La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Review: Simone Osborne at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre

Singing from the Heart: Simone Osborne at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre
Vancouver soprano Osborne pays Homage to the great Maureen Forrester

- Joseph So

November 12th 2013 RBA / Four Seasons Centre

Bellini: La ricordanza
Schumann: Frauenliebe und Leben
Current: Extreme Positions 
Hahn: A Chloris
          Fetes Galantes
Strauss:  Die Nacht
Foster: Beautiful Dreamer (encore)

Simone Osborne, soprano
Anne Larlee, piano

Simone Osborne and Anne Larlee at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (Photo: Vanessa Goymour)

Vancouver soprano Simone Osborne burst onto the opera scene in 2008 when she became at 21 one of the youngest winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions - in fact, the youngest since another Canadian, soprano Teresa Stratas won it back in 1959.  That same year Osborne also won the Marilyn Horne Foundation Competition at the Musical Academy of the West.  I vividly recall interviewing the soprano for an article in La Scena Musicale at the time. Even at the young age of 21, she showed a maturity that belies her years. One was impressed by the way she handled herself and fielded the many questions from the press.  In the intervening five years, Osborne has gone a long way to fulfill the promise of a significant career.  So far, I've seen her in most of her roles - Pamina, Juliette, Ilia, Lauretta, Musetta, plus some recitals. (Sadly I missed her Hamilton Gilda but hopefully she'll sing it again.) Beautiful voice? For sure, with a lovely gleam to her tone. Musicality?  No doubt one of the most musically intelligent young singers around. Stage presence?  Well, with her trademark million-dollar smile and charming personality, Simone has stage presence to burn, as they say. Among her many qualities is a sincerity, an involvement, and a real connection to the material in her music-making that makes her stand out as someone special. 

Now having graduated from the COC Ensemble, Osborne has remained a favourite of Toronto audiences. Luckily she has regularly returned for mainstage shows.  This season she was heard as Musetta in the just completed La boheme and will sing her first Oscar in Un ballo in maschera in the winter season.  She is currently on tour in Ontario and Quebec under the auspices of Jeunesses Musicales, in a recital celebrating the late, great Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester. Osborne was the first recipient of the Maureen Forrester Award, so this is a most fitting tribute. JM tours go all over the province but I don't recall it coming to Toronto before, so this is a special occasion. The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre was absolutely packed, even more than usual given Osborne's high profile. 

The centerpiece was Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben, a cycle of eight songs that was the composer's gift to Clara Schumann - and really his gift to all the women classical singers.  I don't have a scientific study to back me up, but I am willing to bet that the vast majority of women going through vocal programs have at one time encountered this cycle. I recalled interviewing retired soprano Edith Wiens in Munich a few years ago and she told me that when she first learned this cycle, she was so moved by what happens to this character that she sobbed her way through it! Well, even though Simone is not married and has not given birth, you can tell the cycle resonates with her. I love her connection with the text, and her facial expressions illustrated vividly the changes of mood through the cycle from first love, marriage, childbirth, and finally the loss of her beloved. The recapitulation in the piano in the final song, and the sad and wistful look on Osborne's face really moved me. The singer mentioned when she was 16 and working at Dairy Queen, she spent her own money to buy Maureen Forrester's autobiography - well, as you can imagine that brought guffaws from the audience!  The singer also mentioned that she found Maureen's Frauenliebe on Youtube and enjoyed it.  Well, I think Forrester herself would have enjoyed Simone's performance today. 

Another very striking part of the program was the Toronto premiere of two songs by Canadian composer Brian Current, specially commissioned by Canadian Art Song Project and Jeunesses Musicales for this tour. The songs were composed with Osborne in mind. What can one say about the first song, Extreme Positions, except that the title is very apt! The vocal writing epitomizes the adjective "extreme" - in tempo, range, and the amount of text involved!  Too bad the text was not printed in the program; I will need to read it to find out more. The second song is less radical but just as striking, and taxing the singer's technique. These two songs sure make a dramatic statement, and Osborne sounded totally comfortable in them, ably supported by Anne Larlee at the piano. Larlee proved a worthy partner in her rock-solid support throughout this very long program. 

Simone Osborne and Anne Larlee receiving audience applause (Photo: Vanessa Goymour)

Reynaldo Hahn's songs are known for their sensual beauty and the perfumed atmosphere created with each piece. After the wildness of the Current songs, it was a bit difficult for the audience to refocus on the stately, very classical A Chloris. This was followed by one of my favourite songs, L'Enamouree. For me, the gold standard is Victoria de los Angeles, in her recital on Angel Records. Osborne's warm and gleaming tone was heard to advantage here. But for me, the best was the Strauss group of Die Nacht, Zueignung, and Cacilie. I particularly loved the ecstatic quality Osborne brought to the last two, with a heart-felt quality very much in evidence.  Despite such a generous program, Osborne and Larlee gave an encore, Beautiful Dreamer by Stephen Foster.  I would venture a guess that Osborne was inspired to sing this by her mentor Marilyn Horne who often closed her recitals with this lovely song. Osborne sang it exquisitely, with a surfeit of lovely tone and feminine warmth that was very moving. And I must mention that she thoughtfully turned to the back and side to sing a few phrases directly to those audiences - a lovely gesture. If you missed this recital, be sure to catch her singing this program during the tour. The duo next appears in Trois-Rivieres PQ on Nov. 17.  If this is a bit too far, try Midland ON on Nov. 21.  

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, 11 November 2013

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 11 - 17)

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 11 - 17)

- Joseph So

Among the concerts that caught my eye this week is Korngold's rarely heard The Silent Serenade (Die Stumme Serenade) from 1954, a late work. This composer, a child prodigy if there ever was one, penned his best works at an early age. His best known opera, Die tote Stadt, was composed when he was all of 22! His other well known opera, Das Wunder der Heliane, is a harder nut to crack, full of mysticism and dramatic ambiguity, but if you like his musical idiom, it's well worth exploring. Korngold emigrated from Austria to Hollywood in the 30's and became a successful composer of film music. After the war, he returned to Vienna but was basically ignored by his contemporaries - they felt his work as old fashioned and hopelessly out of date. He eventually returned to the US and spent his last years there. Those interested in this composer should seek out a 2003 documentary, Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Adventures of a Wunderkind, on the Arthaus label.  The Silent Serenade is put on by students of the Glenn Gould School vocal program, under the direction of conductor-pianist Peter Tiefenbach. You can get a taste of it from this clip on Youtube -  Stylistically it's indeed old-fashioned for 1954, a time of atonality. But as an operetta it has its charm. Nov. 15 and 16 7:30 pm at the Conservatory Theatre on 273 Bloor Street West. This is likely your only chance of hearing this rare piece.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)

Former COC Ensemble Studio soprano Simone Osborne is no stranger to Toronto opera lovers. She most recently sang Musetta at the COC's La boheme. She is currently on tour in Ontario with Jeunesses Musicales in a concert celebrating the late great Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester. JM concerts don't actually come to Toronto, but in this case, Simone is giving a noon hour recital of the same program at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Tuesday Nov. 12. Collaborative pianist Anne Larlee is at the keyboard. The centerpiece is Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben, plus songs by Strauss, Bellini and Renaldo Hahn. Also on the program is the premiere of two newly commissioned pieces by Canadian composer Briant Current. As with all free noon hour concerts, show up early!  Program details  More information at 

Soprano Simone Osborne

Back in March at the Canadian Music Centre, I attended a short recital given by Canadian pianist-composer Adam Sherkin who played a Liszt transcription of Wagner's Holy Grail music from Parsifal, on occasion of the visit from Bayreuth of Udo Steingraeber, the maker of Steingraeber and Sohne pianos. It was an enjoyable afternoon and I look forward to hearing him again. This week Sherkin is giving a recital, Britten's America, at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Saturday Nov. 16th at 8 pm. On the program are pieces by Britten and his contemporaries, in this case Canadian Colin McPhee and American Aaron Copland. Also included by two pieces by Sherkin himself. Program details at

Pianist-composer Adam Sherkin (photo: Anka Czudec)

The Aradia Ensemble under the music direction of conductor Kevin Mallon is presenting Britten's Baroque, featuring Britten's arrangements of Purcell's music, as well as Britten's own compositions. Soprano Johane Ansel is the soloist. Saturday Nov. 16th 8 pm at The Music Gallery, on 97 John Street just north of Queen Street.

Conductor Kevin Mallon and the Aradia Ensemble 

Esprit Orchestra under the direction of Alex Pauk, is presenting O Gamelan, a concert by Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan < >, of works by Jose Evangelista, Chan Ka Nin, Andre Ristic, Lou Harrison, Alex Pauk and Claude Vivier.  Gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia featuring instruments like xylophones and bamboo flutes not found in western ensembles. Sunday Nov. 17th 8 pm at Koerner Hall.

Off Centre Music Salon is presenting an unusual concert, one without singers!  It's Tutti Flutti, a recital of flute music by Telemann, Poulenc, Freedman and others. Soloists are flutists Carol Wincenc, Nora Schulman and Susan Hoeppner. The performance is at Off Centre's usual time of Sunday afternoon 2 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 11 au 17 novembre

par Renée Banville

Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur – dans la foulée des réjouissances
Parmi les nombreux concerts qui marquent le 25e anniversaire de la Maison de la musique, mentionnons, entre autres :
À l’invitation de Maxime McKinley, compositeur résident à la Chapelle, le duo aTonaHits de New York sera de passage à Montréal. Il présentera un programme croisant des compositeurs d’ici et d’Europe de l’Est. Oeuvres pour violon et piano de Schnittke, Pärt, Ustvolskaya, Lesage, McKinley et Denis Gougeon. 15 novembre, 20 h.
Le Nouveau Quatuor Orford, composé des violonistes Jonathan Crow et Andrew Wan, de l’altiste Eric Nowlin et du violoncelliste Brian Parker, interprètera des quatuors de Beethoven, Schäfer et Ravel. 17 novembre, 15 h 30.

I Musici fait place aux musiciens de l’ensemble
Dans le prochain concert de la série Ogilvy, sous la direction du chef en résidence Jean-Michel Malouf, I Musici met en vedette chacun des musiciens de l’orchestre. Le programme regroupe des œuvres de Chostakovitch, Telemann, Barnes, Brahms, Glazounov, Schnittke et une création de Nicolas Gilbert. Salle Tudor, 14, 15 et 16 novembre. 

Soirée Haydn avec Les Violons du Roy
Quatre magnifiques solistes brilleront avec La Chapelle de Québec dans l’éclatant Te Deum de Haydn et dans sa majestueuse Theresienmesse. Solistes : Hélène Guilmette, soprano, Julie Boulianne, mezzo-soprano, Frédéric Antoun, ténor, Tyler Duncan, baryton, sous la direction de Bernard Labadie. La Symphonie no 85 en si bémol majeur « La Reine » complètera le programme. Maison symphonique, 16 novembre, 19 h 30.

La jeunesse chez Musica Camerata
Musica Camerata Montréal est fière de présenter trois jeunes musiciens montréalais talentueux en début de carrière : le violoniste Aaron Schwebel, l’altiste Amina Tébini et la violoncelliste Sarah Gans qui se joignent à la pianiste Berta Rosenohl et au violoniste Luis Grinhauz. Œuvres de Leclair, Brahms, Godard pour violon et piano et Holst pour piano et quatuor à cordes. Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, 16 novembre, 18 h. 

Labels: , , , , ,

This Week in Montreal: November 11 to 17

By Renée Banville / Translation Emilie White

Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur – In the Heart of the Celebration
A few concerts among many in honour of the 25th anniversary of the Maison de la musique:
At the invitation of Maxime McKinley, composer in residence at the Chapelle, New York duo aTonalHits pays a visit to Montreal. Their programme will bring together local and Eastern European composers: works for violin and piano by Schnittke, Pärt, Ustvolskaya, Lesage, McKinley and Denis Gougeon. November 15, 8pm.
The New Orford String Quartet, composed of violinists Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, violist Eric Nowlin and cellist Brian Parker, will perform quartets by Beethoven, Schäfer and Ravel. November 17, 3:30pm.

I Musici Makes Way for the Musicians
In the next Ogilvy Series concert, under the baton of conductor in residence Jean-Michel Malouf, each of the members of I Musici will take the spotlight in works by Shostakovich, Telemann, Barnes, Brahms, Glazunov, Schnittke and a Nicolas Gilbert premier. Salle Tudor, November 14, 15, and 16.

An Evening of Haydn With Violons Du Roy
Four magnificent soloists will shine alongside La Chapelle de Québec in Haydn’s brilliant Te Deum and majestic Theresienmesse. Soloists: Hélène Guilmette, soprano, Julie Boulianne, mezzo-soprano, Frédéric Antoun, tenor, and Tyler Duncan, baritone, under the direction of Bernard Labadie. “La Reine” Symphony No. 85 in B flat major will complete the programme. Maison symphonique, November 16, 7:30pm.

Musica Camerata’s Young Stars
Musica Camerata Montréal proudly presents three talented young musicians from Montreal who are starting off their careers: violinist Aaron Schwebel, violist Amina Tébini and cellist Sarah Gans join pianist Berta Rosenohl and violinist Luis Grinhauz. Violin and piano works from Leclair, Brahms, Godard and piano and string quartet from Holst. Chapelle du Bon-Pasteur, November 16, 18 h 

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Bien mieux qu’une comédie américaine, Falstaff !!

Par  Marc-Olivier Laramee
Photo: Yves Renaud

Samedi soir dernier avait lieu la première du dernier opéra écrit par Verdi, Falstaff. Cet opéra est bien différent des grands opéras traditionnels de Verdi, c’est justement ce qui le rend intéressant. Exempt de grands arias, Falstaff est une comédie comique chantée avec justesse et jouée, il faut bien dire jouée dans ce cas-ci, où les chanteurs jouent tels de vrais acteurs.

L’opéra Falstaff est construit autour d’un gros bonhomme, John Falstaff interprété par Oleg Bryjak, baryton pourvu d’un sens inouï de la comédie. Ce rôle peut facilement être fait sans implication du chanteur, mais ici ce fut, à la surprise de tous, que M. Bryjak joua son rôle tel un Louis du Funès de l’opéra ! Son personnage de Falstaff est à la recherche de cœurs de femmes à conquérir. Les commères, ce groupe de quatre femmes, dont la chef est la fabuleuse Marie-Nicole Lemieux dans le rôle de Mrs. Quickly, fera tout pour contrecarrer les avances du vieux gaillard très dégourdi John Falstaff. Toutes les scènes amènent le public à rire…ce qui change beaucoup de l’opéra traditionnel.

Trois chanteurs se démarquent sans contredit de la deuxième production de l’OdM, Oleg Bryjak, baryton comme Falstaff (débuts à la compagnie), Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto en Mrs. Quickly (dernière présence en 2009) et finalement Aline Kutan, soprano dans le rôle de Nanetta (dernière présence en 2009). Le premier pour sa voix riche, mais surtout jeu scénique. La seconde, pour ses talents lyriques, son timbre riche et souple venant changer de la traditionnelle soprano et son caractère humoristique omniprésent, …un atout essentiel dans la production. La dernière, a su interpréter avec brio les rares airs de l’opéra. Une voix pure et agile qui a bien su se défendre face à celle de son partenaire Antonio Figueroa, ténor, dans le rôle de Fenton. Ce dernier fut éclipsé par Gregory Dahl baryton, dans le rôle de Ford.

Les décors de cet opéra n’ont rien d’extravagant, simples mais efficaces. La dernière scène est la plus marquante avec son arbre géant flanqué en plein centre de la scène, il rappelle un peu le célèbre sapin visible dans Case-Noisette. Les costumes d’époque sont réussis.

Il faut finalement souligner le superbe travail de direction qu’a fait le chef milanais d’expérience, Danielle Callegari. Sa connaissance approfondie des opéras tout particulièrement ceux de Verdi ont fait de lui l’homme de la situation et bien sûr sa connaissance de la langue italienne que l’on pouvait apprécier dans la performance des interprètes. Il ne dirige pas seulement la partition, il vit la musique et la joint à l’art de la scène.
Falstaff de Verdi : les 12, 14, 16 novembre à la Place des arts, salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, 19h30
Orchestre métropolitain sous la direction de Daniele Callegari

> Aussi billets pour le 16 novembre à la vente aux enchères de La Scena Musicale

Labels: , , , , , , , ,