chorister baritone Jan Vaculik as an uncommonly mellifluous Fiorello.

Retiring COC Music Adminisrator Sandra Gavinchuk honoured at reception (l. to r.) Jennifer Szeto, Karine Boucher, Clarence Frazer, Sandra Gavinchuk, Charlotte Burrage, Andrew Haji, Gordon Bintner, Iain MacNeil, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (Photo: Joseph So)

The production from the Spanish creative team Els Comediants has commedia dell'arte in its core, with every move, however tiny, choreographed to within an inch of its life. Now seeing it a second time, I feel this very physical production works very well. Perhaps it helps with this crew of young singers who are game for anything.  On opening night, I was bothered by the extraneous characters and the various shenanigans onstage, but now I find all of it rather amusing. While I wouldn't call this production equal to the fabulous La cenerentola by the same creative team a few seasons ago, it's still a very fun evening at the opera. Three more performances on May 19, 21, and 22.
http://www.coc.ca/PerformancesAndTickets/1415Season/BarberofSeville.aspx

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