La Scena Musicale

Monday, 4 January 2016

Salute to Vienna Rings in 2016 in Grand Style

Salute to Vienna 2016 (Review)

~ Joseph So

January 1st 2 pm, Roy Thomson Hall

Strauss Symphony of Canada / Imre Kollar, conductor
Katarzyna Dondalska, soprano
Franz Gurtelschmied, tenor
Dancers from the Hungarian National Ballet
International Champion Ballroom Dancers

Overture to Die Fledermaus / J. Strauss
"Fruhlingsstimen" / J. Strauss / Dondalska
Tausend und eine Nacht Waltzes /J. Strauss / Ballet
"Als flotter Geist" / Der Zigeunerbaron / Gurtelschmied
Feuerfest Polka / Josef Strauss
Rosen auf dem Suden /  J. Strauss / Ballroom Dancers
Dieser Anstand / Die Fledermaus / Dondalska & Gurtelschmied
Eljen a Magyar Polka / J. Strauss / Ballet
Overture to Land of Smiles / Lehar
"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz / Land of Smiles / Gurtelschmied
Ballsirenen Waltzes / Lehar / Ballet
"Liebe, du Himmel auf Erden" / Paganini / Dondalska
Auf der Jagd Polka / Strauss / Ballroom Dancers
"Wer hat die Liebe" duet / Land of Smiles / Dondalska & Gurtelschmied
Thunder and Lightning Polka / J. Strauss

Encores:
Blue Danube Waltz
Auld Lang Syne
Radetzky March

Curtain Call (Photo: Joseph So)

For die-hard classical music fans (yours truly included), what better way to spend a New Year's Day afternoon than at Salute to Vienna, the annual new year's concert Viennese style?  It's light, fool proof entertainment, designed to appeal to an older crowd. Hungarian-Canadian impresario Attila Glatz has gotten the formula right! For over twenty years, his Salute to Vienna concerts have been bringing a touch of Old Vienna to Canada and the U.S. This year, it's been seen in 23 cities, including 8 in Canada, from Vancouver to Quebec City.

Franz Gurtelschmied and Katarzyna Dondalska (Photo: Joseph So)

I attended the January 1st 2016 edition at Roy Thomson Hall.  The repertoire focused on Strauss waltzes and polkas, operettas, ballets, comedy, and the like, nothing too challenging for the festive audience out to have fun.  Hungarian maestro Imre Kollar doubled as the master of ceremony and stand-up comic, in addition to his regular conducting duties. Kollar is blessed with the "gift of the gab" so to speak - in fact he's a veritable Hungarian Victor Borge, corny jokes and all. Polish soprano Katarzyna Dondalska and Austrian tenor Franz Gurtelschmied were the two singers, joined by six dancers from the Hungarian National Ballet and two couples of International Ballroom Dancing Champions. Unlike Bravissimo the evening before, the concert was amplified, especially the singers. Given the size of Roy Thomson Hall, it is understandable, although given a choice, I would have chosen not to have any miking.

Hungarian National Ballet Dancers (Photo: Joseph So)

The program was made up entirely of warhorses. An early highlight was the dazzling showpiece Fruhlingsstimmen by Johann Strauss. This aria tests the stratospheric reaches of a coloratura soprano, the final high note is a B flat above high C. Historically, quite a few singers made a specialty of this, including Mado Robin, Erna Sack, and Miliza Korjus. More recent examples include the late Lucia Popp, Natalie Dessay, Diana Damrau, Sumi Jo, and Kathleen Battle. Well, Frau Dondalska could belt it out with the best of them. Also amazing is her violin playing, Gypsy style.  Her website mentions she took up the instrument at age 5!  She was partnered in duets from Die Fledermaus and Land of Smiles by the Austrian Gurtelschmied. His is a more modest if pleasant musical theatre voice, with a forward/open placement and almost Italianate sound. He sang "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" very well, although he got tired near the end of the concert.

Hungarian conductor Imre Kollar (Photo: Joseph So)

Equally enjoyable were the six dancers from the Hungarian National Ballet, with three exquisite ballerinas, including an Asian dancer, the Korean Kim Minjung. All the pas de deux were nicely choreographed and adapted for the limited space on stage. Marginally less impressive were the two pairs of international ballroom champions - for some reason one of the pairs barely looked at each other. To accommodate the dancers, the large orchestra was squeezed upstage, which probably wasn't too comfortable for the musicians!  For fans of Viennese waltzes, the best part of the concert was the orchestra. The Strauss Symphony, nearly identical in personnel to the Opera Canada Orchestra from the night before, is a pick-up band made up of fine, experienced musicians free-lancing outside their regular gigs. The playing was excellent, despite the likely scenario of not a whole lot of rehearsals allotted for these events.

The appreciative audience was generous with its many ovations and they were rewarded with a gem - the Blue Danube Waltz, probably the most famous of all Viennese waltzes. The obligatory Auld Lang Syne followed. If I may allow myself a comment and a speculation - I was struck by the rather timid singing from the audience. Possibly it was due to the surfeit of Europeans (as opposed to Brits) who didn't grow up with this piece?  There was definitely no hesitation when it came to lusty clapping for the Radetzky March that followed! After the show, the exiting crowd was particularly slow moving, given the number of wheel chairs and walkers, not to mention canes! But you know, I am very impressed the efforts made by the superannuated audience to show up - Bravo to them!  And I hope many of them took up the offer of tickets for the 2017 New Year's show!

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After I finished the above review, I received one from Stephen Bye, formerly with Opera Hamilton and now with Corporate Development for Toronto Kiwanis Festival. An opera enthusiast, he attended the Hamilton Place version of Salute to Vienna on Sunday Jan. 3.  It was an identical program with the same artists. Here is his brief review -

Salute to Vienna / Hamilton Place / Jan 3rd, 2016  

by Stephen Bye
Corporate Development, Toronto Kiwanis Festival

It seemed entirely appropriate that as the capacity audience was queuing to enter Hamilton Place for our annual dose of winter relief, otherwise known as Salute to Vienna, the sun came out after too many gray days.  The sunshine continued inside as the impressive cast offered up their specialty, an afternoon of delightful Viennese melodies and dancing. Conductor/emcee/stand-up comic for the proceedings Imre Kollár lead us smoothly from overtures to solo offerings, duets and a variety of dancing styles to create the complete package.  Soprano Katarzyna Dondalska, she of the substantial vocal range, and a not-untalented violinist to boot, paired nicely with tenor Franz Gürtelschmied, both of whom demonstrated a strong, clear vocal presence – it was unfortunate that their voices were electronically boosted as it gave a harsher edge to their performances than would have existed unaided.  Both gave impressive performances that indicated that an entirely acoustic presentation would have been rewarding. I do understand, however, that in a hall of that capacity with a significantly large orchestra it may have been thought to err on the “safe” side – especially as it was clearly apparent that I was definitely on the low end of the scale age-wise in the audience.  Whether waltzing or en pointe the dancers made significant use of the limited space available to them, gliding effortlessly in a myriad of colourful costumes.  The “Strauss Symphony Orchestra” (many of whom were familiar faces to anyone who attends the HPO, COC or National Ballet) performed flawlessly with a solid, warm presence delivering all of our favourite Viennese melodies exactly as we remembered them.

And like true Austrian hosts they left us satiated with an afternoon full of treats that virtually flew by – but still wanting just one wafer thin mint more.

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