La Scena Musicale

Friday, 21 June 2013

Gripping Il Tabarro and Pagliacci Pairing in St. Louis!

Il Tabarro
Emily Pulley/Tim Mix/Robert Brubaker/Matthew DiBattista
Dir: Ron Daniels
St. Louis Symphony/Ward Stare, conductor

Tim Mix/Robert Brubaker/Matthew DiBattista/Kelly Kaduce
Dir: Ron Daniels
St. Louis Symphony/Ward Stare, conductor

Opera Theatre of St. Louis
Loretto-Hilton Center
Thursday, June 13, 2013

“A married woman falls in love with a young man, and in a jealous rage, her possessive husband takes his revenge. Il Tabarro (The Cloak) and Pagliacci (Clowns). Two operas. The same story:” Brazilian director Ron Daniels succinctly gives us the gist of these two powerful music dramas. What a brilliant idea to present them together in a single evening - a little grim, yes, but wonderfully illuminating!

Pagliacci is most often paired with Cavalleria RusticanaIl Tabarro, as originally conceived by Puccini, was part of a triptych of one-act operas, the other two being Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi. This evening’s unusual pairing was a welcome fresh approach. In this instance, Il Tabarro came off as somewhat schematic, upstaged by Pagliacci, clearly the masterpiece.

OTSL Has a Winning Formula!
I have long admired Opera Theatre of St.Louis (OTSL) for carving out a viable niche for itself in the operatic world. As we all know, opera is expensive. Lavish productions with world-class singers require big donors and big audiences. Too often this process spirals out of control and the company ends up either cutting corners on quality or going bankrupt – perhaps both. In St. Louis, management has found a way to keep quality high and budgets in the black year after year. Now in its 38th season, this organization's success should serve as as model for companies all over the country.

Rather than spreading out its offerings throughout the year, Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ presents its season over six weeks in May and June. This year’s programming was typical; a lighter crowd-pleaser (Pirates of Penzance), a well-known opera (Pagliacci), a world premiere (Champion) and an obscure but accessible piece (Smetana’s The Kiss). This is an imaginative mix by any standard. I suspect ticket sales will continue to be strong and, based on the only evening I attended, audiences will be impressed with what they see and hear.

Timothy O'Leary, General Director
In addition to programming astutely, the management of Opera Theatre of St. Louis (General Director Timothy O’Leary, Music Director Stephen Lord, and Artistic Director James Robinson) has wisely chosen its venue - a small theater on the campus of Webster University in which audience members have the great advantage of being close to the action in any seat, and has engaged singers who, with rare exceptions, are not household names, but are invariably excellent, with fine voices and admirable dramatic skills. To boot, they are nearly always American. Clearly, the company is providing wonderful opportunities for talented young artists here at home.

For Il Tabarro and Pagliacci, the directors furthered the goal of developing home-grown talent by giving several artists leading roles in both operas. This tactic not only saved money but demonstrated the versatility of the performers involved: Tim Mix, Robert Brubaker and Matthew DiBattista were superb in both operas.

Another important element in Opera Theatre of St. Louis productions is the policy of performing operas in English. One could argue that in an era when English surtitles are commonly used by opera companies – OTSL included singing foreign operas in English is no longer necessary to make them intelligible to American audiences, but singing in English is a long OTSL tradition, appreciated by its audiences - so why change?

Not only theme, but also set design melded these two operas together. For Il Tabarro, we had a backdrop photo of a Seine river barge taken from Jean Vigo’s 1934 film Atalante. That backdrop was magically peeled away during the prelude to Pagliacci to reveal a circus setting.

Pagliacci Unquestionably the Masterpiece in this Pairing
Il Tabarro is an extremely somber opera about very unhappy people. It has neither the show-stopping arias that audiences have come to expect from Puccini, nor does it offer comic relief. The mood is pretty dark from beginning to end. Singing and acting in this production were on a fairly high level; that said, I did find Tim Mix’s portrayal of the cuckolded barge owner Michele more inward than it needed to be. His murder of both his wife and her lover at the end of the opera seemed somewhat over the top given his character portrayal to that point; I suspect, however, that director Ron Daniels would say “That is exactly the point! This is a man seething with suspicion who explodes when his suspicions are confirmed.” From my perspective, I would like to have seen a little more seething from the beginning.

Pagliacci, on the other hand, offers audiences a greater variety of moods and emotions and, in my opinion, much better music as well. Here, director Ron Daniels made a great work even greater. He encouraged his singers to create unforgettable characters and demonstrated considerable ingenuity in extending the playing area beyond the stage into the aisles. Another idea that worked well was having a team of mute clowns act as a sort of Greek chorus commenting in mime on the action.

In this opera, Tim Mix was as animated as he was stolid in Il Tabarro. He was outstanding as the fool, Tonio. Robert Brubaker as Canio was totally into his tortured and malevolent character and sang magnificently.

Kelly Kaduce's Nedda Outstanding!
Kelly Kaduce
To my mind, the truly outstanding performance of the evening - vocal and dramatic - was given by Minnesota soprano Kelly Kaduce as Nedda. In her first aria, I found her hand gestures excessive but during the play within a play she used her hands – and her voice – with remarkable virtuosity. Her high energy Nedda set the drama in motion and made her murder in the final scene incredibly shocking. Kaduce is a riveting presence on an operatic stage and I will watch her developing career with great interest.

Ward Stare was the conductor for both operas and he did a creditable job, as far as I could tell; unfortunately, one of the shortcomings of the Loretto-Hinton Center is the sound of the orchestra. The positioning of the players deep in the pit and partly under the stage helps to ensure excellent balance between singers and orchestra, but it also practically guarantees that loud climaxes have little or no impact. The explosive endings of both operas call for full-out fortissimos from nearly every member of the orchestra; it is the combination of double murders before our eyes and an orchestra reinforcing the drama with enormous volume that gives the horrific final moments of both tragedies their true operatic power.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis has gotten almost everything else right about running an opera company; perhaps it is time to give some thought to improving the sound of the orchestra. The music deserves it - indeed, the music requires it!

There is much to enjoy at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis: the picnics on the lawn before the performance; the partying with the artists at the end of the performance; the comprehensive, graphically outstanding program book; the imaginatively appointed lobby area, featuring large color photos of OTSL productions past and present, and last but not least, the excellent Preview presentation by repetiteur Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek before the performance. Lively and articulate, he knew both operas presented this evening intimately, and played and sang excerpts from each with impressive ease.

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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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Culture Days Hosts First National Congress on Culture

By Shira Gilbert

Culture Days
held its first National Congress on Culture on May 24 in Toronto, titled The Art of Engagement: Finding, Igniting and Keeping Audiences. Chair Antony Cimolino, Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, welcomed the 250 arts business leaders, journalists, municipal arts councils, community organizers and artists for a series of talks, panels and exchanges. An additional 750 people participated online over the course of the day via the live stream. This first “national conversation” comes after three successful years of the nation-wide cultural celebration, which links hundreds of thousands of artists and organizations across the country who present free, interactive arts activities over three days at the end of September. Culture Days, inspired by Quebec’s Journées de la culture weekend, which began in 1997, presented almost 7,000 events attended by 1.6 million people in 851 communities last year.
The morning keynote address was delivered by Ellis Jacob, President and CEO of Cineplex. While the choice of the movie theatre magnate seemed somewhat disconnected from Culture Days’ non-profit, grassroots model, Jacob presented a compelling business story of constant adaptability, citing a focus on relationships and passionate employees as key factors in Cineplex’s ongoing success, despite the current realities of home-viewing and streaming available to movie lovers. Jacob cited the Cineplex Mobile App among the company’s most impressive successes, with over 6 million downloads.

A panel discussion, “Igniting Passion,” was moderated by Gabe Gonda, Arts and Life Editor of The Globe and Mail. Gonda opened the discussion by speaking about recent “disruptions” in economics and government and how The Globe is committed to telling stories about the “disruptors” – those artists and organizations best taking advantage of the evolving landscape. Topics covered by the diverse panel, which fielded questions from the live and online audience, included the importance of forging connections within the community, and innovations in partnerships with business as well as with schools. Mark Lemay of Canadian Heritage urged organizers to draw inspiration from the artists themselves, who are “the experts in creative thinking.”

Robert Sirman
, Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, delivered a captivating address, praising Culture Days as “a microcosm for the arts ecosystem itself.” Speaking about the Canada Council’s intensified focus on public engagement, Sirman urged the audience to “increase our civic footprint.”

“Marketing Culture in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities, Breaking New Ground,” was the day’s most dynamic panel, moderated by Janice Price, CEO of Luminato. Following only brief remarks from the panelists, Price opened up the discussion to the audience for questions on marketing, branding and engaging audiences. The New York Times Deputy Editor for Culture, Lorne Manly, shared his organization’s new strategies in producing web content and creating interactivity with readers, many of whom are “hybrids” – consuming both traditional and online media. Che Kothari, founder of the hip hop Manifesto Festival was anti-marketing in his message, having built a dynamic following through inspiring individuals and building community through participation and word of mouth. Marketing executive and film and television producer Barry Avich likened Culture Days to “Participaction”–
the ubiquitous Canadian government fitness campaign of the 1970s – as a way for the country to be “culturally fit.”

A truly national panel discussion featured “Culture Days Success Stories,” moderated by CulturePEI’s Hank van Leeuwen. Several organizations and arts councils reported on successful events in their communities, ranging from Coast Tsimshian First Nations storytelling in northern British Columbia, to spontaneous accordion performances in Saskatoon, and inventive marketing and education partnerships in Sackville, New Brunswick.

The day-long event closed with the presentation of awards to lead sponsor Sun Life, and to Anthony Cimolino for his leadership. A new national Culture Days Awards program is to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Video of all of the National Congress sessions can be found at Culture Days takes place across the country on September 27, 28 and 29, 2013. The next National Congress will be held in Winnipeg in the spring of 2014.

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Songs in the Key of Gregory: A Vintage Experience in Montreal

By Naomi Gold
Photos by OSA Images

The Old Port of Montreal is now home to a new theatre, which was built to showcase the musical talents of Gregory Charles.   The Vintage Experience is a bilingual, interactive, multimedia production which actually begins when concertgoers buy their tickets.  A series of questions concerning musical preferences is posed at point of purchase and relayed to Charles, who then tailors his show accordingly.  Audience members also text in their choices during the show and are sometimes introduced; one thrilled texter actually performed onstage!  The results are sometimes hilarious and always entertaining.

Accompanied by an enthusiastic choir, Gregory Charles opened his show with a rousing gospel number on a makeshift stage in the VIP lounge.  The pianist/singer maintained major momo and mojo throughout the three-hour frenzied performance, which included several standing ovations and encores. He performed a truly ear-boggling array of melodies, harmonies, genres and, er, vintages. Sixties ballads, heavy metal, Quebecois pop, British rock, American classic rock, pop, jazz and gospel (to name a few): Charles covered them all. He also put his band through an exhaustive polyphony of 'Fab Four' faves. Notable Beatles highlights were Let it Be and Come Together.  In a piano playoff between Billy Joel &.Elton John, Charles plays a number of their hits, while viewers vote via text. No surprise, that quintessential piano man, Reginald Dwight handily won. In an extended tribute to Michael Jackson, Charles dazzles with his moonwalk manoeuvres and musical versatility.  

In a particularly poignant interlude, Charles pays homage to his mother who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. As he sings, a series of photos showing his mother caring for her infant son, is projected onscreen. Other photos of Charles as the young musician with his parents, bring a homey, intimate ambience to this concert.  The Vintage Experience  is sung 90% in English, spoken/texted 99% in French and is 100% terrific.  Above all, this 
soirée of über-highenergyGregorian-styled chant, is vintage Charles. 

A hot ticket, the Vintage Experience is playing to near-capacity crowds nightly except Mondays.  It runs until July 14th @TheVintage Theatre, on the water in the Old Port. Tickets can be purchased @The Vintage box office on site or by phone & online: 
514 316-1950 / 1-888-978-6471;   And don't forget to bring your all important smart phones.

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Monday, 17 June 2013

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 17 au 23 juin

Découvertes et explorations au Festival Montréal baroque
En plus des grands concerts, Montréal baroque propose aux festivaliers de nombreux concerts intimes, dont un récital de la flûtiste d’origine brésilienne
Cléa Galhano, artiste en résidence cette année, et un concert de cantates sacrées de Manuel de Zumaya par l’ensemble mexicain La Fontegara. Le festival est aussi l’occasion de passionnantes découvertes, comme cette Soirée sans frontières où les baroqueux s’éclatent en proposant la convergence des mondes de la musique ancienne et des arts numériques. Le Festival se terminera avec Élémens, le sublime ballet de Jean-Ferry Rebel dépeignant la création du monde, avec danseurs et saltimbanques.
- Renée Banville

Mondial de Laval : l’opéra Évangéline de Sylvain Cooke
Évangéline, le premier opéra du compositeur québécois Sylvain Cooke sur un livret de Thérèse Tousignant, sera présenté dans le cadre du Mondial de Laval à la salle André-Mathieu les vendredi 21 et samedi 22 juin 2012. La distribution comprend notamment la soprano Brigitte O’Halloran dans le rôle d’Évangéline et le ténor Andrezj Stec dans celui de Gabriel. Le compositeur dirigera l’Orchestre symphonique de Laval et la mise en scène a été confiée à Frédéric-Antoine Guimond. Cet événement lyrique est une production du Théâtre d’Art Lyrique de Laval en collaboration avec l’Orchestre symphonique de Laval.;
- Daniel Turp

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This Week in Montreal: June 17 to 23

Discovery and Exploration at the Montréal Baroque Festival

In addition to their Grand concerts series, the Montréal Baroque Festival will offer festival-goers more intimate programming, including a recital by this year’s artist-in-residence, Brazilian born Cléa Galhano, and a concert of sacred cantatas by Manuel de Zumaya performed by Mexican ensemble La Fontegara. This festival is a place of exploration and discovery; Soirée sans frontières will push the limits of baroque experience by combining early music with the digital arts. This year’s closing event is Élémens, a divine ballet by Jean-Ferry Rebel depicting the Creation, featuring dancers and acrobats.
- Renée Banville

Mondial de Laval: Sylvain Cooke’s Évangéline
Évangéline, the first opera by Québec composer Sylvain Cooke on a libretto by Thérèse Tousignant, will be performed as a part of the Mondial de Laval festival at Salle André-Mathieu on Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22. The cast includes soprano Brigitte O’Halloran in the title role and tenor Andrezj Stec as Gabriel. Staging is by Frédéric-Antoine Guimond and Sylvain Cooke conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Laval. This opera is a co-production by the Théâtre d’Art Lyrique de Laval and the Orchestre symphonique de Laval.; 
- Daniel Turp

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This Week in Toronto (June 17 - 23)

The ten-day Luminato Festival continues this week with a full slate of offerings. It opened last Friday June 14th with several important events, one of which was The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, a Robert Wilson directed piece on the performance artist. The last performance is tomorrow Monday June 17th at the Bluma Appel Theatre on Front Street. On Saturday, I attended a talk given by Wilson and Willem Dafoe at the Isabel Bader Theatre last Saturday, moderated by New York Times journalist John Rockwell. This talk, together with ones involving Joni Mitchell, Atom Egoyan, and architects Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, are billed TimesTalks Luminato, representing a new collaborative initiative between Luminato and the New York Times. Having heard Wilson's talk last year during Einstein on the Beach, I was looking forward to his inimitable wit and style this time around and I wasn't disappointed. And it was good to hear Dafoe speak about collaborating with Wilson and Abramovic.  
Willem Dafoe and Robert Wilson appear at Luminato TimesTalk with moderator John Rockwell

On opening day last Friday, I also attended Concerto for Piano and Pasteboards, a magic show at RCM's Mazzoleni Hall featuring Spanish magician Miguel Puga. A smallish crowd was thoroughly entertained by Puga who did magic tricks to the accompaniment of a pianist, complete with projections and light displays. One of the most intriguing offerings this week is Feng Yi Ting

a contemporary opera (with music by Guo Wenjing) that explores the Chinese tale of Diao Chan, one of the four beauties in Chinese culture. It's directed by Canadian filmmaker/stage director Atom Egoyan. Three performances at the MacMillan Theatre June 20, 21, and 22 at 8 pm. There will be a pre-performance talk at 7:10 pm. 

Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell (Photo: courtesy of Luminato 2013)

Perhaps the biggest headliner this week are the two shows of Joni: A Portrait in Song - A Birthday Happening Live at Massey Hall. This legendary Canadian singer/songwriter turns 70 this year, and to celebrate, Luminato is bringing together an all-star lineup of musicians and vocalists interpreting the songs of Mitchell. It has also just been announced that she will recite a new poem with musical accompaniment by her long-time collaborator, Brian Blade and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. These two shows are likely to sell out. June 18 and 19  7:30 pm at Massey Hall. 

The Mark Morris Dance Group

For dance fans, Luminato is presenting L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, an interpretation of the Handel oratorio by choreographer Mark Morris coupled with poetry by John Milton and paintings by William Blake. This fully staged piece involves two dozen dancers, a 26 member chorus, and four soloists (sopranos Karina Gauvin and Shannon Mercer, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Douglas Williams) and a full orchestra. Three shows on June 21, 22, and 23 (mat.). 
Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The Luminato Festival Hub is David Pecaut Square, right next to Roy Thomson Hall, the home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The TSO's participation this year is once again a free outdoor concert. Since 2013 is the centennial year for both Verdi and Wagner, the TSO will present a program of works by these two composers, plus a piece by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer who turns 80 this year. Among the works to be performed are selections from Lohengrin, Tannhauser, La forza del destino, Die Walkure, Il Trovatore, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Nabucco, and the Triumphal March from Aida. David Pecaut Square is going to be packed so arrive early!

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