La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 21 December 2014

This Week in Toronto (Dec. 22 - Jan. 4)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Holiday Season (Dec. 22 to Jan. 4)

- Joseph So

Now that we are really into the heart of the Christmas Season, concerts scheduling grinds to a halt to make way for family gatherings and church services etc. Interestingly, in other big cities the likes of New York, London and Vienna where I've visited at Christmas time in years past, there are still plenty of musical events going on. Okay, except on Christmas Eve when it's dark at the Wiener Staatsoper, and Christmas Day and Boxing Day at Covent Garden. At the Met this year, the house is dark on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - didn't use to if I remember correctly.  At the Bastille in Paris, there's even a performance of Nutcracker on Christmas Day!  I'm rather torn when it comes to this. I certainly don't begrudge musicians taking time off to be with their families, but when gigs are so hard to come by these days, surely there are musicians who would be willing to work, as they say, "the show must go on"?

Tenor Adrian Kramer is Nanki-Poo for Toronto Operetta Theatre's The Mikado

Anyway, Toronto's professional classical music scene is totally quiet this week except for a few organ recitals and carol sings in your local churches. It restarts with Toronto Operetta Theatre's The Mikado on December 27 for a run of six performances to January 4, including a New Year's Eve Gala.   I'll be attending the opening, as I'm curious to hear the Nanki-Poo of tenor Adrian Kramer. The last time I heard him, he was a member of the COC Ensemble Studio, as a baritone. He's certainly not the first to move up - former Ensemble baritone Joseph Kaiser made the switch a few years ago. Singing Yum Yum is soprano Lucia Cesaroni.  Katisha is mezzo Mia Lennox, and Giles Tomkins is the Mikado. Derek Bate conducts. All performances at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre.

Baritone Brett Polegato (Photo:

For those suffering from opera withdrawal, a good choice is Bravissimo! - the annual New Year's Eve opera gala at Roy Thomson Hall, presented by Attila Glatz Concert Productions.  It's format is simple - bring together four soloists (a mix of international singers and Canadians), a pick-up orchestra and chorus made up mostly of local musicians, in a program of opera arias and duets augmented by orchestral selections. The selections are quite predictable - it invariably ends with Libiamo, libiamo from La traviata! Start time is 7 pm and everything is finished no later than 9:30 pm, early enough for New Year's Eve festivities. I've heard some wonderful soloists in Bravissimo that we normally wouldn't get to hear in Toronto. This year the quartet of singers is made up of Russian soprano Natalia Ushakova, Hungarian mezzo Viktoria Vizin, German tenor Andreas Schager, and Canadian baritone Brett Polegato.  Of the four artists, I've heard in person many times the excellent Canadian of course. And I recall fondly the beautiful voice of Hungarian mezzo Viktoira Vizin, who sang Marchesa Melibea in a wonderful production of Il Viaggio a Reims at the Canadian Opera Company a dozen years ago. The other two I have yet to hear in person. According to her website < >  Ushakova sings a hugely varied repertoire, from Queen of the Night at the Wiener Volksoper to Amelia in Un ballo in maschera in the opera house in Ljubljana, ie from coloratura to spinto!  Clips of her singing are available on her website. It's an exciting voice for sure. German tenor Andreas Schager < > is that rare breed, a heroic tenor singing the most demanding repertoires of Wagner and Strauss.  He made international headlines when he stepped in to sing Act One of Siegfried at the Berlin Staatsoper in April 2013, replacing Canadian tenor Lance Ryan who couldn't get from Vienna to Berlin in time for the early (4 pm) start! The conductor of Bravissimo is the dynamic Italian Francesco Lanzillotta < >

Hungarian mezzo Viktoria Vizin returns to Toronto in Bravissimo (Photo:

On New Year's Day is another annual musical tradition, Salute to Vienna, also presented by Glatz Concert Productions.  This marks the 20th anniversary of this show. On the program are operettas, Viennese waltzes, ballet and orchestral selections. Natalia Ushakova and Andreas Schager from Bravissimo the previous evening also appear as soloists here, joined by Hungarian soubrette Katalin Benedekffy and Hungarian tenor Szabolcs Kadar. Also appearing are the Hamilton Children's Choir as well as Dancers from Vienna Imperial Ballet and International Champion Ballroom Dancers. A late addition is young Hungarian pianist Gyongyosi Ivett, a winner of the classical music competition Virtuozok. Another pickup orchestra, the Strauss Symphony of Canada is led by Austrian conductor Christian Schulz

Salute to Vienna (Photo: Chris Lee)

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