La Scena Musicale

Monday, 29 July 2013

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 29 juillet au 4 août

Concerts populaires de montreal – 49e saison
Attirant chaque année un public fidèle et enthousiaste, les Concerts populaires de Montréal auront lieu du 27 juin au 1er août. Ils présenteront à trois reprises l’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction des chefs Julian Kuerti, Alain Trudel et James Darling. Ils recevront, aussi à trois reprises, La Sinfonia de Lanaudière, dirigée par Stéphane Laforest. Les mélomanes auront le plaisir d’entendre des solistes réputés, tels le ténor Marc Hervieux (27 juin), la soprano Lyne Fortin et le baryton Étienne Dupuis (11 juillet), la soprano Karine Boucher et le baryton Gino Quilico (18 juillet) et la violoniste Élaine Marcil (25 juillet). Porte-parole : Winston McQuade. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 19 h 30, 514-899-0644, poste 202.
- Renée Banville


Concerts dans les parcs 
Le 4 août, ce sera l’arrêt montréalais de l’Orchestre national des jeunes du Canada, sous la direction d’Alain Trudel au Théâtre de Verdure. www.accesculture.com
- Renée Banville

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This week in Montreal: July 29 to August 4


Concerts Populaires de Montréal – 49th year
Attracting a loyal and enthusiastic public every year, the Concerts populaires de Montréal will take place from June 27 to August 1. There will be three concerts by the Orchestre Métropolitain under the direction of conductors
Julian Kuerti, Alain Trudel and James Darling, as well as three performances by the Sinfonia de Lanaudière under the direction of Stéphane Laforest. Hosted by Winston McQuade. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 7:30 PM, 514-899-0644, extension 202.
- Renée Banville

Concerts in the Park
On August 4, it is Montreal’s turn to hear the National Youth Orchestra of Canada under the direction of Alain Trudel at the Théâtre de Verdure.
- Renée Banville

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Monday, 22 July 2013

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 22 au 28 juillet

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Concerts populaires de montreal – 49e saison
Attirant chaque année un public fidèle et enthousiaste, les Concerts populaires de Montréal auront lieu du 27 juin au 1er août. Ils présenteront à trois reprises l’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction des chefs Julian Kuerti, Alain Trudel et James Darling. Ils recevront, aussi à trois reprises, La Sinfonia de Lanaudière, dirigée par Stéphane Laforest. Les mélomanes auront le plaisir d’entendre des solistes réputés, tels le ténor Marc Hervieux (27 juin), la soprano Lyne Fortin et le baryton Étienne Dupuis (11 juillet), la soprano Karine Boucher et le baryton Gino Quilico (18 juillet) et la violoniste Élaine Marcil (25 juillet). Porte-parole : Winston McQuade. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 19 h 30, 514-899-0644, poste 202.
- Renée Banville

Orchestre de la Francophonie : Série classique à Montréal
Dans le cadre de sa saison estivale 2013, l’Orchestre de la Francophonie présentera quatre concerts à Montréal. Le 24 juillet, le chef invité Douglas Pace Sturdevant dirigera l’OF à la salle Pollack. La direction musicale des concerts du 12, 13 et 14 août à la salle Pierre-Mercure sera confiée au chef d’orchestre de l’OF, Jean-Philippe Tremblay. Lors de ces concerts, vous aurez la chance d’écouter des solistes renommés tels Pascale Beaudin, Serhiy Salov et Élissa Cassini, et des solistes de la relève, tels Sheila Jaffe, Thomas Chartré et Philippe Prudhomme. Une œuvre du compositeur Frédéric Chiasson sera également créée en premièree montréalaise. www.orchestrefranco.com


Concerts dans les parcs
Un grand choix musical est offert au public dans les parcs. En musique classique, mentionnons trois concerts au parc Garneau : le Quatuor de saxophones Nota Bene qui explore le répertoire sous toutes ses formes (4 juillet), Trente Doigts, un groupe de guitare acoustique (11 juillet) et le Trio Vincent Bélanger qui propose une sélection d’œuvres de divers répertoires, de Haendel à Morricone (25 juillet). www.accesculture.com
- Renée Banville

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This Week in Montreal: July 22 to 28


Concerts Populaires de Montréal – 49th year
Attracting a loyal and enthusiastic public every year, the Concerts populaires de Montréal will take place from June 27 to August 1. There will be three concerts by the Orchestre Métropolitain under the direction of conductors Julian Kuerti, Alain Trudel and James Darling, as well as three performances by the Sinfonia de Lanaudière under the direction of Stéphane Laforest. Music-lovers will have the pleasure of hearing acclaimed soloists such as tenor Marc Hervieux, (June 27), soprano Lyne Fortin and baritone Étienne Dupuis (July 11), soprano Karine Boucher and baritone Gino Quilico (July 18) and violinist Élaine Marcil (July 25).  Hosted by Winston McQuade. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 7:30 PM, 514-899-0644, extension 202.
- Renée Banville

Concerts in the Park
There is a great selection of music performed in parks this summer.  For classical music, we will mention three concerts at Garneau Park: the Quatuor de saxophones Nota Bene, which explores all kinds of repertoire (July 4); Trente Doigts, an acoustic guitar ensemble (July 11); and the Trio Vincent Bélanger, which offers a varied selection of works from Handel to Morricone (July 25). www.accesculture.com
- Renée Banville
Orchestre de la Francophonie: Classics Series in Montreal
As part of the 2013 summer season, the Orchestre de la Francophonie presents four concerts in Montreal. July 24, guest conductor Douglas Pace Sturdevant conducts the OF at Pollack Hall. OF conductor Jean-Philippe Tremblay provides musical direction for concerts on August 12, 13 and 14 at Salle Pierre-Mercure. At these concerts, audiences will have the chance to hear renowned soloists such as Pascale Beaudin, Serhiy Salov and Élissa Cassini, and upcoming soloists such as Sheila Jaffe, Thomas Chartré and Philippe Prudhomme. And finally, a Montreal premiere: a piece by composer Frédéric Chiasson.
www.orchestrefranco.com

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Sunday, 21 July 2013

Aix en Provence Elektra a Performance for the Ages

Review of Web-Stream on Arte:  Elektra / Aix en Provence
July 19 2013

by Joseph So

Waltraud Meier as Klytemnestra in Aix en Provence Elektra (Photo: Pascal Victor / Artcomart)

In this age of Regieoper, audiences are frequently confronted with productions seemingly designed for shock value rather than anything with musico-dramatic truth in mind. Instead of a director with the primary goal of illuminating the music and the text, we often get superfluous directorial whims that are willful and self-indulgent, distracting the audience from focusing on the music. So it is gratifying to encounter this new Elektra directed by the great Patrice Chereau. He is of course best known in the opera world for his Bayreuth Centenary Ring Cycle in 1976. It was a ground-breaking production that had its detractors at the time but has since become a classic. Following the Ring, Chereau's ventures into opera has been very infrequent, preferring to channel his creative energies into directing film and theatre.  That said, he did return for select projects, his most recent success was Janacek's From the House of the Dead six years ago. To that you can add this new Elektra as a production for the ages.

Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra) and Adrianne Pieczonka (Chrysothemis) (Photo: Pascal Victor /Artcomart)

Unlike most Regie-inspired productions, this Elektra has no cutting edge stagecraft, no Expressionist symbolism, no nudity, no outrageous costumes, no extra non-singing characters added, and most importantly, no alterations (additions or subtractions) of the music and text. There's nothing bizarre or grotesque here, just a deeply felt re-telling of the tragic story. To that end, the set and costumes are very low key, even somewhat anonymous but perfectly in keeping with Chereau's vision. To be sure, there are a few unusual touches. After Orest murders Klytemnestra, she is brought onstage. When later Aegisth sees the dead Klytemnestra, he goes to her and cries "Helft! Moeder!" and he's stabbed, not by Orest but by his tutor, here sung by the 89-year old (!) Franz Mazura. At the end, Elektra does not drop dead on the ground as is typical of the staging (often based on musical cues), she remains seated and in a trance.  I would love to hear Chereau's explanation for his directorial decisions.

Evelyn Herlitzius is Elektra (Photo: Pascal Victor / Artcomart)

This production features an exceptionally strong cast led by German soprano Evelyn Herlitzius as a searingly intense Elektra. She is a name we don't hear often on this side of the pond, and it's a pity, as Herlitizius is one of the most compelling singer actors today. The voice may not be exactly bel canto, but her sincerity and commitment are never in doubt. In any case, a pretty voice with no expression is out of place in this opera. Herlitzius was stunning in the telecast on July 19th, indefatigable in this most grueling of dramatic soprano roles. The Recognition Scene was particularly gut-wrenching. She received a spectacular and totally well deserved ovation at the end. Another high profile principal is Waltraud Meier as Klytemnestra. She has gone from her mezzo beginnings to tackling zwischenfach roles like Sieglinde and Kundry, even Isolde. As a result, she lacks the contralto lows that would have given Klytemnestra more of a sense of authority in her confrontation with Elektra. Perhaps because of Chereau's vision, her Klytemnestra is formidable enough but elegant and understated - she's a queen after all. It doesn't have the grotesque histrionics one sometimes encounters in other productions. The third principal is Canada's own Adrianne Pieczonka. Singing Chrysothemis for the first time, Pieczonka showed that her gleaming tone and sympathetic stage presence is ideal as the healthy and "normal" sister, a perfect foil for the crazed Elektra.  Orestes is the eminent Russian baritone Mikhail Petrenko who was good but to be honest didn't quite rise to the level of intensity of the women.

Director Patrice Chereau with Roberta Alexander (Fifth Maid) and Sir Donald McIntyre (Old Servant) at Rehearsal (Photo: Aix en Provence photo-stream)

It is the secondary roles that makes this Elektra production special.  Where else will you find a performance of Elektra that features two Wotans (Sir Donald McIntyre and Franz Mazura), two Brunnhildes (Hertizius and Renate Behle), and two Sieglindes (Meier and Pieczonka)?  On top of that, you have the wonderful American soprano Roberta Alexander as the Fifth Maid - talk about luxury casting! Now 64 and with a face and body proudly showing the passage of time, Alexander sounds miraculously youthful. I have the greatest respect for Chereau for casting these old-timers. I think Sir Donald - the Wotan in the Chereau Ring - is singing the Old Servant with its two lines for old time's sake.  Having seen and heard these older singers many times in the past, it moved me tremendously to see them on stage again, sort of a symbolic passing of the torch to a younger generation. The Orchestre de Paris under the impeccable baton of Esa Pekka Salonen outdid itself; and the Gulbenkian Chorus was up to the task in a few brief moments of choral singing. This production is going to La Scala, Berlin, Barcelona, Helsinki, and the Met.  In the meantime, thanks to Festival d'Aix en Provence and ARTE, this performance is available for streaming from the Arte.tv website for the next 60 days.  Don't miss it!

http://liveweb.arte.tv/fr/video/Elektra_Richard_Strauss_Festival_d_Aix_en_Provence_Esa-Pekka_Salonen_Patrice_Chereau/


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Thursday, 18 July 2013

Elly Ameling Weaves her Pedagogical Magic at Toronto Summer Music

Elly Ameling Weaves her Pedagogical Magic at TSMF's Art of the Song

by Joseph So

Soprano Elly Ameling receiving audience accolades at the end of the class (Photo: Joseph So)

Among the singers I've seen and heard, I've always had a soft spot for Dutch soprano Elly Ameling. Few artists possess a voice of sweetness and exquisite purity as hers, and equally few have her musical sensitivity and elegance, and her trademark sincerity and simplicity. Although she did sing opera from time to time, she was first and foremost a recitalist, in a genre where she reigned supreme for three decades. I was deeply moved by her Toronto farewell at the George Weston Hall way back in the mid 90's.  Her subsequent visits to give masterclasses were important occasions for students and audiences alike. She is in town this week under the auspices of Toronto Summer Music Festival and Academy. Yesterday afternoon at Walter Hall, a small but very knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience was witness to the Ameling magic once again. Participating were four singers (sopranos Jennifer Taverner and Lucy Fitz Gibbon; mezzo Evanna Chiew; baritone Stephen Barchi) and three pianists (Nina Horvath, Rod Yu Kai Chi, and Alexander Tarras De Sina). As is typical in a masterclass situation, each singer gave a brief introduction to the audience - name, title of the song etc., then proceeded to sing the song through once, followed by comments by Ameling. Wisely the comments were almost entirely about interpretation, and only very occasionally touching upon technical issues such as breath support or tone colours. This is wise as the masterteacher won't be around in case the singer runs into trouble. A consummate teacher, Ameling focused on helping the student to achieve vocal and textual nuance by stressing certain sounds and vowels, and making the text more idiomatic. She also made sure the students understood the emotion and motivation of the character being portrayed. 

TSMF's Douglas McNabney offers thanks to Ameling at the end (Photo: Joseph So)

The first singer up was soprano Jennifer Taverner, singing Schubert's 'Ganymed.' Pianist was Nina Horvath. An ideal song for her lovely light lyric voice, she made a strong impression with nice, silvery tone. Ameling praised them for the beautiful singing and playing, then suggested that it was too fast without sufficient changes in tempo to bring out the meaning of the text.  She also wanted the soprano to enunciate the German text with more clarity, and to sing a particularly challenging phrase in one breath. Pointers were also given to the pianist to play certain moments as a soloist yet offering full support to the singer. The final result was an idiomatic, beautifully sung piece.   Taverner was followed by mezzo Evanna Chiew singing 'Seit ich ihn gesehen', the first song of Schumann's famous Fraunliebe und Leben. She was accompanied by pianist Rod Yu Kai Chi. Chiew has a very beautiful and rich lyric mezzo of surprisingly big volume, if only a little short on contrasting tone colours such as a hushed mezza voce compared to her fortissimos. Ameling offered the finer points in German pronunciation and interpretation of this song. At one point, a recording of Ameling in this song was played.  As expected, Chiew incorporated the teacher's suggestions and showed marked improvements at the end. 

Ameling explaining the finer points of interpretation to baritone Barchi and pianist Tarras De Sina (Photo: Joseph So)

After a brief intermission, the only male participant, baritone Stephen Barchi and his pianist Alexander Tarras De Sina took center stage, in Brahms' 'Feldeinsamkeit.' This song requires rock solid legato and a well developed mezza voce to achieve a hushed quality essential in this piece. While Barchi has the right voice for a piece best sung by a male voice, the initial run-through was taken at too slow a tempo, resulting in laboured legato. At Ameling's suggestion, a quicker tempo was adopted and the result was immediate. The teacher appeared pleased with Barchi's vocal qualities and worked extensively with the duo. If one were to nitpick, there wasn't a sense of bliss, or a smile in the voice, in Ameling's own choice of words. A recording of Ameling's own singing of this song was played - gorgeous by the way, and to these ears much preferable to some of the other famous versions like the one by Schwarzkopf. Too bad they didn't also play Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Jorg Demus at the piano, as FiDi's rendition is the gold standard for me.  The final participant was soprano Lucy Fitz-Gibbon singing the lovely 'Auch kleine Dinge,' the first song from Italienisches Liederbuch by Hugo Wolf. Her pianist was Nina Horvath.  Fitz-Gibbon possesses a high soprano of exceptional clarity, an attractive timbre that immediately engages one's ear. On the debit side, the voice also has a fast vibrato bordering on a tremolo that occasionally intrudes. She also has a tendency to suppress the consonants, so Ameling worked with her on German diction and to bring clarity to the text, and to improve her body language onstage. The recording chosen by Ameling for illustration was the version by Dietrich Fischer-Diekau. Although occasionally sung by a man, this first song of the cycle is usually assigned to a woman. Once again, after a few pointers, Fitz-Gibbon sang the song beautifully.        

Soprano Lucy Fitz-Gibbon and pianist Nina Horvath (Photo: Joseph So)

After three hours, the masterclass came to an end. Douglas McNabney came on stage to publicly thank Mme Ameling, and to present her with a lovely bouquet. All the singers undoubtedly benefited from her pearls of wisdom, and I'm sure they look forward to a week of intensive work with the Dutch soprano, to be followed by two other eminent pianist/coaches, Michael McMahon and Julius Drake. Incidentally, tomorrow (Thursday) at 1:30 pm, as part of the Festival Insiders feature, Rick Phillips will be interviewing Ameling in the Geiger-Torel Room at the Edward Johnson Building. This is something not to be missed by admirers of Elly Ameling.

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Monday, 15 July 2013

Ben Heppner New Host of CBC Saturday Afternoon At the Opera


ACCLAIMED CANADIAN TENOR BEN HEPPNER BECOMES THE NEW HOST OF CBC RADIO 2’S SATURDAY AFTERNOON AT THE OPERA
New episodes with Heppner begin September 7, 2013Saturday Afternoon at the Opera airs on CBC Radio 2 at 1 p.m. (2p.m. AT, 2:30 NT)
Tweet this release: http://cbc.sh/eFT9TWG
July 15, 2013 – CBC announces that acclaimed Canadian tenor Ben Heppner will be the new host of CBC Radio 2’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera starting on September 7, 2013. Heppner will continue to bring listeners the finest opera productions and recordings from around the world.
Click here to watch an exclusive CBC Music interview with Ben Heppner
Born and raised in Dawson Creek, B.C., Heppner has become one the world’s pre-eminent dramatic tenors. After winning the CBC Talent Competition back in 1979 and gaining international recognition as a winner of the Metropolitan Opera Competition in 1988, Heppner became one of the most celebrated tenors of his time. Possessing a voice that is uniquely lyrical and powerful, Heppner has received multiple JUNO and Grammy Awards throughout his career. He is now bringing his voice to the airwaves of CBC Radio 2.
“It is an honour to be a part of the CBC Music family, and to be the new host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera,” says Heppner.  “CBC has always exposed Canadians to a wide variety of music, andSaturday Afternoon at the Opera allows listeners to immerse themselves into the rich culture and sounds of opera with the brilliant recordings that are broadcast. I can’t wait.”
“Since 1979, Ben Heppner has moved CBC Radio 2 listeners with his magnificent singing”, saysMark Steinmetz, director of music programming, “I'm thrilled that listeners will now hear Ben share his passion for opera as a host.  Ben's warmth, graciousness and in-depth knowledge make him an ideal host, and will continue to make Saturday Afternoon At The Opera a must-listen for dedicated fans as well as anyone curious about opera.”
Saturday Afternoon at the Opera has been a mainstay of the CBC Radio 2 schedule since 1982, and has become home to the famous “Live at The Met” broadcasts. The show recorded and presented the first-ever Canadian production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the inaugural production of the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto in 2006. Saturday Afternoon at the Opera prides itself on being a popular destination for the casual listener as well as a place for those who are deeply passionate and knowledgeable about the art form.

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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 15 au 21 juillet


Concerts populaires de montreal – 49e saison
Attirant chaque année un public fidèle et enthousiaste, les Concerts populaires de Montréal auront lieu du 27 juin au 1er août. Ils présenteront à trois reprises l’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction des chefs Julian Kuerti, Alain Trudel et James Darling. Ils recevront, aussi à trois reprises, La Sinfonia de Lanaudière, dirigée par Stéphane Laforest. Les mélomanes auront le plaisir d’entendre des solistes réputés, tels le ténor Marc Hervieux (27 juin), la soprano Lyne Fortin et le baryton Étienne Dupuis (11 juillet), la soprano Karine Boucher et le baryton Gino Quilico (18 juillet) et la violoniste Élaine Marcil (25 juillet). Porte-parole : Winston McQuade. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 19 h 30, 514-899-0644, poste 202.
- Renée Banville

Concerts dans les parcs
Le 19 juillet, l’OM reviendra sous la direction d’Alain Trudel, pour un gala d’opéra de Verdi avec la soprano Karine Boucher et le ténor Gino Quilico au Théâtre de verdure. www.accesculture.com
- Renée Banville

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This Week in Montreal: July 15 to 21


Concerts Populaires de Montréal – 49th year
Attracting a loyal and enthusiastic public every year, the Concerts populaires de Montréal will take place from June 27 to August 1. There will be three concerts by the Orchestre Métropolitain under the direction of conductors Julian Kuerti, Alain Trudel and James Darling, as well as three performances by the Sinfonia de Lanaudière under the direction of Stéphane Laforest. Music-lovers will have the pleasure of hearing acclaimed soloists such as tenor Marc Hervieux, (June 27), soprano Lyne Fortin and baritone Étienne Dupuis (July 11), soprano Karine Boucher and baritone Gino Quilico (July 18) and violinist Élaine Marcil (July 25).  Hosted by Winston McQuade. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 7:30 PM, 514-899-0644, extension 202.
- Renée Banville

Concerts in the Park
On July 19, the OM returns under the direction of Alain Trudel for a Verdi opera gala with soprano Karine Boucher and tenor Gino Quilico at the Théâtre de Verdure. www.accesculture.com
- Renée Banville

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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Letters from Munich 2013: Pavol Breslik, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Falstaff

Letters from Munich I : Pavol Breslik Liederabend, Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Falstaff

~ Joseph So

A great joy of my summer music travels is the annual trip to Munich, that mecca of classical music and opera. Having been to other centers such as Salzburg, Bayreuth, and Aix-en-Provence, it is Munich that beckons every July. The starry lineup is particularly bright this summer. In a matter of a week in late June/early July, one could catch Munich natives Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros in their first-ever Il Trovatore at the Bavarian State Opera, a Robert Carsen Ariadne auf Naxos with Dutch diva Eva Maria Westbroek, Italian dynamite coloratura Daniela Fally, and brilliant American tenor Brandon Jovanovich. And it is not limited to Bavarian State Opera - just a few days ago the great Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja and German coloratura Diana Damrau were in a Gasteig Lucia di Lammermoor, in concert form conducted by veteran Jesus Lopez-Cobos. A friend who arrived a few days earlier caught a bel canto aria concert with Russian coloratura Olga Peretyatko, who was a lovely Nightingale in Stravinsky's double bill for the Canadian Opera Company three seasons ago. And one mustn't forget the huge array of outdoor concerts, including Canadian superstar conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and soloists Rolando Villazon and Thomas Hampson in a concert of Wagner, Verdi and Massenet.  If only one could clone oneself in order to attend every event!

My Munich sojourn started with two concerts in a single evening. It began with Slovak tenor Pavol Breslik's Liederabend at the Prinzregententheater. Die Schoene Mullerin is a young man's cycle - it takes the fresh sound of youth and an ardently expressive voice to make it convincing for the audience. Looking ruggedly handsome with a five o'clock shadow and a very stylish form-fitting concert attire, Breslik used his sweet, soft-grained tenor as convincingly as one is likely to hear in this cycle. A versatile singer although best known for his Mozart, Breslik began somewhat tentatively, with the first song sung at breakneck speed, possibly due to nerves. It was so fast that even his pianist Amir Katz played without the requisite clarity. But Breslik soon relaxed and gave an engaging performance of the great Schubert cycle. There were a few unexpected pauses, when the singer went off stage to get water, mopped his brow etc. In fact he was sweating profusely throughout the concert, his shirt drenched at the end (see attached photo). Still his concentration was admirable, with no memory lapses over a long 20-song cycle that lasted about an hour. The mezza voce that wasn't there in the beginning started to appear after about 10 minutes, and his sincerity and attention to textual nuance were much in evidence. Katz proved to be a wonderfully sympathetic colleague and offered solid support for the singer. The tumultuous ovation at the end seemed to have caught the singer by surprise, as he looked touched, perhaps even shocked, at one point covering his face with his hands. He was brought back again and again. Given that a cycle like Die schone Mullerin or Winterreise areis such a big sing that there is never any encore.  Well, Mr. Breslik proved me wrong. He sang a gorgeous Dies Bildnis, Tamino's aria from Die Zauberfloete - perhaps one would have preferred a bit more head voice in the high register, but this is mere quibble. The enthusiastic response from the audience continued unabated, and Breslik decided to give a second encore, a short aria by a Slovakian composer, the name I unfortunately didn't catch. More ovations followed and the audience went home happy.          

(l. to r.) Pavol Breslik and Amir Katz at the end of a Liederabend (Photo: Pierre Couture)

Rolando Villazon sharing a lighter moment with Thomas Hampson and Yannick Nezet-Seguin after the Carlo-Rodrigo duet (Photo: Joseph So)

My evening wasn't finished yet. As the Prinzregententheater is just three subway stops from the Odeonsplatz, I rushed to the open air venue and caught the last hour of the dress rehearsal of the concert with Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin leading the BRSO forces and tenor Rolando Villazon and baritone Thomas Hampson in a concert of Wagner, Verdi and Massenet. Since seeing his Rodolfo at the New York City Opera La boheme a dozen years ago, Villazon was my favourite tenor. I love him for his timbre that recalls a young Domingo, and for his unbridled joy of music-making. From 2008 to 2011, Villazon encountered a couple of vocal setbacks that resulted in surgery to remove a cyst on one of his vocal cord, surely a frightening episode in a singer's life. The last two and a half years, a shift in repertoire away from some of the heavy roles he was singing meant he has for the large part recovered. It's great to hear him sing again. Given this is a Verdi concert, he sang the Don Carlo-Rodrigo duet, which has always been a bit too heavy for his lyric tenor. He threw caution to the wind and gave his all in the duet with Hampson, another local favourite. And the American baritone was in great voice. Villazon also sang O Souverain from Massenet's Le Cid, and Hampson sang Wolfram's aria from Tannhauser, a true "calling card" piece for a lyric baritone. I caught the encore, Va, pensiero, from Verdi's Nabucco, with the marvelous BRSO chorus. Unfortunately I couldn't attend the actual performance because of Falstaff the next evening, but the dress was compensation enough - especially when it's free!  Here is a photo of the maestro coaxing lovely sounds from the chorus during 'Va, pensiero.' This photo was taken off the huge projection TV on the side of the stage - look at that priceless expression, talk about "feeling the music"! 

Yannick Nezet-Seguin (Photo: Joseph So)

Rolando Villazon in a heart-on-sleeve moment (Photo: Joseph So)

Thomas Hampson in the company of Lions (Photo: Joseph So)

This being a Verdi centennial year, many companies are rushing to present his operas, with Falstaff being at or near the top of choices. Especially if an opera house manages to snare the greatest Falstaff of our day, the Italian buffo Ambrogio Maestri.  I do agree that American John Del Carlo is a great Knight as well, but I think for most European companies, Maestri has the edge. And he did not disappoint, singing with a robust and beautiful baritone, more so than one normally expect from a  buffo singer. His top is absolutely glorious, and he acted the role to the hilt - no wonder he is the most celebrated Falstaff today. This revival also benefited from several other big names. Of main interest to me was Polish contralto Ewa Podles. She was a favourite of the COC's Richard Bradshaw, and Toronto audiences got to hear her in some of her greatest roles, Giulio Cesare, Tancredi, Klytemnestra (Elektra), Jocasta (Oedipus Rex) are a few of them. She has not been back to Toronto since Bradshaw's untimely passing in 2007, so it was great to have the opportunity to hear her again, in one of her signature roles of Dame Quickly. Time has taken away a bit of her volume, but she is still formidable, especially her huge lower register, and she can still summon her powerful top when necessary. She is also a very funny Dame Quickly - this role is tailor-made for her. Also fabulous was the Nannetta of Elena Tsallagova, an audience favourite here in Munich. She looked enchanting on stage and sang with crystalline tones. Partnering her is tenor Javier Camarena, who may not be the most romantic looking Fenton but he made up for it with his wonderful tenore di grazia. Also very enjoyable was the Alice of French soprano Veronique Gens. Saw her last year as Donna Elvira, but I must say that Alice is more her role. She was in excellent voice and her high C - held for its full time value - at the end of the Finale was the best I've heard from her.
The inimitable Falstaff of Ambrogio Maestri, flanked by the lovelies - Elena Tsallagova (Nannetta) and Veronique Gens (Alice) (Photo: Joseph So)

As Regieoper productions go, this one is very mild, with nothing really controversial. A rotating disc dominates the stage, surrounded by an enveloping curtain. This sort of non-descript set could be used for just about anything, from Tristan to 21st century opera. I have to admit I found it somewhat boring. And the men are wearing kilts, in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor?  Huh?  Did the costume designer Gottfried Pilz do any research?  In my view, the use of a curtain, with zero projections and devoid of anything of interest, seems a bit of a cop-out. At least do something interesting with it!  However, at the final scene, when the curtain was drawn, the set became magical and the production was lifted to an altogether higher plane. Beautiful costumes - loved the shimmering costume of Alice in this final scene.  All in all, it was enjoyable, despite flaws in the production.

My next installment of Letters from Munich in a few days will include Ariadne auf Naxos and Il Trovatore.

Ewa Podles (Dame Quickly), Javier Camarena (Fenton) and Elena Tsallagova (Nannetta) (Photo: Joseph So)


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Monday, 8 July 2013

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 8 au 14 juillet

Le festival de musique de Lachine :  Verdi, Wagner et Poulenc
Axé sur les anniversaires des compositeurs, le festival donne une place de choix au chant. Au concert d’ouverture du 29 juin, Étienne Dupuis et le chef Jordan de Souza interpréteront Verdi et Wagner, tandis que le 6 juillet, c’est Poulenc qui sera à l’honneur avec la soprano Pascale Beaudin, accompagnée par Olivier Godin et François Zeitouni. Le Concert découvertes présentera deux jeunes lauréats de concours : Gordon Bintner, baryton-basse, et Florie Valiquette, soprano (4 juillet). Le directeur artistique, Richard Turp, est particulièrement fier d’avoir pu intégrer au programme la hautboïste canadienne Louise Pellerin qui vit maintenant en Suisse. Se tournant vers l’opéra, elle intègre à son programme une adaptation de l’air de La Reine de la nuit de La Flûte enchantée. Olivier Godin l’accompagne à l’orgue et au piano (10 juillet). Le festival peut aussi s’enorgueillir de la grande première au Canada du remarquable ensemble vocal Profeti della Quinta. Nés en Israël, les six chanteurs habitent maintenant en Suisse. Ils se spécialisent dans le répertoire baroque, en mettant l’accent sur les œuvres peu connues ou négligées (11 juillet). Deux concerts Brahms : le violoniste Alexandre Da Costa et le pianiste Wonny Song interprètent les trois sonates de Brahms (9 juillet) et le Nouveau Quatuor à cordes d’Orford exécutera deux quatuors de Brahms (14 juillet). Précédés d’une causerie à 19 h 30 par Richard Turp, les concerts ont lieu à 20 h, du 29 juin au 14 juillet dans trois lieux de diffusion. www.concertslachine.ca
- Renée Banville



Concerts populaires de montreal – 49e saison
Attirant chaque année un public fidèle et enthousiaste, les Concerts populaires de Montréal auront lieu du 27 juin au 1er août. Ils présenteront à trois reprises l’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction des chefs Julian Kuerti, Alain Trudel et James Darling. Ils recevront, aussi à trois reprises, La Sinfonia de Lanaudière, dirigée par Stéphane Laforest. Les mélomanes auront le plaisir d’entendre des solistes réputés, tels le ténor Marc Hervieux (27 juin), la soprano Lyne Fortin et le baryton Étienne Dupuis (11 juillet), la soprano Karine Boucher et le baryton Gino Quilico (18 juillet) et la violoniste Élaine Marcil (25 juillet). Porte-parole : Winston McQuade. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 19 h 30, 514-899-0644, poste 202.
- Renée Banville

Concerts dans les parcs
Un grand choix musical est offert au public dans les parcs. En musique classique, mentionnons trois concerts au parc Garneau : le Quatuor de saxophones Nota Bene qui explore le répertoire sous toutes ses formes (4 juillet), Trente Doigts, un groupe de guitare acoustique (11 juillet) et le Trio Vincent Bélanger qui propose une sélection d’œuvres de divers répertoires, de Haendel à Morricone (25 juillet). www.accesculture.com
- Renée Banville

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This Week in Montreal: July 8 to 14

Festival de Musique de Lachine: Verdi, Wagner And Poulenc
With programming inspired by composers’ birthdays, this year’s festival will heavily feature the voice. The opening concert on June 29 stars Étienne Dupuis and conductor Jordan de Souza, performing works by Verdi and Wagner. Poulenc takes the spotlight on July 6 in a performance by soprano Pascale Beaudin, accompanied by Olivier Godin and François Zeitouni. Two rising stars and competition winners, bass-baritone Gordon Bintner and soprano Florie Valiquette, will participate in the Discovery Concert on July 4. Artistic Director Richard Turp is thrilled to offer a program with Canadian oboist Louise Pellerin, currently living in Switzerland. Her concert focuses on operatic repertoire and includes an adaptation of the famous Queen of the Night aria from the Magic Flute. Olivier Godin will join Pelletier on organ and piano (July 10). The festival also boasts the premiere Canadian appearance of the remarkable Profeti della Quinta vocal ensemble. Originally from Israel but now living in Switzerland, the ensemble of six singers specializes in Baroque repertoire, favouring lesser known and neglected works (July 11.) Two Brahms concerts are also on the schedule: violonist Alexandre Da Costa and pianist Wonny Song perform three Brahms sonatas (July 9) and the New Orford String Quartet interpret two Brahms quartets (July 14.) All concerts begin at 8:00pm and will be preceded by a pre-concert talk with Richard Turp at 7:30pm. The festival runs from June 29-July 14 in three venues: www.concertslachine.ca
- Renée Banville



Concerts Populaires de Montréal – 49th year
Attracting a loyal and enthusiastic public every year, the Concerts populaires de Montréal will take place from June 27 to August 1. There will be three concerts by the Orchestre Métropolitain under the direction of conductors Julian Kuerti, Alain Trudel and James Darling, as well as three performances by the Sinfonia de Lanaudière under the direction of Stéphane Laforest. Music-lovers will have the pleasure of hearing acclaimed soloists such as tenor Marc Hervieux, (June 27), soprano Lyne Fortin and baritone Étienne Dupuis (July 11), soprano Karine Boucher and baritone Gino Quilico (July 18) and violinist Élaine Marcil (July 25).  Hosted by Winston McQuade. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, 7:30 PM, 514-899-0644, extension 202.
- Renée Banville


Concerts in the Park
There is a great selection of music performed in parks this summer.  For classical music, we will mention three concerts at Garneau Park: the Quatuor de saxophones Nota Bene, which explores all kinds of repertoire (July 4); Trente Doigts, an acoustic guitar ensemble (July 11); and the Trio Vincent Bélanger, which offers a varied selection of works from Handel to Morricone (July 25). www.accesculture.com
- Renée Banville

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