La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 29 December 2007

New Arts Recipients of the Order of Canada

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, announced today 61 new appointments to the Order of Canada. See the press release.

Notable amongst the recipients are the following for arts related activities:

  • Michael Snow, C.C., Toronto, Ontario, Companion of the Order of Canada. For his contributions to international visual arts as one of Canada's greatest multidisciplinary contemporary artists. This is a promotion within the Order. See official bio and wiki bio.
  • Marie Chouinard, O.C., Montreal, Quebec, Officer of the Order of Canada.
    For her contributions to modern dance as an internationally renowned dancer and choreographer. See bio and official website
  • Douglas Gordon (D.G.) Jones, O.C., North Hatley, Quebec, Officer of the Order of Canada. For his contributions to Canadian literature as an influential poet, mentor, editor and translator. See wiki bio
  • Donat Lacroix, O.C., Caraquet, New Brunswick, Officer of the Order of Canada. For his contributions to the promotion of Acadian culture and traditions, through his songs and poetry.
  • Grant Munro, O.C., Westmount, Quebec, Officer of the Order of Canada. For his innovative contributions in the fields of animation and filmmaking throughout his 45-year career with the National Film Board of Canada. See bio.
  • Adrianne Pieczonka, O.C., Toronto, Ontario, Officer of the Order of Canada. For her contributions as one of the top opera singers of her generation and as an artistic ambassador for Canada. Official website.
  • Steven Staryk, O.C., Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.A. and Toronto, Ontario, Officer of the Order of Canada. For his contributions as a musician, concertmaster and teacher, and as one of Canada's most-recorded violinists. See bio.
  • Jeff Wall, O.C., Vancouver, British Columbia, Officer of the Order of Canada. For his contributions as an influential art photographer whose work has been exhibited around the world, and for his mentorship of a generation of young artists. See wiki bio
  • Garry W. Anderson, C.M., Cranbrook, British Columbia, Member of the Order of Canada. For his contributions to heritage conservation, notably as the driving force behind the creation of the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel and the Cranbrook Archives, Museum and Landmark Foundation.
  • John Barron, C.M., Komoka, Ontario, Member of the Order of Canada. For his contributions to music education and choral development for young people in Canada.
  • Carol Gay Bell, C.M., Regina, Saskatchewan, Member of the Order of Canada. For her contributions as an artistic director who has promoted and developed young actors, singers and dancers in Saskatchewan. See bio
  • Hélène-Andrée Bizier, C.M., Montreal, Quebec, Member of the Order of Canada.
    For her contributions to promoting Quebec's history and culture through her books and multimedia products. See wiki bio.
  • Thea Borlase, C.M., Moncton, New Brunswick, Member of the Order of Canada. For her contributions to culture in New Brunswick, particularly for her role in developing artists from the province's two cultural and linguistic communities.
  • Marcien Ferland, C.M., La Salle, Manitoba, Member of the Order of Canada. For his contributions to the preservation and promotion of the Franco-Manitoban and Métis cultures, as choir director, composer and founder of the Chorale des Intrépides. See bio.
  • Mallory Gilbert, C.M., Toronto, Ontario, Member of the Order of Canada. For her contributions to the success of Toronto's Tarragon Theatre, and for helping foster a vibrant national theatre scene.
  • Valerie Hussey, C.M., Toronto, Ontario, Member of the Order of Canada.
    For her contributions to the development of Canadian children's fiction and non-fiction as head of a major children's publishing house, and for her work as a dedicated volunteer with industry and non-profit organizations.
  • Bruce Pullan, C.M., Delta, British Columbia, Member of the Order of Canada.
    For his contributions to the development of singers of all ages, as a professor of music and as a founder and director of numerous choirs. See bio
  • Paul Shaffer, C.M., Bedford, New York, U.S.A. and Thunder Bay, Ontario, Member of the Order of Canada.
    For his contributions as an internationally renowned musician who has also shared his time and talents with educational, health care and arts groups, notably as a supporter of Epilepsy Canada, the Kiwanis Music Festivals of Canada and Lakehead University.
  • Jeffrey Spalding, C.M., Calgary, Alberta and Jeddore, Nova Scotia, Member of the Order of Canada.
    For his contributions as a champion of Canadian artists, notably as a curator who has developed popular exhibitions that have attracted new audiences to Canadian art galleries. See bio
  • T. Kenneth Thorlakson, C.M., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Member of the Order of Canada.
    For his contributions as a volunteer and fundraiser dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Icelandic heritage and culture in Manitoba.
  • Richard B. Wright, C.M., St. Catharines, Ontario, Member of the Order of Canada.
    For his contributions as a writer of modern fiction, whose many novels, including the award-winning Clara Callan, have enriched Canadian literature. See wiki bio

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Monday, 24 December 2007

Oscar Peterson has Died

Canadian Jazz legend Oscar Peterson passed away yesterday (December 23, 2007) of kidney failure in Mississauga, Ontario.

Wrote Richard Beauchamp at CJAD:

During his half-century career, he's played with such jazz giants as Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Ella Fitzgerald...among others...and is regarded as one of the finest jazz pianists of all time.

He was born in Montreal on August 15, 1925, and was raised in Little Burgundy. He arrived in New York City -- then the jazz capital of the world -- in 1949, at the invitation of legendary jazz impresario Norman Granz.

He received numerous honours throughout his career, including the Order of Canada, and a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1997. Concordia University's named its concert hall at Loyola Campus in his honour in 1999.

He will be missed.

Give us your comments.

Visit our Oscar Peterson spotlight for the tributes.
WKC: Here is a video of Oscar Peterson found at Natasha Gauthier's blog


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Last orders



For those still filling in their worst-ever classical Christmas track, there's a late surge of support for Robert Alagna's Sleigh Ride Medley on DG's We Wish You A Merry Xmas album. No more egregious assault on English language and cadence has been heard since the late King Lucy slaughtered cod lyrics to Adolphe Adam's Cantique de Noel - dee star (sic) are brytlee shyning, eet ees dee nyte - in duet with Crown Prince Placido on untouchable Sony.
There's also a specially written slice of mince on that selfsame album by Placido Domingo Jr - well, it's the season when families get together, isn't it?
By popular demand, lines for your worst-ever votes remain open til New Year's Eve.
And those of you slumped before a UK telly at teatime on Xmas Eve can see a fine BBC2 doc on King Lucy's greater moments.

Source: Artsjournal

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Au Rayon du disque décembre 2007 / Off the Record December 2007

par / by Charles Collard, Félix-Antoine Hamel, Paul Serralheiro

Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet : The Middle PictureFirehouse 12 FH12-04-01-002
****
Although cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum includes a version of Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way" in this his latest album, he is far from a Davisian clone; his use of growls and all kinds of muted sounds would rather place him firmly in the post-Ellington camp. A frequent collaborator (and former student) of Anthony Braxton, Bynum explores various structures and sound textures in The Middle Picture, with help from Matt Bauder (reeds), Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Jessica Pavone (viola, bass)-all members of Braxton's large ensemble as well-plus guitarist Evan O'Reilly and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. This dynamic, guitar-heavy and sometimes noisy group is also capable of beautiful moments, like the reworking of Billy Strayhorn's "Bluebird Of Delhi" from Duke Ellington's Far East Suite, and the cuban-like figure that closes the following mm(pf). The most ambitious piece here is the three-part "JP & the Boston Suburbs," which starts with a floating conversation between brass, saxophone and guitars, turns into a percussion statement by Fujiwara, then segues into a ferocious guitar interlude, with thematic interpolation by the horns. The third part ("aka Knit & Swim") has more of a Braxtonian theme. The sparser trio of Bynum, Halvorson and Fujiwara is also featured, both opening and closing this album, recommended to anyone interested in the future of jazz. (Bynum, Pavone, Halvorson and Fujiwara also form a touring collective named The Thirteenth Assembly, which will appear in town on December 6 at the Casa Del Popolo.) FAH

A Pair of Threes
Wilson/Lee/Bentley : Escondido Dreams
Drip Audio DA00206
***
This disc will surprise most listeners, as this is no ordinary guitar trio. From the instrumentation (guitar, cello, saxophone) to the approach to textures, form and melodies, this is a creative encounter of distinct voices on the Vancouver improvised music scene. Tony Wilson's guitar is unlike any other for its ability to go from mellow to monstrous and many shades in between, as in the delicate orientalisms of "Laxing Lizards Resume" and the growling sound-effects of "Floating Island." Cellist Peggy Lee brings her usual contemplative playing, as well as many an adventurous streak in her sound conception. Saxophonist Bentley, the youngest of the group, has a lyrical, light touch that fits in perfectly as a contrasting voice against the intensity of Wilson's keening guitar and the wizardry of Lee's cello. The melodic material can be described as musing and meditative, but comes across in a variety of tempi and forms, all boldly coloured by the different personalities of the musicians. Despite some moments of directionless meandering in the solos, there is a refreshing dose of exciting risk-taking. PS

NHØP Trio : The Unforgettable NHØP Trio Live
ACT 9464-2
***
No one would contest the claim that the late Danish jazzman Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen was a major voice on the bass. His passing in 2005 at age 58 was a sad loss for jazz. This disc features the bassist's trio in live settings: in Denmark in 1999 and in Germany in 2005, about a month before his sudden passing. It is nice to hear the bass take the melody as often as it does, from the opening "The Bach Piece," to "The Song is You" and "Our Love is Here to Stay." Pedersen sounds just as good on the two Scandinavian folk songs included here. As for his trio cohorts, they are accomplished musicians who can keep up with their leader, though they do not match the individuality of his voice. Having played together for the last 10 years of the bassist's life, this unit is both cohesive and tight. Guitarist Ulf Wakenius for one has some burning moments, as in his own scorching "Lines," and some imaginative solos throughout, although he gets a little predictable in spots. Drummer Jonas Johansen has a nice light way with swing, with a few surprising splashes of colour and unexpected accents along the way. PS

Yannick Rieu : Saint-Gervais
Justin Time JTR 8356-2
***
L'un des saxophonistes les plus remarquables du jazz d'ici, Yannick Rieu ne s'est jamais gêné pour afficher ses affinités avec les grandes figures du saxo ténor moderne, en l'occurrence John Coltrane et Sonny Rollins. Son plus récent opus, enregistré dans un club parisien en décembre dernier, s'inscrit nettement dans la lignée rollinsienne, avec un mouvement de la Freedom Suite du grand ténor - qu'il avait déjà interprétée en entier sur Sweet Geom (Les disques Victo), en 1994 - et quelques standards américains dignes du grand Sonny (I'll Never Stop Loving You, Like Someone In Love et I Hear A Rhapsody). Sobrement accompagné par le contrebassiste Nicolas Rageau et le batteur Philippe Soirat, Rieu reprend également ses compositions Following et In The Myth. On ne peut s'empêcher de penser que le saxophoniste lorgne dans son rétroviseur et même si c'est fort agréable à écouter, les fidèles du saxophoniste trouveront peu à se mettre sous la dent, ou plutôt dans l'oreille. Trois étoiles pour le répertoire, une autre demie pour la qualité de jeu. FAH

Jane Fair : Chances Are
Cellar Live Cl 033003
***
Difficile destin que celui de Jane Fair, saxophoniste approchant la soixantaine, dont le principal titre de gloire se résumait à un album en quintette enregistré au début des années 1970 pour le compte de la CBC. Une femme de sa génération ne pouvait percer sur son instrument, le ténor, contrairement à nombre de collègues masculins, parfois musiciens moins accomplis. Après avoir terminé ses études à Montréal, elle jouera épisodiquement en ville avant de s'exiler à Toronto où elle se consacrera à l'enseignement. Au fil des ans, elle reviendra dans la métropole pour retrouver des amis d'antan, entre autres Guy Nadon et Andrew Homzy. Après plus de 30 ans à rouler sa bosse dans l'ombre, elle refait surface avec ce CD de cinq morceaux captés en direct au Cellar de Vancouver en 2003. Élégance et grâce, selon nulle autre que Jane Bunnett, une de ses anciennes élèves. Cohérente dans son ensemble et pleine de bonnes idées musicales, la performance ne manque pas de beaux moments, notamment le dialogue improvisé avec le guitariste Bill Coon sur le standard Lazy Afternoon. La saxophoniste montre l'étendue de son expérience dans ses trois compositions originales, la première donnant son titre au disque. Pour les surprises, on cherchera peut-être ailleurs, mais ce jazz intemporel est bien ficelé, agrémenté comme il l'est par un soupçon cool de la West Coast. CC

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Saturday, 22 December 2007

Measha Brueggergosman on the cover of Chatelaine

The January 2008 issue of Chatelaine features a cover interview/profile of Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman who reveals details about her incredible weight lost of over 150 pounds over the last two years. Wrote Danielle Groen:
Now she's hooked on Bikram yoga, an intense, sweaty workout of 26 poses performed in a heated room. She has completed two 30-day challenges (90 minutes of yoga every day) and two double 30-day challenges (all that yoga, twice a day). "It doesn't require that I muster up my own self-discipline, which is great. With Bikram, my only responsibility is to show up." Whenever she travels, Measha seeks out a centre. "There's one in every major city in the world. It's like church." She credits yoga for her dramatic physical transformation.
Groen also writes that Brueggergosman is "Only 30 and already Canada's best-known opera singer..." Many in the Canadian operatic scene would probably wince at this statement given the singer's dearth of recent operatic performances. There is though some truth to the suggestion of "best-known" given Brueggergosman's frequent celebrity appearances on TV and radio.

Brueggergosman will have a chance to add to her operatic street cred when she makes her Mozart operatic debut singing Elettra in Mozart's Idomeneo with Opera Atelier, April 26, 27, 29, May 1, 2, 3, 2008.

Our Question of the Day: Who is Canada's best-known opera singer? Give us your comments.

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Friday, 21 December 2007

The sincerest form of flattery

My recent book, The Life and Death of Classical Music, contains an analysis of the 20 worst classical records ever made. Colin Larkin (see press release below) has appended the 100 worst pop records to his outstanding and important Encyclopedia of Popular Music, which goes online from next week (see below once more).

Among Colin's 100 worst are seven chilling Xmas albums. My list had room only for Kiri at Christmas, although a new compilation from Sony came tantalisingly close. Has there ever been a less festive track than Charlotte Church trilling Dong Dong Merrily on High with the London Symphony Orchestra? Or Bobby McFerrin's Ave Maria? Or Josh Bell's Ave Maria, with a ghostly background chorus? Oh look, and here's Kiri again with Andre at the piano...

You've heard worse?
Tell me about it, right here. Lines are open til Midnight Mass.
*
The Christmas jingles we love to hate...
'Once music publishers had heard the cash tills ringing there was no stopping them and since the 1950s things have been steadily declining into a bottomless pit of mediocrity that now asks the perennial question, what will be the Christmas number 1?'
No less than seven Christmas records have been included in music guru Colin Larkin's 100 worst albums of all time, part of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, the critically acclaimed 10-volume work now available ONLINE for the first time this December through the subscription website www.oxfordmusiconline.com.
And, for the launch of the new online edition, Colin has charted the rise (or fall) of the Christmas record on Oxford University Press's own blog at http://blog.oup.com
'The celebration of Christmas in popular song must really be credited to the wise old men of Tin Pan Alley, USA; more specifically, the pre-Rock 'n' Roll market that existed in the mid-40s to the early 50s,' says Colin. 'Clearly there was a market for a 'great' Christmas single, but what the world would also learn, was that there was a market for terrible, wretched, awful, trite, saccharine-soaked, sentimentalist-nonsense, let-me-out-of-here rubbish.'
Colin looks at the all-time classic singles and albums ('White Christmas' by Bing Crosby and others, 'The Christmas Song' sung by Nat King Cole, and The Beach Boys' Christmas Album) and also discusses his all-time turkeys (Shakin' Stevens' 'Merry Christmas Everyone', Chris de Burgh's 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' and basically anything by Sir Cliff Richard).
'It is well over 40 years since the Beach Boys and Phil Spector albums were released, and yet nobody has come near them for quality or sheer feel-good factor,' says Colin. 'Or is it simply that we have milked this Christmas cow dry and nothing will ever match the likes of the soothing comfort of Nat King Cole or Ella Fitzgerald at Christmas?'
And Colin's greatest all-time Christmas song, ever, ever, ever? 'Father Christmas' by the Kinks, a 1977 single that never even made the charts, anywhere. Bah humbug!
Christmas culprits in Colin's Larkins' 100 worst albums of all time:
· Michael Bolton: This is the Time: The Christmas Album (Columbia 1996)
· Booker T. and the MGs: In the Christmas Spirit (Stax 1966)
· Father Abraham and the Smurfs: Merry Christmas with the Smurfs (Dureco 1983)
· Hanson: Snowed in for Christmas (Mercury 1997)
· New Kids on the Block: Merry, Merry Christmas (Columbia 1989)
· Lou Rawls: Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! (Capitol 1967)
· Jerry Jeff Walker: Christmas Gonzo Style (Rykodisc 1994)
For more details or to interview Colin Larkin, please contact Juliet Evans on 01865 353911 or email juliet.evans@oup.com.
Visit www.oxfordonline.com/epm for background information and resources or join the mailing list at www.oxfordonline.com/listserv to receive regular updates.

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Entre regard et voix : Maria Callas

par Pierre Sultan, psychologue clinicien, psychanalyste - Paris, France
« Enlevez-la, je ne veux pas la voir », s'écrie Evangélia Kalogeropoulos lorsqu'elle accouche le 4 décembre 1923. L'enfant attendra quatre jours avant d'être enfin prénommée Maria. Ici, tout est dit ou presque. La violence de ce rejet initial aura façonné ce destin hors du commun, celui de la Callas. La rencontre mère-fille est incontestablement manquée. Fragilisée par une accumulation de deuils insurmontables, Evangélia souffre sans doute d'une dépression majeure que l'arrivée de cet enfant ne fait qu'accentuer. Il y a initialement la mort de son père adoré. Un mariage précipité qui ne comble pas ses aspirations sociales. La disparition prématurée de son second enfant emporté à trois ans par la typhoïde. Enfin, le départ pour les États-Unis décidé par Georges son époux, qui la contraint à laisser derrière elle la Grèce, sa famille, sa langue maternelle. Alors une lueur d'espoir apparaît lorsqu'elle tombe à nouveau enceinte. Cette troisième grossesse est investie de façon disproportionnée. Elle viendra réparer la perte du petit Vassilios... Mais l'enfant n'est pas le garçon tant espéré.

Mise de côté, peu investie par une mère tout accaparée par sa dépression et ses deuils impossibles, Maria demeure une enfant solitaire. Elle a pris l'habitude de manger plus que de raison, sans doute aidée par une mère qui l'a gavée plutôt que nourrie. Le résultat ne se fait pas attendre, elle souffre rapidement d'embonpoint. À son allure disgracieuse s'ajoute le port de lunettes aux verres épais, car l'enfant souffre d'une forte myopie.

Très vite, la petite Maria montre un intérêt marqué pour la musique. Confusément, l'enfant doit avoir compris qu'il s'agit du moyen le plus sûr de nouer un lien avec sa mère. Or Evangélia, qui a raté son mariage et en partie sa vie, a des velléités de réussite par procuration au travers de ses filles, principalement Jacqueline, son aînée et sa préférée. Mais Maria est sans conteste la plus douée. À force de patience, l'enfant réussit à attirer l'attention si peu maternelle d'Evangélia.

Le peu d'intérêt de cette mère se meut alors en une sollicitude excessive où Maria se doit, à de nombreuses occasions, de pousser la note. On connaît la suite. Les tentatives infructueuses aux États-Unis, le retour en Grèce, puis la rencontre décisive avec la grande Elvira de Hidalgo, illustre Soprano devenue professeur de chant qui, coincée en Grèce pour cause de guerre, enseigne au Conservatoire d'Athènes.

Il y a donc d'un côté une femme - Evangélia - profondément dépressive, dont l'humeur la rend quasiment absente auprès de ses filles. Mais dès lors qu'une musique se fait entendre, ses enfants la voient s'animer un peu et reprendre vie. En vis-à-vis, il y a une enfant - Maria - peu investie par sa mère qui fera sien l'intérêt de celle-ci pour la musique. Une enfant qui, par ce tiers « musique », tente de capter l'attention d'une femme malade. La fillette devient alors en quelque sorte thérapeute de sa mère, à l'image de ces enfants parfois très jeunes, pour certains d'entre eux encore nourrissons, qui présentent une réactivité surprenante face à des mères très déprimées qu'ils paraissent tenter de stimuler coûte que coûte...

A posteriori on n'ose imaginer, si la petite Maria ne s'était mise à chanter, comment aurait évolué la pathologie maternelle... Mais surtout ce que serait devenue Maria Callas elle-même si elle n'avait pu transcender cette dure entrée dans la vie par la musique et le chant.

Cette inclination particulière, autrement dit ce don développé très tôt, s'était sans doute déjà étayée sur ce que le petit enfant avait confusément capté ou simplement supposé du désir maternel... La petite Maria allait alors commencer une seconde vie, tracée par ce soudain intérêt d'Evangélia pour ce nouvel objet d'amour, « l'objet-voix »...

Son destin s'articule précisément autour de deux axes majeurs : le regard maternel absent à la naissance et l'objet-voix auquel Maria sera identifiée de façon si marquée qu'il l'enfermera.

Elle va multiplier grâce à sa voix unique, reconnaissable entre toutes, les apparitions en public sur les scènes des plus grands théâtres. À défaut d'avoir été regardée par cette femme si peu maternelle, elle sera entendue par le plus grand nombre dans le monde entier. Or, malgré sa forte myopie, Maria Callas ne portera ni lunettes ni lentilles sur scène. Une seule et unique fois pourtant elle s'y essayera, mais se gardera bien de renouveler l'expérience, trop bouleversée sans doute par la vue de ces regards posés sur elle.

Le choix de son premier amour, l'industriel italien Battista Meneghini, qu'elle épouse à vingt-cinq ans, reste fidèle à ce principe. Cet homme de cinquante-cinq ans, passionné d'opéra, est plus fasciné par la voix de la jeune fille que par son physique qui, à l'époque encore, n'est pas des plus séduisants, loin s'en faut. On est en effet très tôt subjugué par cette voix si particulière, que l'intéressée elle-même qualifiait de « rebelle » et que son ami et producteur Michel Glotz appelle « voix de bête fauve ». L'individu s'efface derrière l'objet-voix et les hommes qu'elle croise s'intéressent plus à celui-ci qu'à la femme elle-même.

On a beaucoup écrit sur sa liaison avec Aristote Onassis. Retenons simplement que peu mélomane, il aura sans doute été le premier à regarder Maria Callas en mettant de côté l'objet-voix. Si cette relation houleuse aura eu des effets délétères pour Maria Callas, elle aura aussi été la plus aboutie, la plus satisfaisante pour la femme. Pour preuve, lorsque l'armateur grec entre dans sa vie, Maria ralentit son rythme professionnel, n'ayant plus la même attente vis-à-vis du public, comblée alors par ce regard qui lui donne une place de sujet à part entière. Le bonheur est de courte durée. Onassis a d'autres préoccupations, politiques et financières cette fois. Il épousera Jackie Kennedy, mariage qu'il regrettera dit-on peu de temps après... Qu'importe, Maria Callas doit remonter sur scène, pour tenter à nouveau de faire entendre sa voix, pour exister, tout simplement. Mais son corps montre depuis longtemps des signes de faiblesse. Ses sinus la font régulièrement souffrir. Sa tension est souvent dangereusement basse et « les nerfs n'y sont plus », confie t-elle à ses amis.

À présent abandonnée des forces nécessaires à faire entendre cette voix étonnante par la singularité de ses accents torturés et douloureux, et en l'absence du soutien d'un regard porté sur elle, quelle autre issue sinon la mort ? Seule depuis quelques années, recluse dans son appartement parisien où, repliée sur un passé perdu, elle écoute inlassablement ses enregistrements, témoins palpables de l'existence de cet objet-voix grâce auquel elle a survécu jusqu'alors, Maria Callas s'est éteinte, il y a trente ans, à l'âge de cinquante-trois ans.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2007

San Francisco Opera Joins HD Cinema Broadcasts

More arts groups will join the trend to show arts productions at the cinema in light of the Metropolitan Opera's successful Live in HD, as we reported in this blog last week. The San Francisco Opera announced yesterday that they will be showing 6 pre-recorded High Definition operas from March to November 2008 in a four-year agreement with The Bigger Picture, a subsidiary of Access Integrated Technologies, Inc. See their press release (PDF format).

According to an article in the New York Times,
San Francisco Opera officials said they would use the digital format increasingly chosen for Hollywood feature films, pointing out that the Met mainly uses projection systems used for advertising in movie theaters.
In publicity materials the San Francisco Opera said, "the quality is clearly better on digital-cinema-quality projectors," compared with the Met's broadcasts, but otherwise deferred comments on the issue to Jonathan Dern, a co-president of the Bigger Picture.
"It looks better, it sounds better and it is the standard for digital cinema," Mr. Dern said. The operas are expected to begin in all of the 50 leading markets, he said.
But the Met and San Francisco differ in one crucial area: The Met shows its operas live. San Francisco will transmit them after the fact.
"Being live is at the heart of our approach because we're creating basically satellite opera houses," said Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager. "That's what makes this more than a canned experience." Mr. Gelb also said the Met had gone into movie theaters before the Digital Cinema technology began spreading.
Showing operas at the cinema can be quite lucrative. Last Saturday's Met Opera: Live in HD of Gounod's Roméo et Juilette (the first of their 2nd season) reached 97,000 viewers and took in $1.65 million according to the company's blog. The question is whether San Francisco Opera and also Opus Arte's approach of presenting edited pre-recorded opera with a better picture quality can match this kind of turn out. The Met at the Movies has the advantage of being live events and benefit from free PR from the associated buzz, and as we hypothesized in our earlier blog entry, it's going to take some marketing effort to match the Met.
San Francisco Opera's 2008 lineup, with their own star-studded cast, are productions from the Summer and Fall 2007 season:
  • Giacomo Puccini - La Rondine
  • Camille Saint-Saëns - Samson and Delilah
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - The Magic Flute
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Don Giovanni
  • Philip Glass/Christopher Hampton - Appomattox
  • Giacomo Puccini - Madama Butterfly
Addendum: Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail reports that La Scala will also be getting into the act with their own 6-opera HD broadcast season, which will but available in North America only in the US. The series has already started in December 2007 with Aïda. The others are:
  • Tristan und Isolde (January 2008)
  • La Traviata (February 2008)
  • Maria Stuarda (March 2008)
  • La Forza del destino (April 2008)
  • Il Trittico (May 2008)
See the Emerging Pictures website for the list of participating theatres and cast info.


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Sunday, 16 December 2007

Met at the Movies: Romeo et Juliette

The second season of Met at the Movies got off to an auspicious start yesterday, with Romeo et Juliette. I attended the show at Cineplex's Sheppard Grande in Toronto, in Theatre 5, a large and clean theatre with a huge screen, very comfortable chairs and good sound. Last season's technical glitches appears to be a thing of the past - the satellite transmission was flawless yesterday. Although I didn't ask the theatre manager for confirmation, I believe the four theatres were completely sold out. The audience typically was older - I didn't see any young people, which is a shame. I imagine the New Year's Day show of Hansel und Gretel will be a different story.

It was very nice of Sheppard Grande to put on a wine-and-cheese tasting before the show, featuring cheese trays and very nice Jackson Triggs Red and White wines. I really wasn't expecting this, so my compliments to the management! The event was organized to promote the expanded cafe menu. Unlike typical movie theatre offerings of hot dogs and pop corn, now patrons can also purchase such items as chicken or veggie wraps or delicious sushi from Bento Nouveau. The promotion certainly got me to make a purchase that normally I would not have. I was also impressed with how clean the theatre was, free of the usual sticky spilled pop on the floor. These and other improvements made for a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon at the movies.

This performance of Romeo et Juliette starred Russian diva Anna Netrebko and French tenor Robert Alagna who replaced an ailing Rolando Villazon. While I was disappointed at Villazon's absence, Alagna proved to be a worthy replacement. Both took some time to warm up - Netrebko's opening aria had smudged coloratura, and Alagna sounded a little dry of voice. Near the end of Act 1, both were in fine form, particularly Netrebko whose gleaming voice was a pleasure. Her dark hued lirico-spinto sounded full and opulent, her irrepressible personality in full display. Romeo is a perfect vehicle for Alagna, who has sung this to great acclaim in the past. This afternoon, he was a suitably romantic and ardent Romeo. His "Ah leve-toi, soleil" was beautiful, perhaps just a bit too stentorian in his top notes while more chiaroscuro would have been preferable. The chemistry between the two was palpable - the "floating bed" scene was postively steamy, complete with "R-rated" body positions! It helps when you have two singers who also are such attractive people.

The production by Guy Joosten was strong on Renaissance themes - projections of the sun and planets, the zodiacs, and a small black circle at the bottom of the sun projection that I assume was the "transit of venus". Given that Venus is the planet of love, this is an interesting symbolic touch. Placido Domingo frankly exceeded my expectations in the conducting department. In past performances I saw, his baton could be a little rigid and he wasn't responsive to the singers - like the Boheme last season, when he was booed. Yesterday, he was really quite masterful. No matter how you look at it, Domingo is a phenom. In the interview with Fleming, he said that he has sung 43 roles at the Met, and a career total of 125 roles, a phenomenal number.

The supporting cast was generally strong. Bari-hunk Nathan Gunn did a star turn in the minor role of Mercutio, and Isabel Leonard was excellent as Stephano. Jane Bunnell, a Met regular, was a properly matronly Gertrude, while the celebrated British bass Robert Lloyd was a fatherly Friar Lawrence. The various fight scenes were realistically staged and stood up well to the camera. Indeed, the most impressive aspect of this show was the videography. The overhead shots and the backstage views were all stunning. I spoke to some friends and not everyone was happy with the intermission features and the behind the scenes cinema verite touches. Not me, I love it! If I were to nitpick, I think Renee Fleming tried a little too hard as the interviewer. All in all, this was a great show and it bodes well for the next seven telecasts this season.

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Thursday, 13 December 2007

High Definition Opera and Ballet Heat Up in December

Worldwide, the innovation of the last season was the Met Opera at the Movies Series. Such was its success that other art forms and other competition are poised to enter the marketplace.
This Saturday (December 15th), the Metropolitan Opera begins their second season of the Metropolitan Opera: Live in High Definition with Gounod's Romeo and Juliet with a star-studded cast: Russian diva Anna Netrebko as Juliet opposite the Romeo of Roberto Alagna who replaces the ailing Rolando Villazón; Placido Domingo conducts. The Met will increase to 8 LIVE High Definition videocasts from 6 shows last year, with an equal number of encore presentations, usually three weeks later. In Canada, 100 theatres of the Cineplex chain and Empire Theatres (maritimes) will be showing the series. In the US, these HD presentations will also be available on pay-per-view according to an article by Associated Press's Ronald Blum.
Ballet is also getting into the act. The season's hot ticket is Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and the National Ballet of Canada will show their sold-out December 22nd matinee performance at Cineplex theatres in Live HD. Read the press release from Cineplex.
Not to be out done, Britain's Opus Arte, a leader in opera and ballet on DVD, in collaboration with Montreal's DigiScreen (a Daniel Langlois company) will be showing recorded and edited High Definition versions of operas and the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker in selected movie theatres across Canada, the US and Europe; in Canada, Empire Theatres picks up the Nutcraker plus four independent cinemas in Montreal, Toronto, Waterloo and Vancouver.

Montreal's Cinema du Parc gets the ball rolling on December 15 and 16 with Verdi's La Traviata recorded in 2006 at the Theatro Madrid. The coincidence of scheduling head-to-head against the Met did not escape reporters. This series is likely to get off to a slow start as there was little marketing or PR. Without coordination of the offerings, the series lack the feeling of an event; each city has different programming except for the December 22 Nutcracker which competes directly with Cineplex again. According to DigiScreen's news release and website, the lesser known Spanish zazurella Luiza Fernanda will screen on January 19, 2008, but not at the Cinema du Parc in Montreal which will show La Bohème on January 12-13.
Review
The Opus Arte / DigiScreen HD picture is even better than what I remember of last year's MET HD and the surround sound is superb.
According to Cinema du Parc's Marc Lamothe, the theatre installed special proprietary HD equipment and the tape is similar to HD Beta. I had the pleasure of viewing a preview screening of Traviata and the experience is well worth the $20 admission. As Violetta, Norah Amsellem gave a masterful and touching performance; she looked quite the part too. Jose Bros was convincing as Alfredo and Renato Bruson shrugged off a rough start to sing a strong performance. Pier Luigi Pizzi's 1950s sets is beautiful. Although he has announced programming only through January, Lamothe plans more shows in February and March and possibly beyond in the Saturday and Sunday afternoon slot.

Here are our picks through January:

December 15: Romeo and Juliet (MET). Montrealers: If it's sold out, head to La Traviata (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
December 16: La Traviata (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
December 22: Nutcracker - Toss up between National Ballet and San Francisco
Dec. 23, 29, 30, Jan. 5, 6: Encore San Francisco Nutcracker (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
January 1: Hansel und Gretel (MET)
January 5: Encore
Romeo and Juliet (MET)
January 12: Verdi, MacBeth (MET). Montrealers: If it's sold out, head to La Boheme (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
January 13: La Boheme (Cinema du Parc, Montreal)
January 19: Luiza Fernanda (Toronto, Waterloo, Vancouver)
January 26: Hansel und Gretel (MET)
Adult Price: $19.95
Links:

> Metropolitan Opera
> Cineplex
> DigiScreen
> Cinema du Parc


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Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Best Classical CDs of 2007

As we approach the end of another year, we here at LSM delight in the seemingly endless string of "best of" lists coming our way. Via our friends as NPR Classical WGUC has this year's best classical music CDs pegged at:

















































































9./ Cantus


















Robin Gehl writes:

"To paraphrase an old marketing slogan, "this is not you father's Oldsmobile," these are not your father's classical artists. A new generation of instrumentalists, singers, and conductors has been taking the consort stage by storm, represented in part by these ten standout recordings of 2007."

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Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Stockhausen Spotlight Page

There has been an outpouring of reactions to the recent passing of avant-garde German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. La Scena Musicale has created a Stockhausen Spotlight at scena.org to cover the tributes and reactions. Our February 2008 issue will discuss why Stockhausen was a major composer. We welcome your comments, some of which will be published in the article.

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