La Scena Musicale

Monday, 31 October 2011

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 31 - Nov. 6)

Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky

Opera Atelier's Don Giovanni opened last Saturday to enthusiastic audience reception and the run continues this week. I saw opening night and it was a very fun show, with gorgeous unit set, colourful period costumes, fine singing - particularly from Canadian baritone Phillip Addis in the title role - and lively stage direction by Marshall Pynkoski. The opening night performance was very well attended and full of young people. Four more performances this week, on Nov. 2, 3, 5, and 6, all at 7:30 p.m. at the Elgin Theatre.

Another high profile event is the recital by French countetenor Philippe Jaroussky at Royal Conservatory of Music's Koerner Hall. Unquestionably Jaroussky is one of the best in front of the public today. His voice is very beautiful and natural sounding, without the artificiality that can afflict some countertenors. He is also a popular recording artist - his recent recording of Caldara's castrati arias has garnered critical acclaim. He will be singing Handel and Vivaldi in his Koerner Hall concert, accompanied by the baroque orchestra, Apollo's Fire. Performance tomorrow on November 1, 8 p.m. at Koerner Hall. Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt returns to Toronto for a recital of Bach, Ravel, Faure and Debussy at Koerner Hall on Sunday Nov. 6 3 p.m.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting performances of Dvorak's Symphony No. 7, paired with the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with soloist Stefan Jackiw. Guest conductor Christof Koenig is on the podium, for three shows - full program on Thursday Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. and Saturday Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. There is also a so-called "Afterworks" concert on Wednesday Nov. 2 that starts at 6:30 p.m. It is designed for those just getting off work but decide to stick around downtown rather than fighting rush hour traffic - what a brilliant idea! The show is only 75 minutes long without an intermission. Also the opening Bartok Dance Suite is omitted. For those not in a rush to get home, they can always stay for the Joan Baez Concert that starts at 9 p.m.! Music fans of a certain age - including yours truly, will have fond memories of legendary singer Baez, and her return to Toronto is always a special occasion.

A short trek up Yonge Street to the beautiful Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre is Puccini's Madama Butterfly presented by Opera York. Soprano Deirdre Fulton is Butterfly and Romulo Delgado is Pinkerton. Sabatino Vacca conducts. Performance on Thursday and Saturday 8 p.m.


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Beautiful Voices and Youthful Enthusiasm Carry the Day in Opera Hamilton's Barber

Rosina (Lauren Segal) and Figaro (Hugh Russell) up to their antics in OH's Barber of Seville
(Photo: Opera Hamilton)

by Joseph K. So

Hugh Russell (Figaro)
Lauren Segal (Rosina)
Edgar Ernesto Ramirez (Almaviva)
Alexandre Sylvestre (Bartolo)
Giles Tomkins (Basilio)
Wendy Hatala Foley (Berta)
James Levesque (Fiorello)

Gordon Gerrard, conductor
Brent Krysa, stage director
Peter Oleskevich, chorus master

Theatre Aquarius October 25 2011

It started badly - no, not the performance, but my journey getting there. I have made the trek from Toronto down the QEW to Hamilton many, many times to catch a performance at Opera Hamilton. In fact, I remember the 1970's when it was part of Festival Italia before it became Opera Hamilton. All those years, when the traffic gods were willing, I could make it in about an hour. In recent years, congestion and construction have gotten so much worse that to play it safe, I have had to allow two and a half hours to get there in order to have a quick bite before the show. Last Tuesday, in grid-lock traffic, I just made to the Theatre Aquarius after the overture had already started - all told a 2 hour 55 minutes of driving torture. However unpleasant the trip and despite sitting through a two and a half hour opera on an empty stomach, I was amply rewarded by a very enjoyable performance of the Rossini warhorse, Barber of Seville.

It starred an ensemble cast of enthusiastic singing actors with youthful voices. Top vocal honours went to Canadian mezzo Lauren Segal. Former member of the COC Ensemble Studio, Segal is one of the best current crop of mezzo-sopranos in Canada. She has a glamorous stage presence to go with her gleaming, luscious timbre. She is a genuine mezzo with an even scale from top to bottom. On this occasion, Segal sang "Una voce poco fa" with coloratura not ideally accurate and she avoided some of the high notes. Yet she nailed the high note at the end of her aria brilliantly, so I think it's a matter of not having fully warmed up in the beginning. Overall, she sang with lovely tone and attractive stage persona. This is her first bel canto role so it's understandable her Rosina remains a work in progress. Mexican-American tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez made an auspicious debut as Almaviva, singing with sweet tone and a ringing top. His is a voice to watch. Canadian Hugh Russell has a robust, virile baritone, at its best in the middle register. I also like the fact that he didn't go into falsetto for cheap laughs in "Largo al factotum." A good actor with a comic flair, his Barber was a pleasure. Also praiseworthy was the Bartolo of Alexandre Sylvestre, who has made quite a specialty of buffo roles. Bass-baritone Giles Tomkins took advantage of Basilio's brief moments in the spotlight.

Stage director Brent Krysa did a fine job with the young cast, with some genuinely funny moments. The orchestra under Gordon Gerrard played well, but from where I was sitting -under the overhang near the back of the auditorium - the orchestra lacked sufficient impact. I could hear the voices loud and clear, but the orchestra sounded muffled. Theatre Aquarius has good sightlines and a feeling of intimacy, but whether it is an ideal venue for opera remains to be seen. The production itself was lovely, with terrific costumes - the men in various permutations of stripes are particularly striking. If I were to quibble, the lighting changes were much too abrupt - good light should be unobtrusive lighting. Overall, this was a successful first production at the Theatre Aquarius for Opera Hamilton.