La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 22 April 2012

This Week in Toronto (Apr. 23 - 29)

American bass-baritone Alan Held (photo courtesy of

The big news for opera fans this week is the opening of the second production of the Canadian Opera Company's spring season, the rather unconventional pairing of Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. There are several firsts with this run, perhaps the most important is the Canadian premiere of the Zemlinsky's one-act opera. It also marks the COC directorial debut of American soprano turned stage director Catherine Malfitano.  A fascinating singing actress, Malfitano brings her cutting-edge theatrical instincts to her work as a stage director.  Also of note is the COC debut of American bass-baritone Alan Held.  To be sure, he is a bass-baritone, but to my ears Held has taken over from basses James Morris and Sam Ramey as the premiere American "low voice" singer of our time.  A regular guest at the Met, Munich and Covent Garden, he sang Vodnik in the Munich Rusalka I saw last July. It was an extraordinary performance, not an easy achievement as in the hands of stage director Martin Kusej, the Water Gnome becomes the bad guy. It'll be interesting to see how Held responds to the rather unconventional production here at the COC.  You can read about his thoughts on these two productions in the blog on his website -  The opera also stars German mezzo Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca and tenor Michael Koenig as Guido Bardi. The unconventional story of the Zemlinsky opera really requires some homework on the part of the audience, and the COC website has excellent articles on this work, including one on Malfitano's take on these operas. As well, you can get a taste of this work on youtube -  If you are a fan of the post-Romanticism of Schreker, Korngold and Braunfels, you'll love the score!

In the Puccini half of the evening, Held does double duty in the title role Gianni Schicchi, a show that also features many present and former members of the COC Ensemble Studio. Rising Canadian soprano Simone Osborne in the ingratiating role of Lauretta - short and sweet, with arguably the most famous aria for lyric soprano in all Italian Opera. She is partnered by the sweet-voiced 2011 Operalia winner tenor Rene Barbara as Rinuccio. Others Ensemble members in the show are mezzo Rihab Chieb, tenor Adam Luther, baritones Peter McGillivray, Doug McNaughton, Philippe Sly, and Neil Craighead.  American mezzo Barbara Dever returns to the COC as Zita; and this show also marks the return of Italian buffo bass Donato di Stefano.  Conductor Sir Andrew Davis, an extremely familiar figure to Toronto Symphony Orchestra audiences, makes a welcome return to the COC.  The show opens on Thursday April 26 7:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Centre. A very interesting event this week is the appearance of Lauren Margison, the daughter of Canadian tenor Richard Margison, in a noon hour jazz concert, New York State of Mind, at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  She is also a trained classical singer with a lovely soprano voice and has appeared with her father at the RBA singing opera and folk songs. Here she is featuring the jazz and pop standards of Billy Joel and Billie Holiday among others. Christopher Mokrzewski is the collaborative pianist. Be sure to show up an hour early for a seat.

Meanwhile, at Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting three concerts featuring the great violinist Itzhak Perlman. On Wed. April 25 and Thurs. April 26 8 p.m., Perlman joins the TSO as soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Also on the program are the viscerally exciting Suite from Spartacus by Khachaturian as well as Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini. Peter Oundjian conducts. On Saturday April 28, Perlman and his former student, TSO music director Peter Oundjian, will perform together Bach's Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra, BVW 1043.  The other pieces are the Overture to Mozart's opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5.  There's also a conversation between Perlman and Oundjian, but not at intermission but on stage!  This usual event is bound to be very popular.  Meanwhile, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra under the direction of Quebec conductor Alain Trudel will be appearing in Koerner Hall on Tuesday April 24. The program consists of two core repertoire pieces - Tchaikovsky's pleasing Capriccio Italien and Brahms Violin Concerto - alas only the first movement; and the less frequently performed Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber by Hindemith. Canadian content is provided by Claude Vivier's Orion.

If you don't mind opera with piano, Opera By Request is putting on Donizetti's Don Pasquale on Wed. April 25 7:30 p.m. at the College St. United Church in downtown Toronto, under the direction of William Shookhoff. This group has presented some daunting works the likes of Don Carlo and Lohengrin, so now for a change of pace, it's presenting the frothy Don Pasquale. For more information, go to

The Toronto Philharmonia is presenting an opera concert of works by Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini. Soloists are soprano Joni Henson and tenor Brennan Guillory, under the direction of guest conductor Christopher Zimmerman. The show takes place at the acoustically wonderful George Weston Recital Hall on April 26 8 p.m.

If you are a G & S fan, be sure to catch the Toronto Operetta Theatre's evening of music from the Mikado, Gondoliers, Iolanthe, HMS Pinafore, and Pirates of Penzance, surely a G & S Greatest Hits Evening!  Soloists include Leslie Ann Bradley, Marion Newman, David Ludwig, Christopher Mayell and Keith Savage. Two shows, Friday April 27 at 8 p.m. and Sunday April 29 at 2 p.m. at its usual venue, Jane Mallett Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre.