La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

La Scala Opening Night Die Walkure

Photo: Program cover of the live satellite transmission of La Scala's opening night Die Walkure today.

The Canadian distributor D Films, under license from Emerging Pictures, the largest all-digital specialty film and alternate content theatre network in the US, has been testing the Canadian market by bringing live events to Montreal and Toronto AMC cinemas this year. In Toronto, the screenings take place at the AMC Cinemas at the Dundas Square location in downtown. A couple of months ago, it was the screening of Carmen from Teatro Liceu in Barcelona. Today, it was Wagner's Die Walkure which opened the new opera season at La Scala in Milan. Opening night of La Scala always falls on December 7, and it is always a special occasion for opera lovers and a focus of media attention, never more so than now.

Italy's art and culture is currently under attack by the austerity-minded Berlusconi government, which has made deep cuts to state funding for music, theatre, and visual arts. This year, several Italian opera houses were hit with strikes by musicians and union members protesting the cutbacks. Today in front of the La Scala opera house, there were demonstrators outside clashing with the police, with ten people reportedly injured. At the very beginning of the satellite feed, shouts could be heard as the well heeled patrons were entering the theatre. Before the start of performance, conductor Daniel Barenboim broke with tradition and spoke to the audience. Barenboim directed his remarks specifically to the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, who was sitting in the royal box. Barenboim spoke in Italian, which was roughly translated as "I am speaking on behalf of all my colleagues who play, sing, dance and work in this magnificent theatre. We are worried about the future of culture in this country and in Europe." Barenboim received a round of applause in the house.

After that, it was business as usual, beginning with the National Anthem, followed by a five hour and fifteen minute performance of Die Walkure, with two intermissions. Perhaps these satellite transmissions are new and not very well publicized in Toronto, there were only about 40 people in the fairly small cinema. Unlike the Met Live in HD which is always on Saturdays, today's show was on a weekday, starting at 11 a.m. no less - it obviously had a negative impact on the turnout. I recognized quite a number of the people in the audience, mostly die-hard Wagner opera fans. I think with more advertising, opera fans in Toronto - and there are many - will turn up. I randomly canvassed several people after the show, and there was not one who did not enjoy the performance. In fact, many felt it's good to have programming from opera houses other than the Met in Canada. European opera productions tend to be more avant garde and feature star singers who don't often sing on this side of the Atlantic. This Walkure is a case in point - while Nina Stemme and Ekaterina Gubanova have recently sung at the Met and San Francisco, others like Daniel Barenboim, Waltraud Meier and John Tomlinson have essentially Euro-centered careers.

There was however one important cancellation, that of German bass Rene Pape who cancelled some months ago. He was replaced by Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow, who sang in the LA Ring earlier this year. The absence of Pape was a disappointment, but Mr. Kowljow was up the the task, singing with mellifluous and youthful tone. The overall performance level was high, particularly the women. Nina Stemme, whom I saw as Brunnhilde in San Francisco last June, is arguably the best in this role today. Her voice is very dark, more so than the Fricka of mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova. But Stemme has a firm upper register, and had no trouble sliding up to the high Cs in Hojotoho. Waltraud Meier, one month short of her 55th birthday, looks and sounds miraculously youthful as Sieglinde, and her vivid acting is always a pleasure. In this performance she sang wonderfully well. Russian mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova was also excellent as Fricka, a far cry from her wooden and uninvolved Giulietta in the Met in HD Tales of Hoffmann last season. The men are more variable. Kowaljow is a basso cantante, and doesn't have the huge, enveloping sound of some Wotans in the past. But he sang with fresh, youthful sound and had no problem with the high tessitura in his Act 3. But visually I wouldn't say he's nearly as believable a Wotan as many I have seen - James Morris and John Tomlinson are two that come immediately to mind. New Zealand tenor Simon O'Neill has been making a big splash since migrating to the Wagner heldentenor fach the last couple of years. His tenor is what one would call a "big, juicy lyric" instead of a true heldentenor. There is no baritonal heft and rafter-raising power, but it is a beautiful sound. He received only lukewarm applause, as did Tomlinson as a rather uninteresting Hunding. The great English bass has had a long career in Wagner. I saw his wonderful Wotan in the Kupfer Ring in Bayreuth twenty years ago. But twenty years is a very long time in a singer's life, and Tomlinson has essentially moved onto other, less demanding roles, like Hunding. The valkyries were mostly good. However, the Gerhilde who opened the ensemble Ride of the Valkyries was tremulous - a case of opening night jitters? There was one other feeble voice in the bunch.

What of the production? This is a co-production shared with Berlin Staatsoper unter den Linden. The first installment, Das Rheingold premiered in Milan last May, and the full cycle won't be mounted until June 2013. Dutch director Guy Cassiers is essentially a theater director with limited experience on the opera stage. He offers a visually dazzling Walkure that has many nice touches. Particularly striking is the projection of masses of bucking horses and fallen heroes in Act 3. I also like the spinning globe, however the meaning of the "falling alphabets" eludes me. Indeed some of the visual effects didn't turned out as intended - particularly humorous was Brunnhilde falling asleep on the stage floor, which then rose up about five feet and a cluster of red lamps descended right on top, signifying the magic fire. I am afraid it looked more like some fast food being kept warm by 25 heat lamps! The costumes are traditional - in fact the elaborately formal dresses of the women look a lot like those in the COC Walkure. Overall, I feel that interpretively this Walkure dosen't really have anything unusual or controversial to say - as European productions go, this is rather middle-of-the-road. Supporters of Regieoper are sure to be disappointed. Daniel Barenboim is of course an old hand in Wagner, and he conducted with energy, drawing beautiful sounds from the orchestra. His tempo was on the leisurely side, allowing the lyrical and quiet passages to breathe, but in the crucial climaxes, his conducting had plenty of excitement. It was just too bad the theatre was not full. I hope D Films will not abandon its plan to bring these shows to the Canadian market. The market is there - there are plenty of opera lovers in Toronto. The shows just need more time and better advance publicity to properly build an audience.

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L’hiver ne sera pas morose

Par Nathalie de Han

Vous ne voulez pas passer l’hiver calfeutré(e) chez vous ? Cette liste des productions théâtrales à venir devrait vous donner envie de braver la froidure !

Incontournable : Donka - Une lettre à Tchekhov de Daniele Finzi Pasca -Usine C (1er-18 décembre). • Marie-Christine Lê-Huu offre aux 6-9 ans Le voyageMaison Théâtre (2-30 décembre). • Jesus Jello: The Miraculous Confection célèbre les fêtes à sa façon – Mainline (3-18 décembre). • Kristian Frédric dirige Amélie Chérubin-Soulières dans Jaz de Koffi Kwahulé. Prometteur – Théâtre des Deux Mondes (4-15 décembre). • Choix de vie avec 5F. Scénographie et accessoires Lino – Théâtre Ste-Catherine (8-18 décembre). • Quatrième édition de Urban TalesCentaur (9 -18 décembre). • Naissance s'insère dans BOLD Action, le mouvement global états-unien d'humanisation de la naissance – Espace Go (13-14 décembre). • Un must pour les 2-5 ans : GlouglouThéâtre d'Aujourd'hui (13-30 décembre). • Nina Arsenault narre ses aventures dans le monde de la chirurgie plastique The Silicone Diaries La Chapelle (14-18 décembre). • Edgar et ses fantômes en supplémentaires – Monument-National (14-18 décembre). • Cravate Club met à mal l’amitiéCinquième Salle (14-23 décembre). • René-Richard Cyr célèbre Minuit chrétienDuceppe (15 décembre-5 février). • OZ - Théâtre enchanté s’adresse aux 5 ans et plusFred-Barry (20-21 décembre). • Dinde et farces : le cabaret de Noël s’impose ! Espace libre (21- 23 décembre). • En rappel : Noël 1933 – Monument-National (21-30 décembre).

Janvier 2011 !

L’année commence avec une radioscopie du terrorisme politique dans l'Irlande rurale : The Lieutenant Of Inishmore. De Martin McDonagh, auteur des excellents Le Pillowman, La reine de beauté de Leenane – Segal (4-23 janvier). • Le Théâtre de l’Opsis poursuit son nouveau cycle italien avec Bar, interprété par Pierre-François Legendre et Jean-Nicolas Verreault – Prospero (10 janvier-5 février). • Dans Les Mutants, Sylvain Bélanger inflige à une belle distribution de trentenaires le plus difficile des examens, les interrogeant sur le chemin parcouru – Espace Go (11-22 janvier). • Le très coté Christian Lapointe signe un polar théâtral rigoureux, Nature morte dans un fossé de Fausto Paravidino, traduit par Paul Lefebvre (11-22 janvier). • La Manufacture présente en rappel Le Pillowman, un texte de McDonagh, évoqué plus haut, traduit par Fanny Britt et mis en scène par Denis Bernard. Mégadistribution – Rideau Vert (11-22 janvier). • En attendant Gaudreault donne un écho actuel au thème de l’attente. Ta Yeule Kathleen plonge dans le drame d’une mère célibataire. Programme double et court – Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui (11-29 janvier). • À surveiller : la mise en scène de Claude Poissant du texte de Michel Marc Bouchard, Tom à la ferme – Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui (11 janvier-5 février). • Cité contact, un spectacle interdisciplinaire et interactif d’Héloïse Depocas, sur les dimensions sensorielles, affectives de la rencontre – Fred-Barry (12-29 janvier). • Pacamambo, un classique jeunesse de Wajdi Mouawad. Destiné aux 9-14 ans, grave et fantaisiste. Serge Marois dirige Julie Beauchemin, Chantal Dumoulin, Denis Lavalou, Richard Lemire – Maison Théâtre (12-30 janvier). • Océantume, par Le Clou – en tournée à Montréal (13 janvier – 12 avril). •Tout à Trac offre Münchhaussen - les machineries de l’imaginaire, très librement inspiré des récits de Raspe et Bürger – Théâtre Denise-Pelletier (14-29 janvier).

Dans une toute autre perspective, Projet MÛ, de Nini Bélanger et Pascal Brullemans, inaugure avec Beauté, chaleur et mort un nouveau cycle portant cette fois sur la perte et le deuil – La Chapelle (18-29 janvier). • Jocelyne Montpetit met en scène La danseuse malade, texte de Hijikata, un génie de la danse dont elle suivit des leçons de ténèbres, il y a 25 ans, à Tokyo – Théâtre de Quat'Sous (18-29 janvier). • Restons au Japon… mais filons au Moyen-âge avec Manga ! de Jocelyn Sioui et Belzébrute – MainLine Theatre (18-30 janvier). • Le Collectif [dif]FRACTION propose sa deuxième création, Terre confite. Texte de Marc Gauthier, mise en scène et images vidéo de Stéphanie Pelletier – Prospero (18 janvier-5 février). • Serge Denoncourt signe la mise en scène du Projet Andromaque, très attendu – Espace Go (18 janvier-12 février). • Michel Lemieux et Victor Pilon font d’un texte de Sébastien Harrisson, La Belle et la Bête, une fable actuelle – TNM (18 janvier-12 février). • Infinithéâtre donne Joe Louis – Bain St-Michel (25 janvier-20 février). • Jean-Simon Traversy met en scène Farragut North de Beau Willimon. La soif, le prix du pouvoir – Studio Jean-Valcourt du Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal (28 janvier-5 février). • Claude Lemieux dirige les finissants du Conservatoire dans Kroum de Hanokh Levin, une critique virulente de la réalité politique, sociale et culturelle de l’État d’Israël – Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal (28 janvier-5 février). • Élisabeth Chouvalidzé, Catherine De Léan et Pierre-Antoine Lasnier sont les interprètes de Judith, l'adieu au corpsStationnement souterrain du marché Jean-Talon (29 janvier-16 février).


Stones in his pockets – Centaur (1er-27 février) Pigeons International revient avec Grâce à Dieu, ton corps – Usine C (1er-12 février). • Mime et métissage artistique …sous silence – Espace Libre (1er-19 février). • Simon Boudreault offre Soupers – Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui (8 -26 février). • Möschplat : extravagance clownesque – Centaur (8 -11 février). • In extremis, de William Mastrosimone – Rideau Vert (8 février-12 mars). • Sexy-Béton, un théâtre-documentaire sur l’effondrement du viaduc de la Concorde – Fred-Barry (9-26 février). • Des monologues de femmes donnent des... Histoires d’hommes – Prospero (15 février-5 mars). • Elling s’annonce drôle et touchant – Jean-Duceppe (16 février- 26 mars). • Recréation du Dragonfly of ChicoutimiEspace Go (22 février -19 mars). • Distribution intéressante pour La Noce de Bertolt Brecht – Prospero (22 février- 19 mars). • André Brassard (oui !) dirige Julie Vincent dans JocasteEspace Libre (24 février-12 mars). • Isberg, pour les 11-13 ans. Musique de Yann Perrault – en tournée à Montréal (25 février-13 mai).

…Et mars
Instructions to any future socialist gouverment wishing to abolish Christmas: économie mondiale et humour – Centaur(1er mars-3 avril). • Gardez à l’œil Geoffrey Gaquère, il dirige Toxique du Torontois Greg MacArthur – Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui (1er-26 mars). • Trois auteurs en quête de territoires construisent Correspondances – Aux Écuries (1er-19 mars). • Programme double : théâtre viril et sportif, le titre dit tout – Denise-Pelletier (2- 19 mars). • Insomnie du Théâtre Niveau Parking – Cinquième Salle (2-12 mars). • Le groupe de poésie moderne reprend De l’impossible retour de Léontine en brassière – Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui (8-26 mars). • Marc Béland met un scène Hamlet traduit par Jean-Marc Dalpé – TNM (8 mars-2 avril). • Médée d’Euripide – Denise-Pelletier (9 mars-7 avril). • Christina Iovita dirige le Costume neuf de l’Empereur – Denise-Pelletier (23 mars-29 avril). • Ronfard nu devant son miroir est une création à quatre mains Évelyne de la Chenelière/Daniel Brière – Espace Libre (24 mars-30 avril). • Les Jumeaux vénitiens par Jacques Rossi – Gésu (28 mars- 2 avril). • La vengeance de Manhattan Medea – Espace Go (29 mars-23 avril). • Schwartz’s, the musical – Centaur (29 mars-24 avril). • Transmissions de Justin Laramé pour la charmante compagnie Qui va là – Écuries (29 mars-16 avril). • Ondinok reprend Wulustek – Prospero (29 mars- 16 avril). • Lorraine Pintal écrit, met en scène et interprète Madame Louis 14 – Rideau vert (29 mars-30 avril).
De décembre à mars, c’est à vous de choisir !

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Sunday, 5 December 2010

This Week in Toronto (Dec. 6 - 12)

Baritone Elliot Madore to receive ARIAS Emerging Artist Award

Soprano Renee Fleming returns to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 8th 8 pm.

The big news for voice fans this week is the return of soprano Renee Fleming to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. If there ever is an All-American prima donna, it would have to be Fleming - rarely does one find such a gorgeous voice combined with the drop dead beauty she possesses. She is of course a frequent visitor to Toronto - if I were to venture a guess, I would say since around 1995 she has been here at least six times, maybe more. Just the Vocal Series alone she has appeared twice, and I recall her singing the opening concert of TSO conductor Peter Oundjian's first season. On the program are arias from Thais, Faust, La boheme (both Puccini and Leoncavallo), plus selections from Mahler's Ruckert Lieder. There will be several orchestral selections - all chestnuts: Overture from Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila, Prelude to Wagner's Meistersinger, and Overture to Forza. An evening with Renee Fleming is always an occasion, and this concert is very close to sold out, if not already.

The other offering from the TSO is young pianist Alexander Seredenko, winner of the 2009 TSO Piano Competition, playing Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. Also on the program is Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5. As a bonus, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra will also be joining the main forces to play selections from the Nutcracker. So this is a festive event for the season. Two shows - Thursday Dec. 9 at 2 pm and Saturday Dec. 11 at 8 pm. For ticket information, go to

Another very interesting event is the Opening Night of La Scala on December 7. It's a live transmission of Wagner's Die Walkure by satellite to movie theaters. This is coming to Canada courtesy of Emerging Pictures. It has been happening to selected cities in Canada the last couple of years already, although to my knowledge this is the first time in Toronto. It is taking place at the AMC Cinemas at Dundas Square in downtown Toronto. Because it is broadcast live, it starts at 11 am Toronto time! The show is 310 minutes long with two intermissions. The Wagnerites among us are sure to be excited by this, and I for one won't miss it. The great Swedish soprano Nina Stemme is Brunnhilde - I saw her in this role last June in San Francisco and she was phenomenal. She is also going to be the Brunnhilde in the San Francisco Ring next June. The Wotan is the Polish bass-baritone Vitalij Kowaljow, who is rapidly becoming the Wotan of choice for his fresh, youthful sound and appearance. Hunding is the venerable British bass-baritone John Tomlinson, whom I saw as Wotan in Bayreuth at the Kupfer Ring way back in 1990! Twenty years is a long time in a singer's life, so Sir John has migrated to the less demanding role of Hunding. The Walsung twins are New Zealand heldentenor Simon O'Neill and German mezzo (or soprano) Waltraud Meier. The conductor is Daniel Barenboim. Given the long history of the vociferous La Scala loggionisti lustily booing on opening nights, it will be very interesting to see what is the reaction this time around. Italian purists always grumble that opening night should be an Italian opera. This year it is once again a non-Italian show, so be there for the fireworks!!!

Elsewhere, the Art of Time Ensemble is presenting Shakespeare: If Music Be... Dec. 9 -11 8 pm at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront Centre. This Ensemble always has interesting and adventurous programming, and this time is no exception. This show combines music, dance, and theatre inspired by Shakespeare. The music are by Korngold, Prokofiev, John Cage, and Rufus Wainwright. There will be scenes from Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, and Romeo and Juliet. Andrew Burashko, Kevin Fox, and Erika Raum are the musicians. Go to for more information.

New Music Concerts is presenting a program in honour of the American composer Elliot Carlter's 102 birthday on Dec. 10 (introduction at 7:15pm, concert at 8 pm) at the Isabel Bader Theater at University of Toronto. He will be there to be interviewed by Paul Steenhuisen! This is an important event for fans of Carter and new music. For more information, go to

At exactly the same time (Dec. 10 8 pm), violinist Leila Josefowicz is appearing at RCM's Koerner Hall in a program of Brahms, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Schubert. Also on the program is Conversio by Tuur. The violinist will be giving a masterclass at the conservatory theatre at 10 am on Friday. Admission is free for the masterclass. For more information, go to

Canadian baritone Elliot Madore, winner of the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, will be awarded the ARIAS Emerging Young Artist Award. He is a member of the Met Lindemann Young Artist Program for the 2010-11 season. ARIAS, or the Canadian Opera Student Development Fund, is in its 63rd year. It has awarded over 900 scholarships to young artists across Canada over the years. ARIAS chair Arija Stiver explains: "Our goal is to ensure that with financial support of talented young people, opera in Canada maintains its trajectory of growth and that Canada continues to be recognized as a major presence on the opera stages of the world." Canadian audiences will have a chance to hear Madore, at T.O.S.C.A. (The Canadian Opera Scholarship Awards) ceremony including a regular concert will take place at Walter Hall, University of Toronto on Thursday Dec. 9, 7:30 pm. I have interviewed Madore and written a piece on him, but have yet to hear him in person. This Emerging Young Artist Award was announced at the annual Opera Canada Awards, "The Rubies" last Oct. 14, but Madore was not able to come. So I look forward to hearing him on Thursday. For more information, go to

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