La Scena Musicale

Friday, 30 September 2011

COC Rigoletto Combines Superb Singing with Idiosyncratic Staging

Bottom: COC Rigoletto (seated center: Dimitri Pittas, Mireille Asselin; right standing: Quinn Kelsey) Photo: Michael Cooper

Top: Ekaterina Sadovnikova, Quinn Kelsey (Photo: Michael Cooper)

by Joseph K. So

Verdi: Rigoletto

Quinn Kelsey (Rigoletto)
Ekaterina Sadovnikova (Gilda)
Dimitri Pittas (Duke)
Phillip Ens (Sparafucile)
Kendall Gladen (Maddalena)
Robert Pomakov (Monterone)
Megan Latham (Giovanna)

Johannes Debus, conductor
COC Orchestra and Chorus

September 29, 2011 7:30 p.m.

The COC fall season continued last evening with the premiere of its second production, Verdi's Rigoletto at the Four Seasons Centre. It is a "new" co-production between the COC and ENO, although this Christopher Alden-Michael Levine Rigoletto actually had its genesis in the 2000 Lyric Opera of Chicago. At the time, it generated a great deal of controversy from the media and angry responses from the more conservative patrons at LOC. It is telling that Chicago abandoned this Regie-driven production when Rigoletto was revived in 2006, replaced by a much more traditional take on the Verdi warhorse. Given that the COC has increasingly moved toward the Regieoper aesthetic, would this production be more favorably received in Toronto? Like everyone else, I was curious.

Contrary to the austere and abstract approach of Carsen's Iphigenie currently (and his Orfeo last spring) with their timeless quality, this Rigoletto has an opulent period set designed by Michael Levine. It appears to have been time-shifted from the Italian Renaissance to late Victorian period. The unit set depicts what Christopher Alden describes as "the gaming room" - a sort of men's club for the privileged, a space that symbolizes "power, control, and domination," one that corrupts the male participants in a society that subjugates women. Alden, in the Director's Notes, suggests that Rigoletto is unable to separate his public life (as a participant in the power game) and his private life (as a loving father to Gilda). Thus the major theme in his concept is male dominance and chauvinism, a fair enough observation of European society in the historic past. But would this overriding concept be sufficient to sustain an opera with a complex story and plenty of action?

As the curtain rises, Rigoletto is sleeping on a comfy armchair while the opera proceeds on stage with him immobile downstage on the right. This bit of staging suggests that the action on stage is but a dream of Rigoletto. The unit set hugs the three sides, making the staging area the biggest I've seen of any production at the FSC. This is problematic as a lot of scenes that require intimacy are awkwardly staged, given that there is no rotating platform. Hampered by this immovable unit set, unresolved actions as required by the story are simply avoided by someone drawing a black curtain across the width of the stage. In short, this production cries out for eye-popping stagecraft rather than something as low-tech and lame as a black curtain. More importantly, I find this production to be quite a distortion of the libretto, rendering it at times illogical and incoherent. There are just too many silly directorial touches. The Duke clutching a cushion to his crotch while singing his aria elicited laughs of derision from the audience. Same thing for making Giovanna more than the routine comprimaria. I agree that a warhorse like Rigoletto can do with some "freshening up" but any concept production is supposed to illuminate the music and the text, and to give us fresh insights into the story. There are moments when the text does not match the action on stage. So I have to say Alden's concept have not achieved these goals. At least compared to Carsen's Orfeo and Iphigenie, this Rigoletto doesn't work nearly as well.

If there are reservations in terms of the production, there aren't any when it comes to the musical side of things. On opening night, top vocal honours went to the magnificent Rigoletto of Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey. What a voice! He has beauty of tone, ample dramatic intensity, volume without resorting to pushing, youthful timbre, and most of all , his is an authentic Verdi baritone, a rare breed. His Rigoletto recalls none other than a young Louis Quilico. A big guy, he's quite free with his body. Unlike many heavyset opera singers, Kelsey is not afraid to throw himself around the stage, fall down etc. I hope he will come back to the COC - voices like that don't grow on trees. Also making a big impression was Russian soprano Ekaterina Sadovnikova, who fully encompassed the role of Gilda vocally and dramatically, singing with lovely high pianissimos, and no traces of the pronounced vibrato and metallic timbre that are common in Slavic voices. Her 'Caro nome' was particularly lovely. As the Duke, American tenor Dimitri Pittas sang with ringing tone and Italianate timbre. If one were to nitpick, he skipped a couple of high options. But it was an exciting performance and he was well applauded. Canadian bass Phillip Ens was evil incarnate as Sparafucile, a role he must have sung a hundred times. American mezzo Kendall Gladen was a suitably sultry, Carmen-like Maddalena, despite some hollow low notes. Bass Robert Pomakov as Monterone is luxury casting, showing once again he is a fine character singer with an unusually fine voice. COC Music Director Johannes Debus defied typecasting as a German opera specialist by bringing idiomatic style, verve and excitement to the Italian repertoire. The men's chorus under Sandra Horst was its usual excellent self. No, this isn't a Rigoletto for the ages, and I wouldn't want this to be anyone's first exposure to this work. Fans of concept productions will find this intriguing, but personally I prefer something that allows the audience some freedom of interpretation.

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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Inaugural COC Orchestra Chamber Series Honours Richard Bradshaw

COC Orchestra Chamber Group playing Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings K581 (l. to r.) Marie Berard, Sandra Baron, Francis Kefford, Bryan Epperson, James Shields (Photo: Tracy Kay)

by Joseph K. So

Tribute to Richard Bradshaw

Debussy: Syrinx (Douglas Stewart, flute)
Puccini: Crisantemi (Marie Berard, violin; Sandra Baron, violin; Francis Kefford, viola; Bryan Epperson, cello)
Mozart: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581 (James Shields, clarinet; Marie Berard, violin; Sandra Baron, violin; Francis Kefford, viola; Bryan Epperson, cello)

Introductions by Johannes Debus, COC Music Director and Scott Irvine, Tuba

Sept. 27, 2011 noon

Among the many legacies of the late COC General Director Richard Bradshaw is the excellent orchestra which he was instrumental in shaping over the many years of his tenure. Hidden in the pit, we often take these marvelous musicians for granted. When Bradshaw was alive, he made a point of having orchestral concerts - often with singers though not always - that give these terrific musicians who normally toiled away down in the nether regions an opportunity to shine on stage. The tradition of putting on these enjoyable concerts at George Weston Hall or Glenn Gould Studio is unfortunately a thing of the past, but it doesn't have to be! Hopefully this new COC Orchestra Chamber Series will signal a return - however modest - to showcasing our talented orchestra. The current COC Music Director Johannes Debus was on hand to introduce the concert, followed by Scott Irvine, principal Tuba, who reminisced touchingly about Bradshaw, and announced the beginning of the new Chamber Series.

The program began with a Debussy solo piece, Syrinx, played by Principal Flute Douglas Stewart. (Irvine told the audience that Pelleas et Melisande was Richard's favourite opera) Playing from a landing on the stairs, the sound magically filled the airy space. This was followed by Puccini's Crisentemi, with its theme the composer later recycled for an intermezzo in Manon Lescaut. I heard this piece played last season by a reduced Toronto Symphony Orchestra. That was lovely but hearing it as a quartet is a totally different experience, the poignancy of the work greatly enhanced in an intimate arrangement.

The centerpiece of the concert was the Mozart Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K.581. One of the most melodically inspired piece Mozart ever composed, the musicians played it divinely, allowing the inherent elegance and nobility of the work to shine through. I must single out the terrific clarinet of James Shields, the new Principal Clarinet of the Orchestra. Listening to the magnificent first movement with its awe-inspiring melodies, to my surprise I had a lump in my throat, thinking to myself - surely this is music of the angels! With only three pieces, the concert was unfortunately a little short, as there was no encore. It's totally understandable since the Orchestra was extremely busy with Iphigenie and Rigoletto running simultaneously. Let's hope this auspicious beginning is the first of many chamber concerts to come.

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Monday, 26 September 2011

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 26 - Oct. 2)

Late COC General Director Richard Bradshaw (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Can it really have been four years already? To be exact - four years, one month and eleven days, since the unexpected passing of former Canadian Opera Company General Director Richard Bradshaw on August 15, 2007? Toronto opera lovers will be forever indebted to him for his vision and faith in our fair city. While others failed, he persevered and was instrumental in the building of our first purpose-built opera house, the Four Seasons Centre. Tomorrow (Tuesday Sept. 27), there will be a Tribute to Richard Bradshaw, taking place appropriately at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. His successor Johannes Debus, Music Director of the COC, will lead a program of chamber pieces beloved by Bradshaw, performed by members of the COC Orchestra. While poignant, this will be a celebration of his life and work. Be sure to get there at least an hour early for a seat.

The second production of the COC fall season, the Verdi warhorse Rigoletto, opens on Thursday Sept. 29 7:30 p.m. for a total of twelve performances. All the principals are double-cast, with Russian soprano Ekaterina Sadovnikova making her COC debut as Gilda. She has previously sung the role at Covent Garden to great reviews. It's a very interesting and big voice with a brilliant top and a solid middle and lower registers. Here is a clip of Sadovnikova singing part of the Lucia Mad Scene from La Fenice - Another clip features her Caro nome - These videos are filmed from the audience and the conditions far from ideal, but you still get a sense of how striking her voice is. Alternating with her is Canadian soprano Simone Osborne in her first Gilda. Dimitri Pittas and David Lomeli alternate as the Duke. Quinn Kelsey and Lester Lynch share duties as Rigoletto. COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts. Performances this week on Sept. 29, 30, and Oct. 2. Meanwhile, Iphigenia in Tauris continues on Sept. 28 and Oct. 1. I saw opening night and it was a truly memorable performance, with great singing, imaginative stage direction, and incisive conducting.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is in full swing this week, with three concerts featuring the great Emanuel Ax playing Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1. It's paired with Brahms' Symphony No. 1 conducted by Peter Oundjian. Very interesting is the appearance of the new TSO Concertmaster Jonathan Crow as soloist in Beethoven's Romance No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. Some of you may have heard him briefly at the Toronto Summer Music Festival; now is the first opportunity to hear him in depth. Performances on Sept. 29, Oct. 1 and 2.

The Royal Conservatory of Music is presenting a free concert at Koerner Hall on Friday Sept. 30 starring piano wunderkind Jan Lisiecki playing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2. The program also includes Wagner's Overture to Flying Dutchman and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Uri Mayer conducts. I understand that all free tickets have been given away, alas! However do try for returns... you never know!

Opera in Concert usually presents, as the name says, operas in concert format, mostly with piano and about once a year with orchestra. It is breaking with tradition this season by presenting L'accordeonist's Latin Heat. This group stars mezzo Kimberly Barber, pianist Peter Tiefenbach, l'accordionista Mary-Lou Vetere, and percussionist Carol Baumann. They are all superbly trained classical musicians who are doing something different. I attended their CD launch in May 2010 and can attest to the fact that they are wonderful. Sunday 2:30 p.m. at the Jane Mallett Theatre.


Friday, 23 September 2011

COC Opens Season with Deeply Moving Iphigenia in Tauris

Top: Russell Braun (Orestes) and Joseph Kaiser (Pylades) (Photo: Michael Cooper)
Middle:Dancers in Act 1 Iphigenia in Tauris (Photo: Michael Cooper)
Bottom: Susan Graham as Iphigenia in COC's Iphigenia in Tauris (Photo: John Currid)

Gluck: Iphigenia in Tauris
Susan Graham (Iphigenie)
Russell Braun (Orestes)
Joseph Kaiser (Pylades)
Mark Doss (Thoas)
Lauren Segal (Diana)
COC Orchestra and Chorus
Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor
Robert Carsen, director/lighting designer
Peter Van Praet, lighting designer
Sandra Horst, chorus master

Four Seasons Centre, Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m. 2011

by Joseph K. So

At the end of the COC season opening Iphigenia in Tauris on Thursday, a good number of audience members spontaneously rose to their feet cheering, a response that grew within a few seconds to a complete standing ovation from virtually the whole audience. It was gratifying to see the enthusiastic reception of a "concept production" by the essentially conservative Toronto audience. This Iphigenie clearly shows that the Toronto audience is ready and willing to accept and appreciate a creative re-imagining as long as it's logical, coherent, and most of all, one that serves the composer and the music. With this production, Carsen brings into clear relief that one doesn't need opulent scenery or super-realism to capture one's imagination.

Like Carsen's Orfeo which was arguably the gem of the 2010-11 COC season, this Iphigenie eschews the trappings of grand opera, instead focusing on the emotional core of the work. It's a tale of love, death, loyalty, and self sacrifice, with a famously dysfunctional family serving as the backstory. Given its unrelenting darkness, Carsen's approach is austere and barren, with an overwhelming use of black colour interspersed with streaks of red indicate violence or blood. The stage is empty except for the three walls, with the names of the three principals - Iphigenie, Agamemnon, and Clytemnestre - written in white chalk. At one point, Orestes is scrawled in red on the stage floor. The chorus sings from the pit while a group of supernumeraries (dancers) inhabit the stage, mimicking the movements of the principals. The women are costumed in long, black, flowing dresses with the men in black shirts and trousers, not unlike what musicians would wear in a concert performance. A very significant element of this production is the use of lighting, often in such a way that casts ominous shadows on the walls. In fact, the aesthetic of Iphigenie strongly echoes the Carsen production of Ariadne auf Naxos in Munich which I saw twice in the last three years. Given that both shows were premiered within a year or two of each other, it's understandable that Carsen recycled some of his ideas.

With a production that plumbs the depths of the human psyche, it is essential to have capable singing actors who bring to their roles not just beauty of voice but strong dramatic presence. In this respect, COC could not have assembled a better cast. Susan Graham is the definitive Iphigenie of our time, having sung it to great acclaim in many important venues including the Met, Covent Garden, and Paris. Her luminous high mezzo, capable of a wide range of colours, was a pleasure on opening night. As Orestes, Canadian Russell Braun sang with extraordinary dramatic intensity and vocal abandon, his warm and expressive baritone conveying touching pathos. I have seen Braun plenty of times on stage, both in opera and in recitals. To be sure, his performance here reaffirms him as one of the very best singing actors in front of the public today. Joseph Kaiser, last heard in Toronto ten long years ago when he was a baritone in the COC Ensemble, was a clarion voiced and totally believable Pylades. The two men are physically rather alike and their voices blended beautifully. Incidentally, many productions of Iphigenie, notably Opera Atelier's a few years back and the famous Glimmerglass-Francesca Zambello production starring Nathan Gunn and William Burden back in the late 1990's, have a certain gay sensibility in the relationship between the two men, something that is totally absent in the Carsen production. As Diana, former Ensemble mezzo Lauren Segal took full advantage of her very brief moments to shine. If there was a weak link, it was the rough-voiced Thoas of American Mark Doss, but even that was in character.

The highly choreographed Carsen staging places extraordinary physical demands on the singers, and particularly on the corp of dancers, who were well rehearsed and up to the task on opening night. The set design with the three walls helps propel the sound forward towards the auditorium, making everyone sound big even when singing upstage. If one were to quibble, this production must be seen from a relatively central position in the house, as much of the important action is obstructed for those sitting at the extreme sides. The COC orchestra with its modern instruments, rich strings and vibrant brass isn't really a baroque band, but visiting Spanish maestro Pablo Heras-Casado was able to draw authentic sounds from the pit. The invisible chorus gets the short end of the stick in this production, but they sang beautifully nevertheless under concert master Sandra Horst. Given the high artistic values and its stellar cast, this production of Iphigenie is surely the envy of many opera companies around the world. Sadly, there were many empty seats on opening night. Hopefully with favourable word of mouth in the press, Torontonians who value the operatic art form and are interested in artistic excellence will go to see this show - it's just about as good as it gets.


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 19 - 25)

American mezzo Susan Graham makes her COC debut in the title role of Iphigenia in Tauris

Now that the warm and sunny days of the 2011 summer are but a distant memory, we can look forward to an equally spectacular fall season of delectable musical events. The Canadian Opera Company opens its fall season with Gluck's Iphigenia in Tauris, more familiarly known as Iphigenie en Tauride. It is led by American mezzo Susan Graham in one of her signature roles. Appearing with her are two of the best Canadian singers of today - baritone Russell Braun as Orestes and tenor Joseph Kaiser as Pylades. Braun has sung this role on a number of occasions, including opposite the Iphigenie of Graham in the Paris Opera production. Kaiser is making his role debut in Toronto. Spanish maestro Pablo Heras-Casado, who made a splash when he conducted Nixon in China last season, returns to the Company. It is directed by Canadian Robert Carsen in a production already played to great acclaim in Chicago, San Francisco, Covent Garden and Madrid. Much like his Orfeo seen here last May, Carsen's austere and aesthetically dark approach is devoid of the trappings of grand opera, focusing instead on the emotional core of the work. It promises to be a riveting evening at the opera. Opening night is Thursday Sept. 22 at 7:30, with the second performance, a matinee, on Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. The COC Free Noon Hour Concert Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre also begins this week, with a Meet the Young Artists Show featuring the 2011-12 edition of the COC Ensemble Studio. Four new artists join the Ensemble this year - mezzo Mireille Asselin, bass-baritone Phillipe Sly, intern coach Jenna Douglas, and pianist Timothy Cheung. Remember to show up an hour ahead for a seat.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra starts it season with a Shakespeare-themed concert, pairing Tchaikovsky's Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture with the world premiere of Larysa Kuzmenko's Behold the Night, a piece for children's chorus and orchestra, with text from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The famed Canadian Shakespearean actor Christopher Plummer narrates the text in Walton's arrangement of Henry V. TSO music director Peter Oundjian is at the helm, leading the Toronto Children's Chorus and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Two performances - Thurs. Sept. 22 and Sat. Sept. 24, 7:30 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Canada's premiere period band, presents Music Fit for a King, a program of Lully, Babelon and Philidor. Four performances at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, on Sept. 21, 22, 24, 25.

An intriguing event this week is the return of Canadian cellist Ofra Harnoy to the concert stage, after a hiatus of ten years. She will appear with pianist Anton Kuerti in the season opener of the Mooredale Concert's 23rd season on Sunday, September 25, 3:15 p.m. at Walter Hall, University of Toronto. This will be the first time these two artists perform together. On the program is Bach's Suite No. 3 for unaccompanied cello, Beethoven's Cello Sonata in A Major, Op. 69 and Franck's Cello Sonata. Details and ticket info at


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Nagano & OSM Show off New Hall with Towering Turangalîla

by Paul E. Robinson

Tchaikovsky (orch.Glazunov): Méditation in D minor Op.42 No.1Glazunov: Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 82Messiaen: Turangalîla-SymphonieJoshua Bell: violinAngela Hewitt: pianoJean Laurendeau: ondes martenotOrchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM): Kent Nagano, conductor
La Maison symphonique
Place des Arts
Montréal, Quebec
September 13, 2011
Ever since its premiere in 1949, audiences have been moved and thrilled by Olivier Messiaens massive Turangalîla Symphony. More than 60 years later, it remains an extraordinarily original and peculiar piece. Montreal has heard it before - Charles Dutoit championed the piece in 2000 at Place des Arts. Kent Nagano has a special relationship with the composer and his music, and conducted this latest performance with both love and authority. The OSM responded with spectacular playing.

La Maison symphonique, the new home for OSM and others, including OSM’s rival, the Orchestre Métropolitain (still led by Philadelphia-bound Yannick Nezet-Seguin) opened last week with OSM performances of the Beethoven Ninth. The following week the OSM gave us the Turangalîla Symphony, an apt choice to really test the hall’s ability to handle both great masses of sound and a vast range of instrumental colours.

With Turangalîla, La Maison symphonique emerged a winner as it easily handled the enormous volume throughout the work without distortion, and most instruments could be clearly heard in both soft and loud passages; however, from my seat in the back of the Balcony – the highest tier in the hall – the overall orchestral sound was overly bright. I was reminded of the hard-edged early digital recordings from the 1980s: plenty of clarity, but not much warmth. In spite of the wood on the walls and floors all around me and on the stage below, the sound reaching the top tier was more steely than woody. As with most halls, the sound likely varies – sometimes considerably – depending on seat location. We’ll see.

Turangalîla, with an approximate playing time of 80 minutes, is often the sole piece on a programme. Not so on this occasion. In the first half of the concert, we had violinist Joshua Bell playing music by Tchaikovsky and Glazunov. This meant not only that the evening’s programme was very long, but also that it was expensive; Bell, one of the few classical artists likely to sell out a concert these days, doesn’t come cheap, and Turangalîla, with an exceptionally large orchestra including 11 percussionists, not to mention two featured keyboard soloists, is costly to mount.

Turangalîla is an event in itself. With nearly all OSM concerts conducted by Nagano selling very well, and with listeners eager to hear the new hall, why did the OSM management combine Bell and Turangalîla in one concert? Either one on its own is very costly and the two together would be tough on any orchestra’s budget. At a time when orchestras everywhere are struggling to avoid deficits, this programming looks like utter foolishness. The irony is that the OSM almost certainly would have sold out Joshua Bell and Turangalîla in separate concerts; to combine them in one concert probably jacked up their costs inordinately, while raising hardly a dollar more in revenue.

“Turangalîla” is a made-up word from Sanscrit meaning “love song.” There are love songs in the symphony, but no explicit programme or story. What makes this piece symphonic is the recurrence and development of themes. Messiaen, in many of his works, was inspired by both bird song and Indian music. The themes in his pieces are often easily recognizable, occasionally approaching what some would call “smaltzy.”

Turangalîla is odd in its harmonies and rhythms and in its unusual sounds. It is also very difficult to play, even for a virtuoso orchestra. The OSM musicians were equal to everything the composer threw at them and played superbly. The piano part is very demanding but ultimately unrewarding for the soloist with everything else that is going on in the piece. Angela Hewitt was a surprising soloist given her reputation for Bach and Mozart, but she made a very strong impression. Québec ondes martenot specialist Jean Laurendeau, positioned at the front of the orchestra, seemed in total command of this unusual instrument.

Joshua Bell, in great form, gave Tchaikovsky and Glazunov accurate and heartfelt performances. The OSM accompanied with sensitivity and panache. Associate principal horn Denys Derome contributed some beautiful solo playing.

It will likely take time for musicians and listeners alike to accustom themselves to La Maison symphonique. As I have said already, one concert experienced from one location in the hall does not provide enough information for firm conclusions about acoustical strengths and weaknesses. My impressions of the non-acoustical features of the hall, however, are another matter.

To begin with, anyone thinking of attending a concert La Maison symphonique should know that (as of September 13) the building and its environs are by no means finished. The outdoor surroundings are still walled off by wooden hoardings, and the lobby space is still under construction, especially at the top level. On the night I attended, the few existing escalators were not in service. Unfortunately, even putting the unfinished state of the building aside, the overall concept and layout of La Maison symphonique are, in my opinion, disappointing.

The new hall is part of Place des Arts and many patrons will enter through the dark, claustrophobic passages with low ceilings linking all the theatres. The main lobby of La Maison symphonique is so small and unimaginative that I was reminded of the worst of the Soviet era public buildings. To say the hall is uninviting would be an understatement. The audience enters through purely functional glass doors and almost immediately bumps up against a purely functional staircase. The message is ‘Get in or get out but don’t hang around here. Nothing to see here. Just keep moving.’ Emergency rooms in hospitals are designed with more aesthetic flair than this new arts facility.

There are only a single staircase and a few elevators leading to all floors. Getting 2,000 people in or out in a hurry is a problem. The beechwood lobby floors look nice, but after a few Montreal winters and a thousand cups of coffee spilled on them, will they still be attractive? The lobby space on each of the upper floors is tight and Spartan.

My general impression? Most of the money may or may not have been spent getting the acoustics right. We’ll see about that. Almost no money has been spent making the lobbies friendly and interesting, nor on moving people around the building quickly and safely. I see that the architectural design is credited to Jack Diamond. Was this really the best he could do?
Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. NEW for friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, Classical Airs.
Photo by Marita

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Friday, 16 September 2011

Le Studio en 5.1 : Saint-Pierre en espace – Musique polychorale romaine

C’est pour vivre une expérience sonore inusitée que le chœur du Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal conviait le public jeudi soir à la Fonderie Darling pour présenter le premier concert de sa 38e saison.

Dans cet espace aux plafonds hauts, Christopher Jackson, directeur artistique du SMAM, a voulu recréer l’ambiance des églises de la Renaissance qui ne possédaient pas de bancs et où les gens pouvaient circuler librement. Selon l’œuvre interprétée, les 16 choristes étaient répartis en trois ou quatre chœurs en différents endroits dans la salle, ce qui donnait l’impression que le son était toujours en mouvement. Contrairement à l’habitude établie, les gens étaient invités à quitter leur siège et à se promener. Un jeu de chaises musicales pour mieux jouir du résultat sonore.

Les œuvres présentées étaient des polyphonies à 12 voix en 3 chœurs ou à 16 voix en 4 chœurs de Giovanni de Macque, Roland de Lassus, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Orazio Benevoli, Vincenzo Ugolini, Marc-Antoine Charpentier et Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni, dont la « presque fugue » comme l’a appelée Christopher Jackson, ne manquait pas de couleurs et d’humour et terminait en beauté ce concert exceptionnel. 

Créée il y a neuf ans, la Fonderie Darling est d’abord un Centre d’arts qui a pour mission de soutenir la création des arts visuels. Mais son intérêt pour des projets exploratoires l’amène à la recherche de croisements et de découvertes, s’associant fréquemment à d’autres organismes. Cette salle possède une acoustique exceptionnelle pour les instruments et la voix, selon sa fondatrice et directrice artistique Caroline Andrieux. En 2006, Suzie Napper en avait découvert les possibilités et y avait présenté Orfeo de Monteverdi avec Montréal Baroque, premier concert à la Fonderie Darling.

Présenté par Mario Paquet, ce concert a été enregistré par Espace musique et sera diffusé le lundi 19 septembre dans le cadre des Soirées classiques. Le concert a aussi été enregistré par CBC et sera diffusé ultérieurement dans le cadre de l’émission Choral concert le dimanche à 9 h.

Le lancement du disque Musica Vaticana du SMAM avait lieu avant le concert. On y retrouve une grande partie des pièces entendues.

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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

La Scena s’implique pour la communauté !

Kit Soden et Aliza Thibaudeau 
Le samedi 27 août dernier, La Scena Musicale s’est jointe à l’équipe du Mix’Arts pour plonger le boulevard St-Laurent dans une variété de styles musicaux, du folk au jazz, du baroque à l’opéra. Une occasion unique pour les Montréalais d’entendre des artistes dévoués, ainsi qu’une chance unique pour les artistes de faire entendre leur voix sur une Main aussi ensoleillée qu’animée. C’est avec une fierté toute particulière que nous vous les présentons brièvement. 

Tout d’abord, à12h30, les talentueux musiciens Folk Kit Soden, guitariste, et Aliza Thibaudeau, violoniste, ont lancé l’événement en s’attirant les curieux qui emplissaient le parc des Amériques. Soden est un habitué de l’éclectisme, trait fort de son album Like a Dancer Unstrung,  qu’il a préparé en collaboration avec l’auteur et parolier Steven Erikson et où une prose envoûtante se vêt d’accents folk, old country, classique, celtique et canadien. Douceur et chaleur étaient au rendez-vous.  

Karine Bétournay Trio

Par la suite, la virtuosité de la musicienne Jazz Karine Bétournay et de son trio a fait tourner bien des têtes. Pianiste accomplie conjuguant inventivité et joie de vivre, elle a maintenu un équilibre fantastique avec les membres de son trio. Diplômée de l'Université McGill en Interprétation Jazz, elle performe régulièrement sur la scène jazz ainsi que populaire. Elle jouait d'ailleurs avec son quartet au Festival international de Jazz de Montréal à l'été 2011, concert lors duquel ses compositions étaient au programme. Karine accorde beaucoup d'importance à la composition.  Elle travaille actuellement sur plusieurs courts-métrages pour lesquels elle écrit la musique. Elle a d'ailleurs réalisé la musique pour la série web Les Roux, réalisée par David Paradis. Elle poursuit également ses études en Musique de Film.  
Elinor Frey et Esteban La Rotta
Elinor Frey
Ensuite, le duo d’Elinor Frey et d’Esteban Larotta a inspiré un silence magnifique à la foule, touchée d’entendre des œuvres baroques italiennes rarement entendues. Madame Frey a présenté elle-même, avant la prestation. Saluée comme une «violoncelliste impeccable» par La Presse de Montréal, « une violoncelliste superbe » par le Syracuse Post-Standard, et un « talent incontestable et solide» par le Giornale di Brescia, les récentes distinctions de Elinor Frey comprennent une bourse 2009/10 Fulbright  pour se rendre en Italie, le SSHRC (bourse d'études supérieures) et une bourse de Conseil des Arts du Canada, accordées pour faciliter son travail dans le domaine de la musique italienne pour violoncelle baroque et moderne non accompagné. Au cours des saisons actuelles, Elinor a joué comme soliste avec l'Orchestre symphonique de Grand Junction, Rogue Valley Symphony, et Jefferson Baroque, et a joué en concert avec l'Ensemble Caprice, l'Ensemble Masques, le Festival de Lamèque, et à Istanbul Technical University. Son premier album, Dialoghi, a été publié par la maison de disques Yarlung Records. Elle est diplômée de la Juilliard School du Mannes College of Music et est une candidate au doctorat en musique de l'Université 

Esteban La Rotta a d’abord étudié la guitare classique à l’Université Javeriana de Bogota, en Colombie. Lorsqu’il découvre le luth, il décide de changer de cap. En 1996, il quitte la Colombie pour étudier auprès du luthiste Paul Beier à la Civica Scuola di Musica de Milan, en Italie. En 2002, Esteban La Rotta poursuit ses études à l’Université McGill de Montréal, au Canada ; il y obtient une maîtrise en interprétation de la musique ancienne en 2004, et en 2008 le doctorat avec spécialisation en quitar baroque, à l'Université de Montréal. Il participe régulièrement au festival Montréal Baroque et se produit avec Les Violons du Roy,Les Boréades, l’Ensemble Castello, l’Ensemble Telemann, Constantinople, Les voix Baroques, SMAM et Les Fumeux, en plus de compter parmi les membres fondateurs de La Rota. Il a donné des concerts dans de nombreux festivals, tels que Montreal Baroque, Musique Royale, Boston Early Music Festival, Seattle Early music Guild, Tage Alter Musik in Regensburg, Lamèque Early Music festival, et Stradford Festival. 

S’en est suivi un intermède présenté par la jeune chanteuse classique Olga Zelman, une Montréalaise de 19 ans. Diplômée du Marymount Academy, elle étudie le piano classique ainsi que la technique vocale. Depuis son jeune âge, Olga s’est produite sur différentes scènes de Montréal, Ottawa et Toronto. Elle s’est également produite, il y a quelques années, devant feu Jack Layton.

Un moment fort de sa carrière fut l’interprétation de l’hymne ukrainien ainsi que du Ô Canada dans les deux langues officielles, lors d’une cérémonie tenue à Ottawa le 26 juin dernier pour souligner le dévoilement de la statue de Taras Schevchenko. Il est intéressant de noter que ce même monument au poète, artiste et humaniste qu’était Shevchenko se trouve aussi en Ukraine, Russie, Ouzbékistan, Paraguay, Hongrie, Pologne, Roumanie, États-Unis et Argentine.

Chantal Parent et ses invités ont clos l’événement dans une grande finale consacrée à l’opéra et l’opéra rock, sur fond de trame sonore. Magnanime, l’ensemble a démontré un grand sens de la théâtralité.

Chantal Parent, soprano ainsi que violoniste et diplômée de HEC Montréal est présidente des productions chanterelles et vice-présidente des productions l’arène. En 3 autres artistes de la production (Maude Desbois, Dominic St-Laurent et Sarah Laflamme), ils ont présenté au public du Petit Mix’Arts 2011, trois extraits du théâtre musical Chrysalide, les hauts et les bas d’une Beauceronne  

Une mère ça s’inquiète, interprétée par Chantal Parent
Frontera, interprétée par Maude Desbois
Emilio, interprétée par Dominic St-Laurent 
Le tout en compagnie de la présentatrice, Sarah Laflamme  

Remarquée pour ses agilités vocales, ses qualités de musiciennes, sa belle personnalité et sa polyvalence, Chantal Parent, soprano est reconnue pour la précision, la beauté de sa voix, un savoir-faire musical et un talent dramatique. Ces qualités  lui prêtent une harmonie et une aisance remarquable dans l’interprétation de divers styles musicaux incluant l’opéra, l’oratorio, l’opérette, le théâtre musical, la chanson française, la musique populaire et du monde, le répertoire baroque et du 21e siècle.  

Merci à tous ces artistes, aux bénévoles qui nous ont soutenus dans cet événement ainsi qu’au nombreux public !

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Monday, 5 September 2011

In Memoriam: Salvatore Licitra (1968 - 2011)

Salvatore Licitra (1968 Bern, Switzerland - Sept. 5 2011 Catania, Italia)

The opera world lost a fine tenor today. Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra, 43, passed away at the Garibaldi Hospital in Catania today, Sept. 5, 2011. He sustained massive trauma to his head and chest when he lost control of his Vespa scooter and hit a wall in Sicily. He was not wearing a helmet. He was airlifted to hospital in Catania where he underwent emergency surgery. He is survived by his parents and his brother. Details of his passing can be found on his website -

Here is Salvatore Licitra singing E lucevan le stelle from Tosca :

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Lancement de programmation pour Radio Canada Espace Musique et Première Chaîne

Par Christine Lee

La programmation
La programmation à la Première Chaîne ainsi qu’à Espace Musique nous promet une saison remplie de belles émissions et même quelques surprises. 

Les nouveautés sur Espace Musique regroupent Tout un cinéma, une émission sur la musique de film animée par le comédien Rémy Girard; Sur la route, un rendez-vous pour tous les amateurs de country, blues et folk, animé par Jacques Beaulieu; Que sera sera, avec Claude Saucier qui nous fera découvrir la  musique des années 1930, 40 et 50; Un nomade dans l’oreille dans laquelle Catherine Pépin nous proposera des « croisements musicaux insolites » et Le printemps des musiciens consacrée à la relève en musique classique avec Françoise Davoine. 

Espace Musique accueillera de nouveau les incontournables : Stanley Péan (Quand le jazz est là…), Edgar Fruitier (La collection d’Edgar), Alain Lefèvre (Dans les carnets d’Alain Lefèvre), Michel Keable (Soirées classiques), Monique Giroux (Chants libres à Monique), Gilles Payer (L’espace d’un matin), Philippe Fehmiu et Marie-Christine Trottier (Beau temps, mauvais temps avec…), Daniel Lavoie (Lavoie libre), François Dompierre (Les détours de Dompierre) et Rebecca Makonnen (Studio 12). 

Radio-Canada : le 75e ! 
Cette année marque le 75e anniversaire de Radio-Canada. Pour célébrer, une multitude d’émissions seront au rendez-vous, entres autres Radio-Canada et le MET où Sylvia L’Écuyer nous propose une émission spéciale (enregistrée devant public) d’une rediffusion du Metropolitan Opera. Les auditeurs seront invités à partager leurs expériences de l’opéra.
Le Grand Relais (Canada in Concert) est une autre émission très attendue par la communauté de la musique classique. Mario Paquet nous propose « une expérience musicale exceptionnelle ». Des concerts de huit villes canadiennes (Halifax, Québec, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Banff et Vancouver) seront rediffusés sur CBC Radio 2 et Radio-Canada et seront aussi offerts à l’Union Européenne de Radio-Télévision. Une émission à ne pas manquer ! 

Alain Lefèvre et Radio-Canada
J’ai rencontré Alain Lefèvre après le lancement de saison de Radio-Canada pour parler de son émission Dans les carnets d’Alain Lefèvre. Tout d’abord, c’est une émission où les gens peuvent entendre les versions intégrales d’œuvres marquantes de la musique classique. « La présence de l’animateur est minimaliste, la place est laissée à la musique. » La musique symphonique, les plus grandes versions, les plus grands pianistes, violonistes – bref, les plus grands musiciens – y seront. 

On débute la saison avec cinq émissions sur l’œuvre de Beethoven, incluant les symphonies, les ouvertures, les concertos. Sept émissions seront aussi consacrées au grand pianiste Vladimir Horowitz. Lefèvre nous promet « de grands moments de musique pour tous les amateurs inconditionnels de la musique classique ». 

Si l’émission Dans les carnets d’Alain Lefèvre a autant de succès, c’est qu’elle est vraiment axée sur la musique et qu’on y présente des œuvres intégrales, du premier mouvement au dernier. On y fait aussi des découvertes : l’an dernier, les symphonies de Villa-Lobos étaient au menu. Cette année figurera un compositeur viennois très peu connu. « C’est une émission qui donne le temps aux gens de pénétrer un monde, le monde de la musique classique », dit Lefèvre. 

Lefèvre reste fidèle à ses racines : il travaille fort pour faire connaître les compositeurs canadiens comme André Mathieu. « En même temps, j’essaie de présenter d’autres compositeurs canadiens actuels. Cette année, ce sera François Dompierre. » Walter Boudreault et Denis Gougeon sont d’autres compositeurs que Lefèvre souhaite faire mieux connaître. « C’est aussi l’importance de la présence des compositeurs canadiens dans notre vie quotidienne. Nous allons donner la chance à l’auditeur de découvrir ces compositeurs qui font partie du paysage de chez nous. » 

« La musique classique vit des moments difficiles, que ce soit dans les disques, dans les concerts, dans les orchestres. Moi, de ma manière très modeste, j’essaie de faire ma part. Il est certain que si on veut avoir des jeunes consommateurs dans le futur, il faut quand même qu’ils puissent en écouter quelque part. Or, quand je vais dans les écoles, je constate trop souvent que la musique classique n’est pas présente. Je pense que cette émission du dimanche matin¸ c’est le grand rendez-vous avec la musique classique. » 

Cette année, il y aura un portrait des grands concertos de violon interprétés par Christian Ferras, l’un des violonistes les plus importants de notre époque (mais malheureusement peu entendu). Vers le mois de novembre ou décembre, pour ceux qui sont intéressés à découvrir les concertos de Mendelssohn, Tchaïkovski, Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius, Mozart, Berg et même plus, ce sera un rendez-vous à ne pas manquer ! 

« Ça va être une grande saison pour l’amateur de musique classique », dit Lefèvre, un sourire aux lèvres.  

Pour l’horaire détaillé de toutes les émissions, ou pour en savoir davantage sur la programmation, visitez les sites et

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