La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 29 January 2012

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 30 - Feb. 5)

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho

The big news for voice fans this week is the Canadian Opera Company premiere of Kaija Saariaho's L'amour de loin, which is being billed as Love From Afar. Saariaho is one of a handful of contemporary composers whose works are regularly performed, and more importantly, revived. Her musical idiom is unique in its tonal palate, with its elusive quality that is at once adventurous but also accessible. Last year, several of her chamber and vocal works were featured in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival, with none other than soprano Karita Mattila interpreting a couple of the pieces. Saariaho's larger scale works, her operas, are also regularly staged. For example, both L'amour de loin and Adriana Mater received productions at the prestigious Santa Fe Opera. I was fortunate to catch L'amour de loin there in 2002 with the superb Canadian baritone Gerald Finley as Jaufre Rudel, Dawn Upshaw as Clemence, and Monica Groop as The Pilgrim. I wouldn't say it was an easy work upon first hearing, but I found that the more I delved into it, the more rewarding it became. That production, available on DVD, is visually striking but also quite static. What we are getting at the COC is the more recent production from Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp. (Quite incidentally, the Finley role was taken by another Canadian, Phillip Addis) In Toronto, we'll have the great Russell Braun - the terrific Orestes from last Fall's Iphigenie - as Jaufre Rudel, Erin Wall as Clemence and Krisztina Szabo as The Pilgrim. COC Music Director Johannes Debus, whose work includes a lot of contemporary music, is the conductor. If you are at all interested in new music, this is not to be missed. It opens on Thursday, Feb 2 at 7:30 pm, and repeated Saturday Feb. 4 at 4:30 p.m. If you are curious about Saariaho's music, the COC two noon hour concerts of her works. On Jan. 31 is a Chamber and Vocal concert with Canadian soprano Carla Huhtanen, and on Feb. 2 is From the Grammar of Dreams: Vocal Music of Kaija Saariaho. Soloists are members of the COC Ensemble Studio.
Be sure to show up an hour ahead to ensure a seat. Meanwhile, the Puccini warhorse, Tosca, received rave reviews when it opened on Jan. 21. I caught the show earlier today (Jan. 29), and Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka was simply incandescent in the title role. The opera house was packed, proving that a tried and true verismo can still pull them in! On Jan. 31 7:30 p.m., the alternate Tosca (Julie Makerov) and Cavaradossi (Brandon Jovanovich) will get to strut their stuff. Both are very fine singers - Makerov of course is no stranger to Toronto, having sung Donna Elvira and Rusalka. Jovanovich was a terrific Siegmund in the Die Walkure I saw last June in San Francisco. Additional performance this week on Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m.

This week, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra welcomes back its former music director Gunther Herbig to conduct Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, coupled with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10. Herbig is among the best of conductors in these big Romantic/Post-Romantic pieces, and it's good to have him back. Anton Kuerti is the soloist in the Emperor. This is a great program. Two performances, on Thurs. Feb. 2 and Sat. Feb. 4, both at 8 p.m.

On Feb. 5, the Off Centre Music Salon is presenting its annual Schubertiad. This year's theme is The Composer Contemplates and Twitters, no doubt a bit of borrowing from social media! Soloists are soprano Charlene Santoni, baritone Vasil Garvanliev, and violinist Jacques Israelievitch, plus of course Boris Zarankin and Inna Perkis. This event also marks the launch of Boris Zarankin's new Schubert sonatas CD on the Doremi label. Sunday Feb. 5, 2 p.m. at the Glenn Gould Studio.



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