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Monday, 20 October 2014

This Week in Montreal: October 20 to 26

Aline Kutan

Montreal Lyric Orchestra Debuts
Montreal has a new orchestra: founded by conductors Simon Rivard and Ben Kepes, the Montreal Lyric Orchestra is devoted to vocal works. Its debut concert features soprano Aline Kutan in Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate, Schubert’s An die Musik and Mahler’s 4th symphony with Kutan taking the soprano solo in the 4th movement. Pianist Olivier Godin tackles Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20. Oscar Peterson Hall. Oct. 23.
- Wah Keung Chan

Belles Sœurs: The Musical
Montreal’s Segal Centre presents the English-language premiere of Belles Sœurs: The Musical. Based on Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-sœurs, the darkly comedic, bittersweet play about working-class strife in Quebec, circa 1965, is the story of Germaine Lauzon, a Plateau Mont-Royal housewife who wins one million department store trading stamps. Musical mayhem ensues when she invites her closest relatives and friends to celebrate at a raucous stamp-pasting party. Les Belles-sœurs premiered in 1968, and the musical version debuted in 2010. The book & lyrics are by René Richard Cyr, and the music is by Daniel Bélanger. The English book adaptation is by Brian Hill, while Neil Bartram penned the English lyrics. Produced by Montrealer Allan Sandler, the show features an all-female Canadian cast. Oct. 19 to Nov. 9.
- Naomi Gold

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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 20 au 26 octobre

Yukari Cousineau
L’Orchestre Métropolitain dans les arrondissements
Le concert Vienne en deux temps de l’Orchestre Métropolitain, présenté le 24 octobre à la Maison symphonique, fera la tournée de quatre arrondissements, sous la direction de Julian Kuerti, chef invité principal pour une seconde saison. Yukari Cousineau, violon solo de l’Orchestre Métropolitain, interprétera le Concerto pour violon « À la mémoire d’un ange » de Berg. Aussi au programme : Beethoven et Schubert. Arrondissements Verdun (22), Rivière-des-Prairies (23), Saint-Laurent (25) et Pierrefonds (26).

Série Tableaux en musique: création d’une œuvre de Julien Bilodeau
Commandée par la Fondation Arte Musica au compositeur Julien Bilodeau, à partir d’une œuvre de la collection du Musée des beaux arts, L’heure mauve lui a été inspirée par le tableau d’Ozias Leduc. Les pianistes Brigitte Poulin et Jean Marchand l’offrent au public en création mondiale. Aussi au programme : Stravinski, Debussy et Decaux. Salle Bourgie, Série Tableaux en musique, 24 octobre, 18h30.

Pro Musica en octobre: le Quatuor Belcea
Les membres du Quatuor Belcea harmonisent la diversité de leurs influences en un langage musical commun qui se reflète dans son répertoire. Sa discographie impressionnante lui a valu de grandes distinctions. Œuvres de Mozart, Berg et Brahms. Théâtre Maisonneuve, 26 octobre, 20 h.

À la Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur
Le violoniste Axel Strauss, l’altiste Douglas McNabney, la violoncelliste Élisabeth Dolin et la pianiste Bernadene Blaha forment un nouveau quatuor à géométrie variable. Ces chambristes recherchés proposent un programme d’œuvres de Bloch, Brahms et Mendelssohn. 26 octobre, 15 h 30.

- Renée Banville

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Sunday, 19 October 2014

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 20 - 26)

My Concert Picks for the Week of October 20 to 26

- Joseph So

Soprano Meghan Lindsay and seven men in OA's Alcina (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

Opera Atelier, Canada's premiere Baroque opera company is staging Handel's Alcina as its fall season presentation.  According to OA's publicity material, this marks the first time the Company has used film to enhance traditional painted backdrops so expertly executed by Gerard Gauci.  I have not yet seen any production photos - not available until Oct. 22 - but you can get a taste of the creative process in this Youtube video -   The cast includes all frequent guests of OA, with soprano Meghan Lindsay in the title role. Also appearing are mezzo Allyson McHardy, soprano Mireille Asselin, and mezzo Wallis Giunta.  The show opens on Thursday Oct. 23 7:30 pm at the Elgin Theatre and goes until Nov. 1. Incidentally, the promotion photo here has soprano Meghan Lindsay naked posing on a stepladder.  I would bet that she will be more fully clad to sing the opera comes opening night.

This week is also the home stretch of the Canadian Opera Company's fall season of Falstaff and Madama Butterfly.  Given its superlative musical and dramatic values, Falstaff is selling extremely well. But there are always returns and rush tickets (not to mention standing room) if you need a ticket.  Do check the COC website the evening before to find out if there will be returns and rush the next morning. My advice is to show up by about 9 am at the box office. Tickets to Madama Butterfly is more plentiful, given there are twelve performances and the opera is performed with regularity at the COC. There's only one performance of the Verdi on Saturday Oct. 25 at 4:40 pm.  Madama Butterfly shows are on Oct. 21, 22, 24, 26. Check the COC website to find out the casting.

The last free vocal noon hour recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre happens on Thursday Oct. 23, with mezzo Lauren Segal and baritone Robert Gleadow, in works by Dvorak, de Falla, Ibert, and Vaughan Williams.  At the piano is COC chorusmaster Sandra Horst. Details at  Be sure to show up an hour ahead to ensure a seat.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti (Photo: Rhys Frampton)

Conductor Stephane Deneve returns to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to conduct  a Russian program in two performances on Wednesday Oct. 22 at 8 pm, and Thursday Oct. 23 at 2 pm. The flamboyant violinist Nicola Benedetti plays Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, coupled with Prokofiev's Suite from Romeo and Juliet, arranged by Deneve. The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra opens the concert with Tchaikovsky's Marche Slave.

Conductor Stephane Deneve (Photo:Drew Farrell)

Music Toronto is presenting the Belcea Quartet on Oct. 23 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. On the program are chamber pieces by Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert.

Soprano Suzie LeBlanc and countertenor Daniel Taylor are giving a joint recital of Handel Love Duets on Oct. 24 7:30 pm at the Trinity College Chapel, under the auspices of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. In addition to Handel, on the program are works by Monteverdi and Cavalli.

Canadian Opera Ccompany Music Director Johannes Debus

The Canadian Opera Company Music Director Johannes Debus is giving the Hermann Geiger-Torel Lecture on Monday Oct. 20 7:30 pm at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building. The title of his talk is "Applause, applause - a homage to the symbiotic artist-audience relationship."

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Monday, 13 October 2014

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 13 - 19)

My concert picks for the week of October 13 to 19 - Joseph So

Kelly Kaduce as Cio Cio San (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The second of two Canadian Opera Company's fall season productions, Madama Butterfly, opened on the long weekend at the Four Seasons Centre, with two alternating casts. I saw American soprano Kelly Kaduce give a stunning account vocally and dramatically as Cio Cio San. She was partnered by the ringing tenor of Andrea Care as Pinkerton. Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl took on Sharpless, and American mezzo Elizabeth DeShong was a fabulous Suzuki.  German maestro Patrick Lange led the COC Orchestra in a well paced, idiomatic reading of the Puccini score. I intend to go back to hear the alternate cast of Patricia Racette, Stefano Secco, and Dwayne Croft. Performances this week at Oct. 15, 18, 19.  Meanwhile, the critically acclaimed Falstaff continues with the great Canadian bass baritone Gerald Finley in the title role, with a single performance this week on Oct. 14.  Details at

The COC free concert series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre this week features two interesting events - top on my list is a preview of the Opera Atelier's Alcina. OA is Canada's premier Baroque Opera company, and their historically informed productions are always visually wonderful. The cast of this Alcina is made up of COC Ensemble Studio graduates soprano Mireille Asselin, mezzos Allyson McHardy and Wallis Giunta, and baritone Olivier Laquerre.  The only non-alumna is Alcina herself, soprano Meghan Lindsay. This is bound to be an extremely popular preview, so be sure to show up early.

Canadian piano wunderkind Anastasia Rizikov

The other noon hour attraction is Canadian piano wunderkind Anastasia Rizikov playing works by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff and Balakirev. This brilliant 15 year old has a technique and musicality that's remarkable.  October 15

Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz 

Pianophiles' cup truly runneth over this week, with the appearance of Polish pianist and 2014 Gilmour Artist Rafal Blechacz in recital at Koerner Hall on Sunday Oct. 19 at 3 pm, as well as Jean Efflam Bavouzet with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall. Blechacz is in town under the auspices of the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Canadian Chopin Society. The Polish pianist will play a program of Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin. 

French pianist Jean Efflam Bavouzet (Photo: Paul Mitchell)

London Philharmonic Orchestra is currently on tour, and will be at the Roy Thomson Hall on Oct 17 under the helm of conductor Vladimir Jurowski. Bavouzet plays the challenging Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, and the centerpiece of the evening is Shostakovich Symphony No. 8. Performance on Friday Oct. 17 8 pm.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra goes pop this week, with vocal ensemble Rajaton performing Best of the Beatles under the baton of maestro Steven Reineke on Tuesday Oct. 14 8 pm and two shows on Wednesday Oct. 15 at 2 and 8 pm. 

Since Oct. 17 marked the passing of Frederic Chopin, there's a lot of his piano music being played this week. In addition to the Blechacz recital, the Canadian Chopin Festival is putting on a concert on that day featuring Canadian pianists Leonard Gilbert, Anastasia Rizikov and Li Wang. This concert marks the opening of the 2014 Canadian Chopin Competition. It takes place at the Polish Cultural Centre at 4300 Cawthra Road in Mississauga. For more information, call (416) 231-7709. 

Conductor Alex Pauk of Esprit Orchestra

The Esprit Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Alex Pauk, is presenting a concert on Oct. 16 8 pm at Koerner Hall. This orchestra is known for its innovative programming involving new music. It features works by Thomas Ades, Charles Ives, Paul Frehner and Chris Paul Harman.

Finally, a Chinese orchestra, the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra is performing at Roy Thomson Hall at exactly the same time. The Orchestra combines Chinese and Western instruments. I wasn't able to find program details, but on the Roy Thomson Hall website, it states the concert features music from "a program including the vast repertoire of Shen Yun's original music and celebrated classics from Berlioz and Dvorak."

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This Week in Montreal: October 13 to 19

Stéphane Tétreault

Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrrenden Gesellen
It’s rare to hear Mahler’s Song of a Wayfarer Lad sung by a woman, although Dame Janet Baker gave a brilliant account of the work. Grammy award winning mezzo Sasha Cooke takes on this song cycle with I Musici de Montréal led by Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Respighi, Ravel and Arvo Pärt round out the programme. Salle Bourgie. Oct. 16.
- Wah Keung Chan

Two Stéphane Tétrault Performances
Stéphane Tétreault: Carte Blanche. With pianist Michel-Alexandre Broekaert, Oct
18, Salle Saint-François Xavier, Prévost.
Turovsky Quartet Recital. Oct 19, St. Paul Anglican Church, Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford.
- Caroline Rodgers

Belles Sœurs: The Musical
Montreal’s Segal Centre presents the English-language premiere of Belles Sœurs: The Musical. Based on Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-sœurs, the darkly comedic, bittersweet play about working-class strife in Quebec, circa 1965, is the story of Germaine Lauzon, a Plateau Mont-Royal housewife who wins one million department store trading stamps. Musical mayhem ensues when she invites her closest relatives and friends to celebrate at a raucous stamp-pasting party. Les Belles-sœurs premiered in 1968, and the musical version debuted in 2010. The book & lyrics are by René Richard Cyr, and the music is by Daniel Bélanger. The English book adaptation is by Brian Hill, while Neil Bartram penned the English lyrics. Produced by Montrealer Allan Sandler, the show features an all-female Canadian cast. Oct. 19 to Nov. 9.
- Naomi Gold

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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 13 au 19 octobre

Trio Karénine

Trio Karénine – le Louvre hors les murs
La Fondation Arte Musica inaugure un programme d’échange permettant d’entendre certains concerts présentés au musée du Louvre. Fondé en 2009, le Trio Karénine porte le nom du célèbre roman de Tolstoï et réunit trois musiciens épris de littérature. Au programme : Dubois, Fauré, Ravel et Lili Boulanger. Salle Bourgie, 15 octobre, 19 h 30.
- Renée Banville

CIOC – le concours 2014 est à nos portes

Du 7 au 19 octobre, le Concours international d'orgue du Canada présentera 16 candidats de partout dans le monde qui auront l'occasion de remporter plus de 70 000 $ en prix. Parmi les 9 juges, on compte Olivier Latry, titulaire des grandes orgues de Notre-Dame de Paris, qui a participé au dévoilement du Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique de l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal à l'occasion du concert inaugural, le 28 mai dernier. Le concert d'ouverture du CIOC aura lieu le 7 octobre à l'église Unie Saint-James, avec Martha Wainwright, Jean-Willy Kunz et Christian Lane. Les lauréats auront le privilège de jouer sur le Grand Orgue au Concert Gala du concours le 19 octobre. Les épreuves se tiendront aux églises de l'Immaculée-Conception (8, 9, 10), Saint-Jean-Baptiste (13, 14) et à la basilique Notre-Dame (17). 
- Renée Banville
Le retour d’Onofri chez Arion
Très attendu à Montréal, le fougueux violoniste et chef invité Enrico Onofri vous fera vivre la contagieuse invasion musicale italienne à Londres. Coucou ! De délectables pages concertantes où chantent parfois coucou et rossignol, tantôt à l’orgue, tantôt au violon. Avec Hank Knox à l’orgue. Œuvres de Vivaldi, Avison, Corelli et Haendel. Salle Bourgie, 17 au 19 octobre.
- Renée Banville

Deux récitals de Stéphane Tétreault
Récital violoncelle et piano avec Michel-Alexandre Broekaert, pianiste. 18 octobre, salle Saint-François Xavier, Prévost.
Récital du Quatuor Turovsky, 19 octobre, St. Paul Anglican Church, Saint-Paul d’Abbotsford.
- Caroline Rodgers

Le Trio Pasquier au Ladies’ Morning Musical Club
Fondé en 1972, le Trio Pasquier est formé de musiciens français au sommet de leurs carrières de solistes et de chambristes: le violoniste Régis Pasquier, l’altiste Bruno Pasquier et le violoncelliste Roland Pidoux. Menant tous des carrières internationales de solistes, ils s’unissent dans des moments exceptionnels. Cette fois à la salle Pollack, pour leur 5e engagement au LMMC, 19 octobre, 15 h 30.
- Renée Banville

Hommage à Fritz Kreisler
Artiste d’une grande polyvalence, à la fois interprète et compositeur, Fritz Kreisler a su gagner le cœur du public par sa virtuosité époustouflante. Edwald Cheung, violon, et Philip Chiu, piano, défendront son répertoire aux mille prouesses musicales. Une présentation des Jeunesses Musicales du Canada, maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, 19 octobre, 16 h.
- Renée Banville

MET Live in HD
Dans le cadre de sa 9e saison, la série MET Live in HD diffusera, dans les cinémas du Québec, les opéras Macbeth de Verdi (11 octobre, rediffusions les 10 et 15 novembre), Les Noces de Figaro de Mozart (18 octobre, rediffusion les 6 et 15 décembre), et Carmen de Bizet (1er novembre, rediffusions les 29, 30 novembre et 8 décembre).
Justin Bernard

À la Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur
Né à Moscou et résidant au Canada depuis l’âge de 14 ans, Ilya Poletaev est considéré comme un des pianistes importants de sa génération. Après avoir enseigné la musique ancienne au Yale Institute of Sacred Music, il est nommé professeur adjoint de piano à l’École de musique Schulich. Au programme: C. P. E. Bach, Schumann, Dussek et Chopin. 19 octobre, 15 h 30.
- Renée Banville

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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Kelly Kaduce Supremely Moving as COC's Madama Butterfly

Puccini: Madama Butterfly (Review)

Joseph So

Kelly Kaduce / Cio Cio San
Andrea Care / Pinkerton
Gregory Dahl / Sharpless
Elizabeth DeShong / Suzuki
Michael Colvin / Goro
Robert Gleadow / Bonze
Karine Boucher / Kate Pinkerton
Clarence Frazer / Yamadori
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra / Patrick Lange, conductor
Brian MacDonald / stage director
Four Seasons Centre / October 11th 2014

Kelly Kaduce as COC Butterfly (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The Canadian Opera Company unveiled the second production of its fall season this weekend, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, one of the most beloved of all operas. According to worldwide statistics of five seasons from 2009/10 to 2013/14, the Puccini opera is ranked No. 6 in popularity among a total of 2581 works given, ranking it just below La traviata, Carmen, La boheme, Tosca and The Magic Flute, but ahead of such audience favourites as Barber of Seville, Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Aida. Butterfly's popularity is easy to understand, as it represents the Italian composer at his most melodically inspired, penning a score of glorious music framed by an intercultural love story that never loses its appeal. In the hands of a truly great singing actress, this Puccini masterpiece is the stuff of high tragedy.

In this Butterfly revival, the COC is blessed with not one, but two great singing actresses in Patricia Racette and Kelly Kaduce. Both are wonderful artists whose voice I am familiar with.  Tonight it was Kaduce weaving her magic as the tragic Geisha. I first saw her Cio Cio San in Santa Fe in 2010, in a production directed by Lee Blakeley.  I recall how struck I was with her characterization at the time - instead of a passive and demure Geisha, Kaduce's Butterfly is unusually youthful, headstrong, playful, defiant, extroverted and highly emotional in a heart-on-sleeve manner. It makes the finale all the more heart-wrenching - her death scene was among the very best I've seen. For me, Kaduce's characterization tonight is very reminiscent of the 2010 portrayal. Vocally it was also a tour de force, an impressive mix of power and nuance, with plenty of chiaroscuro. She gave generously and unstintingly with her voice. If one were to quibble, it was a little odd that in Butterfly's entrance scene, she unexpectedly skipped a whole line just before singing her D-flat, perhaps to prepare herself for the high option. She sang it powerfully and it was completely on pitch. Other than this little quirk, every moment of her performance was superb.   She was partnered by the Pinkerton of Andrea Care, who looked great on stage and whose big, bright, ringing tenor with its "money notes" was a real pleasure to the ear, even if he has a tendency to scoop, especially in the beginning.          
Kelly Kaduce (Butterfly) and Andrea Care (Pinkerton) (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The parade of great singing continued with the Suzuki of Elizabeth DeShong, whom Toronto audience will remember as a scintillating Angelina in La cenerentola here a few season ago. While Suzuki doesn't really offer the same opportunity for the mezzo to shine, DeShong took advantage of Suzuki big moments in Act 3, singing with a big, rich, thrilling sound, even from top to bottom, and acting with great depth of feeling. The fourth member of this superb quartet was Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl as Sharpless.  He sang with warm, sturdy tone and exuded the requisite dignity and empathy as the American Consul.  The supporting roles were all cast from strength, particularly the fine character tenor of Michael Colvin as Goro, a role he has sung to success at the English National Opera. Also impressive was the Bonze of baritone Robert Gleadow, and the Prince Yamadori of Clarence Frazer. Ensemble Studio soprano Karine Boucher made her COC debut as an uncommonly eye-catching Kate Pinkerton. German maestro Patrick Lange gave a well paced, idiomatic reading of the score, and the orchestra played beautifully, if a touch loudly in the beginning of Act One, momentarily covering Pinkerton and Sharpless.  The production, though over twenty years old and frequently revived, is holding up well, its use of muted colours and the evocatively painted backdrop remains timeless.   Under veteran Stratford stage director Brian MacDonald, there's nothing bizarre or earth shattering (which you wouldn't want!) in this Butterfly, only a healthy respect for the music of Puccini and the libretto of Illica and Giacosa.  As a longtime opera attendee, I've seen more performances of Madama Butterfly more times than I can count.  When it is as well done as this one, with a soprano possessing such vocal power and galvanizing dramatic intensity, one never fails to be moved by the genius of Puccini.  Ten more performances at the Four Seasons Centre (Oct. 15 to 31).


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Monday, 6 October 2014

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 6 - 12)

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 6 - 12) 

- Joseph So

On the heels of a spectacular season opening Falstaff, the Canadian Opera Company unveils its second opera of the fall season this week, the tried and true Madama Butterfly production directed by Brian MacDonald first seen more than twenty years ago. The spartan yet poetic and evocative production has held up well, and it's probably the most revived production at the COC. The Puccini warhorse with its tragic, East meets West love story always sells well in multicultural Toronto. There will be a total of twelve performances for this run, with all the principal roles (except one) double cast, a necessity given the shows take place in quick succession. Voice aficionados will be pleased with the casting - all the principals have great voices. Sharing the title role will be Patricia Racette and Kelly Kaduce. Fresh from her triumph as the heroine in Carlisle Floyd's Susannah at the San Francisco Opera last month, Racette brings her justly famous Butterfly to TO, a role she has sung in many of the great opera houses. I attended her Met in HD and found her Butterfly one of the most moving I've seen. Here's the death scene courtesy of Youtube -  She won't leave you dry-eyed!  The alternate Cio Cio San is Kelly Kaduce, whose luminous soprano is lovely. I've had the pleasure of seeing her Butterfly a few summers ago in Santa Fe, and it was quite unforgettable. Here is a short video clip from the Santa Fe production -

American soprano Patricia Racette (Photo: Devon Cass)

The two sopranos are partnered by Stefano Secco and Andrea Care respectively. I heard Secco in San Francisco as Pinkerton and his clarion tones were thrilling. Here's Secco singing "Che gelida manina" from Bilbao, Spain. I think the Mimi here is Albanian Inva Mula, who sang Violetta in Toronto some years ago -  The alternate Pinkerton is the fast-rising spinto Andrea Care, a great voice that I look forward to hearing in person.  Here's Care singing very beautifully the Flower Song from Carmen

Tenor Andrea Care (Photo: )

American baritone Dwayne Croft shared Sharpless with Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl. Suzuki is mezzo Elizabeth DeShong, our Cenerentola a couple of seasons back. German conductor Patrick Lange makes his COC debut. The show opens on Friday Oct. 10 7:30 pm with Racette and Secco, and the second performance is Saturday Oct. 11 at the unusual start time of 4:30 pm, with Kaduce and Care. Meanwhile, Falstaff continues with performances on Oct. 9 and 12

Violinist Karen Gomyo (Photo: )

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting a very popular program this week, pairing Sibelius Violin Concerto played by Karen Gomyo with the beloved New World Symphony No. 9 by Antonin Dvorak. Czech conductor Jakub Hrusa is at the helm. If memory serves, Maestro Hrusa deputized for the indisposed Jiri Belahavek a couple of seasons back. Three performances, including the Wednesday show at 6:30 pm. This is part of the Afterworks Series, with no intermission. On Thursday Oct 9  at 8 pm only, there is an additional piece,  the Carnival overture by the late Czech-Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz. The third performance on Saturday Oct. 11 has a start time of 7:30 pm.

Violinist Davide Monti

For baroque fans, Tafelmusik is presenting The Canals of Venice this week, with violinist Davide Monti as guest director and soloist. On the program are concertos by Albinoni and Vivaldi, among others. Five performances, from Oct. 9 to 12 at the St. Paul Trinity Centre, and Oct. 14 at the George Weston Recital Hall in North York. Details at

Opera Canada Awards recipient soprano Adrianne Pieczonka (Photo:

Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka is one of four recipients of the Opera Canada Awards ("The Rubies") this evening (Monday Oct. 6).  This award was established in 2000 to honour Canadians who have made significant contributions to opera.  The other recipients this year are soprano/coach Rosemarie Landry, and philanthropists Father Edward Jackman and the Honourable Hal Jackman. Bass-baritone Gerald Finley, currently singing Falstaff at the COC, is the master of ceremony. There will be several singers performing, plus the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus. This event is sold out!  I will be giving a full report tomorrow on the La Scena Musicale Blog. 

For song recital enthusiasts, there are two free noon hour recitals this week at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. On Tuesday, tenor Colin Ainsworth sings works by Derek Holman, with collaborative pianist Stephen Ralls. Details at   The other recital features two new COC Ensemble Studio members, tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and baritone Iain MacNeil.  The very well known Butterworth song cycle A Shropshire Lad will be sung by MacNeil.  Fortier-Lazure is the soloist in the less familiar cycle, Ludlow and Teme  by Ivor Gurney.   Ensemble Studio member Jennifer Szeto is at the piano.  Be sure to show up early to secure a seat. 

Tenor Colin Ainsworth (Photo:

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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 6 au 12 octobre

Trio Wanderer

Pro Musica en octobre: le Trio Wanderer
Distingué par les « Victoires de la musique » à trois reprises comme meilleur ensemble instrumental de l’année, le Trio Wanderer se place sous le thème du voyage, tirant son nom du fameux lied de Franz Schubert, Der Wanderer. Au programme: Schubert et Tchaïkoski. Théâtre Maisonneuve, 6 octobre, 20 h.
- Renée Banville

CIOC – le concours 2014 est à nos portes

Du 7 au 19 octobre, le Concours international d'orgue du Canada présentera 16 candidats de partout dans le monde qui auront l'occasion de remporter plus de 70 000 $ en prix. Parmi les 9 juges, on compte Olivier Latry, titulaire des grandes orgues de Notre-Dame de Paris, qui a participé au dévoilement du Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique de l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal à l'occasion du concert inaugural, le 28 mai dernier. Le concert d'ouverture du CIOC aura lieu le 7 octobre à l'église Unie Saint-James, avec Martha Wainwright, Jean-Willy Kunz et Christian Lane. Les lauréats auront le privilège de jouer sur le Grand Orgue au Concert Gala du concours le 19 octobre. Les épreuves se tiendront aux églises de l'Immaculée-Conception (8, 9, 10), Saint-Jean-Baptiste (13, 14) et à la basilique Notre-Dame (17). 
- Renée Banville

Quatuor Molinari: trois compositeurs, trois styles
Paris-Vienne 1900, trois chefs-d’œuvre de Webern, Schoenberg et Debussy, présentés en lien avec l’exposition De Van Gogh à Kandinsky, l’expressionnisme en Allemagne et en France, 1900-1914. Explorez l’incroyable diversité de la musique pour quatuor à cordes. Salle Bourgie, 8 octobre, 19 h 30.
- Renée Banville

Rémi Bolduc, fois deux
Saxo alto de premier plan en ville, Rémi Bolduc se produira deux fois au cours du mois : le vendredi 9 octobre 18h, il sera en concert à la salle Bourgie du MBAM avec son jazz ensemble; trois semaines plus tard, le vendredi 30, il accueillera en spectacle à la salle Schulich de l’Université McGill un compatriote québécois, François Théberge. Professeur titulaire de saxophone jazz au Conservatoire de Paris, ce dernier tiendra aussi des cours de maître durant la journée sur l’essence même du jazz : l’improvisation.
Marc Chénard

À la Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur
Pour le premier concert dans le cadre de sa résidence, l’Ensemble Transmission présente des œuvres de Boulez, Vivier, Essl, Murail, Ristic et Perron. 10 oct. 20h.
- Renée Banville

MET Live in HD
Dans le cadre de sa 9e saison, la série MET Live in HD diffusera, dans les cinémas du Québec, les opéras Macbeth de Verdi (11 octobre, rediffusions les 10 et 15 novembre), Les Noces de Figaro de Mozart (18 octobre, rediffusion les 6 et 15 décembre), et Carmen de Bizet (1er novembre, rediffusions les 29, 30 novembre et 8 décembre).
Justin Bernard

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

COC Opens New Season with a Stunning Falstaff (Review)

COC Opens New Season with a Stunning All-Canadian Falstaff

Joseph So

Gerald Finley / Falstaff
Lyne Fortin / Alice
Russell Braun / Ford
Marie-Nicole Lemieux / Quickly
Lauren Segal / Meg
Simone Osborne / Nannetta
Frederic Antoun / Fenton
Colin Ainsworth / Bardolfo
Robert Gleadow / Pistola
Michael Colvin / Dr. Caius
COC Orchestra and Chorus / Johannes Debus, conductor
Robert Carsen / stage director
Four Seasons Centre, October 3rd 2014

Opera is arguably the most complex of art forms, one that combines story, text, music, sets, and costumes, brought to life by singers, orchestra, conductor, and stage director. Given its complexity, it's rare that all the stars are aligned to create a truly memorable experience for everyone.  Judging by the opening night performance, the planets are indeed aligned perfectly for Canadian Opera Company's season opening Falstaff. People say we North Americans are too ready to leap to our feet for a standing ovation - perhaps, when you compare us to European opera audiences. But last evening, the total and spontaneous standing ovation was well deserved. In forty-seven years of opera attendance, this one ranks right up there with the best of them.

Bass-baritone Gerald Finley as Falstaff (Photo: Michael Cooper)

First of all, this is an All-Canadian show.  The cast is led by bass-baritone Gerald Finley, simply one of the very top singers in the opera world today. This marks his return to the COC after more than two decades, and in his role debut as Sir John Falstaff.  The famous Merry Wives of Windsor are no slouch either - Quebec soprano Lyne Fortin (Alice) makes her very belated COC debut. Playing her daughter is former COC Ensemble Studio soprano Simone Osborne, opposite the Fenton of Quebec tenor Frederic Antoun.  Another COC Ensemble alumna, Lauren Segal, is Meg. Quebec contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Dame Quickly) returns to the Company in one of her signature roles. COC frequent guest and audience favourite Russell Braun is Ford. Even the supporting roles are cast from strength, with Colin Ainsworth (Bardolfo), Robert Gleadow (Pistola), and Michael Colvin (Dr. Caius).  This Falstaff has already been staged at the Met and was part of the Met in HD series last year, starring the great buffo baritone Ambrogio Maestri.  A comparison with the Met is inevitable, so the stakes are high.

The Merry Wives (l. to r.) Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Lyne Fortin, Lauren Segal, Simone Osborne (Photo: Michael Cooper)

I am happy to report that our Canadian edition of this show is every bit as good.  A lot of the credit goes to Gerald Finley. He possesses a gorgeous voice - that's never in question.  What surprises a lot of people is his comedic flair - how often does one encounter a singer who's not only perfect as the uber-angst Amfortas or a stately Hans Sachs, but also a rip-roaringly funny Falstaff?  On opening night and looking delightfully corpulent in his fat suit, Finley sang thrillingly and acted up a storm, in a performance to cherish. It was so good to finally see Lyne Fortin on the COC stage, and she shined as Alice vocally and histrionically. Simone Osborne, vivacious of voice and stage manner, was an adorable, pony-tailed Nannetta, a perfect partner for the handsome and clarion-voiced Fenton of Frederic Antoun. It's not easy to be singing side-by-side with the golden-voiced Finley, but fellow baritone Russell Braun gave the star a run for his money with a thrillingly sung "E sogno o realta" And what can one say about Marie-Nicole Lemieux's droll and unusually youthful Dame Quickly, except to say that her rich contralto and comic timing are priceless? As a role Meg isn't terribly showy, but Lauren Segal's knockout voice and Vogue-worthy costume turned it into a starring role. Michael Colvin, with his bright tenor was an unusually well sung Dr. Caius. When it comes to physical comedy, you can't do better than the kleptomaniac Pistola of Robert Gleadow, whose banana-peel tumbles were totally convincing. Colin Ainsworth sacrificed his handsome looks to be a scruffy Bardolfo, but his voice remained princely.  

Ford (Russell Braun) catches the lovers (Frederic Antoun, Simone Osborne) (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Robert Carsen for me is a fine example of a stage director who knows how to update and re-imagine a classic for a 21st century audience, at the same time remaining sensitive and respectful of the composer's intentions. He knows the Verdi score inside out, and he uses the many musical cues already supplied by the composer in his very detailed stage direction. His attention to detail is remarkable, down to the smallest props. Whie there's plenty of physical comedy in this production, there's nothing stock or stale about any of it. I've seen Falstaff literally dozens of times over the years, and most of the time these days I no longer find it funny enough to laugh. But last evening I did many times, heartily.  Of course all of this is only possible if you have committed singing actors and brilliant staging. The COC ensemble cast is well rehearsed with razor-sharp timing, navigating the musically complex score with ease, under the helm of conductor Johannes Debus. Physically the cast also look perfect, so in a way, our singers even surpassed the Met's. It's also worth noting that Carsen is a master in directing the chorus as an "organic whole," The COC chorus was in top form on opening night, with particular kudos to the men in the kitchen scene in Act 2 Scene 2.  Carsen's way with a crowd is evident in almost every production of his, from the Munich Ariadne to the recent Les dialogues des Carmelites.  He's one stage director I never get tired of.   Conducting his first Falstaff, COC Music Director led the orchestra with a sure hand, drawing luscious yet translucent sounds from the pit, particularly the shimmering strings.  Yes, this show is the stuff of memories for every opera fan.

General Director Alexander Neef with a happy Cast and Creative Team at the Post Performance Reception (Photo: Joseph So)

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Diana Damrau excels in Japanese Children Songs

Japanese Children Songs
Diana Damrau, soprano
Orchestre symphonique de Montreal / Kent Nagano, conductor
Analekta AN2 9131

This disc of 22 Japanese children songs is a complete delight. Conductor Kent Nagano was singularly responsible for its genesis. The accompanying booklet gives a detailed account of how Nagano, a third generation Japanese from California, started researching these songs after hearing his wife sing them to their daughter. These hauntingly beautiful songs, newly orchestrated, were first heard in two live performances in February-March 2010 at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier in Montreal, and the part of the recording involving the soloist was recorded in Germany in June 2011. Nagano could not have picked a better singer or finer interpreter than Diana Damrau.

In 2011, Damrau was experiencing motherhood first hand with her two children Alexander and Colyn.  She brings the right qualities to these songs, not just vocal beauty but a palpable sense of love and tenderness – one can imagine her singing these to her own children. Damrau had a big success as Lucia in the Metropolitan Opera tour to Japan in 2011, right after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I imagine how this visit inspired her to make this recording. Singing in Japanese must have been a real challenge for the German soprano. To my ears she is extremely convincing. But to be sure, I consulted a Japanese music colleague who is a native speaker. According to her, not only is Damrau’s singing wonderful, her diction is good.  Damrau’s pronunciation of K and S are that of a non-Japanese, but other than that, she’s very good at articulating Japanese words. These songs are about Old Japan, from the late 19th Century to 1930, with sentimental text expressing a longing for the past. It really bears no resemblance to Japan in the 21st Century.

These songs aren’t really sung by Japanese children today. However, one can still find them on the concert stage sung by professional singers, particularly sopranos and it’s still popular among middle-aged and elderly people. The Montreal Children’s Choir is absolutely lovely, and Kent Nagano conducts these songs leading Montreal Symphony Orchestra with great affection. The booklet with Japanese text and translations plus several essays is beautifully presented and informative.  This disc is more than a curiosity, but one every music lover should explore. It ranks among the best Canadian releases of 2014.   
- Joseph So

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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

OSM and Nagano: Homage to Richard Strauss

by Paul E. Robinson

Strauss: Death and Transfiguration Op. 24
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in g minor Op. 22
Strauss: Symphonia Domestica Op. 53

Benjamin Grosvenor, piano
Orchestra symphonique de Montréal/Kent Nagano

Tuesday, September 23, 2015
Maison symphonique
Montreal, Quebec

In a few weeks time the OSM will embark on its 10th tour of Japan, and its first-ever visit to China. At Maison symphonique the orchestra is currently polishing its tour repertoire. On the basis of what I heard there is still work to be done.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Mixed Message Programming?
The program was titled “Homage to Richard Strauss”, presumably to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth, yet nowhere in the printed program was there any reference to this fact. Curiously, the concert was dedicated to the memory of Franz-Paul Decker, a former music director of the OSM, who passed away earlier this year. One of Decker’s specialties was the music of Richard Strauss. Perhaps the title of the concert should have been “Homage to Franz-Paul Decker”, or “Homage to Strauss and Decker” with appropriate essays in the printed program. No reference in the program either to the fact that the Strauss pieces will be featured at the forthcoming concerts in Beijing and Shanghai. My impression is that there isn’t much communication between the OSM administration and the folks who put together the printed program.

Then there is the matter of presenting a program titled “Homage to Richard Strauss” and slipping in a piano concerto by Saint-Saëns. That makes no sense at all. Even program annotator Robert Markow was hard-pressed to find any connection between the two composers. He settled for “the sheer longevity of their lives” – 85 for Strauss and 86 for Saint-Saëns. I note that the China programs will be all-Strauss with the Saint-Saëns tossed out and the Four Last Songs tossed in.

Strauss' Domestic Symphony Rarely Performed
I tip my hat to Kent Nagano and the OSM for presenting the first live performance of the Symphonia Domestica I have heard in more than 60 years of concert going. It is a piece I got to know well long ago through recordings conducted by Fritz Reiner and George Szell. Conceptually it is a monstrosity. Can we really take seriously a piece that celebrates the minutiae of family life using an orchestra of 120 players, lasting 45 minutes and  frequently rising to climaxes of post-Wagnerian sweep and grandeur? No, of course not. It is ridiculous. On the other hand, the Symphonia Domestica contains some of the composer’s most beautiful melodies and stunning orchestral fireworks. So we take it for what it does well and forget the programmatic nonsense.

Nagano and the OSM musicians got a lot out of this Strauss rarity with outstanding playing from nearly every section. The fine bass section met every challenge with accuracy and beautiful tone. I was sitting in the left Loge section near the stage and so had a rather distorted sound picture. The horns, for example, even though they numbered eight, could scarcely be heard. On the other hand, the trombones pointed right at me, seemed prominent throughout the piece.

While most of the parts of the Symphonia Domestica seemed well-prepared, however, I had the sense that the orchestra needed to play the piece a few more times before they really got comfortable with it. The final fugue, for example, can be tremendously exciting but only when the conductor and the players have the confidence to really let go. It needs to go faster, without noticeable stops and starts, to make its full effect.

More Work to be Done!
I had a similar reaction to the performance of Strauss’ much earlier and mercifully much shorter tone poem, Death and Transfiguration. Lots of lovely moments but not yet a fully-realized performance. The final massive climax and the build-up which precedes it are among Strauss’ most inspired conceptions. In Nagano’s hands the climax didn’t come close to being the apocalyptic moment the composer must have had in mind. 

Death and Transfiguration is not the rarity that the Symphonia Domestica is and many listeners will have heard glorious performances on recordings and in the concert hall. My most recent experience came in a live performance by Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic - a gripping experience, and the kind of competition Nagano and the OSM are up against when they travel the world. More work to be done.

Benjamin Grosvenor
Lightweight Saint-Saëns Superbly Played
While the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2 made no programmatic sense, the performance was first-class. Twenty-two year old British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor gives the impression that he is all business but he found plenty of humor and poetry in the piece. He tossed off the technical challenges with no trouble at all and never pushed the volume. To be sure, this is a lightweight piece but it benefits greatly from the attention of a fine musician like Mr. Grosvenor. Nagano and the OSM gave him a superb accompaniment.

Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, “Classical Airs.”

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Monday, 29 September 2014

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 29 septembre au 5 octobre

Andréanne Brisson-Paquin
Le Trio Hochelaga invité des Lundis d’Edgar
Le Trio Hochelaga est considéré comme un important ensemble de musique de chambre sur la scène musicale québécoise et canadienne. La violoniste Anne Robert, la violoncelliste Chloé Dominguez et le pianiste Charles Richard-Hamelin, lauréat du 2e Prix au dernier CMIM, feront certainement une rencontre mémorable de ce concert animé par Edgar Fruitier. Le trio interprète des œuvres marquantes du répertoire romantique, de l’époque classique ainsi que des œuvres du 20e siècle. Maison de la culture Frontenac, 29 septembre, 20 h.
 - Renée Banville

Concerts pour enfants
Dans la grande région de Montréal, l’OSM est un incontournable avec sa nouvelle Maison symphonique. L’OSM et son chef ont toujours le désir de créer des mariages musicaux uniques. Avec le concert Les Trois Accords (30 septembre et 1er octobre), l’arrangeur Simon Leclerc saura séduire un vaste public. Il y a aussi la série conçue pour enfants Jeux d’enfants qui sera intéressante à vivre avec vos enfants ou petits-enfants.
- Marc-Olivier Laramée

Concert inaugural de la 26e saison à la Chapelle
La Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur ouvre ses portes le 1er octobre. Le nouveau directeur, Simon Blanchet, présentera les lauréats des bourses Guy-Soucie 2013, Andréanne Brisson-Paquin, soprano et Marek Krowicki, pianiste. Au programme: des œuvres de Schafer, Becker, Gellman, Debussy, Aboulker et Gougeon. À cette occasion aura également lieu le lancement de l’album souvenir La Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, le premier quart de siècle, écrit par Georges Nicholson et publié aux éditions Druide.
Durant la première semaine se succéderont l’ensemble Quartetski, avec le pianiste Alexandre Grogg, dans un programme Moussorgski (jeudi 2), les pianistes Matt Herskowitz et John Roney, auxquels se joindra la pianiste de jazz Lorraine Desmarais (vendredi 3), les pianistes Olivier Godin et François Zeitouni (dimanche 5) et le Trio Fibonacci (mercredi 8).
 - Renée Banville

L’Orchestre Métropolitain
Pour ouvrir sa 15e saison à la barre de l’OM, Yannick Nézet-Séguin présente le testament symphonique de Mahler, un compositeur qu’il chérit tout particulièrement. La 10e Symphonie clôture le cycle Mahler entamé par son orchestre en 2001. Maison symphonique, 3 et 4 octobre, 19 h 30.
 - Renée Banville

Opéra Immédiat présente La chauve-souris, en version française
Après avoir produit plusieurs drames du grand répertoire lyrique tels que La Bohème de Puccini et Lucia di Lammermoor de Donizetti, la compagnie lyrique renoue avec la comédie dans cette opérette de Johann Strauss Fils. Comme l’Opéra de Montréal il y a deux saisons, Opéra immédiat proposera la version française de Die Fledermaus. L’unique représentation aura lieu le 4 octobre à la salle Marie-Gérin-Lajoie de l’UQÀM, sortant ainsi du lieu habituel des productions au Théâtre Rialto.
À l’affiche, Sophie de Cruz, Marc-Antoine d’Aragon, Yanick Alexandre, Éric Thériault, Julien Horbatuck, Julija Karakorska et Gustave Richard pour incarner tous ces personnages burlesques, en compagnie du Chœur d’Opéra immédiat. La mise en scène a été confiée à Frédéric Antoine Guimond. À noter la collaboration exceptionnelle de l’Orchestre philharmonique des musiciens de Montréal (OPMEM), dirigé par Carl-Matthieu Neher. 4 octobre 2014 – Salle Marie-Gérin-Lajoie, Université du Québec à Montréal.
 - Justin Bernard

L’Orchestre de l’Université de Montréal présente un concert d’œuvres variées aux inspirations parisiennes. Les jeunes musiciens joueront la Symphonie gaspésienne de Claude Champagne dans le cadre de la commémoration du 50e anniversaire de la salle Claude-Champagne. L’œuvre du compositeur québécois côtoiera au programme le Concerto pour piano en sol majeur de Ravel, la Symphonie en ré mineur de Franck et le troisième mouvement du Concerto pour piccolo et orchestre de Lowell Libermann. 4 octobre.
- Jacqueline Vanasse

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