La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 15 April 2012

This Week in Toronto (Apr. 16 - 22)

Russell Thomas (Hoffmann) and Lauren Segal (Nicklausse) in COC's Tales of Hoffmann (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The first of the Canadian Opera Company's spring presentations opened on April 10, with Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann. Given the inherent fantasy of the piece, Regieoper directors often dream up all sorts of crazy mise-en-scenes, but not this Vlaamse Opera (Antwerp) production directed by Lee Blakeley. It's essentially traditional, but with enough of a twist to make it interesting. The audience loved it and so did I, particularly the singing. On opening night, it was an evening of vocal standouts. I was very impressed with American tenor Russell Thomas, whose voluminous, warm sound was totally secure from top to bottom, tireless in a very long role. Canadian mezzo Lauren Segal shined as Nicklausse, a role tailor-made for her voice and personality. Given this version that opened all the cuts, Nicklausse has more music to sing than any of the women. To my eyes and ears, Segal gave the performance of her still young career. Canadian bass John Relyea made his very belated COC debut as the three Villains in a performance the recalls James Morris in his prime. His imposing vocal and physical presence was certainly one of the evening's highlights. Erin Wall's ethereal soprano with its lovely high pianissimi was ideal as Antonia and Keri Alkema's plummy mezzo-turned-soprano was shown to advantage in the Barcarolle. Johannes Debus brought out exciting sounds from the orchestra. All in all, it was a wonderful evening at the opera and well worth seeing. Performances on Wednesday Apr. 18 and Saturday Apr. 21, both at 7:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Centre.

Two important musical events at Roy Thomson Hall this week, the first being the visit of the National Arts Centre Orchestra led by its music director Pinchas Zukerman. He has announced his intention to leave the NAC Orchestra, but not until 2015, so Canadians still have time to savour his tenure here. One performance only, on Saturday April 21 7:30 p.m. The program includes Antinomie by Canadian composer Jacques Hetu; Telemann's Viola Concerto with Zukerman as soloist; Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 and Schubert's Symphony No. 3. Eric Friesen is host. It's part of the Casual Concerts series so there will be a party in the lobby after the show.

Also this Friday April 20 8 p.m., the reigning American prima donna Renee Fleming is returning to Roy Thomson Hall for a song recital with Hartmut Holl as collaborative pianist. It's a very interesting program of Zemlinsky, Schoenberg and Korngold in the first half, followed by Duparc, Dutilleux and Ricky Ian Gordon in the second half. The program is perhaps a little short but there will be plenty of encores for sure! For program details,

Another famous American soprano is in town this week. Dawn Upshaw, known for her championing of contemporary music, is appearing with the Australian Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Richard Tognetti at Koerner Hall on Sunday Apr. 22 3 p.m. Upshaw is singing Morning Winter Walks, a song cycle by Maria Schneider. It will be the cycle's Canadian premiere. The first half is a challenging program of works by Anton Webern and George Crumb. The second half is in more familiar territory with songs by Schumann and Schubert. The centerpiece is the chamber version of Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht, an exquisite post-Romantic work.

Opera Hamilton's Il Trovatore continues at the Dofasco Centre for the Arts in downtown Hamilton, a 55 minute drive down the QEW. I attended the opening on Saturday and it was an entertaining show. I particularly enjoyed hearing Canadian baritone James Westman as Count di Luna, showing to all that he is indeed a Verdi baritone. Tenor Richard Margison is Manrico, soprano Joni Henson sings Leonora and Emilia Boteva is Azucena. David Speers conducts. Performances on April 17 and 19 at 8 p.m., and a matinee on April 21 at 2 p.m.



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