La Scena Musicale

Monday, 31 March 2014

This Week in Toronto (Mar. 31 - Apr. 6)

This Week in Toronto (Mar. 31 - Apr. 6)

-Joseph So

Bass-baritone Eric Owens (Photo: Dario Acosta)

Canadian Opera Company's spring season opens this week with Handel's Hercules, a work not performed all that often. It was last heard locally in a concert performance at Koerner Hall about two years ago, so it's good to finally see it staged by none other than American director Peter Sellars. You can be sure Sellars will put his unique spin on this piece!  I understand there is a strong anti-war message in this production, as well as a sociopolitical commentary on the human cost of war. To delve deeper into his vision, be sure to read and watch all the material posted on the COC website. The cast is absolutely top flight, the same one that sang in Chicago in 2011. It is headed by American bass-baritone Eric Owens in the title role. Opera fans may be familiar with his recent outing as Alberich in the Robert Lepage Ring at the Met. It's quite a vocal leap from Wagner to Handel, and I for one am really looking forward to hearing Mr.Owens in Baroque. Mezzo Alice Coote, last heard locally as the Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos, is Dejanira. The great American countertenor David Daniels, absent from the COC stage since Xerxes in 1999, makes a long awaited return as Lichas. (Incidentally I saw Daniels gave a supremely moving performance in the title role of Oscar in Santa Fe last season)  An even longer absence is that of American tenor Richard Croft whose last appearance was a sweet toned Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte in 1991, a good twenty-three years ago! His "Ich baue ganz" from Abduction was one of the most beautiful piece of Mozart singing I've ever heard. Croft has since moved on to more dramatic roles like Idomeneo, Captain Vere, and even Loge in Das Rheingold.  Finally, the lovely British soprano Lucy Crowe makes her COC debut as Iole. I vividly recall her absolutely wonderful Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier in Munich two summers ago.  The great Baroque specialist Harry Bicket returns to conduct. This Hercules is definitely not to be missed!  It premieres on Saturday April 5 at the unusual time of 4:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre.

Johannes Brahms

An intriguing event is the free noon hour concert on April 3 with four members of the COC Ensemble Studio performing Brahms' Liebeslieder Walzer. This cycle is unusual in that it's for a quartet of soloists (or a choir) and piano four hands, a bit of a novelty in Brahms' creative output.  One can just imagine during the composer's time, musicians (maybe family and friends) would gather in the evening for a little after dinner entertainment in the salon. The songs are all short and pithy, and one can definitely hear Schubert's influence. It's always lovely to hear this cycle which is still performed with some regularity. Soloists are soprano Claire de Sevigne, mezzo Charlotte Burrage, tenor Andrew Haji and baritone Gordon Bintner. Michael Shannon and Liz Upchurch are the two collaborative pianists. Also featured is Canadian composer John Greer's Liebesleid Lieder set to text by Dorothy Parker. Program details at  Be sure to show up an hour ahead of time to secure a seat in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

Violinist Alexander Da Costa (Photo: Bo Huang)

Music Toronto is presenting Canadian virtuoso violinist Alexandre Da Costa as part of its Discovery Series. If I were to allow myself a little editorializing, Mr. Da Costa is far beyond that of an artist waiting to be discovered, but never mind. He is playing Brahms, Beethoven and Manuel de Falla with pianist Helene Mercier. April 3 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre on Front Street.

The Toronto Consort (Photo:

For Early Music fans, the Toronto Consort is presenting Cavalli's masterpiece Giasone on April 4, 5, and 6 at Trinity St. Paul's Centre. Contralto Laura Pudwell sings the title role, and David Fallis conducts. For details, go to 

Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili

Georgian virtuoso pianist Khatia Buniatishvili is at Koerner Hall on Sunday April 6 3 pm for a recital of Liszt, Chopin, Stravinsky, and Ravel, including the famous La valse in piano transcription. We are more familiar with this as an orchestral piece, and I have to say I personally prefer the orchestral version. But it'll be interesting to hear Buniatishvili bringing out all the sonorities with the piano. A famous version by Glenn Gould is on Youtube -

Nana Mouskouri's PR poster (Photo:

I don't usually cover pop music, but I have to mention Nana Mouskouri, the venerable folk-pop icon of the 60s and 70s, and she is still going strong!  She is in town as part of her Birthday Tour, appearing in Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday April 2 8 pm.

There are two presentations by concert opera organizations this week on the same day! Essential Opera, founded by sopranos Erin Bardua and Maureen Batt, is presenting a triple bill of new Canadian works with the intriguing titles of Etiquette, Regina, and Heather. The first piece has a libretto by none other than organist-music critic John Terauds. Saturday 8 pm at Heliconian Hall in Yorkville.

The other presentation is by Opera By Request, and the opera is the most daunting Siegfried! Tenor Lenard Whiting takes on the title role, with former COC Ensemble Studio baritone Andrew Tees singing the Wanderer. Margarete von Vaight is Brunnhilde. William Shookhoff is the pianist. Saturday April 5th 6:30 pm at the College Street United Church.

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