La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Holiday Potpourri

Holiday Potpourri

Pleasures of my 2015 Holiday Season?  Friends and Family, Eat, Drink and be Merry. Good Reads, and of course some Wonderful Music.

~ Joseph So

While I'm not exactly a cold-weather fan, December remains a favourite time of year for me. All the trappings of the Holiday Season, main thoroughfares of Toronto like Bloor and Yonge brilliantly lit by twinkling Christmas lights, not to mention the excuse to indulge guilt-free (relatively) all the food and drink meant for this time of year. And above all, it's the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends from near and far. December is incomplete for me if I don't attend a Messiah or two. As usual this year, it was the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's mega version with big-voiced soloists and huge forces of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Tt was followed the next day by the unconventional vision of Against the Grain Theatre's staged version. I ended up liking both. The well loved TSO version will always be dear to my heart, but I also see the merits in AtG's much  more intimate approach with its spontaneous and heart-felt qualities. Here's a link to my review -

Columbus Circle looking North, New York, Christmas 2015 (Photo: Joseph So)

I traveled to New York for a quickie pre-Christmas family visit. If Toronto in December is beautiful with all the Christmas decorations, the Big Apple is positively spectacular.  Of course the magnificent tree in the Rockerfeller Centre is a highlight. As I walked north on Columbus Circle towards the Metropolitan Opera, the decorated trees were breathtaking. The Die Fledermaus I saw was typical Holiday fare at the Met - easy entertainment, beautiful sets and costumes, nothing too challenging for an audience set on enjoying the seasonal festivities. This smart-looking two-year old production epitomizes what used to be the standard aesthetic at the Met, an old fashioned opulence that the conservative segment of the audience finds endearing.  Sung in English together with newly written English dialogue, I almost felt like I was seeing a Broadway show. I was told that in this revival, the dialogue have already been cut, but it still lasted three hours and forty-five minutes with two intermissions - and Met intermissions are typically 30 minutes each.

Metropolitan Opera at Night (Photo: Joseph So)

Stage director Jeremy Sams and dialogue writer Douglas Carter Beane tried their best to make it funny, but the humour is a bit on the heavy side.  Part of the problem is the huge size of the house (3,800 seat plus 200 standing room)  - when you can't see the facial expressions of the actors, doing comedy becomes problematic. The Frosch routine in Act 3 was only intermittently funny, and often off-colour. The set and costumes by Robert Jones are gorgeous, particularly Act Two. The Dec. 18 performance I saw had fine singing. I particularly liked the Adele of British soprano Lucy Crowe, who sang with lovely tone and she acted up a storm. (Incidentally, Crowe was ill late in the rehearsal period and opening night was sung by Canadian soprano Mireille Asselin, who scored a huge success.) Paulo Szot was excellent as Falke. I am more used to a baritone Eisenstein, but British tenor Toby Spence was very good. American soprano Susanna Philips acted well and sang beautifully as Rosalinda except for her strained top register. As a result her Csardas wasn't what it could have been. Given the huge amount of dialogue, the singers didn't have an easy time trying to project their speaking voice into the 4000 capacity house.  James Levine conducted from his specially designed motorized chair, and he didn't come onstage for curtain calls. On this evening, he conducted a spirited overture, and with plenty of oomph the rest of the long evening, giving no hint that he's now in frail health. Over all, an enjoyable if predictable evening at the opera.  

Die Fledermaus curtain call

The Toronto Operetta Theatre's holiday offering this year is Sigmund Romberg's The Student Prince. Staged on the small stage of the Jane Mallett Theatre, it's not on a grand scale, but it's never less than engaging, with pretty costumes, deft directing and fine singing, led by tenor Ernesto Ramirez as Prince Karl Franz and soprano Jennifer Taverner as the barmaid Kathie. Here's my review of the opening matinee performance -

TOT Student Prince Curtain Call (Photo: Joseph So)

Even though this December has been unseasonably warm, cold weather is coming as I write this - we had freezing rain last evening in Toronto and today is really too unpleasant to do much outside. Perfect time to curl up next to the fire with a book.  I have to confess I read a lot less than I used to these days, and what I do read usually is connected with music journalism. However, this book did catch my eye - Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin (New York: Simon & Schuster 2015). I first read a positive review of it in the New York Times that piqued my interest. Martin has a doctorate in primatology, a subfield of anthropology.  As a retired academic with a 35 year career in anthropology, I admit I was really curious about this book. Martin uses the anthropological (more specifically the primate behavioural) paradigm to deconstruct her experience as a newcomer to the circle of rich child-bearing women of the Manhattan Upper East Side, and she did it well. For a piece of light reading, it's very readable and quite funny in places. Perhaps not for everybody, but her keen observation on the female of the species is in many ways spot on and amusing.

Cover of Primates of Park Avenue

Lots of great movies this month. No, I haven't seen Star Wars, but then I am not really into this genre. I did see The Danish Girl however.  Eddie Redmayne gives a stupendous performance, and I wouldn't be surprised if he wins another Oscar. But as a movie, I find it strangely unsatisfying. Based on a book by David Ebershoff who in turn based it on the lives of two Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, there's a lot about the lives of these two people that are left out of the movie. There were some objections to the casting of Redmayne from the transgender community, but given that he has done such a tremendous acting job, the complaints seem to be muted. More serious is the various facts and inaccuracies about the life and death of Lili Elbe. Here's the article from Wikipedia -

Poster of new movie The Danish Girl 

I rarely venture into anything that's non-classical, but this Christmas I was given a gift of a CD Single,  a cute, newly produced song called Now It's Christmas, composed and sung by two Canadian musicians, vocalist Sidney Fontaine and lyricist Charlie Gallium. I understand they are classically trained musicians. The song has a nice, catchy tune, with a pronounced beat in the arrangements (all three versions), well delivered by Ms. Fontaine, who has a nice pop voice. The lyrics is a bit sad but it's not really reflected in the music itself. There's a bonus track on the CD called There Goes My Happy, arranged and sung by Fontaine.  This content is available on iTunes.

Now It's Christmas (CD Single) (Photo: Sidney Fontaine)

I am now looking forward to two more musical events to round out my Holiday season. On New Year's Eve is the operatic concert, Bravissimo! at Roy Thomson Hall. It's produced by Canadian impresario Attila Glatz of Attila Glatz Concert Productions who's also responsible for Salute to Vienna on New Year's Day. I've been going to these concerts from the very beginning - light entertainment with a program of warhorses, delivered by good singers and a pick-up orchestra. All a bit predictable, but always enjoyable. Once in awhile you get to hear famous soloists you don't get to hear in the opera houses on this side of the pond. An example was Wagnerian tenor Andreas Schager last year. He is a big name in Berlin and a Barenboim protegee, with Tristan and Parsifal in his repertoire!  This year, we have two famous Canadian women, soprano Karina Gauvin and mezzo Krisztina Szabo, both at the top of their careers. I have no idea of what's on the program, but I am willing to bet that there's going to be some Handel and Mozart (Gauvin's specialty), and it will likely end with 'Libiamo, libiamo' from La traviata. The maestro is Italian Marco Guidarini.

Mezzo Krisztina Szabo (Photo: Bo Huang)

If you are not tired out from partying all night, by all means to to Salute to Vienna, an afternoon divertissement of ballet and operetta Viennese style. Hungarian maestro Imre Kollar is at the helm leading the Strauss Symphony of Canada, another pick-up band. Polish soprano Katarzyna Dondalska and Austrian tenor Franz Gurtelschmied are the soloists. Joining them are dancers from the Hungarian National Ballet and the International Champion Ballroom Dancers. This popular event is invariably sold out, so do give the box office a call or go  to their website.

Salute to Vienna (Photo courtesy of Attila Glatz Concert Productions)

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Monday, 28 December 2015

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 28 décembre au 3 janvier

Jean-Michel Grondin

Orgue à la Basilique Notre-Dame
En 2016, on fêtera le 125e anniversaire de l’orgue Casavant de Notre-Dame qui, avec ses 92 jeux, est l’un des plus grands situés dans une église en Amérique du Nord. Tous les dimanches, les « Florilèges de l’orgue liturgique », auditions musicales avec Pierre Grandmaison, organiste titulaire, ou Martin Boucher, organiste assistant, ont lieu de 10 h 30 à 10 h 55, juste avant la messe. Du 27 au 31 décembre, 14 h 30, la série Prenez place à l’orgue – spécial Noël permet aux mélomanes d’assister, assis à la tribune, à un concert de Noël avec Pierre Grandmaison. Seulement 60 places sont disponibles, il est donc recommandé de réserver.

Orgue à l’Oratoire Saint-Joseph
Tous les Montréalais ont déjà vu de loin le dôme de l’oratoire Saint-Joseph. Mais combien sont déjà allés à l’intérieur ? On y trouve un splendide orgue Beckerath inauguré en 1960 qui compte cinq claviers, 78 jeux et 5811 tuyaux. Les dimanches après-midi, on y présente un concert gratuit à 15 h 30, avec projection sur grand écran. Pour le temps des fêtes, la série Noël à l’orgue présente le 3 janvier, Noël français avec Jean-Michel Grondin. 

Luminothérapie - du 10 décembre au 31 janvier
Les arts visuels font partie du paysage et du mode de vie des Montréalais qui ont la chance d’avoir accès, et souvent gratuitement, à de nombreuses facettes de cette expression artistique. Cet hiver, profitez de Luminothérapie, car non seulement vous avez besoin de lumière durant la saison froide, mais de plus vous pourrez partager, avec votre famille et vos amis, une expérience esthétique et quasi-hypnotique inoubliable avec toutes ces productions artistiques interactives hautes en couleurs.
Arts visuels à Montréal
Au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (MBAM), découvrez un volet de l’histoire artistique canadienne et montréalaise longtemps méconnu avec l’exposition Une modernité des années 1920 consacrée aux artistes du Groupe de Beaver Hall, présentée jusqu’au 31 janvier 2016.
Jusqu’au 10 janvier 2016, le Musée d’art contemporain (MAC) présente une exposition couvrant la carrière de l’artiste américaine Dana Schutz, dont le travail des dix dernières années a exercé une profonde influence sur la peinture contemporaine. Puisant dans les avant-gardes du début du XXe siècle, du cubisme synthétique et de l’expressionnisme allemand, l’art très coloré de Dana Schutz est une fusion de figuration et d’abstraction.
À voir également au MAC, Grosse Fatigue, une installation vidéo de 13 minutes de Camille Henrot qui lui a valu le Lion d’argent de la meilleure jeune artiste de la Biennale de Venise en 2013. L’artiste française propose une histoire de l’univers conjuguant des éléments d’histoire scientifique à divers récits sur la création du monde provenant de diverses traditions et cultures. Toujours jusqu’au 10 janvier, Patrick Bernatchez présente une exposition articulée autour d’œuvres tirées de deux grands ensembles de son répertoire, Chrysalides et Lost in Time. Le public y retrouvera l’essence de son travail qui aborde des questions liées à la vie et à la mort, à la décomposition, à l’entropie, au cycle des saisons ainsi qu’aux dimensions multiples du temps.
Au Musée McCord, jusqu’au 10 avril 2016, voyez Montréal dans l’œil de Vittorio, 50 ans de vie urbaine et de création graphique. Cette exposition est consacrée à l’artiste affichiste d’origine italienne Vittorio Fiorucci dont la carrière s’est échelonnée sur 50 ans. Arrivé à Montréal en 1951, il y découvrira sa vocation en expérimentant la bande dessinée, la photographie, les découpages et les collages. À travers la carrière de ce créateur humoristique, l’exposition retrace l’histoire culturelle du Québec des années 1950 à 2000 au moyen de 125 affiches, photographies, illustrations et bandes dessinées.
Une idée de sortie avec des jeunes de trois à neuf ans ? Emmenez-les voir Le cirque de Monsieur Lapin au Musée McCord. Dans cette exposition inspirée de la collection de livres à succès Monsieur Lapin des éditions Les 400 coups, les jeunes se livreront à une enquête pour retrouver les accessoires de cirque disparus un soir de première et ainsi découvrir les quelque 200 jouets et objets des collections du musée.

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This Week in Montréal: December 28 to January 3

Jean-Michel Grondin
Organ at Notre-Dame Basilica
In 2016, the Casavant organ in Notre-Dame will be 125 years old. With its 92 stops, it’s one of the largest in any North American church. Every Sunday the “Florilèges de l’orgue liturgique”, musical anthologies played by principal organist Pierre Grandmaison or assistant organist Martin Boucher, take place from 10:30 to 10:55, just before Mass. From December 27 to 31 at 2:30 pm, Pierre Grandmaison will play a concert entitled “Prenez place à l’orgue – Spécial Noël” to an audience seated in the gallery. Only 60 places are available, so we recommend you reserve.

Oragn at St. Joseph’s Oratory
All Montrealers have seen the oratory dome from afar. But how many have actually been inside? They’d find a splendid Beckerath organ inaugurated in 1960 that has five keyboards, 78 stops and 5,811 pipes. On Sunday afternoons you can hear a free concert at 3:30 pm, with an accompanying screening. For the holidays, the series Noël à l’orgue will present Noël français with Jean-Michel Grondin on January 3. 
Luminothérapie – December 10 to January 31
In Montréal, visual arts are a large part of the city’s personality and way of life. The city is flush with art expositions all year long, most of which are free. To make up for the short winter days and brighten up the long winter nights, check out Luminothérapie, an interactive, colourful, and hypnotic festival of light, and best of all – it’s free! A great activity to share with friends and family.

Visual Arts in Montréal
t the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, discover a long unknown part of Canadian and Montréalaise history with the exhibition “Une modernité des années 1920“ about the artists of the Beaver Hall Group, on display until January 31 2016.
Until January 10 2016 the Musée d’art contemporain (MAC) is hosting an exhibition on the career of American artists Dana Schutz, whose work in the last ten years has had a profound impact on contemporary painting. Drawing on the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century, synthetic cubism, and German expressionism, Schutz’s very colourful art is a fusion of figuration and abstraction.
Also at the MAC is Grosse Fatigue, a 13-minute long video installation by Camille Henrot, winner of the Silver Lion for promising young artists at the Venice Biennale 2013. This French artist presents a history of the universe combining elements from the history of science to stories about the creation of the world from various traditions and cultures.
Until January 10 Patrick Bernatchez will present an exhibition about works taken from two main collections of his repertoire, Chrysalides and Lost in Time. The public will discover the essence of his work, which deals with issues of life and death, decomposition, entropy, and the four seasons as well as the multiple dimensions of time.
Until April 10 2016 see the exhibition “Montreal through the eyes of Vittorio: 50 Years of City Life and Graphic Design” at the McCord Museum. This exhibition deals with Italian-born artist Vittorio Fiorucci, whose career spanned 50 years. Arriving in Montreal in 1951, there he discovered his vocation through comic books, photography, decoupage and collages. Through the career of this humoristic creator the exhibition traces the cultural history of Quebec from the 1950s to the 2000s through 125 posters, photographs, illustrations and comic strips.
Need an idea for something to do with children between 3 and 9? Take them to see Mister Rabbit’s Circus at the McCord Museum.  In this exhibition, inspired by the best-selling Mister Rabbit books (published by Les 400 coups), children will be able to follow an investigation to find the missing circus equipment on opening night and in doing so discover the 200 toys and objects in the museum’s collections.

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