My early pleasure at our playfully shiny December/January cover was, sad to say, more than slightly diluted by receiving a gentle note from Against the Grain artistic director Joel Ivany shortly after we sent him a link to the online flip-through edition of the magazine inquiring as to whether we might be able to change the title on the cover “because the people in the photo were in fact Meher Pavri and Joshua Wales, not, as we had stated, Miriam Khalil and Stephen Hegedus.”

To clarify: Meher, Joshua, Stephen and Miriam were all four involved in the Against the Grain production of the Messiah to which the cover, admittedly obliquely, referred. But unless they were all switched at birth (in which case we missed a GREAT story), Joshua Wales is NOT Stephen Hegedus; and Meher Pavri is NOT Miriam Khalil.

To clarify even further: Hegedus and Khalil were two of the the four soloists (bass-baritone and soprano, respectively) in the rollicking AtG Messiah which once again sold out its Harbourfront run; Wales and Pavri (tenor and soprano, respectively) were members of the chorus in the same show. (All are rising presences on our increasingly adventurous home-grown opera scene.)

One might be tempted to theorize that, given the number of projectiles flying around in the cover photo, the soloists demanded stunt doubles for the shoot, and that the nostrils of tenors are less susceptible to injury from flying french fries than those of bass-baritones!

But a simple apology to all concerned is probably the wiser course, and will leave me some room to talk about this issue’s cover! So, sorry again, Joshua, Meher, Stephen and Miriam – and on we go!

This issue’s cover: It would be interesting to count the references to the subject of this issue’s cover photograph, violist Teng Li.

MJ Buell takes up Li’s story on page 8 (and continues it in Music’s Children on page 49.) But I also counted passing references in at least three other places in the issue (four if you include this one!). First of these references, as a matter of fact, is in the other story commencing on page 8, Paul Ennis’ in-depth interview with Art of Time artistic director Andrew Burashko, in whose series Li will appear, for the first time this coming April. (Burashko is also referenced on this month’s cover.)

Our third cover reference is to “Legacies”: those of two musical masters, both of whom died early in this new year – both remembered in this issue. Modern jazz piano master Paul Bley is celebrated by columnist Ken Waxman on page 68. Waxman’s own regular CD column in the issue is in many ways testimony to Bley’s influence. David Jaeger weaves his encomium to Boulez into his ongoing memoir of the golden years of CBC Radio that now occupies the inside back pages of the magazine (this month on page 70).

And a roundabout elegy to a third “B” also finds its way into our pages – perhaps for the first time. David Olds, in his Editor’s Corner on page 50, finds himself engaging with David Bowie’s death.

Tributes to, and gatherings for, Boulez and Bley are coming together, slowly. Bowie’s passing generated a firestorm. A Choir! Choir! Choir! singalong/gathering at the AGO drew over 500 people within 25 minutes of being announced – an astounding range of people – all ages shapes and sizes – the all-ages children of Faceborough seeking out live music to mourn life lost. Now there’s a message of hope. 

publisher@thewholenote.com

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

TengLi-HP-Banner.jpgA brave little girl is wakened on a sweaty night in Nanjing by her father around 10pm. They ride double on his bike to the train station, about an hour through the city. They get on a midnight train and she sleeps a little – maybe on a luggage pile, or on some newspapers on the floor under a seat. They arrive in Shanghai at 6am and have a little breakfast. She has an 8am violin lesson. Then they travel all the way home again. And they do this every weekend.

Young Teng Li devoted much of her childhood to the violin. She was not yet a teenager when an important instructor at the Beijing Central Conservatory, who also taught viola, complained about the calibre of viola students in general and demanded that she switch because he wanted “the best.” It was a bigger instrument, the articulation more difficult,  the sound projection different. Li accepted the challenge and so began her visceral bond with an instrument that sings with an almost human voice.

At 16, speaking very little English, she auditioned for, and earned a place at, the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Her new teacher, the renowned Michael Tree, offered this new challenge: he said he had no worries about her playing, but that she must also become the best human being she could. She was embarking on a journey during which competition and being “’the best” can push aside the physical and mental health of young artists, and the isolation of rigorous practice and study can turn out emotional and social misfits. Tree’s admonition hit the right note, and resonated – what she understood was that if you are not a good person it will show in your music.

Li was still a student when she was invited by Peter Oundjian to audition for the first viola chair of the TSO. She returned to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under Oundjian’s direction and found herself hooked on the symphony. At the start of the 2004/05 season she became the TSO’s youngest player at the age of 21 and the orchestra’s first chair viola, a position she retains today.

She rose to this new challenge with the same combination of grit and grace that saw her through the earlier ones: the sheer volume of repertoire; the numbers of rehearsals and engagements; earning the trust of the other players whom she is quick to credit for helping her learn on the job. The outcome has, according to all accounts, been mutually rewarding. Alongside her vigorous TSO schedule, including appearances as featured soloist she’s been establishing herself as a violist internationally, with regular engagements as soloist. She is busy as a chamber musician and collaborator, appearing in major international festivals and competitions. She is one-third of Trio Arkel, along with violinist Marie Bérard and cellist Winona Zelenka. She teaches at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music and the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal.

Last summer she released her debut recording, 1939, with collaborators Meng-Chieh Liu (piano), and Benjamin Bowman (violin). The CD is an extraordinary collection of chamber works by Jongen, Ullmann, Hindemith, Hua and Klein. In the liner notes Li says “I wanted to showcase the works of different composers at that point in history to express how human beings from all walks of life can be affected during such horrific times.” (See Pamela Margles’ review in The WholeNote’s DISCoveries, September 2015.) 

Please see Interview, We Are All Music’s Children.

Author: mj buell
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

2105-JazzStories.jpgOn an excruciatingly cold January afternoon Gene DiNovi welcomes me into his home and provides warm smiles and a pair of slippers. He leads me up the stairs, through the kitchen, proudly showing me family photos and art pieces he has collected through the years. We finally reach “the museum,” a spacious room busily adorned with framed photos and autographed posters, shelves full of sheet music and a grand piano.

Now 87-years young, DiNovi has been in show business for seven decades and has hundreds of stories to share: We talk about his new gig at The Old Mill on the first Tuesday of every month; on his triumphant career as pianist, arranger, songwriter and musical director; on working with Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne and Carmen McRae; sitting in with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker; recording with Lester Young and Benny Goodman; his native Brooklyn; a stint in Los Angeles; moving to Toronto.

But how did he get into this music in the first place? He takes a moment, stares ahead, and smiles as he remembers his first musical inspiration: “I heard a record of ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise’ which is a Canadian tune actually, by Ernest Seitz and Gene Lockhart. It was Mel Powell and His Orchestra – Melvin Epstein from the Bronx, who became Mel Powell. My brother Victor used to take me to the Paramount Theatre on a Saturday, or the Strand, or the Loew’s State Theatre. But I heard Mel there. Mel recorded that song a number of times with Benny. On this particular side he plays a solo which had three or four horns on it: Billy Butterfield on trumpet, George Berg on tenor, Lou McGarity on trombone and of course Benny on clarinet, Kansas Fields on drums, who I played with later. So I heard this piano solo, and it is, to me, the greatest piano solo I ever heard in my life. Mel Powell was very different from me – incredibly gifted guy. At 16-years-old he had it all together. He could play like Teddy, he could play like Tatum, he could play like everybody. Once I heard that record, that was it … and I’m still trying to do it,” he laughs. “I still get chills when I hear it!”

As for diving into the music:

“I started late, at 12 years old – the reason I got the start was, my brother would decorate houses in Brooklyn, and this guy, Frank Izzo, who was a very eclectic guy said, I don’t have enough money to pay you, can you wait? And my brother said, give my kid brother piano lessons. To this day I can’t really say if it was a good deal or not,” he chuckles.

Living in Brooklyn meant being a subway ride away from the seminal musicians of the day. “I used to hang out on 52nd Street, where you could stand in the doorway and listen to Art Tatum. You go to the next one, you listen to Billie Holiday. You go to the next one, you could listen to Red Norvo. There were six, seven, eight clubs. You could hear all of this on a summer night.”

At the age of 15 – 15 and a half, to be precise – he found himself on stage with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, a life-changing moment.

“This was at the Spotlight, in 1945. There was still a curfew in New York City because of the war. They would start playing at four in the afternoon. I would get a ginger ale and just sit there. By that time I was on the street so much the owners and the musicians knew who I was. Dizzy had heard me at one of the other clubs … eventually he was like an older brother to me.”

By his late teens, DiNovi became a fixture on the modern jazz scene, but before long he needed a change.

“You got to remember, this was the beginning of the bebop period, which was a terrible period from the narcotics point of view,” DiNovi recounts. “And I never understood it – why the hell do you want to do that? For me, the music was enough … . Working at Birdland a couple of years later on, I turned around and realized that everyone on the bandstand was a junkie but me. And I said, wow – I have got to get away from this – where can I go to play the music I love without being around this – so I ended up with Peggy Lee, the first singer I played for. Can you believe it? Never a note out of tune. Never a note out of time. She was one of the great natural musicians.”

DiNovi spent many years as a treasured accompanist and musical director to some of the greatest vocalists of the day: Tony Bennett, Carmen McRae, Mel Tormé, and most notably Lena Horne, with whom he worked from 1955 to 1963, and occasionally after that.

Composing and arranging: Studying with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco launched DiNovi on another arc in his career – composing and arranging. “He trained me, he trained André Previn, Nelson Riddle, Mancini, John Williams, Marty Paich, a generation of film composers. A lovable man, an Italian Jew who had to get out of there fast when Mussolini hooked up with the other guy. He ended up in Beverly Hills where he taught all these people. Can you imagine? You walk in and Villa-Lobos is in there or Segovia is there going over the fingering, you know? (laughs) It was heavyweight stuff!”

Living in Los Angeles, DiNovi started to gain respect as an arranger and musical director and worked on six specials for Gene Kelly. But the times they were a-changin’: “Things really dried up because this was a period where you could replace 65 guys with two synthesizers.”

DiNovi pauses to ask me if I want to hear one of his tunes that Carmen McRae recorded, and how can I decline? It’s titled “Boy, Do I Have a Surprise for You” (lyrics by Spence Maxwell) from the 1968 album, Portrait of Carmen on Rhino Atlantic. To the ears of this McRae fan, she never sounded better than on this majestic recording, which DiNovi also arranged and conducted.

After a memorable engagement with McRae at the Colonial Tavern for a week in 1971, DiNovi tells me, he soon found himself back in Toronto accompanying two other MacRaes – Meredith MacRae for two weeks, followed by two weeks with her mother, Sheila MacRae.

“So I lived at the Royal York Hotel for six weeks for the lowest rate in the 20th century! It was a couple of hundred bucks for the six weeks (laughs). ... So I said hey, I like it here in Toronto! It looks like New York in 1945. In L.A. you had to drive 50 miles just to have a cup of coffee with somebody. I liked the New York feel of Toronto.”

These days DiNovi still maintains an admirable performance schedule, appearing with clarinetist James Campbell, guitarist Andrew Scott and bassist Dave Young, to name a few. And at the end of our interview he melts my heart as he gracefully tickles the 88:

“There are three tunes always on my piano: Strayhorn’s ‘Lush Life,’ Harold Arlen’s ‘Last Night When We Were Young’ and ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ by David Raksin – those three, you’re gonna go in the swamp if you don’t play them every week.”

To experience the magic of Gene DiNovi’s playing up close and personal, and to hear some of his famous stories, do not miss the opportunity on the first Tuesday of every month at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar from 7:30 to 10:30pm.

Stylianou JPEC-Bound: Some 70 years after DiNovi sat in with Gillespie and Parker, it isn’t uncommon for Toronto-based jazz artists to leave the nest and head towards the Big Apple. Vocalist Melissa Stylianou, formerly a fixture at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar, where she started out as a waitress and ended up a headliner, is a fine example. About the decision to relocate, she says:

“I did the Jazz and Improvised Music program at the Banff Centre in 2003, and many of the faculty and other musicians I met happened to be from New York. I came down to visit and to take some lessons and later received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to relocate here temporarily and study. I fell in love with the place and the people and decided to stay. I feel a real kinship with the large but still tight-knit group of musicians I play with and listen to here and find myself inspired to explore different musical directions as a result.” 

Stylianou performs regularly in New York City, especially at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, where she has held down a monthly residency for the past six years. Of all the venues in New York City, this casual, cozy and unpretentious spot is perhaps the most Rex-like.

“Toronto will always be my home, but New York is the source of much of my creative inspiration. Living in New York is an intense proposition. I’ve found I need to be really present all day long here: to navigate this crazy city and get where I need to go; ... to be aware of my surroundings in the interest of my personal safety, and to grab opportunities for connection with the people in my life. And being the parent of a toddler in the city adds some interesting elements  - what little time I have to work on my craft and the business of music is often squeezed into tiny cracks in my life.”

The silken-voiced Stylianou will be performing a concert titled “Everything I Love” at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Saturday February 13, launching an exciting new series presented by JPEC (Jazz Performance and Education Centre).

“I’m really excited to be coming up to play this concert. Jamie Reynolds (my husband and musical collaborator) and I have been exploring the voice/piano setting since our first musical meeting in 2003, and we both love the intimacy and space this format provides. We’ll be playing repertoire which stretches from Fats Waller and Irving Berlin to Bjork and Annie Lennox, along with some of our original songs. We’ll be joined by my friend (and former member of the Melissa Stylianou Sextet back in the day!), John MacLeod on cornet and flugelhorn.”

The TCA JPEC series continues February 27 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts with “Justin Gray’s Synthesis” fusing Indian music and jazz, featuring Justin Gray on bass, Derek Gray on percussion, Ravi Naimpally on tabla and special guest Ted Quinlan on guitar. On March 5: “Jazz n’ Pizazz” with Jane Fair on saxophone, Rosemary Galloway on bass, Nancy Walker on piano, Lina Allemano on trumpet and Nick Fraser on drums. Tickets are $30 and $20 for students. Visit jazzcentre.ca for details.

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

Author: Ori Dagan
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

2105-ArtOfSong.jpgOn March 3, a concert, with the title “Tangopéra” will be given jointly by Marie-Josée Lord and the quartet Quartango at Partridge Hall in the brand new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines. Going by the tracks on the their 2014 Tangopera CD, the concert will feature music ranging from Puccini and Bizet to Gershwin and Weill, alongside pioneers of tango such as Ángel Villoldo, Carlos Gardel and, of course, Astor Piazzolla. Half  the tracks on the CD feature the tango and milonga-based, hard-driving instrumental rhythms of Quartango. Lord, backed by the quartet, sings in the others, putting a remarkable spin on repertoire much of which the audience will have heard many times, but, safe to say, not like this!

Something similar happened to Lord herself when she first encountered the Montreal-based group: “When I first heard Quartango’s version of the aria ‘Quando men vo,’ from Puccini’s La Bohème,” she says in the liner notes to the record, “I was startled, because I couldn’t quite place it, even though I’d sung the original version countless times.”

Lord is a distinguished soprano, who was born in Haiti, adopted at the age of six by two Canadians working in Haiti at the time, and grew up in Lévis, Quebec. She made her operatic debut in 2003 with the Opéra de Québec in the role of Liù in Puccini’s Turandot, and has performed several important roles with the Opéra de Montréal (Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème, the title role in his Suor Angelica and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci). At the time of a memorable Koerner Hall recital in Toronto in October 2012, she talked to Trish Crawford of the Toronto Star (October 25, 2012) about her childhood years in a nutrition centre in Haiti (“I was in bad shape. Most of the children were orphans. There we could have a meal and education.”); about how overhearing a conservatory singing lesson changed her musical direction after years of piano and violin study (“I heard a lyric class and was fascinated by the production, how to build opera and all the rehearsals”); and about her return to Haiti in 2011. (“I wanted to close the circle. I had questions about my background. … I am proud of my people.”)

As for Quartango itself, the quartet was formed an astonishing 30 years ago. The group consists of four musicians: René Gosselin, double bass, Stéphane Aubin, piano, Antoine Bareil, violin, and Jonathan Goldman, bandoneon (an instrument operated by a bellows, akin to the accordion).

In the aforementioned interview with The Star’s Crawford about her hopes for that October 28, 2012, Koerner recital, Lord talks about wanting to “invite the audience into my lyric world.” There’s no doubt that her collaboration with Quartango over the past five years has significantly expanded the boundaries of that “lyric world.” In the CD liner notes Lord talks about the group’s “love of risk-taking and the unexpected” and their ability to take “well-known melodies and blend them into … unique hybrids of tango, opera, popular song, jazz, classical and many other genres. Today, when I sing the original version of the ‘Habanera’ from Carmen,” says Lord, “I almost feel as if it’s missing something.”

Far from “missing something,” the audience at “Tangopéra” on March 3, hearing these unique treatments of familiar repertoire, will likely feel just the opposite – that something has been quite unexpectedly gained.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky at Koerner Hall on February 21The Russian baritone first became known in the West in 1989, the year in which he won the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, beating out Bryn Terfel, who had to make do with the Lieder Prize. At the time there was a great deal of grumbling and there were many suggestions that the jurors had made a mistake, but in recent years the merits of Hvorostovsky have been increasingly recognized. In any case, a discussion of who makes the better singer seems pointless as they represent such different voice types. Terfel made a name for himself in baritone or bass-baritone roles in Mozart such as Figaro and (later) Don Giovanni; he sang Schubert and Welsh songs. More recently he has become famous for his renditions of the heavier Wagnerian roles (the Dutchman, Wotan, Hans Sachs). In contrast, Hvorostovsky is essentially a high lyrical baritone, especially known for his interpretations of Russian song, of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and of the baritone parts in many of Verdi’s operas (La Traviata, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo, Un ballo in maschera)Since Terfel will be singing at Koerner Hall on April 24, audiences will have a good chance to compare the two singers. Last summer Hvorostovsky announced that he was suffering from brain cancer and would have to take the summer off to receive medical treatment. He added, however, that he would be back in the fall to sing the role of the Count di Luna in Verdi’s Il Trovatore at the Met, and that he would fulfill all subsequent engagements. So far he has been as good as his word. On February 21, he will perform songs by Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Strauss.

Tapestry Opera, as its name suggests, specializes in contemporary opera. Many will remember the production of M’dea Undone by John Harris and Marjorie Chan in April 2015. On February 5 and 6, their sixth annual “Songbook” event showcases 36 years of Tapestry’s original repertoire, in the hands of emerging singers and pianists in Tapestry’s New Opera 101 program. Rising Canadian mezzo, Wallis Giunta, and conductor/pianist, Jordan de Souza, will anchor “Songbook VI” at the Ernest Balmer Studio.

Benjamin Butterfield sings SchubertOn February 29, Butterfield and pianist, Stephen Philcox will perform Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin at Walter Hall. I have heard Butterfield in the past (with Tafelmusik and with the TSO) but never in this repertoire, so I am very much looking forward to the recital.

Lunchtime concerts at the Four Seasons Centre: Bass Robert Pomakov joins the Gryphon Trio in “Classics Reimagined” on Feb 2; Christopher Purves, baritone, and Liz Upchurch, piano, perform in “The Art of Song” on Feb 9; COC Ensemble Studio singers perform highlights from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro on Feb 10; Josef Wagner, bass-baritone with Rachel Andrist, piano, performs Schubert’s Winterreise on Feb 11; Doug MacNaughton, baritone and guitar, performs in “Light and Shadow” on Feb 16.

Chelsea Hotel. Photo by Mat SimpsonVocal Quick PicksTheatre Passe Muraille presents “Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen” from Feb 3 to 21; Faye Kellerstein and Noreen Horowitz’s “The Ladies of Broadway” offers selections from Oklahoma!The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music at the Miles Nadal JCC, Feb 4; Alan Cumming sings “Sappy Songs” (by Billy Joel, Stephen Sondheim, Rufus Wainwright, Miley Cyrus and others) at the Winter Garden Theatre, Feb 6; “One Sunday” recreates a Sunday “from the Canadian Afrikan community of the 1960s” through song, script and piano, performed by Tiki Mercury-Clarke at the Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Feb 7; mezzo Emily D’Angelo (who recently won first prize in the COC Centre Stage competition for a place in the COC Ensemble Studio) sings Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi, along with works by Korngold, Mahler and others Feb 12, with pianist Rashaan Allwood and the Junction Trio, at St. Anne’s Anglican Church. (D’Angelo and Allwood will then reprise the Messiaen at Heron Park Baptist Church on Feb 20.) Also on Feb 12, at Heliconian Hall, the Gallery Players of Niagara/Eybler Quartet concert includes a transcription of Schumann’s LiederkreisOp.39, sung by the baritone Brett Polegato; to be repeated in the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines, on Feb 14; rarely performed English art songs will be performed by Marina Yakhontova and Brian Stevens Feb 13 at Bloor Street United Church; on Feb 18 at the Canadian Music Centre, composer Michael Purves-Smith and the soprano Caroline Déry explore the connection between poetry and music in “Cabaret Lyrique: Contrasts in Love”; on the jazz front, Feb 19 Laila Biali is at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, while René Marie pays tribute to Eartha Kitt at Koerner Hall; and Elizabeth Shepherd is at the COC’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Feb 24

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at artofsong@thewholenote.com.


2105-Opera.jpgOn January 16, Canadian Opera Company General Director Alexander Neef unveiled the COC’s 2016/17 season. Where the 2015/16 season featured the first mainstage world premiere of a Canadian opera since 1999, the 2016/17 season will feature the first professional revival since 1975 of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel (1967), perhaps the best-known Canadian opera ever written. Other good news includes the company premiere of an opera by Handel, star casting in classic roles, greater use of Canadian directors (and a first female Canadian conductor) and the renewal of Johannes Debus’ contract as the COC Music Director.

Bellini and Handel: The 2016/17 season will open with a new production of Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece Norma (1831), last seen here in 2006. The new COC production is co-produced with San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona and is directed by American Kevin Newbury. Two of the most in-demand sopranos today – American-born Sondra Radvanovsky and South African-born Elza van den Heever – alternate as the Druid high priestess Norma. American Russell Thomas returns to sing Pollione, Norma’s Roman lover. American mezzo-soprano, Isabel Leonard, returns to the COC in her role debut as Adalgisa, Pollione’s new lover. And Russian bass Dimitry Ivashchenko, last heard here as Hunding in Die Walküre, is Oroveso, Norma’s father. Bel canto specialist Stephen Lord, who conducted Norma here in 1998, will take the podium. Norma has eight performances from October 6 to November 5, 2016.

Running in repertory with Norma will be the company premiere of Handel’s Ariodante (1735), one of several operas by Handel based on Ludovico Ariosto’s Renaissance epic Orlando Furioso (1532). This will be the sixth opera by Handel the COC has staged and the third since 2012. After falling into obscurity in the 19th century, Ariodante was revived in the 1970s and is now regarded as one of Handel’s greatest operas. The COC production is co-produced with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam and Lyric Opera of Chicago, and is directed by Richard Jones, who directed The Queen of Spades here in 2002. British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, last seen here in 2014 as Dejanira in Handel’s Hercules, returns in the trousers role of Ariodante. Canadian soprano Jane Archibald makes her role debut as Ginevra, Ariodante’s wronged fiancée. Armenian mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan makes her Canadian debut as Polinesso, the jealous rival of Ariodante. Young Canadian coloratura soprano Ambur Braid is Ginevra’s friend and unwitting betrayer, Dalinda. Canadian tenor Owen McCausland is Ariodante’s vengeful brother, Lurcanio, and French bass François Lis makes his Canadian debut as Ginevra’s father, the King of Scotland. Johannes Debus will conduct his first Handel opera. Ariodante has seven performances from October 16 to November 4, 2016.

Mozart and Wagner: The winter season pairs two familiar COC productions – Mozart’s The Magic Flute, last seen in 2011, and Wagner’s Götterdämmerung last seen in 2006. The Magic Flute will be staged by young Canadian director Ashlie Corcoran based on the original direction by Diane Paulus. Québécois early music specialist Bernard Labadie, music director of Les Violons du Roy, will make his COC debut as the conductor. Canadian tenors Andrew Haji and Owen McCausland alternate in the role of Tamino, Russian Elena Tsallagova and Canadian Kirsten MacKinnon alternate in the role of Tamino’s beloved Pamina, and Canadian baritones Joshua Hopkins and Phillip Addis alternate as the bird-catcher Papageno. American Kathryn Lewek and Canadian Ambur Braid share the coloratura soprano role of the Queen of the Night, while Croatian bass Goran Jurić, in his Canadian debut, and American bass Matt Boehler share the role of Sarastro. The Magic Flute runs for 12 performances from January 19 to February 24, 2017.

In repertory with Mozart’s lighthearted opera is Wagner’s doom-laden Götterdämmerung, the fourth opera of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, that concludes the action begun in Das Rheingold and carried on through Die Walküre and Siegfried. The charismatic American soprano Christine Goerke, who stunned audiences here with her effortless Brünnhilde in Die Walküre in 2015, returns to complete the valkyrie’s fateful journey in Götterdämmerung. Austrian tenor Andreas Schager makes his COC debut as Brünnhilde’s beloved Siegfried. German baritone Martin Gantner is Siegfried’s rival Gunther. Estonian Ain Anger makes his Canadian debut as Gunther’s evil half-brother, Hagen. Ileana Montalbetti is their sister Gutrune and Canadian bass Robert Pomakov is the dwarf Alberich. The original director, Tim Albery, takes the helm and Johannes Debus conducts his first Götterdämmerung. The opera runs for seven performances from February 2 to 25, 2017.

Somers’ Riel and Puccini’s Tosca: The spring season opens with what will surely be the opera event of the year – the revival of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel in a new production directed by Canadian Peter Hinton and conducted by Johannes Debus. Somers wrote the opera for Canada’s centennial in 1967 and now the COC is reviving it as a co-production with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa for Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017.

The opera, with a libretto in English, French, Latin and Cree by Mavor Moore and Jacques Languirand, focuses on the Manitoba Métis schoolteacher Louis Riel (1844–85), who led the Red River Rebellion of 1869–70 and the North-West Rebellion of 1884–85. It is a story that serves as a nexus for tensions in Canada among the English, French and First Nations. Led by Riel, the Francophone Métis prevented the newly appointed Anglophone, William McDougall, from entering the huge territory acquired by the newly formed Canadian government. Riel set up his own provisional government and negotiated directly with the Canadian government to establish Manitoba as a province. With the arrival of Canadian troops, Riel was formally exiled from Canada but returned to lead the unsuccessful North-West Rebellion of the Métis in what would become Saskatchewan, where he was tried for high treason and executed.

Singing the title role is COC favourite Russell Braun. The all-Canadian principals include baritone James Westman as Sir John A. Macdonald; soprano Simone Osborne as Marguerite, Riel’s wife; mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy as Julie, Riel’s mother and confidante; tenor Michael Colvin as Thomas Scott, the Orangeman executed on orders from Riel; and bass John Relyea as Bishop Taché, the cleric who helped the government betray Riel. The COC gave Louis Riel its world premiere in Toronto in 1967 and later performed it in Montreal. The COC revived it in 1975 and took it to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where the Washington Star described it as “one of the most imaginative and powerful scores to have been written in this century.” The opera runs for seven performances from April 20 to May 13, 2017.

Moving from the unfamiliar to the familiar, the COC closes the 16/17 season with Puccini’s ever-popular Tosca (1900), last seen in 2012. This will be the second revival of the production designed by Kevin Knight and directed by Paul Curran. In 2012, Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka sang the title role. This time because of its extended run, she will share it with American soprano Keri Alkema. Returning to the COC is renowned Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas making his role debut as Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi, a role he shares with Italian tenor Andrea Carè. German bass-baritone Markus Marquardt makes his Canadian debut as the tyrannical Scarpia. The production runs for 12 performances from April 30 to May 20. Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson will make her COC debut at the podium.

Also good news at the season announcement was that the contract of popular COC music director Johannes Debus has been extended through the 2020/21 season. The revival of Somers’ Louis Riel seems to mark a new commitment to Canadian opera after this season’s staging of Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe. The staying power of operas from the past can only be marked through revivals and the COC is the only company in Canada big enough to revive a large-scale opera like Louis Riel.

Also, the COC showed a new interest in fostering Canadian directing talent with the selection of Ashlie Corcoran and Peter Hinton. The late COC General Director Richard Bradshaw did much in this area by pairing a wide range of Canadian film and stage directors with operas. This led to such successes as Robert Lepage’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung in 1992, Atom Egoyan’s Salome in 1996, François Girard’s Oedipus Rex with A Symphony of Psalms in 1997, not to mention a heart-wrenching Dialogues of the Carmelites by Diana Leblanc 1997, a riveting Tosca by David William and an eerie The Turn of the Screw by Christopher Newton in 2002.

The only negative note is that the number of performances will shrink to 53 in 2016/17 from 55 in 2015/16, thus continuing their gradual decrease from a high of 70 in 2009/10 season.

Turning to the current season: Turning to the present, two COC productions will be playing in February. From February 2 to 14 is François Girard’s acclaimed production of Wagner’s Siegfried. German tenor Stefan Vinke sings the title role while the amazing soprano Christine Goerke returns as Brünnhilde in this, the third opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. They are joined by Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as the dwarf, Mime, Alan Held as Wotan and Phillip Ens as the dragon, Fafner. Johannes Debus conducts.

Running in repertory with Siegfried is Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro from February 4 to 27 in a production from the Salzburg Festival directed by Claus Guth. Josef Wagner stars in the title role with Jane Archibald as Susanna, Erin Wall as the Countess, Russell Braun as the Count and Emily Fons as Cherubino. Johannes Debus conducts. The COC Ensemble Studio takes over the principal roles on February 22. 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at opera@thewholenote.com.

For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Back to top