La Scena Musicale

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

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:
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.
- 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.
- Renée Banville

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