(SPO = Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra)

1)  There have been many composers who were also conductors throughout the history of Western music – Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Leonard Bernstein come to mind as being among the most famous. How do the two roles fit together for you?  Do they feed one another?

First of all, I started my career as a professional cellist playing a lot of orchestral work, and not as a conductor or composer.  I believe this gave me a lot of practical experience to facilitate both composing for and conducting an orchestra.  Performing cello with the Toronto Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra in Los Angles, touring for Columbia Artists and performing at the Grammy Awards, all gave me different, but interesting viewpoints on music.  Having the opportunity to conduct and compose has given me even more varied experiences.  All these musical experiences have really helped keep me enthusiastic and growing as a musician.

2)  How does composing for orchestra inform or affect the way you look at and study an orchestral score?

I believe that composing gives a particular perspective on understanding the construction of music, which can’t be learned from just score study.  I wanted to study composition to better understand the music of great composers (both past and present).  Learning to compose a fugue in the style of J.S. Bach is the best way to really understand and appreciate Bach’s achievement.  Therefore, it is common for conductors to study at least some composition.  It is interesting to see how many of the top conductors have also composed or arranged music for orchestra.  For example, Vancouver Symphony music director and conductor Bramwell Tovey is an excellent composer and premiered an opera this season.

3)  Is there conflict – evenings when you would like to stay home and write but have to go out and lead a rehearsal?

Conductor Simon Streatfeild (who knew Benjamin Britten well) told me that “Ben” enjoyed conducting, but would get frustrated that he didn’t have enough time to compose.

I always enjoy conducting the orchestra, but there are times when I need to take care of administrative duties when I would rather be composing.  Because of the time commitments required for the SPO, I have composed less, but it has been a worthwhile trade-off.

4)  Has your work with the orchestra suggested or inspired compositions?

Last March, the SPO gave a remarkable performance of the Beethoven 9th Symphony, which ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience.  Being able to study this amazing composition in-depth and conduct this masterpiece for the first time taught me a lot as a conductor and a composer.  Consequently, I am thinking about composing a new work for choir and orchestra.

5)  You worked for ten years in Los Angeles as a studio musician. How has this influenced your programming choices with the Scarborough Phil?

I had the chance to work with many of the top film composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Maurice Jarre, Henry Mancini, John Williams.  This gave me such an appreciation for the art of composing music to film and for the music itself.  I enjoy programming film music in part because I had the opportunity to learn first-hand how it should be performed.

6)  At your concert on April 2, there were three original compositions by living composers, all of whom were present. Is the presentation of contemporary music a programming priority for you?

Yes, because there are many wonderful Canadian composers who deserve to have their music heard, and our audiences have enjoyed listening to them too!  Many also enjoy the opportunity to meet and chat with these “living” composers.  Traditionally, the SPO has had a composer-in-residence, who is presently the gifted emerging composer Alex Eddington.

7)  Can you say something about the orchestra’s next season?

Some program highlights include Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Brahms’ Requiem (with the Toronto Choral Society), Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, some engaging Canadian music and Howard Cable’s Cowboy Christmas.

8)  What do you see as the Scarborough Philharmonic’s unique contribution to the Toronto and area music scene?

The SPO has a tradition of having the musicians and audience interact.  We have pre-concert talks, intermissions where the audience and musicians have coffee and cookies while we mingle, and after-concert socializing. It is really a wonderful environment to share one’s love of orchestral music.  As well, one of our priorities is to help support, train and promote young Canadian musicians.  We have many young players in the orchestra (including university students and young professionals), we feature young soloists (there are several excellent young soloists programmed to perform with us next season), and we perform music by emerging composers.  We hope to start featuring emerging conductors as well.

9)  Do you have any other interesting projects on the go as a conductor and/or composer?

I will be conducting for violinist Conrad Chow and Sinfonia Toronto for a commercial recording this July, featuring music by the prominent Los Angeles film composer Bruce Broughton, myself and emerging Canadian composer Kevin Lau.  I was very pleased the SPO and Conrad Chow were given the opportunity to present the world premiere of Bruce’s Triptych for Violin and Chamber Orchestra for our April 2 concert.  I am also revising my Rhapsody for Violin and Chamber Orchestra (a Canada Council for the Arts commission) to go along with the Triptych.

10)  Two years ago you recorded a CD, “The Hollywood Flute,” featuring Louise

DiTullio, whose flute playing has been heard on the soundtracks of over 1200 films. The CD is on the Cambria Master Recordings label and is distributed by Naxos. How did that come about?

Louise is my aunt and I was thrilled that she wanted to include me as the conductor, a composer and an arranger in this project that included music by Hollywood film composers John Barry, Danny Elfman, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams.  The recording was organized and produced by Dr. Jeannie Pool, from Paramount Studios, and was quite interesting to work on.  For my arrangements of music from famous film scores, I was given access to the original scores (and sometimes sketches), which gave me interesting insights into the ways in which these different composers worked.

11)  Ms. Di Tullio is the guest artist at the Scarborough Philharmonic’s next concert. Do you see this event as kind of a CD release?

The audience will be given the chance to meet Louise and have her sign copies of the Hollywood Flute CD.  Since she lives on the west coast, this will be the first time that she has been in Toronto since she recorded the CD.  We have received only rave reviews for the CD.  If you have seen any major Hollywood movies over the last 40 years, you have heard Louise’s flute playing.

12)  The concert will give the audience the opportunity to hear one of the flutes greats.  Will there be music from the CD on the programme?  Will Ms. Di Tullio be performing any music that is not on the CD?

Louise will be playing the Suite from Dances with Wolves by John Barry which is on the CD.  As well, Louise will premiere my Duetto Amoroso for Flute, English Horn and Orchestra, along with virtuoso English Horn player Cary Ebli, who plays in the Toronto Symphony.  Cary will also perform the amazing Spaghetti Western Concerto by the American composer Michael Daugherty, who just won this year’s Grammy Award for best contemporary classical composition.  Included on the program will be music from popular films such as John Williams’ Raiders of the Lost Ark, Toronto native Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean.  There will be live orchestra accompaniments to some wonderful and humorous Sheridan College student cartoons and a Mary Pickford short silent film.  It should be a very enjoyable concert to attend, and I am certainly looking forward to conducting it.

More questions

13)  It seems to me that your association with the Scarborough Philharmonic began by your being its composer-in-residence. When was that? How did it come about?

I was invited by Jerome Summers to be the composer-in-residence, and held that position from June 2003 to June 2005.  Jerry was and continues to be a strong supporter of my work as a composer.  After 2005, I remained involved with the group in a less formal relationship, helping when possible.

14)  When did you move from the composer-in-residence job to becoming the artistic director and conductor?

After John Barnum left as music director, the board asked me to help with a conductor search and appointed me interim artistic director and conductor for the 2008-2009 concert season.  The search committee chose three excellent guest conductors who ended up being offered other career opportunities which prevented them from accepting Scarborough’s permanent music director job.  For example, conductor Daniel Swift became a music officer for the Canada Council for the Arts and is doing great work there.  So the board offered me the permanent position, but I asked that the orchestra have the opportunity to vote on it first.  I received a strong majority of support from the players, so I decided to take the plunge and become a music director for the first time in my career.

15)  Has your work as a professional cellist affected your work as a conductor or composer?

I started my career as a professional cellist doing a lot of orchestral work, and not as a conductor or composer.  I believe this gave me a lot of practical experience to facilitate both composing for and conducting an orchestra.  This cello experience has also influenced me philosophically on how I approach conducting and composing.  When I program for the SPO, an important consideration is choosing music that the orchestra will play well and will enjoy playing.  When I compose, I want the players to sound good performing my music and to enjoy playing it.  I usually approach things from a player’s perspective, which can be a very different approach from someone who has rarely or never “sat in the trenches” as a symphony performer.

16)  For longer term goals, I would like to continue working to learn and grow as a composer, and to write the best music I can.  I hope to continue having my music performed, commercially recorded, and commissioned.  All three are currently happening, so I hope it continues.

 

Just as people are breaking out the Battenberg cakes and Victoria sponge to celebrate the royal wedding, Toronto Operetta Theatre has whipped up the perfect musical confection to add to the festivities.  What better way to celebrate the monarchy than Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance where the villains of the title are vanquished “Because, with all their faults, they love their Queen?”

As the TOT demonstrated with its production of The Mikado in 2008, the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas gain immeasurably when sung by operatic voices.  While we can easily recognize the topsy-turveydom of Gilbert’s humour, operatic voices help reveal Sullivan’s abundant musical humour.  In Pirates, Mabel’s coloratura runs and attraction to echoing the flute parody Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, while Frederic’s declaration “I love you” at the end of “Oh, is there not one maiden breast” alludes to Wagner’s Tannhäuser--with the further joke that the murderous Lucia and sex-crazed Tannhäuser would hardly make an ideal couple.
Director Guillermo Silva-Marin and his excellent cast and the TOT Orchestra under Robert Cooper bring out all the humour of the piece--both verbal and musical--making the operetta a delight from beginning to end.  In fact, I haven’t heard a Pirates this well sung and played since the New D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s production at the Savoy in London in 1989.
Chief among Silva-Marin’s discoveries for this production are Ryan Harper as Frederic and Jessica Cheung as his beloved Mabel.  Harper has the pure rounded tone of a classic English tenor and is the most expert in the cast of delivering Gilbert dialogue with the clear diction and artificial naïveté so characteristic of young lovers in G&S.  It’s wonderful to hear a real coloratura soprano sing Mabel.  Cheung tosses off the many runs Sullivan giver--plus the many more that Silva-Marin adds--with accuracy and aplomb.  The interpolation of music from Lucia only makes clear Sullivan’s point of reference.  Cheung humorously acquired a glazed look as the flute attracts her into ever more daring vocal acrobatics and Mabel forgets that anyone else is about.  Together their voices blended perfectly for the duet “Ah, leave me not to pine.”
The most famous member of the cast is Jean Stilwell playing Frederic’s addled nursery maid Ruth.  Given the beauty of Stilwell’s voice it’s a pity that G&S don’t give Ruth a showier song, as they would later do for the contralto character of the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe or Katisha in The Mikado.  The main problem is that Stilwell looks nothing like a plain and aged woman for whom Frederic should conceive such an aversion.  In fact, Stilwell is quite glamorous in her pirate gear.
Baritone David Ludwig gives us an unusual take on Major-General Stanley.  Instead of being proud and pompous, Ludwig’s Major-General seems to have his head in the clouds as much as his daughter, Mabel.  He sings that he’s “teeming with a lot o’ news” about binomial theorem, so his portrayal as a retiring, trivial-gathering academic does make sense.  It also finally makes sense of the theoretical shame he feels in Act 2 vis-à-vis his acquired ancestors that rarely works.  Under Silva-Marin’s direction the well-known “orphan/often” misunderstanding between Stanley and the Pirate King that so often falls flat not only works but is hilarious.
Bass-baritone Christopher Wilson makes an enthusiastic and full-voiced Pirate King and shows a real knack for comedy.  Two TOT regulars--Lise Maher as Mabel’s friend Edith and Jeffrey Saunders as a young tap-dancing Sergeant of Police--both enhance the evening's fun.
Silva-Marin has become an expert in staging operetta.  He give the Major-General an extra stanza concerning the upcoming election and makes Ruth long for a royal wedding, but otherwise leaves the text alone.  His set of artfully draped, sail-like fabrics suggest the sea, trees on the beach or the cobwebs of Stanley’s ruined chapel depending on his lighting.  He brings out swaths of green cloth to rise and falls like waves about the Major-General in “Sighing softly to the river” and turns a song that seems too often an unnecessary delay in the action into one of the show’s highlights.
Conductor and chorus director Robert Cooper also deserves much credit for the show’s success.  Under his baton the 12-member TOT Orchestra plays with delightful crispness and sounds like a palm court orchestra of the highest order.  The chorus sings with great precision and really shines in the wonderful a cappella exclamation “Hail, Poetry”.  In Sullivan’s favourite device of contrapuntal choruses the singers’ diction is so clear you can actually make out the both sets of words sung simultaneously.  By putting the music first, the TOT yet again shows off not just Gilbert and Sullivan, but operetta itself, in the best possible light.

 

A new production of Rudolf Friml’s 1924 operetta Rose Marie premiered on April 15, the first full production by Toronto newest opera company, Wish Opera founded last year by soprano Tonia Cianciulli.  The production was generally well cast and demonstrated that the work is still stage-worthy.  Yet, any new endeavour can’t be expected to get everything right the very first time, and Wish Opera should be prepared to learn from its mistakes.  While Rose Marie was musically quite good, the overall experience of seeing the opera was not.

The first difficulty was the venue itself, the John Bassett Theatre in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  If the auditorium for an operatic presentation is so large that it requires amplification, it is simply too big.  The Basset Theatre has 1000 seats but the large balcony was nearly empty suggesting that the 500-seat Jane Mallett Theatre where the Toronto Operetta Theatre performs without amplification would be more appropriate.  Unlike the Mallett, the Bassett does have a pit, but it is so deep and Wish Opera’s orchestra so small (only 14 strong), that it had to be miked. The TOT often uses an orchestra of 14 to 16, but they are placed on the same level as the audience.

In the few moments when the sound technician forgot to turn on the mics, it was clear that the Bassett Theatre has a dead acoustic.  It was intended for conference presentations, not music, which is why the stage itself had to be miked, amplifying not only the singers but their footsteps.  Wish Opera at this time can afford only minimal set decoration.  The Bassett Theatre stage opening is so wide, it only emphasizes the paucity on stage.  Wish Opera wants to use real designer fashions, furniture, lighting fixtures and jewelry in its shows, but for an audience to appreciate items which are ultimately intended to be seen close up, a more intimate space is a necessity.

It is admirable for Wish Opera to seek to attract new audiences to opera, but it also has a responsibility to ensure that its audiences are aware of theatre etiquette.  Ms. Cianciulli spoke before the presentation but there were none of the warnings that precede all theatre presentations nowadays and none in the programme.  As a result, the performance was plagued throughout with cellphones ringing, bursts of flash photography and the constant goings and comings of patrons.  This was disturbing not only to the audience members but to the artists on stage.  The playing of recorded music in the auditorium immediately before and after the opera and during intermission was a further insult to the performers.  We have come to hear a live performance and live music and applause should be the first and last things we hear.

Setting these difficulties aside, Wish Opera fielded a generally fine cast.  Mezzo-soprano Maude Brunet was charming and effervescent in the title role with a voice that was at once rich and bright.  Todd Delaney as Rose Marie’s beloved Jim make a strong impression with his full yet agile baritone.  One might have thought that the once-popular “Indian Love Call” was too hackneyed now to be effective, yet when sung with such youthful ardour by Brunet and Delaney its attractions shone like new.

In the comic parallel plot baritone Michael York was a standout as Sergeant Malone in charge of a troupe of Mounties arrayed in dress uniforms throughout.  York captured exactly the right spirit for such a show--a sense of fun that never descended into camp.  As the cowardly “Hard-Boiled” Herman, Bass Dann Mitton displayed his huge, rich voice and contralto Deborah Overes as Lady Jane, his on-again-off-again girlfriend could be depended on both for comedy and fine singing.

The name of bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre raised expectations, but his role as Rose Marie’s brother turned out to be primarily a speaking part.  Geoffrey Butler as Hawley, the villain of the piece was too weak vocally and dramatically to be effective.  The same could be said for Sarah Christine Steinert as the Native woman Wanda, whose role demanded more intensity than it was given.

Stage director Lesley Ballantyne did little more than traffic control.  She seemed to provide no guidance in interpreting the story or the characters, leaving the singers to fend for themselves.  Phil Chart’s lighting design left much to be desired, especially when he allowed the elaborately costumed Okama Native Dancers to perform in near darkness.  Cianciulli’s notion of wedding designer fashion to opera produced certain anomalies.  Even though the setting was moved from the 1920s to the present, with BlackBerries and all, it is more than a bit improbable to find the female patrons of Lady Jane’s saloon in Fond-du-Lac, Saskatchewan, sporting haute couture.

Maestro Kerry Stratton coped with the adverse conditions as best he could, including being tapped on the shoulder during the performance by a patron who wanted him to move his podium light.  The amplification which tended to muddy the sound in general was especially unkind in emphasizing the artificial sounds of the electronic piano over the other instruments.

Until Wish Opera has developed a product that demands a larger space, the company’s first priority should be to find a more appropriate (i.e., smaller) venue where opera can be sung and played without amplification.  As much as opera is an amalgamation of all the arts, the music must come before all else.  Wish Opera will succeed only if creating a first-class, live musical experience becomes its primarily goal.

Canadian poet, author, singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen was named as theninth recipient of the prestigious Glenn Gould Prize – known as "The Nobel Prizeof the Arts" – at a media event this morning. The announcement was met withwith delighted surprise by the 100+ invitees who were gathered in the The Leslie and Anna Dan Galleria at the Royal Conservatory, in Toronto.

img_0175The prize was inaugurated in 1987 to commemorate Gould's creative spirit andartistic legacy; it is given out biennially to a living individual whose unique lifetime contribution to the arts has enriched the human condition and whose work manifests the values of innovation, inspiration and transformation.

Cohen, 76, who was informed of his win on Thursday evening, was not presentat the event, but issued this statement: "It is a great honour, sweetened by mylove of the work of Glenn Gould and our collective appreciation of his invigorating and enduring presence in the world of music and imagination."

img_0189In addition to receiving a $50,000 award, the winner also selects an outstanding younger artist to receive a City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize, valuedat $15,000. Both Mr. Cohen and his protégé will receive their awards at a gala ceremony in Toronto to be scheduled for later this year.

img_0125This year's international panel of jurors consisted of the following: UN Goodwill Ambassador Dadawa (China); screenwriter, film and opera director Atom Egoyan(Canada); actor, screenwriter, author and director Stephen Fry (UK); celebratedpianist, teacher, author and music administrator Gary Graffman (United States);film producer, founder and director of DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art and PHI Group Phoebe Greenberg; singer, pianist, vocal coach and vocalproducer Elaine Overholt (Canada); and recording industry executive CostaPilavachi (Canada/UK/Greece).

This year's jury was unanimous in selecting Mr. Cohen, who in the pastdecade has received numerous honours including inductions into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Following threeyears of extensive world touring, Cohen is expected to release an album of new material later this year.

 

 

Readers of The WholeNote, take note! We have a brand new video blog series, taken at opening of the Portrait Society of Canada's latest show, The Art of Canadian Music, where our very own Ori Dagan and Bryson Winchester interviewed some notable Canadian musicians and visual artists. Stay tuned for three more episodes in this video blog series, and be sure to check out the exhibition happening until April 1st at the John B. Aird Gallery, 900 Bay Street. www.portraitsocietyofcanada.com.

Readers of The WholeNote, take note! We have a brand new video blog series, taken at opening of the Portrait Society of Canada's latest show, The Art of Canadian Music, where our very own Ori Dagan and Bryson Winchester interviewed some notable Canadian musicians and visual artists. Stay tuned for three more episodes in this video blog series, and be sure to check out the exhibition happening until April 1st at the John B. Aird Gallery, 900 Bay Street. www.portraitsocietyofcanada.com.

Readers of The WholeNote, take note! We have a brand new video blog series, taken at opening of the Portrait Society of Canada's latest show, The Art of Canadian Music, where our very own Ori Dagan and Bryson Winchester interviewed some notable Canadian musicians and visual artists. Stay tuned for three more episodes in this video blog series, and be sure to check out the exhibition happening until April 1st at the John B. Aird Gallery, 900 Bay Street. www.portraitsocietyofcanada.com.

On March 9, Toronto Operetta Theatre gave the Canadian premiere of Luisa Fernanda, a zarzuela from 1932 by Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982).  This was the fourth zarzuela, a Spanish form of operetta, that TOT has presented and it was so appealing and elicited such audience enthusiasm one hopes there will be more to come.  It was a feast of first-class music-making from beginning to end.

The action is set in Madrid in 1868 during a republican insurrection against the regime of Queen Isabel II.  Javier (Edgar Ernesto Ramirez), fiancé of Luisa Fernanda (Michèle Bogdanowicz), has just been made a colonel and has been neglecting her.  Worse, he has been accompanying the Duchess Carolina (Miriam Khalil) about town.  When Luisa sees this she finally pays attention to the elderly, wealthy landowner Don Vidal (Guillermo Silva-Marin), who has fallen in love with her.  When the insurrection grows to revolution Javier is on the monarchist side while Don Vidal joins the anti-monarchist side where Luisa’s sympathies lie.

Luisa Fernanda contradicts preconceptions about operetta derived from other models.  It is not lightly satirical like Offenbach or Gilbert and Sullivan, but overtly critical of the monarchy and passionate in its plea for liberty, especially in the rousing chorus “¡Viva la libertad!” that opens Act 2.  Javier, the lead tenor, seems like a cad through most of the action and Don Vidal is not the familiar comic aged lover but in many ways becomes the emotional centre of the piece.

Musically, while the use of folk song and country dances pull the work in the direction of operetta, the arias for the four principals have the difficulty and weight of opera.  Torroba’s music seems positioned exactly halfway between the nationalist school of Manuel de Falla and the verismo of Puccini, flavoured with contemporary Viennese chromaticism when characters express distress.  It’s a rich musical language and proves why TOT’s inclusion of zarzuela is so important.  Not only does it explore an unjustly neglected realm of music theatre but it expands our notion of what operetta is.
Vocally, the revelation of the evening was Ramírez, a true Italianate tenor with endless lung-power and a heroic tone.  His triumphant entrance aria, “De este apacible rincón de Madrid,” drew such thunderous applause and bravos Ramírez should have a bright future ahead of him.  At the end, he was able to colour his voice so delicately that his contrition seemed completely believable.  Bogdanowicz’s sparkling soprano conveyed the vitality and youth of the title character, while Khalil’s silken tone captured the Duchess’s elegance and cunning.  It was a real pleasure to see Silva-Marin sing a major role on stage again, his voice full of power and clarity with ringing top notes.  He expressed an underlying sadness even in Don Vidal’s happiest moments that seemed to reflect the overall tone of the entire piece.  He, too, was greeted with volleys of bravos especially after his soaring, passionate “Lucha la fe por el triunfo,” when Don Vidal admits he fights only for Luisa’s sake.

The 12-member TOT gave a spirited account of the score under conductor José Hernández and the TOT chorus sang with fervour and precision.  The choral “Parasol Mazurka” was certainly one of the show’s many highlights.  The piece was sung in Spanish with dialogue in English making this TOT’s first use of surtitles.  Given the Spanish I heard spoken all around me, this was exactly the right choice.  One sensed that the dialogue had been radically abridged, but that served only to foreground the music.  My main regret was that the short run would prevent me from seeing the show again.  ¡Muchas gracias! to TOT for a wonderful evening.  I look forward to its next zarzuela.  For more information, visit www.torontooperetta.com.

Note:
1) 1891-1982: Not a typo--he lived a long life.

On March 9, Toronto Operetta Theatre gave the Canadian premiere of Luisa Fernanda, a zarzuela from 1932 by Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982).  This was the fourth zarzuela, a Spanish form of operetta, that TOT has presented and it was so appealing and elicited such audience enthusiasm one hopes there will be more to come.  It was a feast of first-class music-making from beginning to end.

The action is set in Madrid in 1868 during a republican insurrection against the regime of Queen Isabel II.  Javier (Edgar Ernesto Ramirez), fiancé of Luisa Fernanda (Michèle Bogdanowicz), has just been made a colonel and has been neglecting her.  Worse, he has been accompanying the Duchess Carolina (Miriam Khalil) about town.  When Luisa sees this she finally pays attention to the elderly, wealthy landowner Don Vidal (Guillermo Silva-Marin), who has fallen in love with her.  When the insurrection grows to revolution Javier is on the monarchist side while Don Vidal joins the anti-monarchist side where Luisa’s sympathies lie.

Luisa Fernanda contradicts preconceptions about operetta derived from other models.  It is not lightly satirical like Offenbach or Gilbert and Sullivan, but overtly critical of the monarchy and passionate in its plea for liberty, especially in the rousing chorus “¡Viva la libertad!” that opens Act 2.  Javier, the lead tenor, seems like a cad through most of the action and Don Vidal is not the familiar comic aged lover but in many ways becomes the emotional centre of the piece.

Musically, while the use of folk song and country dances pull the work in the direction of operetta, the arias for the four principals have the difficulty and weight of opera.  Torroba’s music seems positioned exactly halfway between the nationalist school of Manuel de Falla and the verismo of Puccini, flavoured with contemporary Viennese chromaticism when characters express distress.  It’s a rich musical language and proves why TOT’s inclusion of zarzuela is so important.  Not only does it explore an unjustly neglected realm of music theatre but it expands our notion of what operetta is.
Vocally, the revelation of the evening was Ramírez, a true Italianate tenor with endless lung-power and a heroic tone.  His triumphant entrance aria, “De este apacible rincón de Madrid,” drew such thunderous applause and bravos Ramírez should have a bright future ahead of him.  At the end, he was able to colour his voice so delicately that his contrition seemed completely believable.  Bogdanowicz’s sparkling soprano conveyed the vitality and youth of the title character, while Khalil’s silken tone captured the Duchess’s elegance and cunning.  It was a real pleasure to see Silva-Marin sing a major role on stage again, his voice full of power and clarity with ringing top notes.  He expressed an underlying sadness even in Don Vidal’s happiest moments that seemed to reflect the overall tone of the entire piece.  He, too, was greeted with volleys of bravos especially after his soaring, passionate “Lucha la fe por el triunfo,” when Don Vidal admits he fights only for Luisa’s sake.

The 12-member TOT gave a spirited account of the score under conductor José Hernández and the TOT chorus sang with fervour and precision.  The choral “Parasol Mazurka” was certainly one of the show’s many highlights.  The piece was sung in Spanish with dialogue in English making this TOT’s first use of surtitles.  Given the Spanish I heard spoken all around me, this was exactly the right choice.  One sensed that the dialogue had been radically abridged, but that served only to foreground the music.  My main regret was that the short run would prevent me from seeing the show again.  ¡Muchas gracias! to TOT for a wonderful evening.  I look forward to its next zarzuela.  For more information, visit www.torontooperetta.com.

Note:
1) 1891-1982: Not a typo--he lived a long life.

 

This past Saturday, February 19th, The WholeNote was invited to witness a first of a kind event, being put on by Canada Sings. A Random Act of Singing.  At 2pm in Gerrard Square, a mall in the east end of Toronto, Canada Sings got together to share in their love of singing with anyone who walked by and felt compelled to sing.  By singing Canadian classics, such as I’se the b’y and Frere Jacques, the people passing who found themselves listening could be easily asked to join in with the group, and sing along.  For many people this must have brought back that beautifully visceral experience of singing just as we experienced many years ago in our grade school music classes, where we were told to sing, not because we were great, but because everyone can sing.  No, we might not all be professional singers able to fill Roy Thomson Hall like Measha Brueggergosman, but we can all join in and sing a couple of rounds of Wimoweh (the vocal/choral arrangement of The Lion Sleeps Tonight) just to feel the wonderful feeling of singing with a group.  Below are a few photos, and a small video clip of the event.  Enjoy!

Read more: Canada Sings - A Random Act of Singing

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