Saturday, 17 January 2009
Friday, 16 January 2009
This Week in Toronto (Jan. 17 - 23, 2009)
By Joseph So
Welcome to the first installment of the weekly column on the classical music scene in the Greater Toronto Area! In this space, I plan to highlight a few noteworthy concerts and events that are of particular interest. I should say right off that there is no attempt to be comprehensive, as my focus has always been things vocal and operatic, plus a smattering of others.
At the top of the list is the continuation of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Mozart Festival that runs Jan. 10 to 24. The centerpiece of this festival is the the Magic Flute in Concert, to take place on January 22 and 24, 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. It stars a completely Canadian cast - well almost, since Canadian bass-baritone Gary Relyea, originally announced for Sarastro, has been replaced by Oren Gradus. Quebec maestro Bernard Labadie leads an exceptionally strong cast, led by Karin Gauvin as Pamina, Benjamin Butterfield as Tamino, Joshua Hopkins as Papageno, and Aline Kutan as Queen of the Night! All four have not performed in Toronto for some time so this is a great opportunity to hear them. I saw Hopkins sang Papageno opposite the divine Natalie Dessay in her first-ever Pamina about four years ago. He was a particularly engaging birdcatcher and I look forward to hearing him again. Another highlight for me will be the Qeen of Aline Kutan. She sang Der holle Rache at a COC Gala to celebrate the opening of the opera house. When she interpolated the coloratura but singing the HIGH option, the audience let out a collective gasp! Before this, I had not heard a modern-day performance where the soprano dared do such a stratospheric attempt. I wonder if she will do it again...perhaps rather unlikely since this will be a serious performance and not a gala concert.
Supporting cast members include Nathan Berg (Sprecher), Gillian Keith (Papagena), Shannon Mercer (First Lady), Krisztina Szabo (Second Lady), Allyson McHardy (Third Lady), Rufus Muller (Monostatos). Everyone of these singers are well known in Canada and elsewhere, and well worth hearing. The U of T MacMillan Singers will provide the choral voices. I think this will be semi-staged, sung in German with English Surtitles. This is an event absolutely NOT to be missed! I bought myself a ticket several days ago and as I understand it, it is practically sold out.
Other than this blockbuster, I can also recommend the encore performance of Berlioz's La Damnation du Faust, as part of the Met in HD series. It will be on Saturday Jan. 17 at the Cineplex chain. I will attend the show at the Sheppard Grande location. Do call to inquire about ticket availability. When it was shown on Nov. 22, the Robert Lepage direction was stunning. The Quebec director Lepage will bring his cutting-edge sensibilities to the COC for a production of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol, bound to be a highlight of the 2009-10 season.
Today's Birthdays in Music: January 16 (Horne, Lorengar)
Marilyn Horne sings "Pensa alla patria" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (Metropolitan Opera, 1986)
1928 - Pilar Lorengar, Zaragoza, Spain; opera and zarzuela soprano
Wikipedia (mistakenly gives y.o.b. as 1929)
Obituary (New York Times, June 1996)
Pilar Lorengar sings "Mañanica era" by Granados (1988)
Thursday, 15 January 2009
Bartók: Divertimento, Musique pour cordes, percussions et célesta, Danses populaires roumaines (arr. Zeitouni)
Atma ACD22576 (64 min 47 s)
Flawless Touch & Temperament: Ohlsson Triumphs in Dvorak Rarity!
Today’s Birthday in Music: January 15 (Frager)
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Lieder Recital: Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Strauss
Atma Classique ACD2 2571 (67 min 27 s)
Bach: Goldberg Variations (arr. Sitkovetsky)
Oxingale OX 2014 (73 min 26 s)
Today's Birthdays in Music: January 14 (Heppner, Schweitzer)
Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)
Ben Heppner sings Walter’s Prize Song from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Metropolitan Opera, 2001)
1875 - Albert Schweitzer, Keyserberg, Germany; theologian, musician, philosopher, physician
Albert Schweitzer and Music
Albert Schweitzer plays J.S. Bach’s Chorale Prelude in F minor, BWV 639
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
W.A. Mozart: Così fan tutte
Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Riccardo Muti
Stage Director: Roberto de Simone
Video Director: Brian Large
Medici Arts 2072368 (2 DVD – 187 min)
Opera on DVD went from strength to strength during the past year. There have been a number of sensational new works on the medium and chart-topping productions of standard repertory. This 1996 staging from Vienna’s historic Theater an der Wien can be safely recommended as a first choice for both seasoned collectors and newcomers to the work. With an excellent cast of motivated soloists, superb conducting from Muti, marvelous sets (Mauro Carosi), gorgeous costumes (Odette Nicoletti) and musically informed stage direction, this is the version to have and to return to. In every respect it surpasses Muti’s 1989 Milan performance (Opus Arte/Scala).
Così fan tutte was the third Mozart collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte. Like Don Giovanni, it is designated as a Dramma giocoso but the opening credits proclaim ‘Opera buffa’ in the manner of Figaro. Buffa is presumably what director Roberto de Simone had in mind for this production. His Così presents split-second comic timing fully integrated with the score. The hapless couples (Barbara Frittoli, Angelika Kirchschlager, Bo Skovhus and our own Michael Schade) enter the fray with enthusiasm while the fulcrum of trickery and deceit is provided by Monica Bocelli and Allesandro Corbelli. The director exploits the intimate stage-frame of the Theater an der Wien while the 18th century Neapolitan landscapes of Jacob Philipp Hackert are adapted very effectively to provide sumptuous backdrops. Swift, stylish and constantly amusing, this production exemplifies the definition of opera as, “The ultimate art.”
- Stephen Habington
Bach: The Masterworks
Brilliant Classics 93668 (40 CD, env. 42 heures)
OMAC - 10 (57 min 47 s)
Today's Birthday in Music: January 13 (Flórez)
Juan Diego Flórez sings:
"Ah, mes amis, quel jour de fête" from Donizetti's La fille du régiment (Metropolitan Opera, 2008)
"A te o cara" from Bellini's I Puritani (with Mariola Cantarero as Elvira; Las Palmas, 2004)
"J'ai perdu mon Eurydice" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (2004)
Monday, 12 January 2009
Four Last Songs
Decca 4780647 (56 min 16 s)
Zubin Mehta Los Angeles Philharmonic: Dvořák/Mozart/Bartók
Euroarts DVD 2072248 (110 min)
This is another release from the vaults of Unitel, the Munich-based company that spent a small fortune making classical music films in the 1970s. Karajan and Bernstein were featured in dozens of films but other conductors such as Böhm, Abbado and Solti also appeared. Most of these productions were initially released on VHS years ago but only recently have they made their way to DVD. Deutsche Grammophon has been issuing the bulk of the Unitel catalogue but other companies are issuing those passed on.
The Mehta release documents an important stage in this conductor’s career. Mehta was twenty-six when he became conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and he stayed for seventeen years, growing into a major conductor. These performances were recorded in 1977 in concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Mehta left the following year to take over the New York Philharmonic. Kirk Browning of Live from Lincoln Center was the producer and RCA veteran Max Wilcox was the sound engineer and their work is first-rate.
There are two major works: Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. The orchestra plays superbly and Mehta is at his charismatic best. He could pass for either a Hollywood or a Bollywood film star playing a great conductor. Fortunately, he was also a great musician. From these same concerts there are two shorter Dvořák pieces and Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with the LAPO’s principal bassoonist as soloist.
- Paul E. Robinson
Buy this CD at amazon.com
Bruckner, Wagner: Symphony No. 9, Siegfried-Idyll
Music & Arts CD-1212(1) (67 min 16 s)
Today's Birthday in Music: January 12 (Wolf-Ferrari)
Ermanno-Wolf Ferrari website
Renata Scotto sings "O gioia le nube leggera" from Il segreto di Susanna (1980 recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra under John Pritchard)
Tito Gobbi sings "Aprile o bella" from I gioielli della Madonna (1954 recording)
Concertino for bassoon, 2 horns and strings, 1st mvt. (Jim Morgan, bassoon, with the RI Community Orchestra, John Eells conducting; 2003)
Sunday, 11 January 2009
Bach: Violin Concertos in A minor and E major; Gubaidulina: In tempus praesens
DGG 4777450 (63 min 47 s)
Brahms: Symphony No. 4
PentaTone PTC 5186 309 Hybrid SACD (57 min 01 s)
Messiaen: Chants de Terre et de Ciel
ATMA Classiques ACD2 2564
Current: This isn’t silence
Centrediscs CMCCD 12607 (56 min 50 s)
Met in HD: Puccini's La Rondine
La Rondine, the "wall flower" among Puccini's operas, has barely a tenuous hold on the fringes of standard repertoire and for good reason. Others may disagree, but to my ears, this piece marks a low ebb in the composer's creative genius. Yes, it does have its moments, particularly the showpiece "Che il bel sogno di Doretta" and the splendid concertato in the Second Act, two genuinely inspired moments. But the rest of the piece does not really represent Puccini at his best, despite an occasional perfumy melody here and there. Also problematic is the rather thin, sugary plot where there is little action, particularly in Act One. The story bears some resemblance to La traviata except less developed, with elements of Strauss's Die Fledermaus thrown in for good measure. Frankly it pales in comparison to those two, far more successful operas. True, Puccini intended to write an operetta in the great Viennese tradition, complete with opulent setting, frothy melodies - but minus the spoken dialogue. In the end, the composer reverted back to the more conventional operatic form. There is even an alternate ending (to the one performed currently at the Met) where Magda dies. But either way, the end result does not measure up to some of Puccini's greatest creations, whether as an opera or operetta. It is no wonder that it has been absent from the Met stage since the 1930s.
The raison d'etre for the current production is Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu. Much like the Met Thais for American prima donna Renee Fleming, a production of Rondine can be successful as a diva vehicle. Gheorghiu has a particular affinity for this opera, having recorded it a decade ago and has previously sung it on stage. The Met spared no expenses in mounting a super-lavish production by Nicolas Joel to showcase the soprano. The decor is fin-de-siecle Art Nouveau, suitably French, with lovely imitations of Tiffany glass panels mixed in with splashes of early Deco. Some of the decor reminds me so much of the Franz von Stuck house (now a museum) in Munich I visited last summer! Some may criticize the Joel production for its rather cold aesthetics but overall it's really pleasing to the eye. The period costumes are uniformly gorgeous, the ones worn by Gheorghiu are particularly lovely, although the summer dress in Act Two with its uneven hemlines aren't terribly authentic.
As to the musical side of things - Peter Gelb went in front of the curtain to announce that Ms. Gheorghiu had a bad cold but didn't want to disappoint her fans so she consented to sing. Her first phrases were low, sounding uncomfortable in the chest voice. There wasn't much time before she had to sing the big aria, and it was clear that she wasn't sufficiently warmed up for "Che il bel sogno". With the big screen HD in Sheppard Grande, one could clearly see her working hard to get the saliva going to lubricate her throat for the aria. Other than a couple of pushed notes and a lack of high pianissimo singing, she did well under the circumstances. Her acting as Magda was endearing but not overdone, unlike Fleming's excessive posturing as Thais. Roberto Alagna was in acceptable voice, a little dry in spots and his forte top notes typically went sharp, but he was clearly enjoying himself as Ruggero, savouring the chance of singing with his wife. The two exhibited a dramatic and physical freedom with each other in art that is only possible (and probable) when such freedom extends to their personal lives as well. At one point, Alagna spontaneously kissed Gheorghiu's bosom - I ask you, when was the last time you see that happen between two singers onstage?!
The second couple were well taken by Marius Brenciu (Prunier) and Lisette Oropesa, suitably as - Lisette! The 2001 Cardiff winner Brenciu has a slender voice which he uses with taste and style, refraining from pushing it beyond its limits. Oropesa, who made her Met debut as Susanna in fall 2007 replacing a very pregnant Isabel Bayrakdarian, was a delicious Lisette, acting up a storm and her soubrette tailor-made for the part of the maid. The only superannuated singer onstage was Samuel Ramey as Rambaldo. His once impressive bass isn't what it used to be, and he wobbled his way through. But given the character of Rambaldo, this kind of imperfect vocalism actually adds to the role, and Ramey did well. Marco Armiliato deserves credit for treating the lightweight score with the respect of a work many times its status.
I saw it at my theatre of choice, the Sheppard Grande in North York. The facility was late opening this time. Given that the mostly elderly opera audience has a tendency to be early, the queue waiting to get in was extremely long by noon, and I heard quite a lot of grumbling. I spoke with Greg Buller, the theatre manager, who explained that he was short-staffed that day and for safety reasons he couldn't open the facilities any earlier. The transmission in Cinema #3 was perfect except for a few seconds worth of silence at the beginning of Act Three. The cinemas were as usual well maintained and spotless, no sticky floors anywhere that I was able to find. The service at the coffee-sandwich concessions continued to be on the slow side. Given that there are usually four or even five staff members behind the counter, service should be a lot more brisk. The washrooms had attendants stationed outside to take care of any special needs should they arose - a nice touch. The next show is the encore presentation of Damnation of Faust next Saturday, and the next new presentation is Orfeo ed Euridice on January 24.
Today's Birthdays in Music: January 11 (Glière, Duruflé)
Life and Work
Emma Dogliani sings Glière's Concerto for Coloratura Soprano, 1st mvt.
Glière's Horn Concerto, 3rd mvt. (Ionut Podgoreanu, horn; Ploiesti Symphony Orchestra, Romania; Ilarion Ionescu-Galati, conducting)
1902 - Maurice Duruflé, Louviers, France; composer, organist; arranger
Biography and pictures
Introit and Kyrie from Duruflé's Requiem (University Singers, Laura Artisani, organ; Dennis Cox conducting; University of Maine, 2008)