La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 17 May 2015

This Week in Toronto (May 18 - 24)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of May 18 to 24

~ Joseph So

The big news this week is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's presentation of the Verdi Requiem. This is such a divine work that for me totally defines the art of the great Giuseppe Verdi. A sacred piece that is at once spiritual and operatic. I first heard it in my freshman year at university and fell in love with it, and this love affair continues to this day. Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor Laureate of the TSO, is bringing with him his own fantastic quartet of soloists, soprano Amber Wagner, mezzo Jamie Barton, tenor Frank Lopardo, and bass Eric Owens. Toronto opera audiences should be very familiar with three of the four soloists. Ms. Wagner sang opening night of the COC Ariadne auf Naxos when Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka was indisposed. Wagner was simply a sensational Ariadne vocally. Jamie Barton won the last Cardiff Singer of the World, and she sang Emilia in Otello here. Eric Owens of course was in the title role of Hercules last season. I also saw him as a superb Dutchman at the Washington National Opera two months ago. This is the event of the season for voice fans - don't miss it! Three performances May 21, 22, 23 at 8 pm (except May 22 at 7:30 pm). Choral forces supplied by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

Soprano Amber Wagner (Photo courtesy of IMG Artists)

This being the final week of the Canadian Opera Company's season, this is your last chance to catch The Barber of Seville and Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung. I understand the final performance of Bluebeard on May 23 is sold out, but you can always try for returns on the day of performance, but be sure to call the box office first! On May 19th and 21st, you can catch the second cast of Barber, starring Cecelia Hall (Rosina), Francisco Brito (Almaviva), Nicolay Didenko (Bartolo) and Burak Bilgili (Basilio). Joshua Hopkins (Figaro), indisposed the last couple of shows, hopefully will be back. Rory Macdonald conducts.

Russian mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova (Photo:

There are three very interesting, and free, noon hour concerts at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre this week. Russian mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova, currently wrapping up her appearance as Judith in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, will sing the dramatically riveting Mussorgsky's song cycle Songs and Dances of Death, as well as three familiar Tchaikovsky songs. The last time I heard the Mussorgsky was sung by contralto Ewa Podles, probably ten years ago, a much lower voice than Gubanova's. Pianist is Rachel Andrist. This promises to be a very interesting recital (Tuesday May 19th). Full program information at

Tenor Owen McCausland will be singing Janacek's equally dramatic song cycle, Diary of One Who Disappeared. This piece was inspired by the elderly composer's love for Kamila Stosslova, a woman forty years younger than Janacek. I last heard  this just a couple of years ago at Against the Grain Theatre with Colin Ainsworth and Lauren Segal. The tenor's music is quite challenging, with two high Cs right at the end of 40 minutes of strenuous singing. The short role of the Gypsy girl will be sung by mezzo Charlotte Burrage. There's a chorus of three Gypsy Women - interestingly, the three singers in this recital are going to be two sopranos (Aviva Fortunata and Karine Boucher) and a tenor (Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure)! Jennifer Szeto is the pianist. It's not clear from the COC website if it's sung in Czech or English. Program at

Tenor Owen McCausland

The third noon-hour concert is Death and Desire, a sneak preview of Against the Grain Theatre's presentation that brings together two seemingly disparate song cycles, Schubert's Die schone Mullerin and Olivier Messiaen's Harawi:Chant d'amour.  Mezzo Krisztina Szabo and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus are the soloists, with Christopher Mokrzewski at the piano. Be sure to show up an hour ahead to ensure a place.

Mezzo Krisztina Szabo (Photo:

For lovers of new music, this is a very important week as it marks 21C: Twenty-first Century Music Festival.  This Festival was launched successfully last year and it's returning to RCM with a very rich and varied program of new music. The billing is 8 concerts over 5 evenings, including no less than 34 premieres.  All events take place at Royal Conservatory of Music venues - Koerner Hall, Mazzoleni Hall, and the Conservatory Theatre. Among the well known composers and performers are Kaija Saariaho, Jon Kimura Parker, Gryphon Trio, Ensemble contemporain de Montreal, Afiara Quartet, Soundstreams and the ARC Ensemble. The Festival opens on May 20th and closes on May 24th.  Here's an interesting trailer promoting the Festival on Youtube - For more information and performance schedule, go to

Opera by Request is presenting one of Mozart's most divine creations (and my personal favourite), Idomeneo. As usual it's with piano accompaniment by pianist/conductor William Shookhoff. It takes place on College Street United Church at 452 College St. downtown on May 23 7:30 pm.

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