La Scena Musicale

Monday, 28 December 2009

This Week in Toronto (December 28 - January 3)

Photo: Bravissimo and Salute to Vienna concerts by Attlia Glatz Productions

First of all, a slightly belated Holiday Greetings to one and all! Now that we have had our fill of holiday food and spirits, what better way to celebrate the festive season - to ring in the new year - than a concert or two? While the opera and symphony are currently in hiatus, there are still a number of classical events worthy of your attention. As mentioned in my post last week, the Toronto Operetta Theatre is putting on Kalman's Countess Maritza at the St. Lawrence Centre. Remaining performances are on Dec. 29, 30, 31, Jan. 2 and 3.

Also very interesting is Bravissimo!, the third annual New Year's Eve concert put on by Canadian impresario Attila Glatz, to take place on December 31 7 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. Austrian conductor Roberto Paternostro leads the 78-member Opera Canada Symphony likely drawn from local musicians. Soloists include American sopranos Sarah Jane McMahon and Susan Neves, Russian mezzo Elena Bocharova, Portuguese tenor Bruno Ribeiro, American tenor Carl Tanner, and Serbian baritone Nikola Mijailovic. Paternostro was once an assistant to the late Karajan in Berlin, and is currently General Music Director of Staatstheater Kassel and Musical Advisor to the Israel Chamber Orchestra. On the program are selections from Carmen, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Magic Flute and others. Canadian broadcaster Rick Phillips will be the emcee. Please note that the above information comes from a press release from Attila Glatz Concert Productions, and the cast information is different from what is in the Roy Thomson Hall website which apparently has not been updated!

On New Year's Day at 2:30 pm, Glatz brings to Roy Thomson Hall its 2010 edition of Salute To Vienna. Now in its fifteenth year, this show brings the European New Year Concert tradition to Toronto. I have attended it in the past and can say it is a truly enjoyable show. It features the Strauss Symphony of Canada under the baton of Viennese maestro Peter Sommerer, principal conductor of the Theatre of Osnabrueck. The vocalists are Hungarian soprano Beatrix Lazin and Austrian tenor Wolfgang Gratschmaier, performing arias and duets from operettas of Johann Strauss, Franz Lehar and Imre Kalman. Also on the program are dancers from the Kiev-Aniko Ballet of Ukraine and the International Ballroom Dance Champions, performing Viennese waltzes and polkas.


Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Zeffirelli's Traviata in Rome

by Giuseppe Pennisi

Although Maestro Franco Zeffirelli is approaching the age of 90 (more specifically he will be 87 in a few months), he is still at centre stage of Opera and theatre in Italy and abroad. Next summer, all the Arena di Verona productions will be signed by him. Last September, the comparatively new management of the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to start the 2009-2010 season with a new production of Tosca with the stage direction of Luc Bondy caused an uproar because the audience still wanted Zeffirelli’s 25 year-old staging.

In Rome, the Teatro dell’Opera has serious financial difficulties, and for the last seven months, it has been managed by the Mayor of the City. A new Board was appointed on December 14th – the first meeting is scheduled on December 22nd. Again, in the midst of these troubles, Maestro Zeffirelli is right at the top of Roman and Italian opera goers’ attention. He is the Teatro dell’Opera’s pick for productions to reinvigorate finances; the last production of the 2009 Roman season is his Traviata. The first production of the 2010 Roman season will be his Falstaff, starting January 23rd.

This Traviata was served on a golden plate with, as an appetizer, a major upheaval in the Italian musical world and a likely appendix from the Roman Court of Law. As discussed later in this article, the staging is not new – a very similar Zeffirelli’s Traviata was performed in Rome in 2007. The main attraction was the debut in the title role of Ms. Daniela Dessì, with her life companion Mr. Fabio Armilliato as Alfredo; they were expected to sing at two gala performances on Dec 27th and New Year’s Eve. But Zeffirelli objected to her taking up Violetta on the grounds that she was getting along in age and weight. There was no Artistic Director to counteract him. Things got really heated at the press conference when strong words were exchanged. Ms Dessì cancelled all her contracts with the Rome Opera, including her much awaited performance as Alice Ford in Falstaff. Mr. Armilliato followed suit. Now, the matter is in the hands of lawyers and judges. Finally, during the press conference, Maestro Zeffirelli delivered a strong speech against the new way of staging Traviata (and other operas) in brothels (Irina Brook, Graham Vick), cemeteries (Laurent Pelly) as well as against updating opera plots to our time and age. This stirred up a lively controversy also on the regular (e.g. not specialized) information press. In short, on Dec 18th, at the opening of this Traviata, the air in the Rome Opera House was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Before the performance started, Zefferilli’s fans and foes were looking in anger at one another in the grand foyer.

As for the performance, this review deals mostly with the staging because I will treat the more specific musical aspects in the British Music and Vision, available also on the web at

First, Maestro Zeffirelli has several Traviata in his bag. This is either his eight or his ninth. I would call it his “8 and ½” as a nod to Fellini’s 1963 movie. His eighth Traviata was shown in Rome in 2007. In turn, this eighth Traviata was based on a production that the Met has shown for nearly a quarter of a century – changing, of course, the singers as the years went by. There are two significant modifications between Rome’s 2007 Traviata and the long standing Met production: a) in Rome, the plot unfolds as a long flashback (with Violetta dying during the overture to Act I) whereas the Met follows the 1853 libretto scrupulously; b) technology is skillfully used, with painted scenes replaced by computerized projection, this all fully mastered by Maestro Zeffirelli himself (in spite of his age). As compared with the 2007 showing, this “8 and ½” has a different choreography in the ballet of Act II.

Second, Maestro Zeffirelli’s productions are always bigger than life. They mean to bring the audience to the wide wild world of Opera, as the Lyric Opera of Baltimore called itself way back in the Seventies with a view of attracting a newer audience. In this Traviata, the stage has three levels and lights change with the mood of the scene and with the music – e.g. in Act II, lighting is lushly green in Violetta’s villa, terrific and sinful red at Flora’s party, and ghostly grey in the final concertato. Through computerized mirrors, the boxes and the orchestra seats appear on the stage, with the audience becoming part of the performance. 

Third, acting is quite well cared for. Singers do act as actors in a Broadway Playhouse. The huge mass of extras, mines and dancers do not crowd one another. Fourth and finally, the conductor is in line with the stage director not vice versa.

For Maestro Zeffirelli Traviata is based on youth and sensual passion, not on any socialist and related class-struggle view of the world like in some recent European productions. Thus, Maestro Gianluigi Zelmetti conducts with the slower tempos required to emphasize love and passion. There are three different casts in main roles: Cinzia Forte, Myrtò Papatanasiu, Mina Yamazaki as Violetta, and Roberto De Biasio, Antonio Gandìa, Stefano Pop as Alfredo.

This is Maestro Zeffirelli; either you like him or you hate him. There is no halfway. Normally, we know quality of a pudding when we eat it. In spite of the controversies referred to above, the nine performances were sold out already in September and two special previews were organized by charities because of the great demand for tickets. Box office sales are a good indicator of what operagoers like or do not like. On December 18th,, at curtain call, Zeffirelli’s fans overturned his foes.

The Playbill

            Musical Director                         Gianluigi                Gelmetti
Chorus Master
Stage sets and Direction

Violetta Valery

Myrtò Papatanasiu (18, 20, 22, 31) /

Cinzia Forte (19, 23, 29) /

Mina Yamazaki (27, 30)

Flora Bervoix
Katarina Nikolic (18, 20, 22, 27, 30) /

Anastasia Boldyreva (19, 23, 29, 31)

Antonella Rondinone (18, 20, 29, 31) /

Mariella Guarnera (19, 22, 23, 27, 30)

Antonio Gandìa (18, 20, 22, 29) /

Roberto De Biasio (19, 23, 30) /

Stefan Pop (27, 31)

Carlo Guelfi (18, 20, 22, 27, 30) /

Dario Solari (19, 23, 29, 31)

Gianluca Floris (18, 20, 22, 29, 31) /

Cristiano Cremonini

Baron Douphol
Angelo Nardinocchi (18, 20, 22, 29, 31) /

Gianpiero Ruggeri (19, 23, 27, 30)

Marquis d’Obigny
Andrea Snarski (18, 20, 22, 29, 31) /

Matteo Ferrara (19, 23, 27, 30)

Doctor Grenvil
Carlo Di Cristoforo (18, 20, 22, 29, 31) /

Luca Dell’Amico (19, 23, 27, 30)

Giuseppe Auletta /

Luigi Petroni /

Maurizio Rossi

Flora ‘s house  help
Riccardo Coltellacci /

Fabio Tinalli

Andrea Buratti /

Francesco Luccioni /

Antonio Taschini

production of the  Teatro dell’Opera di Roma

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Monday, 21 December 2009

This Week in Toronto (December 21 - 27)

I've observed over the years that the most intense Holiday Season musical activities take place a couple of weeks before December 25. By Christmas Week, most folks are too busy with last minute shopping, planning and preparing the holiday feast, travelling to spend the holiday with loved ones plus sundry other activities to have much time for concerts. Indeed Christmas is for family and friends, thus the concert activities this week have dropped off significantly.

This evening (Monday Dec. 21) is the last performance of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Messiah. If you are downtown with your last minute shopping and whatnot, do catch it if you can! Another traditional fare is Christmas with the Canadian Brass. This venerable ensemble gives three concerts of holiday music on Dec. 22 at 8 pm, Dec. 23 at 2 pm and 8 pm., conducted by John Morris Russell. All concerts take place at Roy Thomson Hall.

The National Ballet of Canada's Nutcracker is in full swing, with performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on Dec. 22 and 23. The dancers will get Dec. 24 - 26 off, but will be back for more from Dec. 27 to 30. This ever popular show is a hot ticket so go to for ticket information.

The Toronto Operetta Theatre puts on Kalman's Countess Maritza, with previews on Dec. 26 and 27, opening on 29 and continuing to Jan. 3 (no performance on New Year's Day). I saw this staged only once, at Santa Fe Opera many years ago and it was great fun, beautiful music and a real star vehicle for the prima donna. COC Resident Conductor Derek Bate leads the TOT Orchestra and Vocal Ensemble, and the stage director is as usual Guillermo Silva-Marin. For ticket information, go to


Friday, 18 December 2009

The OSR: A Successful Stand-Alone Experience in Continental Europe

By Giuseppe Pennisi

In its November iss
ue, the periodical GIG- International Arts Manager devoted two full pages to the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma (OSR), a comparatively new symphonic formation in the Italian and European landscape. The article is an important signal of the international attention received by a symphonic orchestra that started its operations only about eight years ago. Its creation was the outcome of a training course financed by the European Commission and organized by the Arts Academy, a non-profit but fully private music school. After the course, no employment was in sight for the young musicians. So the Arts Academy mastermind, the headstrong and highly experienced Maestro Francesco La Vecchia, decided to seek for funds to form an orchestra. Many thought he was a hopeless and helpless dreamer but he met another dreamer, the President of a charity. The dream became hard and solid reality.

The OSR has some important features:

a) It is the only fully private symphony orchestra in Italy and one of the very few in Continental Europe. It does not receive any State, Regional, Provincial or Municipal support – even though in 2009 it was given a € 10.000 (US$ 15.000) grant by the Ministry of Culture

b) It is financed mostly by the Fondazione Roma (a nonprofit registered charity with the mission of “the organization of social freedom”). The Fondazione Rome does not operate only or mainly in the field of music but runs a private museum and performs important activities in the fields of health, education, scientific research and aid to the under-privileged. The OSR is also helped by a few locally based small companies and by an Association of its subscribers and fans.

c) It has 90 permanent musicians (average age: 30), a budget which is less than one-fifth of that of the main symphony orchestra in the Italian capital (l’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia) and a low-priced ticket policy to attract young and old people with modest incomes (season tickets
for 30 concerts vary from € 260 to € 90 according to the category).

d) Its
music director and permanent conductor is Maestro Francesco La Vecchia, who is also principal guest conductor of the Berliner Symphoniker. La Vecchia has been music director of Opera Houses and symphony orchestras in Central Europe (Budapest), Latin America (Rio de Janeiro) and Portugal (Lisbon). He also often conducts in Shanghai's large concert hall.

In eight years, the OSR has also gained an important place in the international music scenes due to its tour of
Brazil, Russia, the UK, Spain, Germany, Poland and China. Tours are now slated for Austria and North America. More significantly, the OSR was chosen by the Austrian Government as the Italian symphony to participate in the May 31st 2009 celebrations for Haydn’s bicentenary. As many of our readers may know, the Austrian Ministry of Culture and the Committee for the Celebrations of Haydn’s Bicentenary had a brilliant idea: on May 31st, the day of the composer’s death, 20 symphony orchestras and/or Opera Houses performed one of his greatest and best known oratorios Die Schöpfung (The Creation). Because of different time-zones, Die Schöpfung day started in New Zealand and ended in Honolulu. An earnest radio listener could enjoy the different performances over 24 hours and appreciate the difference in conducting as well as in singing. Opera Houses were included because in certain countries (e.g. Germany) Die Schöpfung is also staged as a music drama: computer technology and animation are a superb support in depicting the initial chaos, the creation of the animals, of the flowers, of the lakes, of the rivers and of the mountain as well as the Garden of Eden with the passionate Adam and Eve duet. The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the “national” symphony, did not appreciate that the OSR was preferred and performed Die Schöpfung for its subscribers early in the Spring of 2009.

Two different
Italian economic think-tanks have recently shown interest in studying the OSR as a unique experiment of free market and liberal grants not only in Italy but also in most of Continental Europe: the Istituto Bruno Leoni-IBL (a staunchly libertarian den) and Astrid (a left-of-centre liberal association). These studies may help bring about reform of performing arts State and Regional Governments financing. GIG concluded that “All in all, one swallow does not make summer” and that “perhaps, the OSR is and will remain a stand-alone experiment of liberal economics applied to high musical culture.” A possibility would be to move, in Italy, from grants-in-aid on the basis of the proposals of the bureaucracy (as reviewed by a technical committee) to an Anglo-Saxon system of matching grants; this would promote completion and efficiency.

I have been a steady listener of OSR concerts, not only because they are set at a convenient time (5.30 p.m. on Sunday and 8.30 p.m. on Monday) in a pleasant 1,200 seat Auditorium just a few steps away from my home in Rome. They main reason is that they offer an innovative program (as compared with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia and other major orchestras in Italy): the OSR combines Nono with Schubert, Stravinsky with Bruckner, Casella with Brahms, Tchaikovsky with Mailipiero, Liszt with Shostakovich
. Until 20 years ago, such a blend was provided, in Italy, by the Italian public radio and television concerts, but these concerts were discontinued and the marvelous acoustically-perfect Roman auditorium was converted to a TV studio for mere entertainment and games. Also, I have accompanied the OSR on their February 2009 tour to Germany and Poland.

This 2009-2010 season started on October 17
th with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The program includes all of
Beethoven’s orchestral compositions to be performed in eight of the 30 concerts and also all of Bach’s Branderburg Concertos and all the suites (two concerts). The 20th Century is not forgotten: the OSR is recording all orchestral works by Martucci, Casella and Malipiero – some of them are in the 2009-2010 season – and offers two very rare and exquisite compositions by Respighi: “Poema autunnale” and “Vetrate di Chiesa.”

Finally, for a Christmas-New Year gift: a small blue and gold coffer with four Naxos CDs with all the most significant compositions of Giuseppe Marcucci (1856-1909) commemorating the centenary of his death. Nearly forgotten now, Marcucci was one of the few Italian composers specializing in symphonic music when melodrama was the main musical attraction. Toscanini had a veneration for him and in 1932 organized a series of concerts to play all his works. Wait for a review in
La Scena.

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Cette semaine à Montréal (21 à 27 déc) / This Week in Montreal (Dec. 21 - 27)

Musique, danse, théâtre, et arts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine
Music, dance, theatre, and visual arts in Montreal this week

Visual arts: Mille Cadeaux, Galerie Maison Kasini (Until Dec. 31). In the spirit of the season, Galerie Maison Kasini presents Mille Cadeaux until the end of December, an exhibition of art and art product. Over a 1000 pieces of paintings, prints, photography, artist catalogs, greeting cards, small sculptures, drawings, collage, assemblage, sound art, artist books, ‘zines, serials, and magazines - all of which are prêt-à-partir and may be taken with you upon purchase. Hours: 11AM to 5:30PM: Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment. Belgo Building (372 Ste Catherine Ouest, Suite 408)

Théâtre : Avalanche, La troupe Avalanche (le 21, 22, 23 et 27 déc). Décembre 2009, St-Côme. Jean Gagnon et sa femme Hélène reçoivent, dans leur coquette maison champêtre, leur famille immédiate pour le réveillon cette année. Jean est fébrile. Il y a de l’hostilité dans la famille. Il compte sur ce rassemblement pour rétablir l’harmonie. Jean est un grand nostalgique. Un événement inattendu va venir prêter mains fortes à Jean et faire en sorte de réconcilier les générations… Une avalanche! Tout le village se retrouve enseveli sous un nuage blanc, réduisant ainsi les moyens de communications au minimum. L’entraide est au premier plan. Prisonnière pendant une semaine, la famille vivra malgré elle un sacré temps des fêtes unissant traditions, amour et chansons. Dame nature leur a offert leur plus beau cadeau de Noël ! Théâtre du Vieux-Terrebonne (866, rue St-Pierre) 450 492-4777

Chamber music: Allegra Chamber Music Series (Dec 21). 20h. 0-10$. Clara Schumann: Piano Trio, op.17; Robert Schumann: Sonata for violin & piano in a minor, op.105; Robert Schumann: Piano Quartet in E flat Major, op.47 for piano, violin, viola & cello, Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg, piano; Yukari Cousineau, violin; Brian Bacon, viola; Katherine Skorzewska, cello. Redpath Hall, McGill University (845 Sherbrooke Street West) 935-3933

(Photo: Allegra Chamber Music founder Dorothy Fraiberg at home.)

Recital: (Dec 22) Noon-Hour Organ Recital Series. 12h30. Redpath Hall, McGill University (845 Sherbrooke Street West) 398-4547; Staff and Guest Series, Fabrice Marandola, percussion. 19h30. 10$. Tanna Schulich Hall, McGill University (527 Sherbrooke Street West). 398-4547; Carl Gionet, piano. 20h. Beethoven, Brahms, Britten. Salle Claude-Champagne, Université de Montréal (220, avenue Vincent-d'Indy). 343-6427

Jazz: (Dec 22) Matt Herskowitz, solo piano. 20 h 30. Upstairs Jazz Bar (1254 Rue Mackay). 931-6808

Opéra : (le 22 déc) Opéramania, projection de film, Michel Veilleux, conférencier; et Tosca, Puccini. 19h30. 8$. Fiorenza Cedolins, Marcelo Álvarez, Ruggero Raimondi, Marco Spotti, Fabio Previati; Daniel Oren, chef. B-421, Université de Montréal (220, avenue Vincent-d'Indy). 343-6427; (le 23 déc) 13h. Contes d’Hoffmann, MetOp HD, Encore. Ciné-Met Encore Montréal.

Musique de chambre : (le 23 déc) La Série des diplômés. 5$. 16h. Dvorak: Sonatine pour flûte et piano, op.100; Franck: Sonate pour flûte et piano; Boehm: Grande Polonaise, op.16, Maxime Lataille, flûte. Salle de recital, Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal (4750, avenue Henri-Julien). 873-4031

Musique d’orchestre : (le 23 déc) Université de Montréal. 19h30. Sibelius: Concerto pour violon, op.47; Brahms: Symphonie #3, op.90. Dina Gilbert, dir. d’orchestre; orchestre de 55 musiciens; Frédéric Moisan, violon. Salle Claude-Champagne, Université de Montréal (220, avenue Vincent-d'Indy). 343-6427

Danse : Casse-Noisette, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal (le 23, 26, et 27 déc). Musique de Tchaïkovski Avec l’Orchestre des Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Suivez la petite Clara dans son voyage au pays des neiges et au royaume des bonbons. Des surprises et plus de 150 personnages extraordinaires vous y attendent. Décors somptueux, costumes chatoyants, scènes cocasses, pas de deux étincelants, couleurs et lumières féeriques… le Casse-Noisette de Fernand Nault comblera toute la famille. Émerveillement assuré! Place des Arts Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (175, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest) 514 842-2112

Musique d’orchestre : (le 24 déc) Les Dimanches en musique, l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. 14h30. 25-60$. Messiaen: Couleurs de la cité céleste; Debussy: Rhapsodie pour saxophone alto et orchestre; Stravinski: L’Oiseau de feu. Kent Nagano, chef; Branford Marsalis, saxophone alto; Olga Gross, piano. Place des Arts Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (175, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest). 842-2112, 842-9951

Jazz : (le 26 déc) Jan Jarczyk trio + invitée la saxophoniste soprano Monik Nordine. 20 h 30. Upstairs Jazz Bar (1254 Rue Mackay). 931-6808

Opera: (Dec 27) Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Opera McGill and the McGill Symphony Orchestra. 19h30. 22-27$. Julian Wachner, cond. Pollack Hall, McGill University (527 Sherbrooke Street West) 398-4547

Concert du competition : (le 27 déc) Dialogues à la Chapelle, Concert des lauréats du 4e concours international de composition du Quatuor Molinari. 20h. Zhenzhen Zhang: H2O; Dae-Seob Han: Bi-serial light-sound; David Philip Hefti: In(ter)vention; Snezana Nesic: Running Thoughts, Quatuor Molinari. Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur (100 rue Sherbrooke Est). 527-5515

Musique pop d'orchestre : 20h. Tom Waits, Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestre. Maison de la culture Plateau Mont-Royal (465 Mont-Royal Est). 872-2266

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Monday, 14 December 2009

This Week in Toronto (December 14 - 20)

Baritone Russell Braun gives a lieder recital in celebration of Jeunesses Musicales du Canada's 60th anniversary at the Toronto French School on December 9th. Pianist is Talisa Blackman
(Photo: Joseph So)

The feast of Holiday Season music continues this week with literally dozens of concerts and events big and small, all over the GTA. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra bills its Messiah as Toronto's favourite - it probably is among the most august of Messiah traditions in Canada and likely has the highest attendance numbers. This year's version begins on Dec. 16 at Roy Thomson Hall and continues on Dec 18, 19, 20, and 21, all at 8 pm except for Sunday Dec. 20 at 3 pm. The soloists are soprano Shannon Mercer, countertenor Matthew White, tenor Colin Balzer, and baritone Tyler Duncan. Quebec conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads the TS forces and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. This is a massive Messiah and well worth attending if you like this work performed by huge forces. For a more intimate Messiah, I can recommend Tafelmusik's baroque Messiah. Ivar Taurins conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and a quartet of soloists (soprano Ann Monoyios, mezzo Meg Bragle, tenor Benjamin Hulett, and bass Sumner Thompson). Performances from Dec. 16 to 19 7:30 pm at the Trinity-St. Paul Centre. On Dec. 20 2 pm is the ever-popular Sing Along Messiah at Massey Hall. There is something about a whole Massey Hall audience raising their collective voice to the Hallelujah Chorus that is awe-inspiring - so if you haven't experienced it before, go! This is general admission so be sure to get there early if you want a good seat!

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale offers An Indigo Christmas at the Glenn Gould Studio on Dec. 16 and 19, at 8 pm. According to the promotional material, this choral group is called "magical and transformative, their voices....will carry you on a journey through the beauty and intricacies of Afrocentric music from around the world" - I couldn't agree more. Also of note is the Via Salzburg Chamber Orchestra performing on Dec. 17 and 18 at the Glenn Gould. On the program are music of Handel, Vivaldi and Mendelssohn, plus Imant Raminsh singing Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Joy, in a work commissioned by Via Salzburg in 2003.

On December 17, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, who received a degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto before she went into a musical career, headlines a concert in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the U of T Engineering Science program. It takes place at the Hart House Theatre at 6:30 pm on Thursday. Julian Kuerti conducts the Skule Orchestra in a program of arias and orchestral pieces of Verdi, Rossini, Dvorak and Mozart. There is also a post-concert dinner. I have no idea of the ticket availability - go to for more information.

Finally, I'd like to report on a concert I attended last week, given by Canadian baritone Russell Braun, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Jeunesses Musicales of Canada. It took place at the Toronto French School on December 9th, attended by a small group of invited guests. Also in attendance was Mr. Jacques Marquis, the Executive and Artistic Director of JMC, and Mr. Joseph Rouleau, the President of JMC. In fabulous voice, Braun sang songs by Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Ravel, all delivered with beauty of tone and depth of feeling. No wonder is he one of Canada's greatest singers today. He concluded the evening with a most heart-felt 'Avant de quitter ces lieux', Valentin's prayer from Gounod's Faust. It was a truly memorable evening.

Joseph Rouleau thanks Russell Braun after the concert and spoke a few words to the audience. (Photo: Joseph So)

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Friday, 11 December 2009

Rome: Four North Americans in Two Acts

By Giuseppe Pennisi

This article does do not deal with a Roman revival of Four Saints in Three Acts, the late 1920’s marvelous jewel by Virgil Thompso
n on a Gertrude Stein libretto. Neither does it review a two-act opera in any conventional sense. This December, four North American composers – three in their 70s and the “kid” about 55delighted Roman audiences with two different world premières: a 100-minute one-act children's opera by Philip Glass and a 60-minute tone poem by the MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva ensemble of live electronics, started in 1966 by Frederic Rzweski, Richard Teitelbaum and othersnow including also Alvin Curran). The Glass opera is titled Le Streghe di Venezia (The Witches of Venice) and will be a central feature of the Ravenna Festival next Summer; the opera may also travel to the US. The MEV tone poem is called Grande Raccordo Anulare (The Beltway) and will have concert performances in North America. The link between the opera and the tone poem is that they both mirror visions of Italy (as it was) by contemporary American composers.

Le Streghe di Venezia is based on a short novel by Beni Montresor, for several years a key figure of the New York City Opera. An opera-ballet version was presented at La Scala in December 1995, but the original composition was largely modified and not in line with Glass’ intentions. The Roman version is produced by Musica per Roma in the Parco della Musica and mirrors very closely what Glass wanted. The text can be read in several ways: an initiation process of two children to end up on Venice’s throne (e.g. a modern Mozart’s Magic Flute), a Christmas tale (such as Menotti’s Ahmal and the Night Visitors), the fatigue of an old king in a rapidly changing world (like in Berio’s Un Re in Ascolto), the intrigues of both the political and the performing arts’ environment (as in Strauss’ Capriccio). The final aria, by the chamber maid, is sad (La vita è difficile) but with glimmers of hope (un pò di vino rosso fa cantar): in short, life is difficult but a little red wine makes you sing happily. Le Streghe is quite interesting musically: Glass’ minimalism includes also quotations from Mozart and Rossini as well as a bit of live electronics.

The Roman production is also a joy for the eyes: in a small theatre for 700 seats, computerized projections, mimes, acrobats and glittering, colourful costumes make the audience feel that a feast is going on. The stage direction (Giorgio Barberio Corsetti) is fast: although the performance starts at 9 p.m. and ends at nearly 11 p.m., the many children in the audience followed the plot with interest and enjoyed the show. Among the voices, worth mentioning are Carmen Romeu, Anna Goryacheva and two children: Matteo Graziani and Francesco Passaretti alternate in the role of the boy and Maria Luisa Paglione and Daniela Sbrigoli in that of the girl. The Contemporanea Ensemble del Parco della Musica is of high quality.
MEV has a long history: the ensemble was begun one evening in the spring of 1966 by Alan Bryant, Alvin Curran, Jon Phetteplace, Carol Plantamura, Frederic Rzweski (pictured here), Richard Teitelbaum and Ivan Vandor in a room in Rome overlooking the Pantheon. At that time, the Italian capital was a major center for American musicians abroadmore important than Paris and London. To fully grasp the spirit of the time, it is useful to read Marjorie Whright's The Rise and Fall of a La Scala Diva (Janus Publishing Company Ltd, London 2007).
In 1971, when Frederic Rzweski moved into an apartment in New York, a box containing the MEV files was mistaken for trash and thrown into the incinerator chute. Though the group would never be able to play in this remarkable domed temple with a hole in its top, MEV's music right from the start was also totally open, allowing all and everything to come in and seek in every way to get out beyond the heartless conventions of contemporary music. Taking cue from Tudor and Cage, MEV began sticking contact mics to anything that sounded and amplified their raw sounds: bed springs, sheets of glass, tin cans, rubber bands, toy pianos, sex vibrators, and assorted metal junk; a crushed old trumpet, cello and tenor sax kept us within musical credibility, while a home-made synthesizer of some 48 oscillators along with the first Moog synthesizer in Europe gave our otherwise neo-primitive sound an inimitable edge. By 1969, MEV was known everywhere in the world's undergrounds and above ground, too. They had played hundreds of concerts in Europe, made two LPs and had collaborated with Jean-Jacques Lebel, The Living Theater, Pierre Clementi, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gianni Kounnelis, Simone Forti, members of the Chicago Art Ensemble, Cornelius Cardew's AMM group, the Scratch Orchestra, Nuova Consonanza, Vittorio Gelmetti, Giuseppe Chiari, Kosugi, Ashley, Behrman, Mumma and Lucier. MEV resists retirement and greatly enjoys its one gig a year. Its founding members have each gone on to develop very different but compatible music which in the anarchic MEV tradition stand in strong opposition to the aggressive demands of today's media and marketing moguls.

The initiators of MEV returned to Rome with this brand new Grande Raccordo Anulare – a live electronics tone poem full of nostalgia for Rome in the 60s, a heartfelt homage to the city where they started their unique adventure. It's generous and moving at the same time. It was performed in the auditorium of the Università “La Sapienza” to the enjoyment of young and not-so-young live electronics.

THE PLAY BILL of Le Streghe di Venezia
C. Romeo, A. Goraycheva, G. Bocchino, S. Alberti, M. Graziani, F. Passaretti, M.L. Paglione, D. Sbrigoli, Conductor Tonino Battista Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble, Stage direction and sets Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, Costumes Marina Schindler, Lighting Gianluca Cappelletti, Choreography Julien Lambert, Video Angelo Longo Cantori del Coro Arcobaleno dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Libretto Beni Montresor , Acrobats. J.Lambert, E. Bettin, D. Sorisi, L. Trefiletti

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