1808-artsonIn Virginia Woolf’s novel, To the Lighthouse, the painter Lily Briscoe is much troubled when she recalls a young ambitious male academic saying: “Women can’t write; women can’t paint.” Nobody has ever doubted that there have been great women performers. Just think of the concerto delle donne in late 16th-century Ferrara or the girls who were trained at the Ospedale della Pietà in 18th-century Venice, of actresses like Sarah Siddons, Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse or dancers like Anna Pavlova. But the ability of women to become creative artists has in the past been questioned. It was sometimes asserted that women could never become great poets since they lacked creative power. I suspect that this attitude goes back to a long discredited physiological theory that held that only men could create, since the homunculus was already present in the sperm and that a woman simply provided a space where the embryo could develop.

Of course, there have been a number of important women composers from Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century to Germaine Tailleferre and Lili Boulanger in the early 20th and Kaija Saariaho, Sofia Gubaidulina and Ana Sokolović in our time. I also suspect that there would have been others had the intellectual climate been more sympathetic to the female composer. Several women composers have been close relatives of more famous men: Francesca Caccini was the daughter of Giulio Caccini; Clara Schumann was the wife of Robert Schumann; Fanny Mendelssohn was the sister of Felix Mendelssohn; Pauline Viardot was the daughter of Manuel García. As a consequence they are sometimes seen as pale reflections of the male figures to whom they were related.

Sometimes too, a woman may have been content to be a “helpmeet.” There are two extant manuscripts of Claudio Monteverdi’s last opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea; one of these shows that Francesco Cavalli, Monteverdi’s pupil and successor, had made a number of revisions. But two-thirds of the manuscript is in the hand of Cavalli’s wife Maria. We know little about her: she was a widow when Francesco married her in 1630; she began copying in 1650 (her hand has been detected not only in the Monteverdi but also in several of Cavalli’s own operas); she died in 1652. She must have been musically literate to be able to do this work. Could she have become a composer herself? We shall never know. When Gustav Mahler courted Alma Schindler (who had studied composition with Alexander von Zemlinsky), he insisted that she could not be a composer, as it would be wrong to have more than one composer in the family. Like Maria Cavalli, she became a copyist of her husband’s music. (Mahler was to change his mind about Alma’s compositions later.)

Alison Mackay has played violone and double bass for Tafelmusik since 1979. For Tafelmusik she has created several highly successful multi-media projects: “The Galileo Project;” ‘The Four Seasons;” “The House of Dreams.” Her next project is for the Toronto Consort: “A Woman’s Life” on May 24 and 25 at 8pm and May 26 at 3:30pm at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The program will explore the lives of women composers and singers from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the early Baroque. It will feature vocal music by von Bingen, Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi.

Other events: Tafelmusik presents arias and choruses from Handel’s oratorios with Sophie Daneman, soprano, and Rufus Müller, tenor, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, May 1 to May 4 at 8pm and May 5 at 3:30pm, and at the George Weston Recital Hall, May 7 at 8pm.

The Aldeburgh Connection continues its Britten Festival of Song with “The Song Cycles,” with Shannon Mercer, soprano, and Susan Platts, mezzo at the Glenn Gould Studio, May 7 at 8pm and “A Time There Was,” with Virginia Hatfield, soprano, Scott Belluz, countertenor, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone, at Walter Hall May 26 at 2:30pm.

On May 7 and 8 the Talisker Players presents a program of works that evoke birds. It includes music by Telemann and Arvo Pärt. The singers are Erin Bardua, soprano, and Vicki St. Pierre, mezzo, at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre at 8pm.

I met R.H. Thomson more than 40 years ago when we were both in a production of the crucifixion scene from the York Mystery plays. Thomson played Pilate and I was one of the malefactors who torment Christ. This may have been the high point of my theatrical career but Thomson’s had barely taken off. Over the years he has become one of our most distinguished actors. Earlier this season he performed (for Tafelmusik) the fictional memoirs of an early 18th-century oboist. On May 10, Thomson appears in an Eybler Quartet performance titled “An Evening with Michael Kelly” at the Heliconian Hall; repeated at St. Barnabas Church, St. Catharines, May 12 at 2pm. Although the works played are instrumental, the program will be of interest in relation to the history of vocal music. Kelly was an Irish tenor, who created the roles of Don Curzio and Don Basilio in The Marriage of Figaro andThomson’s performance will be based on Kelly’s Reminiscences. Thomson will also perform in “The Star of Robbie Burns” (Church of the Redeemer, June 7) with Virginia Hatfield, soprano, and Benjamin Covey, baritone.

The Toronto Masque Theatre will give its final concert of the season on May 10 and 11 (at 8pm) and May 12 (at 3pm; all at the Al Green Theatre). The program consists of John Blow’s masque, Venus and Adonis, and a newly commissioned opera by Alice Ping Yee Ho, The Lesson of Da Ji. The singers are Vania Chan, Charlotte Corwin and Xin Wang, soprano, Marion Newman, mezzo, Timothy Wong, countertenor, Benjamin Covey and Alexander Dobson, baritone.

Klara Ek, soprano, and Gerald Finley, bass-baritone, will be the soloists in Brahms’ German Requiem, with the Toronto Symphony (Roy Thomson Hall, May 22, 23 and 25). The first two of these concerts will also include Lieberson’s settings of poems by Neruda.

Recitals at Rosedale kicks off its 2013/14 season with a special launch concert on June 1 (Rosedale Presbyterian Church at 7:30pm).

This month in its free Vocal Series the COC presents: Anna Christy, soprano, the star of the current production of Lucia di Lammermoor, in recital on May 21; a concert by the graduating artists of the COC Ensemble Studio on May 23; and a sneak preview of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival on May 30. All three concerts are in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre from 12 noon to 1pm and are free.

And beyond the GTA: Leslie Fagan, soprano, Laura Pudwell, mezzo, Adam Bishop, tenor, and Peter McGillivray, baritone, will be the soloists in a performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass (George Street United Church, Peterborough, May 11 at 7:30pm).

A postscript: I enjoyedthe lively performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by students of the Glenn Gould School (although I have always seen the opera more as an account of frustrated desire than as an indulgence in bunga bunga). The Don (Diego Catala) sang a beautiful “Serenade” and Don Ottavio (Justin Stolz) was terrific in “Il mio tesoro.” The finest performance came from Beste Kalender as Zerlina. She sang with warmth and had just the right mixture of naiveté, spontaneity and artfulness. 

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener. He also sings and plays the recorder.

Art of SongLast September Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata, the artistic directors of the Aldeburgh Connection, announced that this season, their 32nd, would be their last. Sad news, but nobody would want to force the directors to see the series as a life sentence. In any case, they want to end things now rather than wait until the time when people would say, “they have obviously run out of ideas,” however remote and even hypothetical that must seem at present.

Ralls’ work at Aldeburgh, the seaside town in southeast England, and his professional involvement with the operas of Benjamin Britten, began in 1972 when he worked as pianist and vocal coach on A Midsummer Night’s Dream; subsequently he played the piano in Britten’s final opera, Death in Venice (he can be heard as the pianist on the opera’s original recording). Ubukata arrived in Aldeburgh in 1977 with the intention of auditing some of the masterclasses, but there was a last minute vacancy and he stayed as a coach and accompanist instead. It was then that Ralls and Ubukata first met but they realized they could have met four years earlier when Ubukata was in the audience at an Edinburgh performance of Death in Venice, in which Ralls played the piano.

The Aldeburgh Connection’s main goal has always been to help young Canadian singers gain experience in the song repertoire. Recently I have been struck by the way Aldeburgh’s concerts have maintained a balance between emerging singers and established artists. Its most recent concert, for instance, had the well-known soprano Monica Whicher but also the tenor Isaiah Bell and the bass-baritone Gordon Bintner, neither of whom is at all well known in Toronto. (That is bound to change now that Bintner has become a member of the COC Ensemble Studio.) But the established singers were also young emerging singers at one time and many were given important professional experience by the Aldeburgh Connection early in their careers. That is as true of singers who retired many years ago (Henry Ingram, Ingemar Korjus, Catherine Robbin, Janet Stubbs) as it is of those who are still in the middle of successful careers (Colin Ainsworth, Russell Braun, Brett Polegato, Michael Schade). A number of singers made their first professional appearance with the Aldeburgh Connection: Alexander Dobson, Virginia Hatfield, Joni Henson, Benjamin Covey and Lucia Cesaroni. Over the years the Aldeburgh Connection has commissioned a number of works. Several of these were recorded on the CD Our Own Songs, with Adrianne Pieczonka, Monica Whicher, Elizabeth Turnbull, Colin Ainsworth and Mark Pedrotti.

Ralls and Ubukata have always acknowledged the help they received from their patrons. First and foremost was Peter Pears, Britten’s partner and the singer for whom he wrote many of his works. Another was Greta Kraus, pianist and harpsichordist, vocal coach and accompanist. It is in her memory that the Aldeburgh Connection established its annual Schubertiad.

One of the finest things about the concerts of the Aldeburgh Connection is the work that the directors have done to establish the cultural contexts of the songs. The first of their concerts that I attended was based on songs that were performed in Jane Austen’s family. To prepare for that concert Ralls and Ubukata travelled to the Jane Austen’s House Museum (in Chawton in Hampshire) where they examined the music that Austen had copied out. The first half of their most recent concert consisted of Schubert songs with texts based on the poetry of Ovid, Virgil and Catullus. It is those poems that were read (Ralls and Ubukata are excellent readers). There have also been contributions over the years by leading Canadian actors. There my finest memory is Christopher Newton’s reading of the Christmas dinner chapter from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Incorporating readings is now a feature of many concerts, a practice no doubt influenced by the Aldeburgh Connection. The danger is that these readings are often rather loosely related to the music. That has never been true of the Aldeburgh Connection.

Special attention has always been given to the anniversaries of composers: Schubert, Poulenc, Hugo Wolf. It is fitting that in this, their final year, they will finish with three concerts devoted to the work of Britten, who was born 100 years ago. The first of these concerts, at Glenn Gould Studio on April 26 at 8pm, presents three of the Canticles as well as The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard and Britten’s Purcell Realizations. The soloists are Daniel Taylor, countertenor, Benjamin Butterfield, tenor, and Alexander Dobson, baritone. The second of the concerts will take place on May 7 in the Glenn Gould Studio at 8pm, featuring Shannon Mercer, soprano, and Susan Platts, mezzo, as soloists in On this Island, A Charm of Lullabies, The Poet’s Echo and some of the folksong arrangements. A Charm of Lullabies and The Poet’s Echo have a special meaning for Ralls and Ubukata as they were written for singers whom they knew and remember fondly: Nancy Evans and Galina Vishnevskaya. “A Britten Festival of Song” (and indeed the Aldeburgh Connection) will end with a vocal tapestry, “A Time There Was” in Walter Hall, May 26 at 2:30pm. The soloists are Virginia Hatfield, soprano, Scott Belluz, countertenor, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone.

I feel confident about the continuing presence in Toronto of Ralls and Ubukata. Ralls will be the collaborative pianist in a recital with Allyson McHardy featuring works by Berlioz, Schumann, Rossini and Jonathan Larson, as well as Scottish folksongs, on April 14 in Glenn Gould Studio at 2pm. Last month Ubukata travelled to York University to direct a masterclass with the students of Catherine Robbin and Norma Burrowes. But I am less sanguine about the continuing presence of song recitals in Toronto. The celebrity recitals at Roy Thomson Hall were discontinued a couple of years ago and there is now very little vocal music at Koerner Hall. To some extent the slack has been taken up by the four-concert series “Canadian Voices,” organized by Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall and given at the Glenn Gould Studio, but, unlike the concerts of the Aldeburgh Connection, these concerts feature established singers, not emerging artists. There are, of course, other concerts that may feature songs. One of the finest things I have heard in a long time was the staged performance of Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared, given by Against the Grain Theatre with Colin Ainsworth, Lauren Segal and Christopher Mokrzewski.

Other series will incorporate sung performances next season: Isabel Bayrakdarian will perform with Tafelmusik in April 2014 and Philip Addis sings for Music Toronto in December of this year. Addis will also pay tribute to the music of Britten: his recital includes the Songs and Proverbs of William Blake as well as one of Britten’s Purcell Realizations. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra program for next season includes Britten’s Serenade Op. 31 for tenor (Nicholas Phan), horn (Neil Deland) and strings, Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs (Erin Wall), Mozart’s Coronation Mass (Leslie Ann Bradley, Lauren Segal, Lawrence Wiliford and Philippe Sly), a range of soprano-mezzo duets (Yulia Van Doren and Wallis Giunta), an evening of music by Lerner and Loewe (Amy Wallis, Colin Ainsworth and Jonathan Estabrooks) and Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs (Sondra Radvanovsky). Many singers now organize their own concerts at venues like the Heliconian Hall on Hazelton Ave. It is there that recently we have been able to hear Meredith Hall (with Brahm Goldhamer), John Holland (with William Shookhoff), Isaiah Bell (with Stephen Ralls) and several others.

The new series that comes closest to what the Aldeburgh Connection has given us is Recitals at Rosedale (Rosedale is short for Rosedale Presbyterian Church), directed by Rachel Andrist and John Greer. The series opens on June 1 at 7:30pm with a special launch concert; the subsequent recitals are on October 6, December 1, February 9 and May 25 (all Sundays at 2:30pm, a day of the week and a time inherited from the Aldeburgh Connection). Like the Aldeburgh Connection, Recitals at Rosedale is committed to using only Canadian singers (their lineup includes major talents like Ambur Braid and Lauren Segal, Colin Ainsworth and Gregory Dahl). I am looking forward to these concerts but I have to add that the emphasis in their advance publicity on “renowned Canadian artists” does not suggest that bringing out emerging singers will be one of their priorities.


On April 5 and 6 in Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre at 8pm, the Toronto Consort presents Emma Kirkby, soprano, and Jakob Lindberg, lute, in a concert of music by Dowland and Purcell. Kirkby will give a masterclass on April 7 at 2:30pm, also at the Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

On April 11 and 13 in Roy Thomson Hall at 8pm, Measha Brueggergosman, soprano, will sing four songs by Duparc and Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano, will give a free recital in Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory on April 14 at 5pm. The program includes songs for voice and harp — Rubbra’s Jade Mountain and Britten’s A Birthday Hansel, with Ingrid Bauer — and works for voice and piano — Hymnen an die Nacht by Vivier, Cinq mélodies de Venise by Fauré and The Ugly Duckling by Prokofiev, with Peter Tiefenbach. Fitz Gibbon will also sing at the Canadian Music Centre (20 St. Joseph St.) on April 13 at 5:30pm.

There are four free vocal performances at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre next month, all at noon: “A Celebration of Canadian Art Song" on April 16 includes a world premiere of a work by Norbert Palej performed by Lawrence Wiliford, tenor, a new work by Andrew Ager, dedicated to and performed by Shannon Mercer, soprano, and songs by Jean Coulthard sung by Peter McGillivray, baritone — Stephen Philcox is the collaborative pianist; songs from Newfoundland sung by tenors Michael Barrett and Adam Luther are featured on April 23; the April 30 concert, “Inspired by Lorca,” showcases La selva de los relojes, a new chamber work by Chris Paul Harman with Krisztina Szabó, mezzo; and “Sérénade Française,” French arias and art songs with the COC Ensemble Studio takes place on May 2.

Greece to Granada,” a program of Greek, Balkan and Spanish music, will be performed on April 26 at 8pm in the Heliconian Hall. The singer is the mezzo Maria Soulis and the instrumentalists are William Beauvais, guitar, and Julian Knight, violin. Soulis has had a busy career in Europe, where her roles included the title role in Carmen and Rosina in The Barber of Seville. She has recently returned to Canada. Here she has sung, among other parts, the role of Clara in a workshop production of the second act of The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G. (music by Aaron Gervais and libretto by Colleen Murphy) for Tapestry Opera. 

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

1806 art of songOne of the most accomplished accompanists (or, as we now prefer to say, collaborative pianists) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Coenraad V. Bos. It was Bos who played the piano in the first performance of Brahms’ Vier Ernste Gesänge in 1896. In his autobiography, The Well-Tempered Accompanist (1949), Bos wrote about his long association with singers like Helen Traubel and Elena Gerhardt but he also mentioned an unfortunate experience with the Wagnerian tenor Ernest van Dyck. In a London recital van Dyck and Bos were performing Schumann’s song “Ich grolle nicht,” a song which ends with a piano postlude. Bos was disconcerted to find that people started clapping before he had had a chance to play that postlude. He was even more disconcerted when he found out why. Van Dyck had bowed as he sang his last note and left the stage. Bos insisted on playing the postlude and managed to silence the applause. Van Dyck was furious.

A central figure in Bos’ autobiography is the tenor Raimund von zur-Mühlen. While von zur-Mühlen was initially very critical of Bos’ playing, he became more appreciative later. At one point, after a recital in Berlin, he sent Bos a note which read: “Last night you must have played well, because I was not conscious of your playing throughout the recital.” When Gerald Moore came to write his autobiography, the ironically titled Am I Too Loud? (1962), he quoted that passage and expressed his dissent, something that would not surprise anyone who had read Moore’s earlier book, The Unashamed Accompanist (1943). Throughout the autobiography Moore expressed his appreciation for the singers and instrumentalists with whom he had worked, but like Bos he too had some unfortunate experiences. One of these was with the soprano Frieda Hempel. A recital she was giving with Moore included two songs by Hugo Wolf with substantial postludes. Hempel told Moore: “Just play a chord when the voice part ends — else my applause will be spoiled.” Moore wanted none of this — as one would expect.

Moore, more than anyone else, raised the profile of the accompanist through his recitals, his recordings and his books. He had a long career: when he was quite young (“my voice still unbroken”), he became the organist of St. Thomas’s Church on Huron Street in Toronto. His career ended with a farewell recital in 1967. The other performers were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Victoria de los Angeles and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Moore had the last word — the concert ended with a piano transcription of Schubert’s song “An die Musik.”

We are fortunate that in Toronto we have many accomplished collaborative pianists: in recent months we have been able to hear Sandra Horst (with David Pomeroy), Steven Philcox and Rachel Andrist (in the COC Ensemble Studio competition), Jennifer Tung, Brahm Goldhamer and Peter Tiefenbach (with the artists of the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory) and Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata (in the concerts of the Aldeburgh Connection).

On March 7 at the Jane Mallett Theatre at 8pm, John Hess is the pianist in a recital with the soprano Erin Wall. The program will include works by Schubert, Korngold, Strauss and Ricky Ian Gordon. Hess is especially known as an authority on contemporary opera and song in Canada. He has worked with many singers, including Valdine Anderson, Jane Archibald, Ben Heppner and Wendy Nielsen. He teaches in the Faculty of Music at Western University.

On March 10 at 2:30pm at Walter Hall, Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata present the Aldeburgh Connection’s annual “Schubertiad.” The singers are Monica Whicher, soprano, Isaiah Bell, tenor and Gordon Bintner, bass-baritone.

Also on March 10 Peter Longworth will be the pianist in a concert with Melanie Conly, soprano, and Anita Krause, mezzo, in works by Fleming, Chausson, Raum, Schubert, Barber and Delibes in the Heliconian Hall at 3pm.

The Canadian Voices concert at 2pm on March 24 in the Glenn Gould Studio features New York-based pianist Ken Noda with mezzo Wallis Giunta. Noda has worked with many distinguished soloists including Jessye Norman, Kurt Moll and the late Hildegard Behrens. The main work on the program is Kurt Weill’s Die sieben Todsünden, a work originally produced as a sung ballet in 1933. The text is by Bertolt Brecht. As the work’s full English title, The Seven Deadly Sins of the Bourgeoisie, makes explicit, the emphasis is on what sin means in a capitalist society. Giunta is a former member of the COC Opera Studio Ensemble and is at present a member of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. We recently saw her as Annio in the COC production of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito — a tomboy Annio because that is how the director, Christopher Alden, saw the part. She will return to the COC next January as Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, a roleshe sang in an acclaimed Lindemann/Juilliard production in New York last fall.

Other events: On March 5 and 6, 8pm at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, the Talisker Players presents a program of musical settings (by Buczynski, Finzi, Good and Toch) of poems by de Pizan, Hardy and others on the changes that time will bring. The soloists are Carla Huhtanen, soprano, and Peter McGillivray, baritone; Stewart Arnott is the reader.

On March 9 at Metropolitan United Church at 7:30pm there will be a concert of music from the French baroque including the achingly beautiful Leçons des Ténèbres by Couperin. The soloists are Ariel Harwood-Jones, soprano, and Christina Stelmacovich, mezzo. Another concert at Metropolitan will present music by Gilles, Duruflé and Lili Boulanger on Good Friday, March 29, at 7:30pm.

March 12, in a 7pm free concert at University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, AA303 Arts and Administration Building, tenor Lenard Whiting will sing Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin with the pianist Brett Kingsbury.

On March 16 at 7:30pm in the Bloor Street United Church, Capella Intima performs the anonymous 1650 oratorio Giuseppe. The soloists are Lesley Bouza and Emily Klassen, soprano, Laura McAlpine, alto, Bud Roach, tenor, and James Baldwin, bass. The same program will take place at McNeill Baptist Church in Hamilton on March 16 at 2pm and at Kingston Road United Church in Toronto on March 17 at 2pm.

On March 26 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, there will be a free concert at noon of art songs and poetry by the artists of the University of Toronto’s Voice and Collaborative Piano departments. The conductors are Darryl Edwards and Steven Philcox.

On April 3 the Toronto Latvian Concert Association presents Vestard Shimkus, piano, and Elina Shimkus, soprano, in works by Wagner, Vasks, Shimkus, Mozart and Rossini at 7:30pm at the Glenn Gould Studio.

And beyond the GTA: on March 10 at 3pm Primavera Concerts presents Shannon Mercer, soprano, and Andrew Ager, organ, in a concert of works by Bach, Ager and others at St. Barnabas Church in St. Catharines. 

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

The swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod made his name in 1937 in the pioneering recordings of the music of Monteverdi, directed by Nadia Boulanger. Subsequently he became a noted performer of French song. In 1987, in his 85th year, he made his debut at the Met in New York in the role of the Emperor Altoun in Puccini’s Turandot. He continued to perform in public until he was 90; he died in 2010, at the age of 108. Cuénod’s career was unusual but he was not the only singer who has gone on performing into old age. Placido Domingo is now 72; he began as a baritone (like Jean de Reszke, John Coates, Lauritz Melchior and Ramon Vinay) and he has now moved back to the baritone repertoire (while still singing tenor parts) and is performing some of the great Verdi baritone roles.

artsong-feb2013On the other hand, many singers have retired from public performances in middle age. I remember the sadness I felt when Elly Ameling and Janet Baker retired but, looking back, I am sure they made the right decision. It would not have been a good thing if some old codger were to say “She is good but you should have heard her 12 years ago.” Still, some singers retire very early. Norma Burrowes began her career in 1970 (Glyndebourne, Royal Opera House Covent Garden). In 1971 she joined the English National Opera and later in the 70s she performed in Salzburg, Aix-en-Provence, the New York Met and the Paris Opéra. I heard her several times in London and I treasure the recording of Acis and Galatea in which she sings Galatea. She retired in 1982, when she was in her 38th year. She became a vocal coach at the University of Saskatchewan in 1992, moved to Toronto in 1994 and now teaches at York University. My colleague Ori Dagan writes: “Norma was always warm and encouraging to me, going out of her way to suggest repertoire that might suit my voice. I remember in particular the way her eyes lit up when talking about a particular song by Fauré — “It would be so perfect for you, Ori” — Her passion for teaching this music was undoubtedly infectious.”

Another singer who retired early is the versatile soprano Jennie Such. She has sung opera, oratorio, song recitals and even musical comedy. I have vivid memories of her superb Susanna in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro for Opera Ontario in Hamilton. She now has a young child and finds combining motherhood with a full-time performing career difficult. But she remains a teacher and an adjudicator and is now exploring a new field: music therapy.

Kathy Domoney was a member of the COC Ensemble Studio and the COC chorus, gave recitals and performed with groups such as the Aldeburgh Connection and Opera in Concert, performed at Banff and at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. She no longer performs (although she is still active as an adjudicator) but has instead opened an agency. It is a small agency (a boutique agency as she calls it) and she wishes to keep it that way as that allows her to help the artists she represents in a more effective way than would be the case in a bigger firm. At present she has 17 artists on her list, ranging from the soprano Charlotte Corwin to the recorder player-conductor-composer Matthias Maute.

The soprano Adreana Braun has moved sideways, so to speak. Braun trained as a classical singer and performed with Opera Atelier and the Canadian Opera Company. Over the past 12 years, however, she has established herself as a jazz singer and it is as Adi Braun that she is now best known. You will be able to hear her on March 6 at 8pm, when she will perform at Musideum.

Some other events

The French soprano Sandrine Piau sang Vivaldi and Handel with Tafelmusik on January 31; there will be further performances on February 1 and 2 at 8pm and on February 3 at 3:30pm, all at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

On February 9 at 8pm at the Eastminster United Church, Nathalie Paulin will be the soprano soloist in a concert of music by Bach, titled “Bach’s Blessings.” According to the presenter, Academy Concert Series: “In the Baroque era, G major was the key of Benediction or ‘blessing’ and is central to the theme of this concert.”

Also on February 9, Gillian Keith, soprano, and Keith Weber, piano, will perform works by Schumann, Britten, Purcell, Lehár and others at the Rosedale Presbyterian Church, 7:30pm.

Colin Ainsworth will be the vocal soloist in the Toronto Masque Theatre production of “Les Roses de la Vie” at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, February 7 to 9, 8pm.

There will be two free vocal recitals by the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio: “Vive l’amour,” a musical celebration of love, on February 14, and a concert of arias and songs by Richard Strauss on February 21, both at noon in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium.

On February 16 soprano Carla Huhtanen is the soloist in “The Tapestry Songbook,” a concert of Canadian music at 7:30pm in the Ernest Balmer Studio drawn from Tapestry Opera’s 33-year history of new opera productions.

The Canadian Voices series at Glenn Gould Studio, February 24 at 2pm, returns with David Pomeroy, tenor and Sandra Horst, piano. The program includes music by Handel, Beethoven, Duparc, Quilter and de Curtis as well as three Newfoundland sea song arrangements with clarinet obbligato. We last heard Pomeroy in the role of Alfred in Die Fledermaus. That role is a parody of the operatic tenor: a randy male with a high voice. But the part can only be performed properly by someone who can sing the real thing, as Pomeroy did in his superb performance as Offenbach’s Hoffmann for the COC last season.

On March 1 and 2 at 8pm, Against the Grain Theatre presents two song cycles: Janáček’s Diary of One Who Disappeared and Kurtág’s Kafka-Fragments. The performers: in the Janáček, Lesley Bouza and Sarah Halmerson, sopranos, Eugenia Dermentzis and Lauren Segal, mezzos, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Christopher Mokrzewski, piano; in the Kurtág, Jacqueline Woodley, soprano, and Kerry DuWors.

Earlier this year soprano Erin Wall took three months off on maternity leave but she returns to the stage in the TSO performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, along with mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor Joseph Kaiser and bass-baritone Shenyang at Roy Thomson Hall, February 13, 15 and 16 at 8pm. On March 7 at 8pm she will perform with the pianist John Hess, in a program of works by Schubert, Korngold, Strauss and Ricky Ian Gordon at the Jane Mallett Theatre. Rather surprisingly, this is part of Music Toronto’s Discovery Series—those who heard Wall’s fine performances in the COC productions of Love from Afar and The Tales of Hoffmann must feel that she no longer needs to be discovered.

A postscript: I was privileged to attend the competition for entry to the COC Ensemble Studio on November 29. First prize as well as the audience prize went to the bass-baritone Gordon Bintner, the second prize was awarded to the tenor Andrew Haji and the mezzo Charlotte Burrage won third prize. All three will be members of the Ensemble Studio for 2013/14; they will be joined by soprano Aviva Fortunata, mezzo Danielle MacMillan and baritone Clarence Frazer. 

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

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise thy God, O Zion!

—Psalm 147

Allah, May He Be Praised, said of Jerusalem: You are my Garden of Eden, my hallowed and chosen land.

—Ka’ab al-Ahbar

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

—William Blake

And come forth from the cloud of unknowing
And kiss the cheek of the moon
The New Jerusalem glowing

—Leonard Cohen

artofsong kiya tabassianJerusalem is sacred to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. On January 27 at 3pm, in Koerner Hall, Soundstreams will explore music and poetry centering on the city of Jerusalem. The singer will be Françoise Atlan, who was born in a Sephardic family in France but now lives in Morocco. She has performed and recorded several kinds of medieval music: Sephardic, Arabic and Spanish. In the Soundstreams concert she will perform Sephardic songs as well as a new work by James Rolfe. Persian music will be represented by the setar playing of Kiya Tabassian, a musician born in Iran, who now lives in Montreal. As for the Christian tradition, there will be a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s motet Lauda Jerusalem, Dominum, a setting of Psalm 147. There will also be poetry readings from Blake, Cohen and John Asfour as well as new poetry by André Alexis. The musical direction will be in the hands of David Fallis, well known to Toronto readers as the artistic director of the Toronto Consort and the musical director of Opera Atelier.

artofsong francoise-atlan-070-alan-keohaneAround the venues: The Aldeburgh Connection will present its season’s second concert, “Madame Bizet,” December 2. The performers are Nathalie Paulin, soprano, and Brett Polegato, baritone, with readings by Fiona Reid and Mike Shara. The music is by Bizet, Debussy, Ravel and Hahn. The third concert in the series will take place January 27. Its title, “Valse des Fleurs,” is an allusion to Sacheverell Sitwell’s evocation of Imperial Russia. In this concert the singers are Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano, Anita Krause, mezzo, and Andrew Haji, tenor (with readings by Ben Carlson). The music is by Glinka, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky. Both concerts are at Walter Hall at 2:30pm.

The Canadian Opera Company announces three free concerts in its Vocal Series: “GrimmFest,” arias and duets inspired by the Brothers Grimm, December 4; music by Mozart and Salieri, January 8; songs on the theme of travel and homeland, January 24. All three concerts are in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium in the Four Seasons Centre at 12 noon.

Opera Five presents “Waking up the Senses,” with works by Hindemith, Rachmaninoff, and Granger at Gallery 345, December 4, 5 and 6 at 7:30pm.

There will be a recital of French carols and other Christmas music with singers Aurélie Cormier, mezzo, and Bruno Cormier, baritone, a freewill offering at the Newman Centre on December 7 at 7:30pm.

At the Heliconian Hall on December 8 at 7:00pm, Carla Huhtanen, soprano, and Heidi Saario, piano, will perform Finnish songs from Sibelius to Saariaho.

Also at the Heliconian Hall, on December 16 at 2:00pm Jacqueline Gélineau, contralto, and Brahm Goldhamer, piano, with John Holland, baritone, and Darlene Shura, soprano, will perform works by Brahms, Reichenauer and Handel.

Bravissimo: On December 31 at 7:00pm at Roy Thomson Hall you can hear “Bravissimo,” an anthology of opera’s greatest hits ranging from Don Giovanni to La Bohème. Two of the soloists are Canadian, the tenor Gordon Gietz and the baritone Gregory Dahl. The others are the Spanish soprano Davinia Rodriguez, the Italian mezzo Annalisa Stroppa and the Korean tenor Ho-Yoon Chung. I remember Dahl from a fine performance in Britten’s Paul Bunyan when he was still a student at the University of Toronto Opera School; Gietz made his debut at the Met in the role of the Nose in Shostakovitch’s opera of that name (I suppose we can call it the title role). On New Year’s Day at 2:30pm, also at Roy Thomson Hall, there will be a performance of “A Salute to Vienna,” with soprano Elena Dediu and tenor Alexandru Badia as soloists.

artofsongoption laylaclaire credit lisamariemazzuccoLayla Claire: Every January at Roy Thomson Hall the TSO presents a mini-Mozart Festival. This year the series is titled “Mozart At 257” and will include two concerts with the soprano Layla Claire. On January 9 at 6:30pm, Claire will sing Susanna’s recitative from The Marriage of Figaro,“Giunse alfin il momento,” but she will then not go on to the aria “Deh vieni non tardar,” but will substitute the aria which Mozart wrote for the 1789 revival of the opera: “Al desio di chi t’adora.” In the January 10 concert at 2pm, she will also sing an aria from La Finta Giardiniera. The “Alleluia” from “Exsultate Jubilate” will be part of both concerts. Claire is a Canadian singer (she was born in Penticton, B.C.), who studied in Montreal and now lives in New York City.

Mad Dogs and more: On January 13 at 3pm the Talisker Players will present “Mad Dogs and Englishmen: the Noel Coward Songbook” at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre. Also on January 13, at 6:30pm, Ariel Harwood-Jones will give a recital as a Prelude to Evensong, a freewill offering at St. Thomas’s Church.

There will be a free recital by voice students at York University January 18 at 1:30pm in the Martin Family Lounge, Room 219 Accolade East Building.

Monica Whicher, soprano, Liz Upchurch, piano, and Marie Bérard, violin, will perform a program of English-language songs by British, American and Canadian composers at 8pm on January 27 in the Mazzoleni Concert Hall.

The soprano Angela Meade will be the soloist in a performance of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs with the Ontario Philharmonic, conducted by Marco Parisotto. The concert, in Koerner Hall at 8pm on January 20, will also include Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. And Adrienne Pieczonka performs the same work with the Hamilton Philharmonic led by James Sommerville on December 15 at 7:30pm in Hamilton Place.

On February 2 at 7:30pm in the Mazzoleni Concert Hall, the Glenn Gould School presents a concert in which voice students at the school perform art songs and arias.

And beyond the GTA: Anne Morrone, soprano, Marianne Sasso, mezzo, Anthony Macri, tenor, and Ian Amirthanathan, baritone, will be the soloists in a Christmas Concert December 14 at 7:30pm at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Nobleton.

A postscript: I always have an eye (and two ears) open for newly emerging singers and it gave me great pleasure to attend the double bill offered by the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory on November 16. The works were the modernist Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters by Ned Rorem (libretto by Gertrude Stein) and the romantic Le Lauréat by Joseph Vézina. The latter work was written in 1906 (it is an opéra comique with spoken dialogue but with arias and duets which reminded me of Puccini); the production was updated to the 1960s. The casts in both works were accomplished and there were especially fine performances by the soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and the mezzo Ekaterina Utochkina. In February the Glenn Gould School will mount its annual production of a full-length opera. This year it will be Mozart’s Don Giovanni and that will be something to look forward to. 

Hans de Groot taught English Literature at the University of Toronto from 1965 until the spring of 2012, and has been a concert-goer and active listener since the early 1950s; he also sings and plays recorder. He can be contacted at artofsong@thewholenote.com.

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