La Scena Musicale

Monday, 6 October 2014

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 6 - 12)

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 6 - 12) 

- Joseph So

On the heels of a spectacular season opening Falstaff, the Canadian Opera Company unveils its second opera of the fall season this week, the tried and true Madama Butterfly production directed by Brian MacDonald first seen more than twenty years ago. The spartan yet poetic and evocative production has held up well, and it's probably the most revived production at the COC. The Puccini warhorse with its tragic, East meets West love story always sells well in multicultural Toronto. There will be a total of twelve performances for this run, with all the principal roles (except one) double cast, a necessity given the shows take place in quick succession. Voice aficionados will be pleased with the casting - all the principals have great voices. Sharing the title role will be Patricia Racette and Kelly Kaduce. Fresh from her triumph as the heroine in Carlisle Floyd's Susannah at the San Francisco Opera last month, Racette brings her justly famous Butterfly to TO, a role she has sung in many of the great opera houses. I attended her Met in HD and found her Butterfly one of the most moving I've seen. Here's the death scene courtesy of Youtube -  She won't leave you dry-eyed!  The alternate Cio Cio San is Kelly Kaduce, whose luminous soprano is lovely. I've had the pleasure of seeing her Butterfly a few summers ago in Santa Fe, and it was quite unforgettable. Here is a short video clip from the Santa Fe production -

American soprano Patricia Racette (Photo: Devon Cass)

The two sopranos are partnered by Stefano Secco and Andrea Care respectively. I heard Secco in San Francisco as Pinkerton and his clarion tones were thrilling. Here's Secco singing "Che gelida manina" from Bilbao, Spain. I think the Mimi here is Albanian Inva Mula, who sang Violetta in Toronto some years ago -  The alternate Pinkerton is the fast-rising spinto Andrea Care, a great voice that I look forward to hearing in person.  Here's Care singing very beautifully the Flower Song from Carmen

Tenor Andrea Care (Photo: )

American baritone Dwayne Croft shared Sharpless with Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl. Suzuki is mezzo Elizabeth DeShong, our Cenerentola a couple of seasons back. German conductor Patrick Lange makes his COC debut. The show opens on Friday Oct. 10 7:30 pm with Racette and Secco, and the second performance is Saturday Oct. 11 at the unusual start time of 4:30 pm, with Kaduce and Care. Meanwhile, Falstaff continues with performances on Oct. 9 and 12

Violinist Karen Gomyo (Photo: )

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting a very popular program this week, pairing Sibelius Violin Concerto played by Karen Gomyo with the beloved New World Symphony No. 9 by Antonin Dvorak. Czech conductor Jakub Hrusa is at the helm. If memory serves, Maestro Hrusa deputized for the indisposed Jiri Belahavek a couple of seasons back. Three performances, including the Wednesday show at 6:30 pm. This is part of the Afterworks Series, with no intermission. On Thursday Oct 9  at 8 pm only, there is an additional piece,  the Carnival overture by the late Czech-Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz. The third performance on Saturday Oct. 11 has a start time of 7:30 pm.

Violinist Davide Monti

For baroque fans, Tafelmusik is presenting The Canals of Venice this week, with violinist Davide Monti as guest director and soloist. On the program are concertos by Albinoni and Vivaldi, among others. Five performances, from Oct. 9 to 12 at the St. Paul Trinity Centre, and Oct. 14 at the George Weston Recital Hall in North York. Details at

Opera Canada Awards recipient soprano Adrianne Pieczonka (Photo:

Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka is one of four recipients of the Opera Canada Awards ("The Rubies") this evening (Monday Oct. 6).  This award was established in 2000 to honour Canadians who have made significant contributions to opera.  The other recipients this year are soprano/coach Rosemarie Landry, and philanthropists Father Edward Jackman and the Honourable Hal Jackman. Bass-baritone Gerald Finley, currently singing Falstaff at the COC, is the master of ceremony. There will be several singers performing, plus the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus. This event is sold out!  I will be giving a full report tomorrow on the La Scena Musicale Blog. 

For song recital enthusiasts, there are two free noon hour recitals this week at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. On Tuesday, tenor Colin Ainsworth sings works by Derek Holman, with collaborative pianist Stephen Ralls. Details at   The other recital features two new COC Ensemble Studio members, tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and baritone Iain MacNeil.  The very well known Butterworth song cycle A Shropshire Lad will be sung by MacNeil.  Fortier-Lazure is the soloist in the less familiar cycle, Ludlow and Teme  by Ivor Gurney.   Ensemble Studio member Jennifer Szeto is at the piano.  Be sure to show up early to secure a seat. 

Tenor Colin Ainsworth (Photo:

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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 6 au 12 octobre

Trio Wanderer

Pro Musica en octobre: le Trio Wanderer
Distingué par les « Victoires de la musique » à trois reprises comme meilleur ensemble instrumental de l’année, le Trio Wanderer se place sous le thème du voyage, tirant son nom du fameux lied de Franz Schubert, Der Wanderer. Au programme: Schubert et Tchaïkoski. Théâtre Maisonneuve, 6 octobre, 20 h.
- Renée Banville

CIOC – le concours 2014 est à nos portes

Du 7 au 19 octobre, le Concours international d'orgue du Canada présentera 16 candidats de partout dans le monde qui auront l'occasion de remporter plus de 70 000 $ en prix. Parmi les 9 juges, on compte Olivier Latry, titulaire des grandes orgues de Notre-Dame de Paris, qui a participé au dévoilement du Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique de l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal à l'occasion du concert inaugural, le 28 mai dernier. Le concert d'ouverture du CIOC aura lieu le 7 octobre à l'église Unie Saint-James, avec Martha Wainwright, Jean-Willy Kunz et Christian Lane. Les lauréats auront le privilège de jouer sur le Grand Orgue au Concert Gala du concours le 19 octobre. Les épreuves se tiendront aux églises de l'Immaculée-Conception (8, 9, 10), Saint-Jean-Baptiste (13, 14) et à la basilique Notre-Dame (17). 
- Renée Banville

Quatuor Molinari: trois compositeurs, trois styles
Paris-Vienne 1900, trois chefs-d’œuvre de Webern, Schoenberg et Debussy, présentés en lien avec l’exposition De Van Gogh à Kandinsky, l’expressionnisme en Allemagne et en France, 1900-1914. Explorez l’incroyable diversité de la musique pour quatuor à cordes. Salle Bourgie, 8 octobre, 19 h 30.
- Renée Banville

Rémi Bolduc, fois deux
Saxo alto de premier plan en ville, Rémi Bolduc se produira deux fois au cours du mois : le vendredi 9 octobre 18h, il sera en concert à la salle Bourgie du MBAM avec son jazz ensemble; trois semaines plus tard, le vendredi 30, il accueillera en spectacle à la salle Schulich de l’Université McGill un compatriote québécois, François Théberge. Professeur titulaire de saxophone jazz au Conservatoire de Paris, ce dernier tiendra aussi des cours de maître durant la journée sur l’essence même du jazz : l’improvisation.
Marc Chénard

À la Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur
Pour le premier concert dans le cadre de sa résidence, l’Ensemble Transmission présente des œuvres de Boulez, Vivier, Essl, Murail, Ristic et Perron. 10 oct. 20h.
- Renée Banville

MET Live in HD
Dans le cadre de sa 9e saison, la série MET Live in HD diffusera, dans les cinémas du Québec, les opéras Macbeth de Verdi (11 octobre, rediffusions les 10 et 15 novembre), Les Noces de Figaro de Mozart (18 octobre, rediffusion les 6 et 15 décembre), et Carmen de Bizet (1er novembre, rediffusions les 29, 30 novembre et 8 décembre).
Justin Bernard

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

COC Opens New Season with a Stunning Falstaff (Review)

COC Opens New Season with a Stunning All-Canadian Falstaff

Joseph So

Gerald Finley / Falstaff
Lyne Fortin / Alice
Russell Braun / Ford
Marie-Nicole Lemieux / Quickly
Lauren Segal / Meg
Simone Osborne / Nannetta
Frederic Antoun / Fenton
Colin Ainsworth / Bardolfo
Robert Gleadow / Pistola
Michael Colvin / Dr. Caius
COC Orchestra and Chorus / Johannes Debus, conductor
Robert Carsen / stage director
Four Seasons Centre, October 3rd 2014

Opera is arguably the most complex of art forms, one that combines story, text, music, sets, and costumes, brought to life by singers, orchestra, conductor, and stage director. Given its complexity, it's rare that all the stars are aligned to create a truly memorable experience for everyone.  Judging by the opening night performance, the planets are indeed aligned perfectly for Canadian Opera Company's season opening Falstaff. People say we North Americans are too ready to leap to our feet for a standing ovation - perhaps, when you compare us to European opera audiences. But last evening, the total and spontaneous standing ovation was well deserved. In forty-seven years of opera attendance, this one ranks right up there with the best of them.

Bass-baritone Gerald Finley as Falstaff (Photo: Michael Cooper)

First of all, this is an All-Canadian show.  The cast is led by bass-baritone Gerald Finley, simply one of the very top singers in the opera world today. This marks his return to the COC after more than two decades, and in his role debut as Sir John Falstaff.  The famous Merry Wives of Windsor are no slouch either - Quebec soprano Lyne Fortin (Alice) makes her very belated COC debut. Playing her daughter is former COC Ensemble Studio soprano Simone Osborne, opposite the Fenton of Quebec tenor Frederic Antoun.  Another COC Ensemble alumna, Lauren Segal, is Meg. Quebec contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Dame Quickly) returns to the Company in one of her signature roles. COC frequent guest and audience favourite Russell Braun is Ford. Even the supporting roles are cast from strength, with Colin Ainsworth (Bardolfo), Robert Gleadow (Pistola), and Michael Colvin (Dr. Caius).  This Falstaff has already been staged at the Met and was part of the Met in HD series last year, starring the great buffo baritone Ambrogio Maestri.  A comparison with the Met is inevitable, so the stakes are high.

The Merry Wives (l. to r.) Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Lyne Fortin, Lauren Segal, Simone Osborne (Photo: Michael Cooper)

I am happy to report that our Canadian edition of this show is every bit as good.  A lot of the credit goes to Gerald Finley. He possesses a gorgeous voice - that's never in question.  What surprises a lot of people is his comedic flair - how often does one encounter a singer who's not only perfect as the uber-angst Amfortas or a stately Hans Sachs, but also a rip-roaringly funny Falstaff?  On opening night and looking delightfully corpulent in his fat suit, Finley sang thrillingly and acted up a storm, in a performance to cherish. It was so good to finally see Lyne Fortin on the COC stage, and she shined as Alice vocally and histrionically. Simone Osborne, vivacious of voice and stage manner, was an adorable, pony-tailed Nannetta, a perfect partner for the handsome and clarion-voiced Fenton of Frederic Antoun. It's not easy to be singing side-by-side with the golden-voiced Finley, but fellow baritone Russell Braun gave the star a run for his money with a thrillingly sung "E sogno o realta" And what can one say about Marie-Nicole Lemieux's droll and unusually youthful Dame Quickly, except to say that her rich contralto and comic timing are priceless? As a role Meg isn't terribly showy, but Lauren Segal's knockout voice and Vogue-worthy costume turned it into a starring role. Michael Colvin, with his bright tenor was an unusually well sung Dr. Caius. When it comes to physical comedy, you can't do better than the kleptomaniac Pistola of Robert Gleadow, whose banana-peel tumbles were totally convincing. Colin Ainsworth sacrificed his handsome looks to be a scruffy Bardolfo, but his voice remained princely.  

Ford (Russell Braun) catches the lovers (Frederic Antoun, Simone Osborne) (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Robert Carsen for me is a fine example of a stage director who knows how to update and re-imagine a classic for a 21st century audience, at the same time remaining sensitive and respectful of the composer's intentions. He knows the Verdi score inside out, and he uses the many musical cues already supplied by the composer in his very detailed stage direction. His attention to detail is remarkable, down to the smallest props. Whie there's plenty of physical comedy in this production, there's nothing stock or stale about any of it. I've seen Falstaff literally dozens of times over the years, and most of the time these days I no longer find it funny enough to laugh. But last evening I did many times, heartily.  Of course all of this is only possible if you have committed singing actors and brilliant staging. The COC ensemble cast is well rehearsed with razor-sharp timing, navigating the musically complex score with ease, under the helm of conductor Johannes Debus. Physically the cast also look perfect, so in a way, our singers even surpassed the Met's. It's also worth noting that Carsen is a master in directing the chorus as an "organic whole," The COC chorus was in top form on opening night, with particular kudos to the men in the kitchen scene in Act 2 Scene 2.  Carsen's way with a crowd is evident in almost every production of his, from the Munich Ariadne to the recent Les dialogues des Carmelites.  He's one stage director I never get tired of.   Conducting his first Falstaff, COC Music Director led the orchestra with a sure hand, drawing luscious yet translucent sounds from the pit, particularly the shimmering strings.  Yes, this show is the stuff of memories for every opera fan.

General Director Alexander Neef with a happy Cast and Creative Team at the Post Performance Reception (Photo: Joseph So)

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Diana Damrau excels in Japanese Children Songs

Japanese Children Songs
Diana Damrau, soprano
Orchestre symphonique de Montreal / Kent Nagano, conductor
Analekta AN2 9131

This disc of 22 Japanese children songs is a complete delight. Conductor Kent Nagano was singularly responsible for its genesis. The accompanying booklet gives a detailed account of how Nagano, a third generation Japanese from California, started researching these songs after hearing his wife sing them to their daughter. These hauntingly beautiful songs, newly orchestrated, were first heard in two live performances in February-March 2010 at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier in Montreal, and the part of the recording involving the soloist was recorded in Germany in June 2011. Nagano could not have picked a better singer or finer interpreter than Diana Damrau.

In 2011, Damrau was experiencing motherhood first hand with her two children Alexander and Colyn.  She brings the right qualities to these songs, not just vocal beauty but a palpable sense of love and tenderness – one can imagine her singing these to her own children. Damrau had a big success as Lucia in the Metropolitan Opera tour to Japan in 2011, right after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I imagine how this visit inspired her to make this recording. Singing in Japanese must have been a real challenge for the German soprano. To my ears she is extremely convincing. But to be sure, I consulted a Japanese music colleague who is a native speaker. According to her, not only is Damrau’s singing wonderful, her diction is good.  Damrau’s pronunciation of K and S are that of a non-Japanese, but other than that, she’s very good at articulating Japanese words. These songs are about Old Japan, from the late 19th Century to 1930, with sentimental text expressing a longing for the past. It really bears no resemblance to Japan in the 21st Century.

These songs aren’t really sung by Japanese children today. However, one can still find them on the concert stage sung by professional singers, particularly sopranos and it’s still popular among middle-aged and elderly people. The Montreal Children’s Choir is absolutely lovely, and Kent Nagano conducts these songs leading Montreal Symphony Orchestra with great affection. The booklet with Japanese text and translations plus several essays is beautifully presented and informative.  This disc is more than a curiosity, but one every music lover should explore. It ranks among the best Canadian releases of 2014.   
- Joseph So

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