La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Yo-Yo Ma stormed Koerner Hall in top form

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Yo Yo Ma danced off the stage and back, played two encores, gave two thumbs up for Koerner Hall and at last made his mark in Toronto’s new one-year-old concert hall Oct. 14.

The world-famous cellist drew a full house to Koerner Hall’s opening gala in a one-night only solo recital with longtime recital partner, the talented British pianist Kathryn Stott.

On the duo's hefty and gorgeous program were Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, Dmitri Shostakovich’s D-minor cello sonata, Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti’s arrangement of Bodas de Prata and Quatro Cantos, and Cesar Franck’s A-major sonata.

Ma, who turned 55 last week, dished out the Arpeggione Sonata with sweet tenderness and classy eloquence, at times taking extra liberty to let the music disperse up and back the hall. His eyes were closed, his head tilted back.

Ma's cello was positioned dead centre stage with the piano behind and slightly off to the right. It sounded gloriously rich. A multitude of texture, colours and dynamics ranged from wee pinches to whopping blows. Every note was played to such clarity none were unidentifiable in the larger scheme of things. This was especially evident in the whirlwind and hostile rhythmic pulse of Shostakovich.

The two South American compositions were a delight to hear and showcased Ma's versatility and eclectic tastes in music. In Ma's hands, Piazzolla's impulsive Argentine tango was at times sexy, at times free and easy, and ended with a fireball of upward glissando that got the crowd jumping to their feet.

In the arranged medley of Bodas de Prata and Quatro Cantos, which Ma and Stott recorded for Ma's Obrigado Brazil: Live in Concert album, the audience was once again treated to a wonderful rendition of exotic lyricism.

The formidable Franck sonata saw Ma and Stott at the height of their musical wisdom as two of the most well-matched recital partners on concert stages. Playing with the lid fully erect throughout the program, Stott was the perfect pianist for Ma. She is a big arm and wrist player who doesn't accompany but plays as an equal partner on stage. She was with Ma 120 per cent, but she didn't steal the thunder.

It's concerts like this that will make musicians want to either pack it in or go home and practise like mad.

As a listener, I'm tempted to cancel upcoming concerts for the next little while just so I can relish in the sheer quality of this concert for a little longer.

Ma and Stott will repeat the same recital program at Carnegie Hall Oct. 27.

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This Week in Toronto (Oct. 18 - 31)

top: soprano Marianne Fiset (Photo: Joseph So)
left: baritone Brett Polegato ( Photo: Joseph So)

bottom: Barbara Cook (Photo: Mike Martin)
Lower left: Rubies recipients (l. to r.) Roger Moore, Edith Wiens, Dawn Martens, Stephen Ralls, Bruce Ubukata

Now we are in mid October, the musical season is in full swing. The second production of the Canadian Opera Company, Death in Venice, opened last Saturday for an eight performance run (Oct. 16 - Nov. 6). Early reports praised British tenor Alan Oke as the very embodiment of the central character Aschenbach vocally and dramatically. And we are fortunate to have conductor Steuart Bedford, who conducted the premiere, to be here! The co-production with Aldeburgh, Lyon, Bregenz and Prague is atmospheric and visually striking. This opera isn't performed very often - last time at the COC was back in June 1984. Be sure to catch it or you may have to wait another twenty-six years! Two other bits of COC news - the Lepage production of Nightingale and Other Short Fables is going to the Brooklyn Academy of Art in March, with essentially the same cast, but conducted by COC music director Johannes Debus. The other news is starting Oct. 21, the role of Aida will be taken over by Canadian soprano Michele Capalbo for the next six performances. Capalbo has sung Aida in Nice, Houston, Toulouse, Santiago, among other places, and is scheduled to sing it in San Francisco. For ticket information, go to

Opera Atelier, Canada's baroque opera company, opens its season with Handel's Acis and Galatea. It starts tenor Thomas Macleay as Acis and soprano Mireille Asselin as Galatea. Macleay was excellent in his last appearance in OC's Iphigenie en Tauride so it is good to have him back. Portuguese baritone Joao Fernandes makes a welcome return as Polyphemus. David Fallis conducts. The show opens on Saturday Oct. 30 7:30 pm at the Elgin Theatre.

More on the subject of opera - the 11th Opera Canada Awards, "the Rubies", a glittery black tie affair, took place last Thursday in Toronto. Recipients included Edith Wiens, Dawn Martens, Roger Moore, Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata. They were honoured for their contribution to opera in Canada. Among the presenters were MC soprano Carol Vaness and COC general director Alexander Neef. Singing in honour of the recipients was soprano Marianne Fiset for Edith Wiens, bass-baritone Jason Howard for Dawn Martens, soprano Shannon Mercer for Roger Moore, and baritone Brett Polegato for Ralls and Ubukata. For the first time, an additional award, the ARIAS Emerging Young Artist Award was given to Canadian baritone Elliot Madore, who won the Met Auditions in March of this year.
On Monday October 18 8 pm is a special Opera Gala, starring several singers who have never sung in complete operas locally - sopranos Violeta Urmana and Michele Crider, tenors Antonello Palombi and Alfredo Nigro, baritone Alberto Gazale, and bass Paata Burchuladze. No program or orchestra information at press time. Go to

Opera in Concert's mandate is to present rare operas or pieces that are unlikely to be staged by our opera companies. OIC begins its season with Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila, apparently a Canadian premiere! Singers are bass-baritone Taras Kulish and soprano Luiza Zhuleva. It is on Sunday 2:30 pm at the Jane Mallet Theatre.

One more opera event - Opera York is presenting the perennial favorite of Puccini's La boheme, with soprano Sinead Sugrue and tenor James Ciantar, both students of retired Canadian tenor Ermanno Mauro. Sugrue and Ciantar have excellent voices and look the part. The show is on Sunday Oct. 31 at 2 pm at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. Go to for more details.

There are many concerts and recitals in the next couple of weeks, perhaps none as rare as the appearance of 83 year old Barbara Cook, a legend of Broadway and Jazz. I remember she used to come to Toronto quite often, having caught her show at the Bayview Playhouse, Royal York Hotel, and Harbourfront Centre. Just when I thought she must be happily retired, here she is coming to do a performance at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory on Friday, Oct. 22 at 8 pm! It will be an evening of Stephen Sondheim and others. If you have been a fan like I have in the past, go to her show. If you have never heard her, this is your chance! And yes, at 83, she can still sing, sounding like someone half her age. Go to

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents a light-hearted evening of Broadway Divas: Music from Wicked, My Fair Lady, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera. Steven Reineke conducts vocalists Julia Murney and Jennifer Laura Thomson. Three shows at Roy Thomson Hall on Oct. 19 8 pm and 20 (2 pm and 8 pm). With Halloween coming, the TSO is presenting Phantom of the Orchestra on Saturday Oct. 23 1:30 and 3:30, at very popular prizes, aimed at a young audience. Performing are artists from the Magic Circle Mime Company, conducted by Stuart Chafetz. Lest you think that the TSO is going pop completely, it's good to know they are presenting a program of Beethoven, Haydn, and Bruckner, with Canadian super virtuoso pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. The concert is on Thursday Oct. 28 at 7:30 pm. Dausgaard is a highly regarded conductor from Denmark. He is chief conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. The Toronto Mahler Society is sponsoring an event, An Evening With Thomas Dausgaard, for the absolutely minimal fee of $5.00 and it is free for students! Here is the link to the press release - it is definitely worth attending -
On Halloween weekend, the TSO presents Creepy Classics, like The Sorcerer's Apprentice and selections from Symphonie Fantastique. The conductor is Alastair Willis, and audience is invited to come in costume! Well, this must be a first for the TSO! This program is repated on Sunday Oct. 31 at 3 pm.

On Tuesday Oct. 26, the Venice Baroque Orchestra presents The Seasons Project, in a novel program of pairing Vivaldi's Four Seasons with Philip Glass' The American Four Seasons. Robert McDuffie is the violinist and leader. The concert is at Roy Thomson Hall at 8 pm.

The Aldeburgh Connection, the brainchild of Rubies recipients Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata (see above) presents The Patrons' Salon, with works by Britten, Grainer, Honegger, Lehmann, Mahler and others. Singers include soprano Monica Whicher, mezzo Anita Krause, tenor James McLean and baritone Alexander Dobson. There will be three honorary patrons, mezzo Catherine Robbin, stage director Christopher Newton, and conductor Steuart Bedford. The concert is at Walter Hall on Sunday Oct. 24 2:30 pm.

UpdateMichael Nyman, composer of the award-winning soundtrack to Jane Campion's The Piano, visits TIFF Bell Lightbox for one weekend in October with two special musical presentations. Both programmes will include performances of additional works selected from Michael Nyman’s music and film repertoire. On Saturday October 23 at 8 PM the Michael Nyman Band performs the composer’s original score for Dziga Vertov’s masterpiece of montage Man With a Movie Camera. On Sunday, October 24 at 1 PM, the Michael Nyman Band will play alongside Nyman's painstaking shot-for-shot reconstruction of Vertov's film, NYman With a Movie Camera, which uses footage from the composer's personal film archive shot over the past two decades to create a modern-day take on experimental documentary filmmaking.

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Friday, 15 October 2010

Cette semaine à Montréal / This Week in Montréal 18-24 oct

MCGILL CHAMBER ORCHESTRAOn October 18th, Montreal’s oldest chamber orchestra presents two great romantic double concertos, featuring Swiss violinist and Université de Montréal professor Laurence Kayaleh as well as Stéphane Lemelin, a Québécois pianist with an international career. Works presented are Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto and Chausson’s Concert. Salle Claude Champagne. 514-487-5190,

Le concert commenté Pléiades présente un panorama du répertoire contemporain pour ensemble à percussions. Dans une mise en scène de Michel G. Barette, au moyen de quatre œuvres, dont trois écrites par des compositeurs québécois, Sixtrum se propose d’initier le public aux grandes familles d’instruments à percussion. Un projet soutenu par le Conseil des arts de Montréal en tournée. 19 octobre à 20 h, Maison de la culture Côte-des-Neiges. 514-872-6889.

Le premier rendez-vous des Idées heureuses a lieu jeudi 21 octobre à 19 h 30, à l’Auditorium Maxwell-Cummings du Musée des beaux-Arts de Montréal. Commenté par la claveciniste Geneviève Soly, le récital Graupner claveciniste virtuose : un portrait, est produit en collaboration avec la Fondation Arte Musica.
24 octobre à 15 h, La fugue chez Graupner, Haendel et Bach présente cette fois Geneviève Soly dans un récital d’orgue, dans le cadre de la 16e saison du Festival des couleurs de l’orgue français qui se tient du 3 au 31 octobre, à la Chapelle du Grand Séminaire de Montréal. 514-843-5881,


Depuis le mois d’août, des projections hebdomadaires d’opéras sont présentées les vendredis à 19 h 30, à la salle Jean-Papineau-Couture de la faculté de musique, dans le cadre de la 17e saison d’Opéramania. Elles se poursuivront jusqu’au 27 juin 2011. Plusieurs projections de ces opéras sont reprises à Laval et à Longueuil. De plus, six soirées spéciales sont animées par le musicologue Michel Veilleux. 514-343-6479,

Lundi 18 Monday
> 19h. McGill POL. McGill Classical Concerto Competition. 398-4547
> 19h. McGill TSH. 10$. E-Gre Staff and Guest Concert. 398-4547
> 19h30. PdA SWP. 14-48$. Ballets russes, fantaisies et castagnettes!. Falla: Le Tricorne, suites #1-2; Freitas Branco: Concerto pour violon; Stravinski: Petrouchka (version 1947), Orchestre Métropolitain; Fabien Gabel, chef; Alexandre da Costa, violon. 842-2112 (f19 20 22 23 24)
> 20h. CHBP. 50$. Schubert, Brahms, Rossini, Marco Schiavo, Sergio Marchegiani, piano. 483-2021
> 20h. UdM-MUS B-421. EL. Concert audiovisuel, Jean Detheux; Jean-Philippe Colard-Neven, piano. 343-6427

Mardi 19 Tuesday
> 17h. UdM-MUS B-421. EL. Série de conférences “Bilans et tendances de la musicologie”, sous-série “Quand les sons s’évanouissent: sens et non-sens dans la musique ancienne”. Les sonorités perdues et les authenticités impossibles, Margaret Bent, musicologue. 343-6427
> 19h. McGill TSH. FA. Class of Sara Laimon, piano. 398-4547
> 19h30. Église St-Sixte, 1895 de l’Église (coin Marcel-Laurin), St-Laurent. 7-15$. OM, da Costa. 855-6110 (h18)
> 19h30. UdM-MUS SCC. 0-12$.Big Band de l’Université de Montréal; Ron Di Lauro, chef; Ingrid Jensen, trompette. 790-1245
> 20h. PdA SWP. 28-86$. Les Grands Concerts. Webern: Im Sommerwind; Haydn: Concerto pour piano; Mahler: Symphonie #6, O.S. de Montréal; Kent Nagano, chef; Emanuel Ax, piano. (19h causerie: Kelly Rice, chroniqueur, CBC Radio) 842-2112, 842-9951 (f20)
> 20h. Salle Pauline-Julien, Cégep Gérald-Godin, 15615 boul. Gouin Ouest, Ste-Geneviève. 10-22$. Série classique. Bach, Ravel, Henriette Renié, Caroline Lizotte, Glen Buhr, etc. Valérie Milot, harpe. 626-1616
> 20h. UdM-MUS B-421. EL. Classe de Jimmy Brière, piano. 343-6427
> 20h30. UdM-MUS B-484. EL. Classe de Jutta Puchhammer, alto. 343-6427

Mercredi 20 Wednesday
> 13h30. UdM-Longueuil. 12$. Mat-Opéramania. Mozart: Idomeneo, Kurt Streit, Angeles Blancas Gulin, Iano Tamar, Sonia Ganassi, Jorg Schneider; Mario Guidarini, chef. 343-6479 (f27)
> 19h. UdM-MUS SCC. EL. Les chambristes stupéfiants, Classes de musique de chambre, d’ensemble-claviers et d’accompagnement de Jean-Eudes Vaillancourt. 343-6427
> 19h. UdM-MUS B-484. EL. Cours de maître, Ingrid Jensen, trompette. 343-6427
> 19h30. McGill TSH. 10$.McGill Jazz Orchestra III; James Danderfer, cond. 398-4547
> 19h30. Théâtre Outremont, 1248 Bernard Ouest. 15$. OM, da Costa. 495-9944 (h18)
> 20h. CHBP. 15$. L’OFF Jazz. Marianne Trudel, Karen Young, voix; Jonathan Stewart, saxophones; Morgan Moore, contrebasse; Marianne Trudel, piano; Robbie Kuster, batterie. 524-0831
> 20h. PdA SWP. 28-86$. Les Grands Concerts. OSM, Ax. (19h causerie: Kelly Rice, chroniqueur, CBC Radio) 842-2112, 842-9951 (h19)
> 20h. UdM-MUS B-421. EL. Haydn, Liszt, Schubert, Classe de Marc Durand, piano. 343-6427
> 21h30. CHBP. 15$. L’OFF Jazz. Alexandre Grogg, Pierre Côté, contrebasse; Alexandre Grogg, piano; Michel Lambert, batterie. 524-0831

Jeudi 21 Thursday
> 10h30. PdA SWP. 28-52$. Les Matins symphoniques. Weber: Concerto pour basson; Mahler: Symphonie #1 “Titan”, O.S. de Montréal; Kent Nagano, chef; Stéphane Lévesque, basson. (9h30 causerie: Kelly Rice, chroniqueur, CBC Radio) 842-2112, 842-9951
> 17h. UdM-MUS B-484. EL. Série de conférences “Bilans et tendances de la musicologie”, sous-série “Quand les sons s’évanouissent: sens et non-sens dans la musique ancienne”. La lecture, la mémoire, l’audition et l’improvisation, Margaret Bent, musicologue. 343-6427
> 19h. McGill TSH. FA. McGill Student Soloists. 398-4547
> 19h30. Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Auditorium Maxwell-Cummings, angle Sherbrooke Ouest et Crescent. 12-25$. Fondation Arte Musica; cours “Graupner: histoire d’une redécouverte”. Graupner, Ensemble Les Idées heureuses; Geneviève Soly, clavecin. (Commentaires en français) 285-2000
> 19h30. UdM-MUS SCC. EL. Vaughan Williams, Grainger, Barnes Chance, Grande Fanfare classique; David Martin, chef; élèves en musique du Collège Vincent-d’Indy et du Cégep Marie-Victorin. 343-6427
> 20h. Centre Pierre-Péladeau, Salle Pierre-Mercure, 300 Maisonneuve Est. 15-28$. Çeke Çeke: goutte à goutte. Musique de Turquie, Iran, Azerbaïdjan, pays Balkans, Constantinople; Özlem Özdil, baglma, saz, voix; Sinan Çelik, kaval. 986-4691, 790-1245
> 20h. CHBP. LP. Fauré, Poulenc, Stravinski, Janácek, Collard-Neven, Fabrice Bihan, violoncelle; Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven, piano. 872-5338
> 20h. MC FR. LP. Aleacanto. Mélodies, airs d’opéras, Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. 872-7882

Vendredi 22 Friday
> 19h. McGill POL. 10$.Schulich School Singers; Wayne Riddell, cond. 398-4547
> 19h30. UdM-MUS B-421. 9$. Opéramania. Purcell: Dido and Aeneas, Malena Ernman, Christopher Maltman, Judith Van Wanroij, Hilary Summers, Lina Markeby; William Christie, chef. (bonus: suite du palmarès de la semaine précédente) 790-1245, 343-6479
> 20h. Auditorium Le Prévost, 7355 Christophe-Colomb. LP. De Bach à Zappa. Bach, Gilles Tremblay, Michel Frigon, Zappa, Quasar quatuor de saxophones. 872-6131
> 20h. Collège de Maisonneuve Cégep, Salle Sylvain-Lelièvre, 2701 Nicolet (angle Sherbrooke Est). 14$. OM, da Costa. 872-2200 (h18)
> 20h. Concordia University, Oscar Peterson Concert Hall. 0-5$. Dr. Oscar Peterson Jazz Scholarship Recital, Jazz scholarship student finalists. 848-4848
> 20h. McGill TSH. FA. McGill Early Music Ensemble; Valerie Kinslow and Betsy MacMillan, directors. 398-4547

Samedi 23 Saturday
> 13h. Ciné-Met MTL1. 15-25$. The Met in HD, Live. Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov (Stephen Wadsworth, director; approx. 5 hours), Valery Gergiev, cond.; Ekaterina Semenchuk, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Oleg Balashov, Evgeny Nikitin, René Pape, Mikhail Petrenko, Vladimir Ognovenko. (f23 Québec; 23 Ailleurs au QC)
> 19h30. Église Unitarienne de Montréal, 5035 Maisonneuve Ouest. 0-20$. Fundraiser for our Laliberte Steinway Grand Piano. Dutilleux, Stewart Grant, Dvorak, Prokofief, Vanessa Russell, cello; Sandra Hunt, piano. 485-9933, 484-5559
> 20h. Cégep Marie-Victorin, Salle Désilets, 7000 Marie-Victorin, Rivière-des-Prairies. 15$. OM, da Costa. 872-9814 (h18)
> 20h. Église St-François-Xavier, 994 Principale, Prévost. 20$. Diffusions Amal’Gamme, Quatuor Men in jazz. 450-436-3037
> 20h. Église St-Jude, 10120 Auteuil. 25$. Cinéma, Cinéma; soirée cabaret. Legrand: Les parapluies de Cherbourg; Gershwin: Summertime; Mancini: Moon River; Mamas and Papas: California Dreamin’; Kosma: Les feuilles mortes; Arlen: Over The Rainbow, Modulation ensemble vocal féminin; Lucie Roy, chef. (19h30 service de bar) 849-6869
> 20h. Église St-Matthieu-de-Beloeil, 1014 Richelieu, Beloeil. 25$. Concert sous les chandelles. Myriam Gendron. 450-419-9148 (h2)
> 20h. McGill TSH. FA. McGill Early Music Ensemble; Valerie Kinslow and Betsy MacMillan, directors. 398-4547
> 20h30. Théâtre du Vieux-Terrebonne, 866 St-Pierre, Terrebonne. 30$. Tableaux dansants d’une exposition. Bach: Les Variations “Golberg”; Moussorgski: Tableaux d’une exposition, Orchestre de chambre I Musici de Montréal; Yuli Turovsky, chef. 866-404-4777

Dimanche 24 Sunday
> 11h. Maison des Jeunesses Musicales du Canada, 305 Mont-Royal Est. 8$. Série La musique, c’est de famille!. Le petit homme aux cheveux roux, Atelier du conte en musique et en images. (version courte pour les 3 à 5 ans) 845-4108 x221 (f13)
> 13h30. Maison des Jeunesses Musicales du Canada, 305 Mont-Royal Est. 8$. Série La musique, c’est de famille!. Petit homme aux cheveux roux. (version longue pour les 6 à 12 ans) 845-4108 x221 (h11)
> 14h. Théâtre Hector-Charland, 225 boul. l’Ange-Gardien, L’Assomption. 29$. Série Classique. Beethoven: Concerto pour piano #4; Symphonie #7, Sinfonia de Lanaudière; Stéphane Laforest, chef; Mari Kodama, piano. 450-589-9198, 877-589-9198
> 14h. UdM-MUS SCC. 0-20$. Cours de maître, Maxim Vengerov, violon. 982-6038
> 14h. UdM-MUS B-484. EL. Classe de Yolande Parent, chant. 343-6427
> 15h. CCPCSH. LP. Rendez-vous du dimanche; musique classique. Vivaldi, Rameau, Bach, Nata Belkin, violoncelle; Réjean Poirier, clavecin. 630-1220
> 15h. MC Plateau Mont-Royal, 465 Mont-Royal Est. LP. Mozart: Trio, K.548; Beethoven: Trio, op.1 #3; Haydn: Trio #36, Trio Fibonacci. 872-2266
> 15h. Salle Jean-Eudes, 3535 boul. Rosemont. LP. Les larmes d’Orlande. Lassus: Le Lagrime di San Pietro, Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal; Christopher Jackson, chef; Olivier Loubry, narrateur. 872-1730
> 15h30. CHBP. LP. Fanny Mendelssohn, Alma Petchersky, piano. 872-5338
> 15h30. McGill POL. 15-35$. LMMC Concerts. Volker David Kirchner, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Fauré Quartett. 932-6796
> 16h. Centre Leonardo da Vinci, Théâtre Mirella et Lino Saputo, 8370 boul. Lacordaire, St-Léonard. 13$. Musique en trois temps. OM, da Costa. 311, 328-8400

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Met in HD Opens with Das Rheingold

Middle: Rhinemaidens in the opening Scene of Das Rheingold.
Top: Wotan and Loge going down to Nibelheim
Bottom: Poster advertising Met Live in HD Das Rheingold starring Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel as Wotan

Now in its fifth season, the Met Live in HD, the brain child of Peter Gelb of the Metropolitan Opera, is more popular than ever. When advance ticket sales for the 2010-11 season began in late August, the sales were so brisk that choice seats in the more popular venues, such as the Sheppard Grande theatres in North York, were sold in a matter of days. I think when Gelb started the venture in December 2006, even he himself could not have envisioned the incredible public reception, and its popularity continues to grow. This year's opening blockbuster is Das Rheingold, the first installment of Wagner's monumental Ring Cycle, starring celebrated Welsh baritone in his first Wotan. The second part, Die Walkure, will open in April starring Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde. Siegfried and Goetterdammerung will be unveiled as part of the three 2011-12 complete cycles. Any new Ring is special, especially since this is the first new Ring at the Met in almost a quarter century. Canadian opera lovers are particularly interested because this new production is conceived, designed, and directed by Canada's own Robert Lepage, in partnership with his company Ex Machina. Lepage is the creator of two highly successful COC productions - Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung back in the early 90's and Nightingale and Other Short Fables that opened the 2009-10 season.

I attended the transmission at the Scotiabank Theatres in downtown Toronto on Saturday. As expected, the place was totally packed. (It should be noted that no tickets were sold to the first four rows in the huge cinema due to poor sightlines) There were the typical older opera audiences but I also noticed a large number of younger people in attendance - who says opera is a dying art form! The transmission started off rockily- a minute or so into the opening, the picture froze and then both picture and sound disappeared. Fortunately, the sound was restored within a couple of minutes and the picture soon after. The rest of the transmission was trouble-free. I was also impressed with the quality of the high definition picture, which had occasionally been too dark in the past. The sound on this occasion was excellent. The show began with a 15 minutes documentary on the production itself, with interviews of Lepage, Levine and some of the singers. The two and a half hour opera was performed without an intermission, about the longest time an audience can be expected to sit without succumbing to nature's call. Wagner audiences are famous for their stamina and attentions span, and this audience was impressively silent throughout, a testament to the power of Wagner's music, and of course the performers and the production team.

This new Ring replaces the very traditional and immensely popular Otto Schenk Ring that premiered at the Met in the mid to late 80's. Given the enormous cost of mounting a new production of this monumental work, the Met obviously wants to be sure the Lepage vision dovetails with its own - that is, an update that will give this Ring a 21st century look, but not too radical in concept or execution that would alienate the Met's conservative - and wealthy - audience base. Lepage has come up with an eye-catching basic set, weighing a massive 45 tons that required reinforcements of the stage floor. It is made up of 24 aluminum and fibreglass planks hinged in the middle resembling piano keys, allows its individual pieces to move, resulting in interesting configurations. For example, when Wotan and Loge descends into Nibelheim, the planks form something resembling a staircase, enhanced by ingenious lighting effects. The most dramatic formation was the multi-coloured rainbow bridge going to Valhalla at the very end of the opera. It unfortunately failed on opening night, but the machinery worked flawlessly in the satellite transmission.

The set as seen by the close-up cameras is impressive and the colours dazzling. But it also reveals an inherent weakness of the medium of televising operas. Lepage is used to designing for spectacles like Cirque du Soleil that use acrobats and athletes. Unfortunately opera singers are rarely known for their athleticism - if anything, singers are often rather self-conscious of their bodies, a few artists like Simon Keenlyside or Nadja Michael are the exception. Even the singers playing the rhinemaidens, carefully chosen for their physical agility, didn't really have the physical freedom while suspended in midair to make the scene truly believable. The other singers moved around gingerly on a platform of planks in front of a trough, which serves as points for entries and exits. Richard Croft (Loge) had to walk backwards with a wire hooked to his back - He did this so awkwardly that it sort of took the magic away. Equally non-magical was the tarnhelm scene when Alberich changed into a dragon and a toad, not helped by the sharp eyes of the video cameras. Given the technology of today, watching this opera was amazingly like watching a movie, with plenty of closeups and images taken at different vantage points. In the theatre, obviously this isn't possible. But with the newfound intimacy made possible by technology, we also see things that perhaps are better left unseen, as realism has a way of taking away the magic. While there was no scenery malfunction in the performance, it was replaced by a wardrobe malfunction - Donner (Dwayne Croft) came on with his back armour precariously undone. Other than this little bit of drama, expertly fixed by colleague-soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer as Freia, the rest of the performance, at least technically, went off without a hitch. The Met Orchestra remains a glory of the opera world. With its long time conductor James Levine back at the helm, the musicians played their hearts out. Levine showed why he is so beloved by audience and singers alike, leading the orchestra in a beautifully shaped, lyrical reading of the magnificent score.

The Met audience gave the cast and crew a roar of approval and repeated ovations that lasted many minutes. The biggest ovations were reserved for the outstanding Alberich of Eric Owens, the vocally resplendent Fricka of Stephanie Blythe, and Bryn Terfel in his first outing as the head-god Wotan. Owens' bass-baritone was so exceptional that he would be perfect as Wotan. Frankly, to my ears he out-sang the Welsh baritone. Surprisingly, there were a few boos for tenor Richard Croft (Loge) who handled it with grace. A notable Mozart tenor, he brought elegance, beauty of tone and subtle acting to the role, but given my experience of having heard him in Santa Fe and Toronto, likely also modest volume. To be sure, Richard Croft is not a natural Wagnerian, lacking the cutting edge to his tone that would allow a modest sized voice to reach the upper galleries, a trait the Met's previous Loge, British tenor Graham Clark, possessed in spades. Also extremely well received was conductor James Levine, a beloved figure at the Met and this production marks his return to the house after sidelined by illness since last February. He looked frail at the curtain call - let's hope he will have a full recovery.

Given that this is only the first installment of a four-part cycle, one has to reserve judgement at this time. For now, it is safe to say that Lepage has created a technologically updated Das Rheingold, one that is abstract yet visually pleasing. But it is also interpretively neutral and singularly lacking in a "concept" that is so de rigueur in European productions. My guess is this non-Regietheater approach was a decision made by Gelb and the Met, a company known for its conservatism. Only time will tell if future installments will be a continuation of the interpretive blandness of the first segment. For now, this spanking new Rheingold augers well for the future.

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Live Opera From Europe Begins Screening in North America

by Wah Keung Chan

Right on the heels of the opening of the Met’s Live in HD series last Saturday (October 9, 2010) with Robert Lepage’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, other live opera in the cinema is coming to Canada this week. On October 13 at 2 PM EST, Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu’s performance of Bizet’s Carmen will be screening live in Toronto (AMC Yonge and Dundas) and Montreal (AMC Forum), as well as in American cities and around the world. In North America, Emerging Pictures had been screening prerecorded HD European opera for the last three years.

This year, after an one-year absence in Quebec, they have partnered with D Films in Canada to distribute both live and encore opera, theatre and ballet. The October 13th showing is the first of 12 works including the Liceu’s Queen of Spades and Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci (live), La Scala’s Das Rheingold and Die Walkure (live) and Royal Opera House’s Macbeth (live). Many of the live presentations will subsequently be repeated as an encore.

Strangely, all of the Live presentations are presented on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, limiting the North American market to seniors, which does make sense given the demographics of the Met Live in HD.

The Carmen features an international cast including Roberto Alagna as Don José and Béatrice Uria-Monzon as Carmen, Marc Piollet conducting and directed by Calixto Bieito.

Update: Live from La Scala Opening Night - Wagner's Die Walküre
Date: December 7 at 11 AM EDT (Run time: 310 minutes including 2 intermissions)

Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Director: Guy Cassiers

Siegmund: Simon O’Neil
Hunding: John Tomlinson
Wotan: Vitalij Kowaljow
Sieglinde: Waltraud Meier
Brünnhilde: Nina Stemme
Fricka: Ekaterina Gubanova
Gerhilde: Danielle Halbwachs
Ortlinde: Carola Höhn
Waltraute: Yvonne Fuchs
Schwertleite: Anaïk More
Helmwige: Susan Foster
Siegrune: Lean Sandel-Pantaleo
Gringerde: Nicole Piccolomini
Rossweisse: Simone Schröder

NEW Contest
: Readers of La Scena Musicale can win three pairs of passes in Toronto and three pairs of passes in Montreal to the December 7 screening by emailing (name, email and address) with subject line "Die Walkure contest" indicating your city of preference. Deadline: Dec. 6 at noon.


> Trailer:

Roberto Alagna and Béatrice Uria-Monzon in Carmen on Youtube: [duet after flower song] [final scene]


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