La Scena Musicale

Monday, 28 January 2013

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 28 - Feb. 3)

Canadian tenor Ben Heppner returns to the COC 

This is one of those weeks so jam-packed with important concerts that I wished I could clone myself! The biggest news on the local opera scene this week is undoubtedly the opening of the winter season of the Canadian Opera Company, and in particular the return of Canadian tenor Ben Heppner to the COC in Tristan und Isolde.  Heppner last sang a complete opera for the Company back in the 1995-6 season, as Canio in Pagliacci. Considered one of the great heldentenors of our time, it's high time Heppner sings his signature role in his adopted hometown of Toronto. And he'll be back next season as Peter Grimes. His Isolde is the German soprano Melanie Diener making her role debut.  I've heard Ms. Diener several times in Europe, in Mozart and as the Marschallin, but she's now moving into a heavier repertoire. I saw the working rehearsal of Act 2 and she was terrific. The rest of a very strong cast include Alan Held (Kurwenal), Franz Josef Selig (King Marke), and Daveda Karanas (Brangane) Johannes Debus conducts, replacing the indisposed Jiri Belohlavek. This is the famous Peter Sellars production with video by Bill Viola that wowed audiences in Paris. Opening night is Jan. 29, followed by a second performance on Feb. 2 at the Four Seasons Centre.  (Later in the run, American soprano Margaret Jane Wray and German tenor Michael Baba take over the principal roles.) This run of Tristan is the first by the COC in something like 25 years, and Wagnerites near and far are converging in Toronto for this important event. I think opening night is sold out, although it doesn't hurt to call to see if there are returns or rush seats.

An important event happening this week is the Wagner Symposium, Wagner and Adaptation, that takes place Thursday Jan. 31 to the morning of Saturday Feb. 2 at U of T.  This is being presented by the Opera Exchange. World-renowned Wagner scholars, both Canadian and international, will be participating in the Symposium.  On Saturday morning, soprano Margaret Jane Wray and tenor Michael Baba, the alternate principals of the COC Tristan und Isolde, will be interviewed. For this and other exciting details of the conference, go to

The Wagner opera is paired with Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, starring tenor Michael Schade in the title role. Others in the cast include American mezzo Isabel Leonard (Sesto) in her COC debut, soprano Mireille Asselin (Servilia), soprano Keri Alkema (Vitellia), mezzo Wallis Giunta (Annio) and bass Robert Gleadow (Publio). Up and coming conductor Daniel Cohen and COC's own Derek Bate share the conducting duties. The show opens on Sunday Feb. 3rd.

The luminous mezzo of Isabel Leonard appears as Sesto (Photo: IMG Artists)

On Thursday Jan. 31, as part of the COC noon hour free concert Chamber Music Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, several artists of the COC Orchestra present A Wagner Celebration, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner. On the program is the glorious Siegfried Idyll, with thematic material drawn from the Act 3 love duet in Siegfried.  I've heard this played several times with full orchestra, but the chamber version is more intimate and actually more moving. You will also hear Mozart's Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds. Click on for the program.  Be sure to show up an hour early to get a seat of this very popular event.

On Thursday Jan. 31 and Saturday Feb. 2, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, coupled with the late Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs, composed for his late and much lamented wife, mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. The Thursday concert marks its Canadian premiere. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano is the guest conductor. The soloist is mezzo Kelley O'Connor, who sang with the TSO in the Mozart Requiem last season. She is a much admired interpreter of the Neruda Songs.

French soprano Sandrine Piau makes her Toronto debut with Tafelmusik (Photo: Antoine Le Grand/Naive Records)

Another important Toronto debut is that of French soprano Sandrine Piau, who is soloist with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in a program of Vivaldi and Handel under the direction of Jeanne Lamon, on Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 2, and 3 (matinee) at the Trinity St. Paul's Centre. A specialist in the Baroque repertoire, Piau is much admired for her exquisite voice and superb coloratura. She has recorded widely for Harmonia Mundi, Naive, EMI, Erato and other labels. Incidentally, U understand the Trinity St. Paul's Centre is going to be renovated!

As I reported last week, American soprano Angela Meade is making her Toronto debut at Koerner Hall with the Ontario Philharmonic under the baton of Marco Parisotto. Meade is singing Four Last Songs, a cycle tailor-made for her absolutely gorgeous voice. Also on the program is Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. Too bad it conflicts directly with Tristan und Isolde opening night, but for those of you not going to the Wagner, this concert is not to be missed!

Esprit Orchestra, a champion of new music, is presenting an interesting and eclectic program that combines Claude Vivier's Orion with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, plus the world premiere of Phantom Suns, a new work by Paul Frehner commissioned by Esprit. The concert takes place at Koerner Hall on Jan. 31 8 pm.

Canadian pianist Louis Lortie makes a welcome return to Toronto

Two French Canadian pianists, Louis Lortie and Helene Mercier join forces for an afternoon of duo piano and piano four hands on Sunday Feb. 3 3 pm at Koerner Hall. They are playing works by  Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Liszt.

Last but not least, Baroque fans can enjoy a concert performance of Handel's Orlando, presented by Voicebox/Opera in Concert, on Feb. 3 2:30 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre.  Kevin Mallon and his Aradia Ensemble leads countertenor David Trudgen in the title role, as well as soprano Virginia Hatfield and countertenor Scott Belluz. This is one of those operas that don't get staged very often because of the fiendishly difficult vocal writing - not too many operas call for two countertenors!  So this is a unique chance to hear this piece live.

- by Joseph So

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