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

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

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

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

As the latin epigram has it, Poeta nascitur, non fit: “a poet is born, not made.” Is that also true of singers? Up to a point, yes. When one hears outstanding artists like Karina Gauvin or Colin Ainsworth, one senses that there is an innate musicality which would simply have to come out. Yet a young raw talent will not be ready for a solo career, not even Ainsworth (who studied with Darryl Edwards) or Gauvin (who while still a teenager studied with Catherine Robbin, later with Marie Daveluy in Montreal and Pamela Bowden in Glasgow).

24-25-artofsong-nielsenThere are several institutions in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario that offer training to young singers. In the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, Darryl Edwards is the head of voice studies and Lorna MacDonald holds the Lois Marshall chair. The university directory lists another ten voice instructors; they include a very senior figure in Mary Morrison along with well-known musicians such as Jean MacPhail and Nathalie Paulin. There are also teachers of diction and pianists who provide vocal coaching. One will be able to get a sense of what the university offers in the Tuesday performance classes for singers in the Edward Johnson Building on November 6, 20, 27 and December 4 at Walter Hall from 12:10pm to 1pm and also in the masterclasses with Edith Wiens in the Macmillan Theatre November 5 from 4pm to 6pm and Adrianne Pieczonka in Walter Hall (art songs November 14 at 7pm; operatic arias on November 15 at noon).

York University also has an extensive teaching program for singers. Catherine Robbin is the director of the classical voice studies program and other teachers include Stephanie Bogle, Norma Burrowes and Janet Obermeyer. On November 20 baritone Peter McGillivray will give a masterclass from 11:30am to 2:30pm and he will be followed by soprano Wendy Nielsen on November 23 from 11:30am to 4pm. Both events will be at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building.

Other strong music faculties in Ontario are those of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo (Kimberley Barber, Leslie Fagan, Brandon Leis, Daniel Lichti) and the University of Western Ontario in London (Gwenlynn Little, Anita Krause, Frédérique Vézina and many others). In London there will be workshops for singers and vocal masterclasses on November 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 in Talbot College, Room 100 at 1:30pm, a voice studio recital by Gloria Gassi on November 9 at 6pm and a masterclass with Adrianne Pieczonka on December 1 from noon to 2pm, both events in von Kuster Hall, UWO Music Building.

Not all singers go through a university degree in music. Isabel Bayrakdarian, who has a degree in engineering, studied with MacPhail, her first and only teacher. MacPhail has a very impressive teaching record: Wallis Giunta was another of her students and it was MacPhail who turned Giunta, an aspiring soprano, into a mezzo. She also taught Miriam Khalil and, among the most recent generation of singers, Erin Bardua, Beste Kalender, Sara Schabas and Taylor Strande.

A complaint I have heard from voice students is that academic programs are often so dominated by the requirements of the curriculum that there is not enough time for vocal technique or points of interpretation. Clearly there is a lot to be said for the sustained pupil-teacher relationship that Gauvin enjoyed with Robbin or Bayrakdarian with MacPhail. An alternative to study in a university program (or possibly a supplement) is offered by the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory. Here teachers include MacPhail (of course) and many other distinguished artists such as Ann Monoyios, Roxolana Roslak and Monica Whicher. Vocal coaching is provided by Rachel Andrist and Brahm Goldhamer. Some indication of the quality of advanced students will be given this month by an evening of opera on November 16 and 17 in Mazzoleni Concert Hall at 7:30pm. (Later this season there will be a concert of opera arias and songs on February 2 in Mazzoleni Concert Hall as well as the annual staged opera in Koerner Hall on March 20 and 22).

What happens after a music degree or a conservatory diploma? Toronto Summer Music and the Toronto Summer Opera Lyric Theatre and Research Centre offer further training as does the graduate diploma program offered by the Opera School at the University of Toronto. Some of the best young singers will be able to enter the Ensemble Studio of the Canadian Opera Company. The Aldeburgh Connection and Opera in Concert will always be looking for emerging talents; amateur choirs will need soloists. Yet the road towards a full-time professional career is not always easy, even for the most talented singers. One hopes that newly emerging singers will not have to go to Europe to have a career as has happened in the past with Lilian Sukis, James McLean and (until recently) Adrianne Pieczonka.

Some other events

On November 8 at 2pm Annamaria Eisler will perform a free concert of songs by Marlene Dietrich at the Toronto Public Library, 40 Orchard Blvd.

On November 16 artists of the U of T Faculty of Music with guest Adrianne Pieczonka, soprano, will present “An Evening of Song,” a free concert at 7:30pm in Walter Hall.

At the Glenn Gould Studio on November 18 Off Centre Music Salon presents “American Salon: Syncopated City – The Magic of New York,” with works by Sondheim, Gershwin, Bernstein and others, with soloists Sarah Halmarson and Ilana Zarankin, sopranos, and Vasil Garvanliev, baritone.

There will be a free concert at Walter Hall at 12:10pm on November 22. Lorna MacDonald soprano, with Susan Hoeppner, flute, Stephen Philcox, piano, and Peter Stoll, clarinet, will perform music by Gaveux, Roussel, Beckwith, Hoiby, Corigliano and Cook.

On November 25 at 2pm in Mazzoleni Concert Hall, Carla Huhtanen will be one of the soloists in a concert performance of Brian Current’s opera-oratorio Airline Icarus. (See cover story.)

Also on November 25 Danielle Dudycha, soprano, and Martin Dubé, piano, will perform works by Rachmaninoff, Poulenc, Dvorak, de Falla and Duparc at Gallery 345 at 8pm.

On November 28 John Holland, baritone, and William Shookhoff, piano, will perform works by Ravel, Donizetti, Dvorak, Mozart and others at 7:30pm in the Heliconian Hall.

On November 29 from 6pm to 8pm the Canadian Opera Company will hold its second Annual Ensemble Studio Competition in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

The Messiah season will be upon us in December but the Elmer Iseler Singers are anticipating the annual flood by presenting their performance on November 30 in the Metropolitan United Church at 8pm. The soloists will be Leslie Fagan, Lynne McMurtry, Colin Ainsworth and Geoffrey Sirett.

In Walter Hall on December 2 at 2:30pm the Aldeburgh Connection will be giving its second concert of the season with “Madame Bizet: from Carmen to Proust.” The singers are Nathalie Paulin and Brett Polegato.

On December 2 Carolyn Hague, soprano, and Marie-Line Ross, piano, will perform songs from musical theatre and from the classical repertoire in the Heliconian Hall at 2pm.

On December 4 the Canadian Opera Company, in its free vocal series, will present arias and duets inspired by the Brothers Grimm in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at 12 noon.

On December 7 at 7:30pm Aurélie Cormier, soprano, and Bruno Cormier, baritone, will offer a free recital of French carols and other Christmas music at the Newman Centre.

And beyond the GTA

On November 8 at noon Patricia Green, mezzo-soprano, will be the soloist in a free program of love songs by Canadian composers in the Goldschmidt Room, 107 MacKinnon Building, University of Guelph.

On November 25 Monica Whicher, soprano, and Judy Loman, harp, will give a concert at Trinity United Church in Huntsville at 2pm. 

Hans de Groot is a concert-goer and active listener, who also sings and plays the recorder.  He can be contacted at

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