La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 29 April 2012

This Week in Toronto (April 30 - May 6)

Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy receives its COC premiere (l. to r. Alan Held, Michael Koenig, Gun-Brit Barkmin). Photo: Michael Cooper

The classical music scene is incredibly busy this week. The spring season of the Canadian Opera Company continues this week with its second presentation of Alexander Zemlinsky's Eine Florentinische Tragoedie (A Florentine Tragedy).  I attended the opening on April 26.  The score, with its lush harmonic language highly reminiscent of Richard Strauss (with a dash of Franz Schreker thrown in), is absolutely ravishing in the hands of Sir Andrew Davis leading the COC Orchestra. Together with the strikingly beautiful set designed by Wilson Chin, this work deserves to be seen and heard by all opera lovers in Toronto. Paired with it is Puccini's comic Gianni Schicchi, an opera that can appear unfunny, even tedious, in the wrong hands.  I can honestly say this production was the funniest I've seen.  Much of the credit of the success goes to two people - soprano turned stage director Catherine Malfitano, and American bass-baritone Alan Held, who takes on the Herculean task of singing both lead roles - Simone and Schicchi.  Having seen his serious side over the years, most recently as Vodnik in the Munich Rusalka, it's great to know that he can be such a comedian in the Puccini. Malfitano was an incendiary singing actor during her performing years.  The last role I saw her was as an incredible Kostelnicka in an ENO Jenufa in November 2006. She brings her intensity as a singer to her directing, and it shows that she is equally adept at stage directing.  Two performances this week of the double-bill - May 2 and 5 at the Four Seasons Centre.  The other production, Tales of Hoffmann, continues on May 3 and May 6 (mat.). Both shows are not to be missed.  The COC free noon-hour vocal series presents soprano Erin Wall in Maidenflowers: an afternoon of Richard Strauss. Wall has that ethereal tone and lovely pianissimos to do Strauss justice. I first heard her almost ten years ago when she sang Four Last Songs with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra at the George Weston Hall. She was just starting out then, but you could still tell it was an exceptional voice. Sandra Horst is the collaborative pianist. As usual, the COC noon hour events take place at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre.  Be sure to show up an hour ahead to line up for a seat.

As part of the Canadian Voices Series which replaced the venerable Roy Thomson Hall International Vocal Series, Canadian soprano Layla Claire is giving a recital at Glenn Gould Studio on May 3 at 8 p.m. This is the last of the four-concert series that also featured Dan Okulitch, Tyler Duncan and Julie Boulianne. On the program are songs by Britten Cantaloube, Strauss and Golijov, with Steven Philcox at the piano.  I've heard Layla Claire several times and she has a lovely voice, not to mention her movie-star looks. Tickets are a bargain at $29 a pop.  Do go support Canadian talent - our singers deserve to be heard.

For oratorio lovers, the Pax Christi Chorale is presenting a work we just don't get to hear very often - Elgar's masterpiece The Kingdom, to celebrate its 25th anniversary gala. Soloists are soprano Shannon Mercer, mezzo Krisztina Szabo, tenor Keith Klassen and baritone Roderick Williams, under the direction of Stephanie Martin. The concert takes place on May 6 3 p.m. at Koerner Hall.  

A more operatic oratorio is Verdi's Requiem, a piece I never get tired of hearing. Toronto Classical Singers is presenting a performance of this magnificent work with soprano Allison Arends, mezzo Mia Lennox Williams, tenor Lenard Whiting, and baritone Bruce KellyJurgen Petrenko conducts the Talisker Players Orchestra. The concert takes place on May 6 4 p.m. at Christ Church Deer Park

Off Centre Music Salon, under the co-direction of its founders Boris and Inna Zarankin, presents Spanish Ballade with a Russian Interlude, on May 6 2 p.m., at its usual venue of Glenn Gould Studio. The soloists are soprano Joni Henson, mezzo Leigh Anne Martin and baritone Peter McGillivray

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra goes "Light Classics" this week, with a program of Gershwin and one of film music, billed as "Sci-fi Spectacular" featuring music from movies like Star Trek, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The great news is that George Takei, aka Lieutenant Sulu, is hosting the event - I ask you Trekkies, it doesn't get better than that!!! Jack Everly conducts.  Three shows - Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m., plus a Wednesday matinee at 2 p.m.  If Sci-fi isn't your cup of tea, perhaps the All American program of Gershwin, Bernstein, Copland, Barber and Adams will?  On the program are several terrific pieces - Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Bernstein's Overture to Candide, Copland's rousing all-American piece, Rodeo, and surely one of the most sublime of contemporary compositions, Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber.  Joana Carneiro conducts. Performances on Saturday 7:30 p.m. and Sunday 3 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall

The Aradia Ensemble under the direction of Kevin Mallon is presenting The Grain of the Voice, an intriguing concert of madrigals and a new composition by Mallon himself, on May 5 8 the Glenn Gould Studio. This concert is also being presented at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at noon on May 3rd. The description of this concert is rather complicated, so I've taken it directly from the Aradia website: "The title of this concert comes from an important essay by semiotician Roland Barthes featured in the collection of Image, Music, Text (NY: Hill and Wang 1977). Barthe's concept is that often in our refining of Western classical music, we have lost an essence - The Grain of Voice.  This concert will explore waves of recapturing this essence with the choir and orchestra of Aradia combining forces with the raw, vital singing of Toronto-based Georgian choir Darbazi. They will present their traditional repertoire alongside Aradia who will performance 17th century motels by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, performed in hopefully a vital and expressive style of the Italian baroque. A new composition by Keven Mallon will unite these two very different vocal 'grains.'"

Finally, Svetlana Dvoretskaya of Show One Productions is presenting a blockbuster this Thursday May 3 at Roy Thomson Hall, the 20th anniversary tour of the Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra with Yuri Bashmet as conductor/violist, and Mischa Maisky as cellist.  On the program are works by Schubert, Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Brahms.



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