La Scena Musicale

Friday, 8 May 2015

A Sizzling Spring/Summer Season at Montreal's Segal Centre

By Naomi Gold


Montreal's Segal Centre for Performing Arts is set to bank its most successful season to date, and come spring & summer, the play's really the ONLY thing. Following a successful run of Tom Stoppard's Travesties, the action moves closer to SC's theatrical roots via Dora Wasserman's Yiddish Theatre.  On May 9th and 10th, the DWYT welcomes New York City's Lost & Found Project theatre troupe to its Studio stage.  


The company of Soviet-born, Jewish actors (in their 30s & 40s) perform COVERS in English, and are led by acclaimed Russian director, Alexandre Marine. Penned by Ruvym Gilman along with Boris Zilberman, and conceived/produced by Anna Zicers, the play marks its Canadian debut after sold out runs in NYC and Russia. Originally produced at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, COVERS is billed as a psychological thriller and comprises part of the I LUV Yiddish Series, which honors the memory of Dora Wasserman.

Alan Menken (DUDDY KRAVITZ)_Photo by Lisa Crosby

Dora Wasserman
In mid-May, the Segal Centre & DWYT stage a gala fundraiser/tribute to beloved Yiddish Theatre founder Dora Wasserman, who died in 2003.  The Segal LUVS Dora Gala will honor Montreal's Grande Dame of Yiddish theatre, who founded the company in 1958.  Multiple Oscar & Grammy-winning composer Alan Menken, headlines this soirée.  Menken scored the Segal Centre's upcoming musical adaptation of Mordechai Richler's timeless novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Watch this space for more on the Duddy Kravitz musical.   

The Dybbuk
In August, DWYT takes centre stage with its production of The Dybbuk.  Written by S. Ansky in the early 1900s, the seminal play explores dark themes of Jewish folklore and kabbalistic literature.  Protagonist Leah is a young bride possessed by the demonic spirit of her intended, Khonen.  Although promised to Khonen at birth, Leah's father decides the poor student is an unsuitable husband and finds a much wealthier groom for his daughter.  Deprived of the woman he loves, Khonen dies and his dislocated soul - or dybbuk - inhabits Leah's body, wreaking havoc on her wedding day.  The gothic oeuvre is directed by Bryna Wassserman and Rachelle Glait. The Dybbuk will be performed in Yiddish, with English & French supertitles.

Tickets for COVERS are $13.00 and can be bought online or by phone.  Duddy Kravitz, the musical runs from June 7-28; Dybbuk dates are August 9-27.  Keep in mind that with seasonal changes in daylight, Saturday night shows begin later.   514-739-7944

Photo credits:
  • COVERS:Courtesy of the Lost & Found Project
  • Dora Wasserman pic: courtesy of The Segal Centre for Performing Arts
  • Alan Menken pic: Credit:  Lisa Crosby
  • The Dybbuk Photo credit: Andrée  Lanthier

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Going For Gold: Three Canadian Singers Get Ready for Prime Time (Review)

Take, Then, These Songs
Recital by Aviva Fortunata, Karine Boucher, and Owen McCausland

~ Joseph So

COC Noon Hour Free Concert Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre
May 5th 2015

Aviva Fortunata, soprano  / Liz Upchurch, piano
Elsa's Dream from Lohengrin (Wagner)
Oh! quand je dors (Liszt)

Karine Boucher, soprano / Jennifer Szeto, piano
Regnava nel silenzio from Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti)

Owen McCausland / Timothy Cheung, piano
An die ferne Geliebte (Beethoven)

Karine Boucher / Jennifer Szeto, piano
Kennst du das Land (Wolf)
Cacilie (Strauss)

Aviva Fortunata / Liz Upchurch, piano
Nebbie (Respighi)
Love Went A-Riding (Frank Bridge)

In the highly competitive world of classical singing, one way for a young artist to get noticed is through competitions. Just look at the long history of Canadian singers who have had their careers launched as a result of winning competitions. An early example was soprano Teresa Stratas' winning the Met Auditions in 1959, making her mainstage debut as Pousette in Manon the same year. She went on to a long and distinguished career until her farewell at the Met in 1995, as Jenny in Rise and Fall of Mahagonny, a staggering 395 appearances!  That Met statistic is unlikely to be broken in the foreseeable future by another Canadian.

(Back Row l. to r. Aviva Fortunata, Karine Boucher, Timothy Cheung / Front Row l. to r. Jennifer Szeto, Liz Upchurch, Owen McCausland - Photo: Kevin Lloyd)

In more recent years, many other Canadians have scored important triumphs, from Isabel Bayrakdarian at Operalia to Elliot Madore and Simone Osborne at the Met Auditions to Andrew Haji's "triple crown" win at s-Hertogenbosch in Holland last fall. These triumphs have certainly propelled these singers to the head of the pack.  Now, we have three young, fresh voices ready to reach for the top in the next few weeks - soprano Aviva Fortunata representing Canada at Cardiff Singer of the World, soprano Karine Boucher and tenor Owen McCausland ready to give their best at Chant 2015: Montreal International Musical Competition.  

Soprano Aviva Fortunata with pianist Liz Upchurch (Photo: Kevin Lloyd)

As a "dry run," the three singers gave a noon hour recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on May 5th. I confess to being a bit of a "competition junkie," so I was really looking forward to this, although there was absolutely no mention of this at the recital - which is fine as you wouldn't want to put too much pressure on these young singers.

Soprano Aviva Fortunata began the proceedings with that chestnut for jugendliche dramatischer sopran, "Einsam in truben Tagen."  Within two seconds, I was impressed by her exceptional voice, a gleaming, golden sound. The first time I heard her was in the fall of 2012. If memory serves, she sang "Ernani, involami," an audacious choice for the spinto soprano requiring lots of agility. She was fabulous at the time. Now, she seems to have moved on to a different repertoire. Her Elsa's Dream has serenity and purity of tone, an altogether polished piece of singing. Oh! quand je dors from the Liszt Petrarch songs is another warhorse that appears on recital programs a lot. Fortunata sang it with lovely tone again, the only thing missing is a true, caressing pianissimo high A at the very end, something the judges will be looking for. Still, altogether a very impressive showing and this bodes well for her chances at Cardiff.  

Soprano Karine Boucher (Photo: Kevin Lloyd)

This was followed by soprano Karine Boucher in Lucia's daunting aria. I first heard Ms. Boucher at one of those joint recitals of the Ensemble with the visiting Atelier lyrique artists. I think she chose the Contessa's aria and Marietta's Lied from Die tote Stadt, which she sang with lovely tone and the requisite poise. She surprised me by going from the Countess to Lucia, another side of her art in this recital. Boucher has a nice trill, absolutely important as Lucia; she also has the necessary agility for the intricate coloratura. She sang it with a lively vibrato and attractive tone, a less than totally secure E-flat notwithstanding. I was impressed with her dramatic expression - well, looking like a million dollars in that red dress didn't hurt either!  Her best work in this recital was in the two songs, Hugo Wolf's "Kennst du das Land," and Strauss' "Cacilie." I loved the sense of yearning inherent in her tone in the Mignon song - well done!  This is a very long piece but Boucher was able to sustain it, with nice expression, despite the tessitura being a little low for her lyric soprano. The Cacilie was sung with appropriate ecstasy and sincerity of expression. And I mustn't forget to mention how marvelous the playing of Jennifer Szeto in the Wolf particularly but also the Strauss, both are as much a showcase for the pianist as for the singer.  

Tenor Owen McCausland (Photo: Kevin Lloyd)

Tenor Owen McCausland has one of those large lyric tenors that are fairly rare, and thus has great potential.  This was evident when he was plucked from the ensemble to step into Idomeneo.  I saw one of the two or three performances he gave (as well as the ensemble show) and he acquitted himself brilliantly. Here, he's singing Beethoven's great song cycle "An die ferne Geliebte," a very challenging sing. Even Ben Heppner once said that memorizing the text of this long, through-composed work was a challenge. McCausland sang it with beautiful, youthful tone - and no memory lapses!  He has a bit of a fast vibrato, but it's not intrusive here.  I find his voice is at its best when he sings full out, as in the last couple of lines of the last song, a recapitulation of the opening song.  In the past, I found his stage presence a bit reserved, but in his time in the ensemble, he has definitely improved, singing with just the right amount of expression.  Timothy Cheung, an Ensemble Studio graduate and now on the COC music staff, gave the soloist excellent support.

The final group had Ms. Fortunata back with two "modern" pieces. The Ottorino Respighi is new to me. Stylistically a rather solemn, stately song, Fortunata sang it with the requisite weighty tone, contrasting nice with the Frank Bridge piece, which is a familiar song often appearing on recital programs. The soprano's easy ringing top was very impressive in the Bridge.  The audience gave her and the other soloists a rousing and sustained ovation at the end. I came away with a good feeling that these three young artists will likely do well in their respective competitions. Of course, competitions are never a sure thing.  It is a function of talent, to be sure, but also there's a huge element of luck involved, not to mention factors that are out of the control of the contestants. The individual - and often idiosyncratic - tastes of the jury panel is crucial. The most a candidate can do is to perform to his/her best ability, and leave the rest to fate.  With these three artists, they are already winners in my book no matter the outcome.  I wish them the very best.

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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

This Week in Montreal : May 6 to 10

This Week in Montreal : May 6 to 10

20th anniversary of the FMCM – March 12-June 21 2015
The celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Festival de musique de chamber de Montréal takes off this spring with the Celebrity Series, beginning in March with the Swingle Singers and continuing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (April 2) and the Emerson String Quartet (May 12). The Elegance Classique and JazzTD Series will take place from June 6-21. Soprano Marie-Josée Lord, spokeswoman for the festival, will perform her show Femmes, paying tribute to the great sopranos of the twentieth century. Developed by Denis Brott, the festival programming embodies a spirit of celebration, resilience and hope. This year’s festival will take place in various concert halls. RB

Mark Fewer with I Musici
A Canadian violinist of international reputation, whose playing has been described as “remarkably savage”, Mark Fewer will direct the ensemble I Musici in a program ranging from rococo works by C.P.E. Bach to jazz with Tribute to Stuff Smith, by way of modern works by d’Arcuri, Maute and Webern. Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, May 7-9. RB

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Tapestry Opera Receives Opera America Grant


Indie Opera T.O to use funds for innovative digital awareness campaign 

Toronto, ON — Tapestry Opera is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a grant of $35,000 USD in the third year of OPERA America’s Building Opera Audiences grant program. 

This program, made possible by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, supports the efforts of North American opera companies to build informed, enthusiastic audiences for opera through innovative marketing projects. Tapestry Opera was granted funds to support 12 independent opera companies in Toronto through the budding Indie Opera T.O movement.

Tapestry Opera is one of nine organizations in the U.S. and Canada to receive funding totaling $300,000 USD. More than 50 applications totaling over $2.3 million in requests were received by OPERA America, demonstrating how vital audience development programs are to opera organizations today. 

Tapestry Opera is committing its Building Opera Audiences grant to Indie Opera T.O, a network of 12 independent Toronto opera companies. Under the leadership of Tapestry Opera’s Artistic Director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, the group will be using the OPERA America grant to create a digital marketing campaign that will promote its member companies to a young, digitally savvy demographic—a model successfully pioneered by the New York Opera Alliance. Associated companies include Against the Grain Theatre, Opera 5, The Bicycle Opera Project, Essential Opera, Metro Youth Opera, Liederwölf, FAWN, Urbanvessel, Loose Tea Music Theatre, The Friends of Gravity and Opera After Hours, in addition to Tapestry Opera.

OPERA America, the field’s national nonprofit service organization, leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera. “As cultural and entertainment options continue to grow, opera companies face increased competition for audiences,” stated Marc A. Scorca, President/CEO of OPERA America. “The Building Opera Audiences grant program provides funding to experiment with innovative projects that help engage new and retain current audiences, ensuring that opera and opera companies continue to flourish.”

Each funded project will be documented and evaluated throughout its lifespan. The results will be shared with the opera field, so that other organizations can learn from and replicate projects in their communities. 

“Tapestry is very excited to work with 11 other companies to expand opera audiences in Toronto,” said Michael Hidetoshi Mori, Artistic Director of Tapestry Opera. “The young leaders of these companies are already the most dynamic innovators in promotion and presentation on tight budgets, and this grant will offer new platforms for them to broaden their reach. On behalf of Indie Opera T.O and Tapestry Opera, I thank Marc Scorca and OPERA America for providing a collective resource that will allow us to communicate a fresh and revitalized image for opera in the 21st century.” 

The complete list of organizations receiving Building Opera Audiences grants is: Florida Grand Opera (Miami, FL), Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Memphis, Opera Saratoga, OperaLancaster, Portland Opera, Tapestry Opera (Toronto, ON) and Utah Symphony | Utah Opera (Salt Lake City, UT).

Recipients of Building Opera Audiences grants were selected by an independent panel of industry leaders, including Andrew Goldberg (Vice President of Marketing, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts), Kyle Sircus (Director of Marketing, Playwrights Horizons), Jacob Smith(Development and Marketing Director, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society) and Melanie Thibeault (consultant).

The Building Opera Audiences grant program is made possible through the generosity of the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

About Tapestry Opera
Tapestry Opera ( is a Toronto-based company that creates and produces from the heart of here and now. For 35 years, the company has presented award-winning works by preeminent artists, brought to life by some of the most talented and versatile performers of the contemporary stage. As Canada’s leader in opera development, Tapestry Opera is committed to cultivating new creators and performers to serve the evolution of the art form and build a lasting Canadian repertoire. Tapestry Opera alumni include Ann-Marie MacDonald, Atom Egoyan, James Rolfe, Marjorie Chan and Nic Gotham.

About Tapestry Opera M’dea Undone – May 26 to May 29, 2015
Experience mythology’s most controversial heroine in modern wartime context, set against the stunning industrial backdrop of Toronto’s reclaimed brick factory, Evergreen Brickworks. TAPESTRY OPERA presents a recreation of the classic myth in the world premiere of M’DEA UNDONE.Written by Dora Award-winning playwright Marjorie Chan and brought to life by the orchestral and electronic talent of Scottish composer John Harris, M’DEA UNDONE will receive its world premiere in Toronto for a limited engagement May 26-29, 2015.

About Indie Opera T.O
Indie Opera T.O is a network of dynamic young companies that are awakening a vibrant renaissance of opera in Toronto. Driven by a goal to support one another as advocates of innovative opera and chamber music experiences, member companies share resources and learnings, capturing the imagination of younger and digitally savvy audiences and building a new-generation opera scene. Indie Opera T.O  is currently comprised of 12 autonomous companies, including Tapestry Opera, Against the Grain Theatre, Opera 5, The Bicycle Opera Project, Essential Opera, Metro Youth Opera, Liederwölf, FAWN, Urbanvessel, Loose Tea Music Theatre, The Friends of Gravity and Opera After Hours.

About OPERA America
OPERA America ( leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera.
  • Artistic services help opera companies and creative and performing artists to improve the quality of productions and increase the creation and presentation of North American works.
  • Information, technical and administrative services to opera companies reflect the need for strengthened leadership among staff, trustees and volunteers.
  • Education, audience development and community services are designed to enhance all forms of opera appreciation.

Founded in 1970, OPERA America’s worldwide membership network includes nearly 200 Company Members, 300 Associate and Business Members, 2,000 Individual Members and more than 12,000 subscribers to the association’s electronic news service. In response to the critical need for suitable audition, rehearsal and recording facilities, OPERA America opened the first-ever NATIONAL OPERA CENTER ( in September 2012 in New York City. With a wide range of artistic and administrative services in a purpose-built facility, OPERA America is dedicated to increasing the level of excellence, creativity and effectiveness across the field.

OPERA America’s long tradition of supporting and nurturing the creation and development of new works led to the formation of The Opera Fund, a growing endowment that allows OPERA America to make a direct impact on the ongoing creation and presentation of new opera and music-theater works. Since its inception, OPERA America has made grants of nearly $13 million to assist companies with the expenses associated with the creation and development of new works.

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Mezzo Kimberly Barber to co-host Women In Music Radio Series

Mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber to co-host Women In Music Radio Series
 On FM 98.5 CKWR

Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (May 5, 2015) — The Women in Music radio series, now having given over 216 broadcasts on FM 98.5 CKWR, introduces a new feature on the first Monday of each month, co-hosted by mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber. The first show in this new format will be broadcast September 7, 2015 from 9-11 pm. The series, which has attracted a wide international audience, has been produced and hosted by Tom Quick since 2008.   
“I’ve been contacted by women composers, vocalists and instrumentalists from all over the world, including Argentina, Australia, Europe and the UK, as well as North America. There is a lot of great music being written and performed by women and not being played on the radio,” says host Tom Quick.

Putting a special local and national emphasis on the show, co-host mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber, who has a storied international performing career (she is celebrating the 30th anniversary of her professional debut this season), is also on faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University where she teaches voice and coordinates the Opera program. Ms. Barber intends to introduce Women in Music audiences to her favourite recordings, relating interesting background and anecdotes about performers and composers of choice. She’ll provide a personal take on many of Canada’s finest female classical vocal and instrumental artists, introduce audiences to the enduring recorded legacy of female singers and instrumentalists while championing women composers both Canadian and international. Plans for upcoming shows include:

   An Introduction to Kimberly Barber—featuring recordings of the artist herself as well as performances of many of her colleagues and inspirations, including mezzos Frederica von Stade and Lorraine Hunt and composer Libby Larsen

   Women in Music at Laurier—recordings by Laurier music faculty members, alumni and guest artists: Jane Archibald, Allyson McHardy, Anya Alexeyev, Janina Fialkowska, Christine Vlajk of the Penderecki String Quartet and many others

   Canadian Songstresses, featuring performances by an illustrious list of the Grandes Dames of Canadian Song, including Maureen Forrester (Laurier’s Chancellor from 1986-1990), Lois Marshall, Adrianne Pieczonka, Karina Gauvin, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, and many more

Quick started the Women in Music radio series, which showcases the talents of female composers, vocalists and instrumentalists, in March 2008. During this time, he has featured the works of Czech composer and conductor Vítězslava Kaprálová, internationally acclaimed Chinese-American pianist Wu Han, the young and dynamic Canadian cellist Denise Djokic, Canadian violinist Lara St. John, internationally renowned American soprano Raya Gonen and Heather Schmidt, one of Canada’s most celebrated composers and pianists – to name just a few.

“What’s so impressive about women in music today is not only their international prominence, but they are involved in a wide-range of activities, including concert performer, recording artist, educator, arts administrator, artistic director and cultural entrepreneur,” says Quick. “They are musical powerhouses.”

The Women in Music radio series started out as a monthly feature, then became a bi-monthly feature given its popularity and the demand for airtime and has now become a weekly program. Several organizations now list Women in Music on their websites, including Toronto's Kapralova Society, named after Czech composer and conductor Vítězslava Kaprálová, and the International Alliance for Women in Music.

Broadcaster Tom Quick and Mezzo Kimberly Barber

Tom Quick is a classical music aficionado who has been hosting and producing radio since 1975, beginning at Brisbane, Australia’s public broadcasting network 4MBS, now at Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario’s (Canada) community radio station FM 98.5 CKWR. He has been producing and hosting Monday Evening Concert for 12 years. With a CD collection surpassing 7,000 in his home library, he loves to share his passion for classical music with listeners.

FM 98.5 CKWR serves Waterloo Region (Ontario, Canada) and surrounding area. The station offers soft favourites Monday through Friday from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, specialty programming Monday through Friday from 6:00 to 11:00 pm and multicultural programming on the weekends.

The Women in Music shows can be heard every Monday from 9:00 to 11:00 pm EST on the FM 98.5 dial or online at:

For those with recordings to share or wanting more information, Tom Quick can be reached at

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Spiegelworld's EMPIRE: A Boffo Blend of Balance, Bawdiness, Burlesque ... and Bananas

By Naomi Gold
photos by Beaudry

Just hangin' around
Evenko and Spiegelworld Canada are presenting EMPIRE under the Spiegeltent in downtown Montreal.  EMPIRE is a fast-paced, zany, breathtaking - but at times profane - multimedia show. Acrobats, contortionists and gymnasts, with seemingly elastic bands of muscle, literally stretch anatomical limits of human biology.  Rubbery solo, pas de deux and ménage à trois performances exude sensuality, in costumes that are lacy and racy.  Some acts are set to the live music of vocalist, Miss Purple and her guitarist, Moondog. Others feature recorded tracks, dazzling light shows and evoke vaudevillian theatre.

Rocking and ROLLIN'
Outrageous hosts Fanny & Oscar thoroughly engage their audience with bawdy humour, sometimes corny, comedic 'slapshtick' and maintain the 'momo cum mojo' throughout this 90-minute extravaganza.   Gyrating seductively, the exhibitionists perform sidesplitting risqué numbers in preparation for the climactic audience 'member' (pun intended) routine.  

Some performances seemed familiar to Montreal's cirque-savvy audience, but they were easily won over by the suspended bubble gal, wheeling Asian dude (in pigtails), and spinning skaters.  Other highlights were the Gorilla Girls, bouncy Ethiopian boys, Carrot Man and his top Lime Green Lady. The 3D Graffiti Guy's wondrous feats of equilibrium, balance and nanoprecise symmetry had me rethinking Newtonian physics and the laws of gravity.

Just chillin' in my bubble
One glaring slip-up in an otherwise entertaining production, was the truly heave-worthy banana shpeel (3-way er, pun intended).  The unfunny, revolting spectacle was bad enough, but hurling masticated banana projectiles at viewers was truly scary.

By show's end all was forgiven - if not forgotten - and spectators responded with rapturous applause and a standing ovation.  Loath to leave, fans finally exited laughing, as they were commanded to "get the expletive" out.  

:::Uh oh::: I feel a sneeze comin' on....
EMPIRE takes place in an intimate 700-seat, Spiegeltent housed on the corner of René-Lévesque and Bleury. Grunge graffiti outside EMPIRE'S marquee, and the surrounding tent city lend street cred to the production.  The big top itself is a cozy venue featuring antique wood, stained glass, beveled mirrors and a tiny centre stage where spectators can lean in. Half-moon banquettes surrounding large cocktail tables are great for groups; premium seats, mere inches from the stage, draw you in - and in some cases - ONstage (so be warned).  Beer and snacks are served throughout. EMPIRE is not kid-friendly and contains some coarse language. It runs until June 7th and ticket prices start at $64.00.   

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