La Scena Musicale

Monday, 21 October 2013

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 21 au 27 octobre

La pianiste Suzanne Blondin, le violoniste David Lefèvre et le violoncelliste Paul Marleyn interprètent trois incontournables du répertoire de musique de chambre signés Beethoven, Brahms et Mendelssohn. Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, 27 octobre, 16 h.
Renée Banville

L’exposition Splendore a Venezia au Musée des beaux arts donne au public une rare occasion de jumeler musique et arts visuels dans une programmation musicale foisonnante. Du 6 octobre au 5 février, nombre d’invités internationaux se succéderont à la salle Bourgie, dont plusieurs pour la première fois au Canada : les ensembles Accordone (Italie, 9 et 10 octobre), Orchester Jakobsplatz München (Allemagne, 23 octobre), XVIII-21 Le Baroque Nomade (France, 8 novembre) et le Quatuor Cambini-Paris (France, 5 décembre).
Les musiciens montréalais seront aussi de la fête dont, en octobre et novembre, l’ensemble Arion, le NEM, les Boréades, les Idées heureuses et les musiciens de l’OSM. Au total, 20 concerts, 7 conférences et 2 films couvrant cinq siècles de musique sont au programme jusqu’en février.
Renée Banville

Dans le cadre de la série MET HD en direct, sera projeté sur les écrans des cinémas Cinéplex le 26 octobre (avec rediffusion le 20 novembre) l’opéra Le Nez de Dimitri Chostakovitch. La distribution comprend Andrey Popov (L’inspecteur de police), Alexander Lewis (Le Nez) et Paulo Szot (Kovalyov). L’Orchestre et le Chœur du Metropolitan Opera de New York seront sous la direction de Valery Ghergiev.
Daniel Turp

Présenté tous les trois ans, le Concours international d’orgue du Canada propose aussi une programmation annuelle s’adressant à un large public en partenariat avec divers organismes. On pourra notamment entendre trois lauréats de concours internationaux, dont Christian Lane, grand prix de l’édition 2011 du CIOC, à la basilique Notre-Dame le 25 octobre, participer à une tournée de quatre orgues le 26 octobre, entendre Yves-G. Préfontaine au Grand Séminaire ainsi qu’un concert d’orgue et de harpe à l’église St. Andrew and St. Paul le 27 octobre.
Lucie Renaud

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This Week in Montreal: October 21 to 27

Various styles of chamber music in the Accès-Culture Network
Pianist Suzanne Blondin, violinist David Lefèvre, and cellist Paul Marleyn perform three of chamber music’s key works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Mendelssohn. Maison de la Culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, October 27 at 4 pm.
Renée Banville

Venice comes to the MMFA – a feast for eyes and ears
The Museum of Fine Arts exposition Splendore a Venezia gives the public a rare opportunity to pair music and visual arts in an eventful musical program. From October 6 to February 5, a succession of international guests will appear at Bourgie Hall, many for the first time in Canada: ensembles Accordone (Italy, October 9 and 10), Orchester Jakobsplatz München (Germany, October 23), XVIII-21 Le Baroque Nomade (France, November 8) and the Quatuor Cambini-Paris (France, December 5).
Montreal musicians will also be celebrated in October and November, including the ensembles Arion, the NEM, the Boréades, the Idées Heureses, and the musicians of the OSM. All told, 20 concerts, seven conferences, and two films covering five centuries of music are on the menu until February.
Renée Banville

The Nose by Shostakovich from the MET Live in HD
As part of the MET Live in HD series, Shostakovich’s opera The Nose will be projected onto Cineplex cinema screens on October 26 with a re-broadcast on November 20. The cast includes Andrey Popov (police inspector), Alexander Lewis (the titular Nose) and Paulo Szot (Kovalyov). The Metropolitan Opera orchestra and choir are directed by Valery Gergiev.
Daniel Turp

For organ lovers
Presented every three years, the Canadian International Organ Competition offers an annual program aimed at a wide audience in partnership with various organizations. Worth noting is a concert with three international competition winners, including 2011 CIOC grand prize winner Christian Lane, at the Notre Dame Basilica on October 25. Equally noteworthy is a tour of four organs on October 26, a concert with Yves G. Préfontaine at the Grand Séminaire, and one featuring organ and harp at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul on October 27.
Lucie Renaud

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This Week in Toronto (Oct. 21 - 27)

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 21 - 27)

- Joseph So

Pianist Janina Fialkowska (Photo: Julien Faugere)

This is a particularly full week when it comes to classical music - four operas, vocal and instrumental recitals, symphonies - the cup runneth over, as they say!  Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting three concerts this week. The centerpiece is Brahms Symphony No. 2 with American conductor and frequent guest James Gaffigan on the podium.  The TSO is joined by the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra for a performance of Dvorak's ever popular Carnival Overture.  The Oct. 23 6:30 pm concert is featured as part of the TSO Afterworks series designed for music lovers - an abbreviated concert at the end of the workday before going home, thus avoiding the rush opera traffic. A great idea - there's even free hors d'oeuvres before the show! The other two dates (Oct. 24 2 pm and Oct. 26 7:30 pm) are full programmed presentations with the addition of Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska playing the Witold Lutolawski Piano Concerto, a challenging piece for the listener.  There's a reception in the lobby after the Saturday Oct. 26th "Casual Concert" performance.

Dramatic coloratura Ambur Braid (Photo: Helen Cyr)

Opera Atelier's fall season presentation of a revival of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio opens on Oct. 26 for six performances until Nov. 2. It stars former COC Ensemble Studio soprano Ambur Braid. A dramatic coloratura, Constanze should be a great role for her. She is partnered by tenor Lawrence Wiliford, a quintessential Mozart tenor whose plangent tone and elegant style makes him an ideal Belmonte - can't wait to hear him sing my favourite Mozart tenor aria, "Ich baue ganz"! OA regulars Carla Huhtanen (Blonchen), Gustav Andreassen (Osmin) Curtis Sullivan (Pasha Selim) plus debuting tenor Adam Fisher (Pedrillo) complete the cast.  As usual, David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.

Tenor Lawrence Wiliford (Photo: Malcolm Taylor)

The COC's fall season continues with more La boheme (Oct. 22,25, 27) and Peter Grimes (Oct. 23, 26). The third Rodolfo, Eric Margiore, is scheduled to sing this week on Oct. 22 and 25. His Mimi is Italian soprano Grazia Doronzio, not Joyce El-Khoury as pictured below. El-Khoury will sing Musetta on these two dates, and switches to Mimi on Oct. 27, partnered by tenor Michael Fabiano. Simone Osborne is the Musetta on Oct. 27. If these musical chairs have you confused - not to worry, all the singers are terrific! The one constant is the excellent maestro Carlo Rizzi as conductor.

Eric Margiore and Joyce El-Khoury (Photo: Michael Cooper)

And don't forget the two vocal noon hour recitals at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre this week. On Tuesday Oct. 22 is An Afternoon of English Songs, featuring COC Ensemble Studio members (soprano Claire de Sevigne, mezzo Danielle MacMillan, baritones Clarence Frazer and Cameron McPhail). On the program are songs by Vaughan Williams, including my favourite cycle, Songs of Travel, truly a gift to the baritone voice. Click for full program details. On Wednesday Oct. 23, the University of Toronto Opera Division is presenting Fifty Operatic Years of the MacMillan Theatre.  I can't tell you how many memorable opera and vocal events I've had the pleasure of attending in this theatre. I've always find this venue to be plain and functional based on looks, but the music is almost always wonderful. Full program details at  It's a potpourri of pieces, including Albert Herring and selections from Nozze, Gianni Schicchi and L'etoile. Be sure to show up an hour ahead to ensure a seat.

Happy principals (l. to r.) Jon Paul Decosse, Lyne Fortin, John Fanning, James Westman, Theo Lebow receiving audience applause on opening night (Photo: Joseph So)

An hour down the QEW is Opera Hamilton's Falstaff at the Dofasco Centre for the Arts. I attended opening night last Saturday, and it was a terrific show starring veteran baritone John Fanning. The excellent ensemble cast also includes Lyne Fortin, James Westman, Theo Lebow, Sasha Djihanian, and Lynne McMurtry conducted by David Speers. (My full review is at ) A regional company that has had its financial challenges, it is amazing that they can come up with something so good. My advice is go - but beware of traffic issues so allow yourself plenty of time. Performances on Oct. 22, 24, 26, the last a matinee.

Soprano Miriam Khalil at Gallery 345

Gallery 345, one of several relatively new "alternative" venues for classical recitals have two gems this week.  Former COC Ensemble Studio soprano Miriam Khalil is giving a recital of Airs Chantes: a recital of French and Spanish Art Songs.  The program features works by Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc, Massenet, Delibes and others. Julien LeBlanc is the collaborative pianist. On Monday Oct. 21 is the chamber group, Trio Bowman, Zelenka, Bertoli in an evening of Brahms and Beethoven.

345 Sorauren Avenue.

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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Opera Hamilton's Falstaff a Scintillating Evening at the Opera

Opera Hamilton's Falstaff a Scintillating Evening at the Opera

- Joseph So

John Fanning (Falstaff)
Lyne Fortin (Alice)
James Westman (Ford)
Ariana Chris (Meg)
Lynne McMurtry (Quickly)
Sasha Djihanian (Nannetta)
Theo Lebow (Fenton)
Jon Paul Decosse (Pistola)
Jeremy Blossey (Bardolfo)
James McLennan (Dr. Caius)

David Speers, conductor
Allison Grant, stage director
Dofasco Centre for the Arts, Oct. 19 2013

Given that 2013 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), opera companies are rushing to present his works. Falstaff is Verdi's swansong and is often considered his masterpiece. Musically it is unlike his early compositions with its oom-pah-pah rhythms and "set pieces" of arias and duets designed to showcase the operatic diva or divo. Rather we have in Falstaff a work that's through-composed, representing the most complete melding of music and drama. Verdi was already an old man of 80 at the time, yet it is the work of a young man, effervescent and full of youthful vitality. While Falstaff isn't as popular as his other works like La traviata or Rigoletto, ranking only 9th among his 28 operas based on the most recent performance statistics (2008/9 - 2012-13), but in a fine performance, it represents a scintillating evening in the theatre.  

With Opera Hamilton's season-opener, this is exactly what we've got - a superb ensemble cast led by veteran baritone John Fanning.  I first heard Mr. Fanning way back in the early 80s as a member of the COC Ensemble Studio, and we are talking about 30 years, folks!  In his early years, Fanning had a fresh and gorgeous baritone. Now in full maturity, the sound has naturally taken on the patina of time, but at the same time his artistry remains undiminished.  If anything, his singing has become more characterful and has attained greater depth. His Sir John was droll but never vulgar - just the way it should be. He sang strongly in a very long role, with firm tone and powerful high notes. It was a performance to honour and enjoy.

Falstaff (John Fanning) and Alice (Lyne Fortin) in Act 2 (Photo: John Overmeyer)

Falstaff is of course a real ensemble piece, and OH is lucky to have a superb cast. As Alice, Quebec soprano Lyne Fortin returns to OH where she had been a welcome guest many times in the past.  The "prima donna" in this opera has no aria, but she does have some great melodies embedded in the ensembles. I particularly loved the way Fortin caressed the phrases "“Facciamo il paio in un amor ridente/di donna bella e d’uom apparicente/Ma il viso tuo su me resplenderà/Come una sorella sull’immensità."  Her high C at the end of the fugue was huge! She was very well supported by the other women - Lynne McMurtry (Quickly), Sasha Djihanian (Nannetta), and Ariana Chris (Meg).  They formed an excellent quartet that really shone all evening. McMurtry has a secure top and a powerful, but not vulgar, chest voice essential in this role - her interactions with Fanning was very well done.  

The merry wives of Windsor (Lynne McMurtry, Lyne Fortin, Ariana Chris, Sasha Djihanian) Photo: John Overmeyer

It was good to finally hear Sasha Djihanian, currently a COC Ensemble Studio member, sing something more substantial than the smaller roles she's been assigned in the past. Visually she was a perfect Nannetta, and her Act 3 aria "Sul fin d'un soffio etesio" was lovely.  I look forward to hearing more from this soprano.  She was ably partnered by American tenor Theo Lebow, a voice new to me. They have very good chemistry together. According to his bio, he has sung Fenton previously at Mannes, where he studied voice. Mr. Lebow displayed a plangent tenor with a sweet timbre, ideal as Fenton. With further seasoning, I predict a fine career for this singer. 

James Westman (Ford) with Bardolfo (Jeremy Blossey), Dr. Caius (James McLennan) and Pistola (Jon Paul Decosse) Photo: John Overmeyer

Canadian baritone James Westman returned to the company after his sensational di Luna in Trovatore two seasons ago.  With his ringing tone and great top notes, Westman has always been ideal in Verdi. His Ford has the necessary gravitas and he acted with excellent comic timing last evening. I don't know if his forgetting to put on his wig in time was an accident or intentional, but it was hilarious just the same! Rumour has it that Westman will return to the Canadian Opera Company in future seasons and we can all look forward to that.

Nannetta (Sasha Djihanian) and Fenton (Theo Lebow) in an intimate moment (Photo: John Overmeyer)

The supporting roles were all well taken, but particularly deserving of mention was the Pistola of Jon Paul Decosse, another former COC Ensemble member, the Bardolfo of Jeremy Blossey, and the Dr. Caius of tenor James McLennan.  I was extremely impressed by the stage direction of Allison Grant, who shows a deep understanding of the drama and the music, offering highly nuanced directorial touches. It's the best work I've seen from her.  Kudos to the OH Orchestra under the baton of David Speers, for performing so beautifully a work that is very exacting in its musical demands.  And one never gets enough rehearsal time in a piece like this, but somehow they've managed to make it work. Considering the orchestra is small (about 30), it acquitted itself very well. It's just too bad the acoustics in this hall is so unfriendly to the orchestra. All in all, it was a fine achievement by a regional company like OH, one that has seen its challenges financially and artistically over the years. It has its loyal supporters, however.  I noticed in the program that the "new scenic realization" is made possible by the generous donation of Dr. Wally Pieczonka, who is of course soprano Adrianne Pieczonka's father.  The Pieczonka family are long time residents of Burlington and an strong supporter of the arts. Adrianne herself has sung for OH in the past. It's through the generosity of ordinary citizens like Dr. Pieczonka and you and I that keep the arts alive in Canada. I say 'Bravo' to him. 

And as I've said before, last evening was indeed a performance to honour and enjoy.

A happy bunch of principals enjoying the audience accolades (Photo: Joseph So)

The creative team takes a bow front and center (l. to r. Paul Cegys, Allison Grant, Troy Hourie) Photo: Joseph So

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