La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Beauty and the Beast Brings Broadway Bravura to Montreal

By Naomi Gold,

Broadway across Canada and Evenko recently brought Disney's Beauty & the Beast to Place des Arts' Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (SWP). With the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal having moved to its new home at Maison Symphonique, SWP accommodated this family-friendly production for an extended springtime run – a rare treat for local audiences.  Excited children who attended the premiere, basked in delight – they were ecstatic to be out on a school night – as parents and grandparents were equally enthralled by the 'tale as old as time'.

Particularly pleasing were the colourful costumes -- an eye-popping 580, plus 81 wigs -- vibrant sets, dramatic lighting and that smokin' hot pyrotechnics.  The cutesy French accents added an amusing provincial feel to this lavish production.  

Featuring the
 animated film’s Oscar-winning score with music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's libretti, this production also incorporates additional songs by the same composer with lyrics by Tim Rice. The book is written by Linda Woolverton.

This touring production also reunites the original creators of the Broadway blockbuster. It is directed by Rob Roth, choreographed by Matt West and Tony-winning costumes are designed by Ann Hould-Ward.  Lighting is by Natasha Katz, while scenic design is handled by Stanley A. Meyer; John Petrafesa Jr. serves as sound engineer with music supervision by Michael Kosarin.

The performance, together with one intermission and curtain call, lasts almost 3 hours; count on an extended, rousing standing ovation, as was the case on opening night.  It is a heartwarming, tale of home, hearth and happy endings that will appeal to all ages and generations. 

More musicals from the Great White Way come to town this year. Wicked will be presented for the first time ever in Montreal, enjoying a month-long run at PdA this August. For information and to purchase tickets go to: or call the box office 514-842-2112. Prices begin @$40.00 for weekday matinees.  Parents may obtain elevated seats for toddlers in the foyer of Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier.

Photos by Joan  Marcus

Caption 1: Emily Behny as Belle and the cast of Beauty & the Beast

Caption 2: Dane Agostinis as beast and Emily Behny as Belle


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

This Week in Toronto (May 14 - 20)

Baritone Christian Gerhaher gives a Liederabend at Koerner Hall on May 16

Art song lovers rejoice!  German baritone Christian Gerhaher, a great Lieder singers of the current generation, is on a recital tour in North America that takes him to Philadelphia, Carnegie Hall in New York, Vancouver and Toronto. It's a huge program that opens with Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte and Schumann's Lieder und Gesange aus Wilhelm Meister, plus Schumann's wonderful song cycle Dichterliebe. Partnering him on the piano is none other than another great artist, Andras Schiff. They perform at Koerner Hall on Sunday May 16 at 8 p.m.

While on the subject of Lieder, Canadian baritone Adrian Kramer is giving a noon hour farewell concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Thursday May 17.  He is graduating from the COC Ensemble after a highly successful two-year tenure. His compact, well focused, beautiful baritone was heard to advantage in a number of roles at the COC, but particularly memorable was his Papageno in the COC Ensemble performance of The Magic Flute. Kramer will sing Schubert's Die schone Mullerin, with Christopher Mokrzewski at the piano.

Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin makes a welcome return to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for two performances, on May 17 and 19 8 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall.  Taking a break from his COC assignment, Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis is at the helm. On the program are two Strauss pieces - Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, and Don Juan.  Kissin is the soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto.

A very high profile event this week is the 125th anniversary celebration of the Royal Conservatory of Music. Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman and singer-songwriter Feist will be named Honorary Fellows. They will also perform, as well as the RCM's students and faculty members. There will be a post performance reception sponsored by Labatt Brewing Company, complete with live music. A limited number of tickets are available at $125. Tuesday May 15 9 p.m. at Koerner Hall.

The spring season of the Canadian Opera Company continues this week, with performances of the Zemlinsky-Puccini double-bill on May 15, 18, and 20; and performances of Handel's Semele on May 16 and 19; and a final performance of Hoffmann on May 14.


This Week in Toronto (May 7 - 13)

Claudine Domingue, COC Director of Public Relations and Jennifer Pugsley, Media Relations Manager, briefing the press during a media preview of the 450 year old temple used as the set for Handel's Semele (Photo: Joseph So)

Handel's Semele, the third and final production of the Canadian Opera Company's spring season opens on May 9 at the Four Seasons Centre. This Theatre Royal de la Monnaie 2009 production is directed by Chinese visual and performance artist Zhang Huan that places a western work in an eastern setting.  The centerpiece of the production is a 450 year old temple, which he purchased in 2007. In a media event hosted by the COC, the press were given the background information on this unique set. After its Brussels premiere, it was staged in Beijing in 2010, the first major staging of a Baroque opera in China. Zhang's Semele draws on parallels between Western and Chinese mythologies, so it promises to be a uniquely entertaining show. Canadian coloratura Jane Archibald is Semele, and Allyson McHardy is Juno. American tenor William Burden sings Jupiter in his COC debut. Canadian soprano Katherine Whyte, who sang Iphigenie last fall, is back as Iris. Baroque specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini conducts.  There are a total of eight performances plus a special COC Ensemble Studio performance on May 23. At the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on May 10 noon, members of the COC Orchestra are playing a free concert of French Salon Music for Wind instruments, as part of the COC Orchestra Chamber Series. Johannes Debus is at the helm. Be sure to show up an hour ahead for a seat.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Holst The Planets, a piece that used to be more frequently programmed.  Joaquin Valdepenas is solo clarinet in John Corigliano's Clarinet Concerto. A third piece on the program is new to me - Canzon per sonare No. 27 by Gabrieli. Peter Oundjian conducts. Two performances, May 9 and 10 8 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall.  If you have kids at home who are hockey nuts, take them to The Hockey Sweater, written and narrated by Roch Carrier. According to the TSO website, it's about a boy who had to wear a Maple Leafs sweater in a Quebec town - yikes! It's conducted by Alain Trudel and hosted by Ken Dryden.  Given the short attention span of kids, the two performances on Saturday May 12 are short, at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.

On May 11 8 p.m. at the Glenn Gould Studio, Sinfonia Toronto under the baton of its music director Nurhan Arman is presenting pianist Anya Alexeyev in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 (chamber version). Other pieces on the program are Dvorak's Quintet Op. 77 (orchestral version), plus a new work by Teehan called Lament for Lost Hope

The great pianist Emanuel Ax is making one of his frequent - and very welcome - return to Toronto. This time he is appearing at Koerner Hall in a recital featuring the works of Copland, Haydn, Beethoven, with the centerpiece being Schumann's Symphonic Etudes. Performance on Sunday May 13 at 3 p.m.

Finally, I want to mention the special Met in HD presentation of Wagner's Dream, which documents the making of the Lepage Ring which has captured the imagination of opera lovers world-wide.  I attended a media preview of this 1 hour 50 minute documentary on Wednesday morning (May 2) in Toronto.  Having seen all four operas as their were transmitted by satellite over the last year and a half, I must say that my own reaction has been quite mixed.  There were moments when I was totally blown away by the technological wonderment of it all, and other times when I felt that the "machine" was a bit of a double-edged sword, almost a straitjacket preventing any but the blandest attempt at a directorial concept staging.  Now having seen the documentary, I have come to a greater appreciation of the enormity of this project.  Some of my original thoughts still stands, such as the lack of a directorial interpretation.  But I feel that this production can be further tweaked to improve it in future revivals.  As each segment of the Ring was premiered, I noticed an improvement - Rheingold wasn't so great, but with each subsequent segment, the staging improved.  Walkure was wonderful and so was Goetterdammerung. Visually it is stunning in all segments. And the Met benefited from the participation of excellent singers - Voigt an emotionally engaged Brunnhilde, Jay Hunter Morris an impossibly visually perfect Siegfried, and most of all Bryn Terfel a vocally magnificent Wotan.  Anyone interested at all in Wagner and the Ring, this documentary is an absolute must-see.  It will be screened on May 7 6:30 p.m. at all participating theaters in Canada.


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.