La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 17 October 2013

La boheme Revisited: American tenor Michael Fabiano Makes Sensational COC Debut

La boheme Revisited: American tenor Michael Fabiano Makes Sensational COC Debut

- Joseph So

Four Seasons Centre / October 16, 2013
Joyce El-Khoury (Mimi)
Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo)
Simone Osborne (Musetta)
Phillip Addis (Marcello)
Cameron McPhail (Schaunard)
Tom Corbeil (Colline)
Thomas Hammons (Benoit/Alcindoro)
Owen McCausland (Parpignol)
Carlo Rizzi / Conductor

Tenor Michael Fabiano (Photo: Dario Acosta)

You know that saying - everybody loves a tenor?  A good tenor that is!  And good tenors are decidedly not in short supply at the COC. The season opening La boheme has not one, not two, but three tenors as Rodolfo. Since I love tenors as much as anyone, I decided to check out all three. The Rodolfo on opening night on Oct. 3 was Dimitri Pittas, who is of course well known to COC audiences as the Duke in Rigoletto the previous season. Last evening we had the Company debut of Michael Fabiano. Opera lovers will remember him featured front and center in the documentary The Audition, which was shown as part of the Met in HD series three seasons ago. I have heard him live on several occasions. He wowed the Opera Lyra Ottawa audience last season as Rodolfo, opposite soprano Joyce El-Khoury as Mimi. And just last August, I heard him sing an impassioned Alfredo in La traviata at the Santa Fe Opera.  But nothing prepared me for the experience of last evening.  Fabiano was simply sensational, a healthy sounding tenor of beauty and volume, with squillo to burn. His "Che gelida manina" with its thrilling top C was impressive - no downward transposition there.  The audience went wild, a rare occurrence in Toronto.  In the Act 3 duet with Mimi, he did some nice soft singing, showing that he has the mezza voce to go with his impressive fortes, even though in this performance, he chose to make a big sound most of the time. Altogether an auspicious COC debut. Great tenor voices don't grow on trees - I hope he will be back.

Whenever you have an outstanding debut like this, it tends to overshadow the other singers. But I am happy to report that the alternate cast was very strong. Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury was a scintillating and flamboyant Musetta on opening night, so it's interesting to see her reign in her exuberant personality as the fragile Mimi. The voice is a lovely one with a particularly clear and warm middle, an ingratiating Italianate timbre, with the requisite morbidezza so necessary for Puccini. A sensitive musician, she uses her instrument with taste and sensitivity. Act 3's "Donde lieta usci" was lovely, as was the rest of the duet with Rodolfo. Her Act 4 death scene was suitably touching.  Former COC Ensemble Studio soprano Simone Osborne took on Musetta (I believe) for the first time and she sang quite well, given it was her first outing. She also acted beautifully, even if her coquette was more prom-queen wholesome than lowdown and sexy. If one were to quibble, the staging of Musetta's entrance in the Cafe Momus scene is a complete letdown - she walks in almost unnoticed. Where's the drama? Where's the grandeur?  The same can be said in the staging for "Quando m'en vo."

The men included several role or company debuts. Canadian baritone Phillip Addis, heard earlier in the run as Schaunard (his company debut), tried Marcello on for size, impressing everyone with his robust and well focused baritone. His sound may not be warm and mellow like Joshua Hopkins' (the other Marcello) but Addis' baritone has more volume. The very promising Ensemble Studio baritone Cameron McPhail was an engaging Schaunard; his lyric baritone has an attractive, slightly veiled timbre, not to mention that he was stellar in the Act 4 horseplay.  As before, Carlo Rizzi proved an old hand in Puccini and he knows how to tug at the heartstrings but always without any trace of vulgarity. The orchestra responded well to him. I only wished the audience would refrain from applause until after has music has stopped - enthusiasm is one thing, but one would want to hear every note of this divine score.  Additional performances with this cast on Oct. 19, 27, 30.

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Monday, 14 October 2013

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 14 au 20 octobre

JEAN-GUIHEN QUEYRAS EN RÉCITAL À PRO MUSICA Il avait séduit le public montréalais en 2010 lors de son intégrale des suites de Bach. Il revient le 14 octobre, de nouveau en récital solo, dans des pages de Bach, Cassadó et Kodály. Lucie Renaud DEUX

PROGRAMMES THÉMATIQUES POUR L’OSM Pour souligner le 450e anniversaire de Shakespeare, l’OSM propose les 15 et 17 octobre un programme comprenant notamment l’ouverture du Songe d’une nuit d’été de Mendelssohn, des extraits du ballet Roméo et Juliette de Prokofiev et la création de The Isle is Full of Noise du compositeur canadien Christos Hatzis, inspirée par La Tempête. Les 30 et 31 octobre, quatre miniatures de compositeurs canadiens seront entendues (avec projections de toiles) dans le cadre du programme Tableaux d’une exposition qui comprend l’œuvre éponyme de Moussorgski. Lucie Renaud

L’OM ET BEATRICE RANA: DEUX CONCERTS EN TOURNÉE AVEC LE CAM Le concert de l’Orchestre Métropolitain du 18 octobre sera présenté dans deux arrondissements, grâce à la tournée du Conseil des arts de Montréal. Au programme : Jeux de Debussy, le Concerto pour piano no 2 de Prokofiev, interprété par Beatrice Rana, lauréate du 1er prix du CMIM en 2011 et Le Sacre du printemps de Stravinski, dont on fête cette année le centenaire de création. Rivière-des-Prairies, salle Désilets du Cégep Marie-Victorin, 17 octobre, 18 h 30 / Ahuntsic, salle Marguerite-Bourgeoys, Collège Regina Assumpta, 19 octobre, 19 h 30. Renée Banville

LE PIANISTE AMÉRICAIN GARRICK OHLSSON AU LMMC Seul Américain à avoir remporté la médaille d’or au Concours international Chopin à Varsovie en 1970 et salué pour ses interprétations du répertoire romantique, Garrick Ohlsson présentera son deuxième récital au Ladies’ Morning Musical Club. Salle Pollack, 20 octobre, 15 h 30. Renée Banville

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This Week in Montreal: October 14 to 20

Jean-Guihen Queyras recital at Pro Musica Queryas seduced Montreal audiences in 2010 with his performance of the complete Bach suites. He returns October 14, once again in a solo recital, playing the music of Bach, Cassadó and Kodály. Lucie Renaud

Two thematic programs at the OSM To mark Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary, the OSM offers a concert including the overture of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, and the premiere of This Isle is Full of Noise by Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, inspired by The Tempest, on October 15 and 17. On October 30 and 31, four miniatures by Canadian composers will be performed (with a projection of paintings) as part of the concert Pictures at an Exhibition, which includes the eponymous Mussorgsky piece. Lucie Renaud

The OM & Beatrice Rana: two concerts on tour with the CAM The October 18 Orchestre Métropolitain concert will be presented in two boroughs, thanks to the Conseil des arts de Montréal tour. On the program: Debussy’s Jeux, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 performed by Beatrice Rana, winner of the MIMC grand prize in 2011, and Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, whose centennial anniversary is celebrated this year. Rivière-des-Prairies, Salle Désilets at the Cégep Marie-Victorin, October 17 at 6:30 pm / Ahuntsic, Salle Marguerite-Bourgeoys, Collège Regina Assumpta, October 19 at 7:30 pm. Renée Banville

American pianist Garrick Ohlsson at the LMMC Praised for his performances of the Romantic repertoire, the only American to have brought home the gold medal at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1970, Garrick Ohlsson presents a second recital at the Ladies’ Morning Musical Club. Pollack Hall, October 20 at 3:30 pm. Renée Banville

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This Week in Toronto (Oct. 14 - 20)

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 14- 20)

- Joseph So

The big news this week for opera lovers is the appearance of heldentenor Ben Heppner in the title role of Canadian Opera Company's Peter Grimes, having recovered from his vocal cord inflammation that knocked him out of the dress rehearsal and opening night. While American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey filled in superbly, it's great to have our own Ben back. For one thing, the Canadian has age and experience on his side, making his Grimes that much more weathered and poignant. Friends who saw the performance on Oct. 8th reported that Ben gave the most gut wrenching Mad Scene in Act 3, a tour-de-force that reduced members of the audience and the chorus to tears. This is a fantastic opportunity to experience the artistry of the great Ben Heppner and really not to be missed! Performances on Oct. 17 at 7:30 pm and a matinee on Oct. 20 2 pm at the Four Seasons Centre.

Ben Heppner as Peter Grimes (Photo: Michael Cooper)

In the meantime, the alternate cast of La boheme gets to strut their stuff this week, on Oct. 16 and 19.  Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury, who has been singing Musetta in this run, takes over as the tragic Mimi, and she is partnered by American tenor Michael Fabiano. Opera fans will remember Fabiano in the documentary The Audition shown some years ago at the Met in HD series. Since winning the Met Auditions, Fabiano's career has really taken off.  Canadian soprano and former COC Ensemble Studio member Simone Osborne is Musetta, and another excellent Canuck, baritone Phillip Addis, will take on Marcello for size, vacating the role of Schaunard for the very promising Ensemble Studio baritone Cameron McPhail.  If all these musical chairs are making opera fans dizzy, rest assured that the voices are all beautiful. The last COC event I want to highlight is a noon hour concert on Oct.15 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre featuring bass Robert Pomakov and the Gryphon Trio, in a newly commissioned work by Ukrainian composer Bohdana Frolyak based on text by Ukrainian poet Taras Schevchenko. Full program details at  

Violinist Vilde Frang (Photo: Lilian Birnbaum)

Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang  < > is one of a seemingly endless supply of brilliant young woman instrumentalists who are not just great artists with musicality to burn, but also lovely to look at. Actually this applies to all of classical music, but for some reason especially instrumentalists. Since appearing as soloist with Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic at the age of 12, Frang has captured the imagination of the public. Today she is in the front ranks of young musicians concertizing all over the world. Currently she is on a North American tour that is taking her to Montreal, Toronto, New York and Vancouver.  In Toronto, she will be playing the wonderful Bruch Violin Concerto, on Saturday Oct. 19 and Sunday Oct. 20. This is a very popular program that includes Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, plus selections from Bizet's Carmen and from Elgar's Enigma Variations.  On the podium is the up and coming French Canadian conductor Jean Claude Picard, who is currently Assistant Conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. < >

French Canadian conductor Jean Claude Picard

In addition to the Frang concerts, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is also presenting Cirque de la Symphonie, as part of its Pops series conducted by Steven Reineke. This concert features not just musicians but aerialists, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers et al! It's bound to appeal to the young people and the young at heart. The music is a real potpourri of the "greatest hits" from Khachaturian's Sabre Dance to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. Maybe not a concert for the seasoned aficionados, but I never scoff at these shows as that's how I was introduced to the joys of classical music fifty years ago!  Three performances, on Oct. 15 at 8 pm, and Oct. 16 at 2 pm and 8 pm.

 Baritone John Fanning is Opera Hamilton's Falstaff

Within an easy - when the traffic behaves - drive down the QEW is Opera Hamilton, now performing in the intimate Dofasco Centre for the Arts. I've seen some really wonderful singers there over the last thirty years, big names like Carlo Bergonzi as Cavaradossi, and a very young Renee Fleming as the Contessa in Nozze. The OH season opens with a salute to Verdi, in a production of Falstaff with veteran Canadian baritone John Fanning takes on the role Sir John Falstaff (I believe) for the first time. In a long and distinguished career that began as a very early member of the COC Ensemble Studio, Fanning combines a gorgeous lyric baritone with an ingratiating stage presence. He was heard quite a few times in principal roles at the COC - I recall a memorable Dick Johnson in Fanciulla and Wotan in Das Rheingold. Fanning is now transitioning to teaching so this represents an increasingly rare chance of hearing this singer. Soprano Lyne Fortin is Alice, baritone James Westman is Ford, and COC Ensemble Studio soprano Sasha Djihanian is Nannetta. Four performances on Oct. 19, 22, 24, 26.

The Annual Schubertiad at the Off Centre Music Salon is happening on Sunday Oct. 20 at the Glenn Gould Studio.  Violinist Jacques Israelievitch joins soprano Jennifer Taverner and tenor Jeffrey Hill in an afternoon of Schubert Lieder. Both singers are making their debuts with Off Centre.

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