La Scena Musicale

Friday, 24 May 2013

ODYSSEO: Cavalia's equestrian extravaganza explores equine-human bond

BY Naomi Gold
Photos by François Bergeron & JF Leblanc

Cavalia's latest ode to equines traces the evolution of man's relationship to horses throughout history.  The surreal voyage begins in the Mongolian-Manchurian grassland ecoregion, where grazing, contented horses join riders for the first leg of their mystical tour to Monument Valley.  Dressage riders choreograph their caravan of equines through an ethereal dreamscape, and spectators are captivated. Using multimedia, high tech special effects and 18 projectors, the stage transforms from the Serengeti in Africa to Northern glaciers, from the Sahara to Easter island. 

Harnessing mega-horsepower with his tour de force of a show, artistic director Normand Latourelle has created an almost hypnotic experience for viewers. Riders and '
horse-whisperers', acrobats, aerialists, contortionists and artists perform in perfect harmony with their equine comrades.  And so much so, the result is a quasi-anthropomorphic partnership akin to 'horse ballet'. Brute Herculean horsepower -- trained and expertly tamed -- marries grace, agility and poise in this poetic production.

Odysseo is a sweeping, epic show of gargantuan proportions; it bespeaks grandeur and grandiosity. Some 10,000 tons of stone, earth and sand create a grand staging area on which 67 horses and 46 artists perform. The production is staged as a dream sequence, and culminates in a water show, featuring a 300,000 litre lake onstage! In this humane world, a gentler incarnation of nature unfolds, while performer and spectator alike are catapulted to unbridled joy.  Ergo, the audience on opening night responded with a fever-pitched, standing ovation.   

Odysseo takes up residence in Laval from May 14th to June 9th.  Trot along highway 15 to Souvenir Boulevard in Chomedey, Laval where Cavalia's trademark marquees dot the skyline.  Prices begin @$50 for children, and matinees are offered, in addition to evening shows.    The box office offers 24-hour daily service @ 1-866-999-8111 or via   VIP packages, which include preferred seating, a lavish dinner, open bar, desserts and a tour of the stables, are also available.  Tickets are going fast, so horse sense says: step up that trot to a gallop!

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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Thrilling DSO/van Zweden Wagner Tribute in Dallas!

by Paul E. Robinson

Lohengrin: Prelude to Act I
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act III
Die Meistersinger: Prelude to Act I
Die Walküre: Act I (complete)

Heidi Melton , soprano (Sieglinde)
Clifton Forbis, tenor (Siegmund)
Eric Owens, bass (Hunding)
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden

Meyerson Symphony Center
Dallas, Texas
May 19, 2013

Since Wagner’s greatness as a composer has long been indisputable, and his music, to this day, is frequently played, we don’t need a special celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth to be reminded who he is or what his music sounds like; that said, it would certainly make sense to spend some time considering what makes this man unique and his music worth studying and playing far into the future. The Dallas Symphony didn’t build such an event around Wagner last week, but it did fashion a concert tribute that was second to none.

DSO/van Zweden Give Dallas Definitive Wagner
What made the Dallas concerts so memorable was the authoritative conducting of Jaap van Zweden. This extraordinary Dutch conductor has spent the past five years transforming the Dallas Symphony into a world-class ensemble and they recently toured Europe together, winning rave reviews from Amsterdam to Vienna. Their Mahler, Bruckner, Bach, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky have been remarkable; this Wagner program, however, reached a new level of accomplishment.

Jaap van Zweden has not spent much time in an opera house – and Wagner is primarily an opera composer – but in years past, he regularly played complete Wagner operas in concert with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, performances which have become the stuff of legend in Holland.

What makes van Zweden’s Wagner great is his command of the musical style. This conductor knows how to pace the music so that there is an irrefutable logic to it all. He does not change tempo simply for effect, but rather because and when the music and/or text require it. 

Speaking of text, van Zweden has an uncanny sense of how to balance Wagner’s orchestra so that every word is clearly heard. I was reminded of how the critics marveled when Karajan conducted Die Walküre at the Met back in the 1960s. They called it a “chamber music approach” that made the score fresh again. Van Zweden’s Die Walküre had this clarity too, but not at the expense of the big moments. Here too, van Zweden was amazing. The climaxes invariably grew organically from mere whispers to hair-raising explosions, and again - recalling Karajan - while retaining a rounded blend of sound, especially in the brass.

Lohengrin Preludes Leave Us Wanting More
Van Zweden began the concert with three orchestral excerpts and each one was given a superb performance. The Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin begins with quiet violins in their highest register. This is difficult music to play in tune and with sufficient beauty of sound, and many orchestras have revealed their weaknesses in such passages. These days, the violinists of the Dallas Symphony play this music with the utmost confidence, as they did this afternoon.

Wagner’s scores are filled with original touches of orchestration and that is especially true of Lohengrin. The ethereal string passage at the very beginning is a prime example but there is, in this piece, also a little master class in how to use cymbals. We all know they can make a loud and exciting noise, but Wagner had them play softly – a mere swish in Lohengrin - to contribute a truly 'heavenly' sound. Wagner uses them both ways in the exquisite Prelude to Act I.

And what can one say about the overly-familiar Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin? In this performance, van Zweden galvanized his musicians to play as if possessed. It was thrilling! How did he do it? By sheer force of personality, of course, but also by insisting on rhythmic exactitude, and by adding little crescendi here and there to sustain the forward motion. Great conducting and great playing. The only thing wrong with the Lohengrin Prelude to Act III in Dallas last week was that this music didn’t continue as it does in the complete opera - with the "Bridal March." Van Zweden left us wanting to hear him conduct more of Lohengrin.

And did I mention that for these Wagner concerts, the DSO trumpet section was led by a guest of great distinction, Christopher Martin (Photo: right), principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony? The DSO’s superb principal trumpet Ryan Anthony is on leave of absence due to illness, and other fine trumpeters from around the country are helping out. Not so long ago, Martin and Jaap van Zweden collaborated in Chicago on the first performance of Christopher Rouse’s Trumpet Concerto. By all accounts, it was a great triumph for all concerned.

Finally, to end the first half of this all-Wagner program in Dallas, we had a performance of the Prelude to Die Meistersinger. Here again the playing was deeply inspired. Van Zweden found the perfect tempo, allowing for all the contrapuntal lines to be heard and expressively shaped. The music also had an inexorable forward motion and a dance quality that wiped away any suggestion of military marches, reminding us that Die Meistersinger is, after all, a comic opera.

Die Walküre Brings Down the House!
After all this great music and great playing, I wondered if the second half of the concert might be a let-down. Not a chance. In fact, in programming the complete first act of Die Walküre, van Zweden gave the audience an opportunity to dig down even further into the genius of Wagner. Unlike Lohengrin and Die Meistersinger, Die Walküre makes extensive use of what Wagner called “leading motives,” or themes associated with particular characters or ideas in the opera. The way Wagner uses these musical bits, transforming and combining them, is one of the supreme accomplishments in the history of music.

For this concert performance van Zweden chose three nearly-ideal collaborators: Forbis, Melton and Owens. Tenor Clifton Forbis (Photo: right) is one of foremost interpreters of the role of Siegmund in our time. His Tristan is equally distinguished, as Dallas music lovers already know, since he recently sang the role with the Dallas Opera. Mr. Forbis has the further distinction of being an Associate Professor and Chairman of Voice at the Meadows School of Music at SMU in Dallas. Soprano Heidi Melton is also a world-renowned Wagnerian and has often sung at the Met. Bass Eric Owens has sung Alberich in Wagner's Ring at the Met, and is a veteran of major roles in works by John Adams.

All three artists contributed significantly to the success of this performance of Die Walküre. Mr. Forbis shook the rafters with his cries of “Wälse! Wälse” and delivered his lyrical passages with palpable warmth and exquisite beauty. Ms. Melton matched Mr. Forbis’ ardor, and beauty of sound. Mr. Owens was appropriately menacing as Hunding.

These three fine artists combined with conductor Jaap van Zweden to make this a gripping drama from beginning to end. The lack of sets and costumes was no problem at all for such charismatic performers, or for the audience. The acting was superb! Totally mesmerizing! Kudos also to the fabulous Meyerson Symphony Center acoustics for authentically registering the rich colors and dynamics of Wagner's music.

The Maestro and DSO's Outstanding Strings 
Jaap van Zweden’s understanding of string instruments is rapidly becoming known to leading orchestras around the world as they encounter this exceptional conductor for the first time. Perhaps it is not surprising, considering that he started playing the violin at the age of 7, studied in New York with the fabled Dorothy Delay – she also taught Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Sarah Chang, and Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg among others – became concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at 19 and concertized extensively as a solo violinist. 

In this Wagner concert, one marveled at the richness of the string tone, the variety of bowing techniques, and the range of attack; that is to say, not every loud chord was played with a whiplash attack. Often the attack was “spread” in the manner of many European orchestras, thus giving a more expressive sound to individual chords where appropriate.

Concertmaster on this occasion (chief concertmaster Alexander Kerr was unavailable) was Nathan Olson. Olson led the section very well indeed. There were also fine solo contributions from cellist Christopher Adkins, oboist Erin Hannigan, clarinetist Gregory Raden, guest principal horn Philip Munds of the Baltimore Symphony, the afore-mentioned guest principal trumpet Christopher Martin, and bass trumpeter Derek Hawkes.

The enlarged horn section had a fine afternoon, with the Wagner tuba contingent led by David Heyde being consistently in tune, rhythmically incisive and frighteningly loud when necessary.

For Something More…
Three of the Wagner live performances led by Jaap van Zweden mentioned earlier in this blog are available as commercial recordings. Lohengrin (QuattroLive) is available either on CD or DVD, Die Meistersinger (QuattroLive) is available as a CD set, and so too is Parsifal (Challenge Classics CC72519). They are wonderful performances.

The week before the Dallas Wagner concert reviewed in this blog Jaap van Zweden was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic at concerts in Berlin and Amsterdam. Van Zweden was invited to fill in at the last moment for an ailing Mariss Jansons. One of the Berlin performances was videotaped in HD for the BPO’s Digital Concert Hall. It is available for viewing for a fee of US$12. If you are interested, go to Van Zweden conducts the BPO in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Brahms Symphony No. 1. Both performances are excellent.

Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, “Classical Airs.”

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Monday, 20 May 2013

Cette semaine à Montréal : 20 - 26 mai

Festival de Musique de Chambre de Montréal (FMCM)
La saison des festivals de musique d'été s'ouvre avec le FMCM, dont la 18e édition se déroule jusqu’au 1er juin à l'église anglicane Saint-Georges. Fidèle à la tradition, le directeur artistique Denis Brott ne nous ménage pas les surprises. On pourra entendre entre autres les quatuors Emerson et Fine Arts, les Swingle Singers, le pianiste Jean-Philippe Collard et Oliver Jones. Le marathon de quatre heures est consacré cette année à Tchaïkovski.
- Renée Banville

Manon de Jules Massenet par l’Opéra De Montréal
Pour la dernière production de sa saison 2012-2013, l’Opéra de Montréal présente Manon de Jules Massenet. Après avoir été acclamée à l’Opéra national de Paris dans ce rôle l’année dernière, Marianne Fiset incarnera Manon dans la production montréalaise.  La distribution comprendra également Bruno Ribeiro (Des Grieux), Gordon Bintner (Lescaut), Alain Coulombe (Le Comte des Grieux), Alexandre Sylvestre (De Brétigny), Guy Bélanger (Guillot), Frédérique Drolet (Poussette), Florie Valiquette (Javotte) et Emma Char (Rosette). Le chef de l’Orchestre symphonique de Québec Fabien Gabel dirigera l’Orchestre métropolitain et la mise en scène sera de Brian Deedrick. Quatre représentations auront lieu à la salle Wilfrid-Pelletier les 18, 21, 23 et 25 mai 2013 à 19 h 30.
- Daniel Turp

Harmonies du Soir avec l’ensemble Appassionata
L’ensemble Appassionata clôture son cycle Haydn le mercredi 22 mai avec un concert sous le thème « Harmonie du soir ».
Nathalie Paulin, soprano, Michelle Sutton, mezzo-soprano, David Menzies, ténor et Cairan Ryan, baryton, seront les solistes. Les Commonwealth Singers se joindront aux membres d’Appassionata pour ce concert qui aura lieu à la salle Pierre-Mercure à 20 h.
- Daniel Turp

Une fête chorale à la française par I Musici
Sous la direction de son chef Jean-Marie Zeitouni, l’ensemble I Musici de Montréal proposera pour terminer sa saison une « Fête chorale à la française » le 24 mai 2013 à 20 h. Se retrouveront sur scène la mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne et le baryton Phillip Addis dans un programme d’extraits d’œuvres de Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Ernest Chausson et Joseph Canteloube.
- Daniel Turp

L'oratorio Theodora par les Violons Du Roy
La présentation par Les Violons du Roy et la Chapelle de Québec de Bernard Labadie de l’oratorio Theodora de Georg Friedrich Haendel sera sans aucun doute le plus grand événement de la saison lyrique en ce qu’il rassemblera sur une même scène Marie-Nicole Lemieux et Karina Gauvin à la salle Raoul-Jobin du Palais Montcalm à Québec les 23 et 24 mai à 20 h et à la Maison symphonique de Montréal le 25 mai à 20 h. Se joindront aux deux grandes artistes lyriques québécoises le contre-ténor Iestyn Davies, le ténor Allan Clayton et le baryton-basse Andrew Foster-Williams.
- Daniel Turp

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This week in Montreal: May 20 – 26

Montreal Chamber Music Festival (MCMF/FMCM)
The musical festival season opens with the MCMF. The 18th edition takes place from May 9 to June 1 at St. George’s Anglican Church. True to tradition, artistic director Denis Brott spares us no surprises. Performers include the Emerson and Fine Arts Quartets, the Swingle Singers, and pianists Jean-Philippe Collard and Oliver Jones, to name a few. This year’s four-hour marathon is dedicated to Tchaikovsky.
- Renée Banville

Jules Massenet’s Manon at the Opéra de Montréal
For the final production of the 2012-13 season, the Opéra de Montréal presents Jules Massenet’s Manon. After an acclaimed performance of the role at the Opéra National de Paris last year, Marianne Fiset sings Manon in the Montreal production. The cast also includes Bruno Ribeiro (Des Grieux), Gordon Binter (Lescaut), Alain Coulombe (Le Comte des Grieux), Alexandre Sylvestre (De Brétigny), Guy Bélanger (Guillot), Frédérique Drolet (Pousette), Florie Valiquette (Javotte) and Emma Char (Rosette). The conductor of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, Fabien Gabel, conducts the Orchestre Métropolitain and Brian Deedrick provides stage direction. Four performances take place at salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on May 18, 21, 23, and 25 at 7:30 pm.
- Daniel Turp

Evening Harmonies with Ensemble Appassionata
Ensemble Appassionata closes its Haydn cycle on Wednesday, May 22 with an “Evening Harmonies” themed concert. Nathalie Paulin, soprano, Michelle Sutton, mezzo-soprano, David Manzies, tenor, and Cairan Ryan, baritone, will be the soloists. The Commonwealth Singers join the members of Appassionata for this concert, which takes place at Salle Pierre-Mercure at 8 pm.
- Daniel Turp

I Musici’s Choral Celebration
Under the baton of conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the I Musici chamber ensemble closes its season with “Fête chorale à la française” on May 24 at 8 pm. On stage are mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne and baritone Phillip Addis with a program of excerpts from works by Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Ernest Chausson, and Joseph Canteloube.
- Daniel Turp

Les Violons Du Roy Present the Oratorio Theodora
Presented by Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie’s Chapelle de Québec, this production of G. F. Handel’s oratorio Theodora will doubtlessly be the biggest event of the lyric season, uniting Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Karina Gauvin on the same stage at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City May 23 and 24, and the Montreal Symphony House on May 25 at 8 pm. Joining the two great artists are countertenor Iestyn Davies, tenor Allan Clayton, and baritone-bass Andrew Foster-Williams.
- Daniel Turp

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This Week in Toronto (May 20 - 26)

Baritone Gerald Finley sings Brahms German Requiem with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (photo:

The music scene this week is particularly rich in song, with a number of must-see events.  There are many wonderful baritones in Canada, but if I had to pick just one, it will have to be Gerald Finley, who combines a great voice with exceptional artistry. I try to catch his performances as often as I can, which is not enough!  I travel to hear him as he doesn't sing in Toronto very much. The last couple of times I heard him was at a Met Doctor Atomic and in the title role of Don Giovanni in the crazy 'container' production in Munich two years ago. So this three performances of Brahms German Requiem with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra represent a great opportunity to hear this singer in a repertoire that is perfectly right for him. Incidentally, he just finished another run of the Munich Don Giovanni last week, and he said that it was his last outing as the Don. He's retiring his Mozart roles and moving into Wagner. He has already sung Sachs in Glyndebourne and is slated to sing his first Amfortas. Also I understand that he'll make his long overdue debut with the Canadian Opera Company in a future season, in the title role of Falstaff. This is great good news for Canadian opera fans. Performances of the German Requiem are on May 22, 23, and 25 at Roy Thomson Hall. Conductor is Peter Oundjian. The soprano soloist is Klara Ek. A second work, Peter Lieberson's Songs of Love and Sorrow, is added to the Wednesday and Thursday performances. These are the "second" Neruda Songs, a follow up to the original ones Lieberson composed for his late wife, mezzo Lorraine Hunt. She passed away in 2006 after a long battle with cancer, and Peter Lieberson himself died of cancer in 2011. These performances of Songs of Love and Sorrow will be the Canadian premieres.

Bruce Ubukata and Stephen Ralls (Photo:

Well, this Sunday will be very sad for the legions of fans of the Aldeburgh Connection. A Time There Was, the third and last installment of their Britten Festival of Song takes place on Sunday May 26 at Walter Hall.  The event is not surprisingly already completely sold out. Soloists are soprano Virginia Hatfield, countentenor Scott Belluz, tenor Colin Ainsworth and baritone Geoffrey Sirett. They join members of the Canadian Children's Opera Company under artistic director Ann Cooper Gay, and Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata of course,  in an afternoon of Britten, to honour and acknowledge with thanks the "tremendous debt we owe (Britten) and his partner, interpreter and muse, Peter Pears, the Founding Patron of the Aldeburgh Connection."

A total of five members of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio will bid farewell this coming Thursday at a noon hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. They are sopranos Mireille Asselin and Ambur Braid, mezzo Rihab Chaieb, tenor Christopher Enns, bass-baritone Neil Craighead, and pianists Jenna Douglas and Timothy Cheung. These artists have contributed splendidly during their tenure at the Ensemble Studio and they have bright futures ahead of them. Particularly noteworthy are sopranos Ambur Braid and Mireille Asselin. Braid is now on the roster of Columbia Artists, and has been engaged to sing Violetta and Konstanze next season.  Asselin is leaving for the Metropolitan Opera in late fall as the cover for German soprano Christine Schaefer, as the saucy Adele in a new production of Die Fledermaus. Mezzo Rihab Chaieb and bass-baritone Neil Craighead shared First Prize at the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards just last week. On the farewell recital programs are works by Britten, Vaughan Williams, Honegger, and Barber. Full details at

 Soprano Mireille Asselin  

 Soprano Ambur Braid 
Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb

Soprano Anna Christy (photo: Dario Acosta)

The lovely voice of soprano Anna Christy was heard in the COC Lucia di Lammermoor the past month. If you haven't heard her yet, you'll have two more chances this week. The ninth and last performance of Lucia is on Friday May 24 7:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre.  You can also hear her for free, at the Tuesday May 21 noon hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. With Liz Upchurch at the piano, Christy sings a recital called Bel Canto Bliss, appropriately enough! On the program are songs and arias by Handel, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Wolf-Ferrari, Bolcom and Copland.
Go to  for program details. As the opera season winds down this week, you can still catch the last Salome on Wednesday May 22, and three more performances of Dialogues of the Carmelites on May 21, 23, and 25.

Piano master Udo Steingraeber 

It was only a few weeks ago when Paolo Fazioli of the fabled Fazioli brand was in town to dedicate the new Fazioli grand at the Shangri-La Hotel.  Now, piano master Udo Steingraeber, of the equally legendary Steingraeber & Sohne, will be in town under the auspices of the Canadian Music Centre and Grand Piano House, Inc., in An Evening with Udo Steingraeber.  This German piano brand is nearly 200 years old. It was first introduced in Canada in 2009 and has since been used by famous musicians performing in town, such as Louis Lortie at Koerner Hall, Andre Laplante at the Glenn Gould Studio, and Valentina Lisitsa at the Lanaudiere Festival. The event will take place at the Canadian Music Centre on 20 St. Joseph Street in downtown Toronto. In addition to meeting Mr. Steingraeber, there will be a mini-concert by pianist Adam Sherkin played on CMC's Steingraeber & Sohne C-212 seven-foot grand piano. Wednesday May 22 6:30 pm. Full details at

- Joseph So

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