marion_portrait2005_3Over the years April has become the most opera-heavy month of the year. Joining a full slate of old favourites from well-known companies (I’ll say more about these later) is a world premiere from an exciting young company.

Indie(n) Rights Reserve presents Giiwedin (“The North Wind”), in co-production with the Native Earth Performing Arts Centre. The opera, written in the Anishnaabemowin, French and English languages, tells the story of Noodin-Kwe and her struggle to protect her ancestral land in Northeastern Ontario. It runs at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace April 8-24.

Librettist and co-composer Spy Dénommé-Welch and co-composer Catherine Magowan respeonded to questions I asked them, providing much insight into the opera and its background.

Read more: Giiwedin- Operatic Winds of Change

This month opens with the lively sounds of Klezmer music. April 1, the University of Toronto Klezmer Ensemble presents “Klezmer Trajectories: Old World Jewish Fusion meets New World Surprises!”, as part of the noon-hour free concert series at the Canadian Opera Company’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. These concerts are always well attended, so it’s advisable to arrive early to get a good seat. There will be more Klezmer later in the month – Off Centre Music Salon presents “Klezmer...on the Roof!”, April 11 at the Glenn Gould Studio, featuring mezzo Annamaria Popescu, accordion virtuoso Joseph Macerollo and the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band.

Asha Bhosle 1Roy Thomson Hall presents a concert of Indian vocal music, April 3. Born in 1933, the legendary Asha Bhosle is best known as a singer for numerous Bollywood films, and is said to have recorded over 12,000 songs in her 65-year career. In addition to film music, she sings ghazals (poetic songs), bhajans (Hindu devotional songs) and folk songs, as well as traditional Indian classical music. More vocal music follows on April 6, this time from Senegal. Baaba Maal mixes the tradition of griot songs with rock, reggae and Afro-Cuban music. He’ll be performing with his nine-member band at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall.

Dubbed “Queen of the Toronto Cajun scene,” vocalist and fiddler Soozi Schlanger has been branching out on her own lately. Known primarily as the driving force in the band Swamperella (where, in addition to singing and fiddling, I’ve also witnessed her play a mean washboard!), this Canadian powerhouse of art and music first learned Cajun music at Ashokan, a fiddle camp in upstate New York. Out of that experience Swamperella was born, and the band has performed extensively, their dedication to authenticity garnering comments such as, “Now where all in Looziana y’all from?” Recently, she’s been going solo with “Soozimusic,” developing a repertoire of her own songs. Along with musicians Emilyn Stam and Victor Bateman, she’ll be performing at Slacks (562 Church St.) on April 4, the Tranzac Club on April 25 and the Moonshine Cafe in Oakville on May 2. You can check her out at

Alex Cuba 1Recently back from performing at the Olympic Games, Juno award-winning Cuban musician Alex Cuba has a busy touring schedule this month. In Ontario, he’ll be performing at London’s Aeolian Hall on April 6, the Brock Centre for the Arts in St. Catharines on April 7, Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre on April 9, the Mod Club in Toronto on April 10 and the Neat School Stage in Burnstown (an hour northwest of Ottawa) on the 11th. After several performances in Quebec later in the month, he’ll be heading to Europe in May. His newest CD will be released on June 8.

On April 24, the Music Gallery presents two artists visiting from Berlin: Amelia Cuni and Werner Durand in “Ancient Trends & New Traditions in Indo-European Music.” Cuni is a vocalist trained in the traditions of Indian classical music, while Durand is a multi instrumentalist who also explores digital sound. Together they blend the old and the new, ranging from traditional music to microtonality. The concert is preceded on April 23 by an artist talk featuring Amelia Cuni, who shares experiences of her 30-year journey between European and Indian cultures. Visit for more details.

Also on April 24, Music on the Donway presents “Journey to Andalusia,” a blend of Jewish, jazz, Indian and Arabic music featuring Toronto’s own Jaffa Road, headed by lead vocalist Aviva Chernick. Jaffa Road will also perform at Hugh’s Room on April 25, where they’ll be joined by Iraqi-Israeli oud/violin master Yair Dalal. This is one of Toronto’s most exciting up-and-coming fusion bands – not to be misssed!

Karen Ages can be reached at


page 62_Radvanovsky_1051aIt was almost three years ago that soprano Sondra Radvanovsky walked out onto the stage of the Luna Gala at Roy Thomson Hall and sang the Bolero from Verdi’s I vespri Siciliani. The audience was enthralled – and puzzled. Who was Sondra Radvanovsky, and what was she doing at a gala celebrating Canadian opera singers?

“People came up to me asking where I came from,” Radvanovsky told me when I spoke with her in New York City this past January.
“I told them that I’ve been living in Oakville for six years.’” I was sitting with Radvanovsky in a café close to Lincoln Center, where she had sung the opening performance of Verdi’s Stiffelio with the Metropolitan Opera the previous night. Just down the street was the apartment she was staying in with her Canadian husband, Duncan Lear.

Radvanovsky hasn’t sung here in Toronto again, in concert or in opera. But that is going to change. On March 20 she is giving a concert in Roy Thomson Hall with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, a frequent and much-loved visitor to Toronto. On May 8 she sings the Verdi Requiem with the Grand Philharmonic Choir under Howard Dyck. And next October she opens the new season of the Canadian Opera Company with her first Aida.

Radvanovsky is regarded as the leading Verdi soprano of her generation. Her repertoire is well-stocked with Verdi operas, including what’s become her signature role, Leonora in Il Trovatore, which she has performed something like 165 times. Yet she also sings many other operas, ranging from Eugene Onegin and Rusalka to Cyrano de Bergerac, Manon Lescaut and Susannah, with Maria Stuarda and Norma coming up.

After living here for nine years, Radvanovsky is still widely referred to as an American singer. Even the COC describes her as “the stunning American soprano” in their brochure for next season. So I started our interview by asking her whether she felt Canadian in any sense. Her answer surprised – and delighted – me.

Read more: The Point of Lovely

March has blown in – and with it a full slate of concert events in and around Toronto. There are almost 500 concert listings in The WholeNote, which is not unusual for one of the busier months of the year. But what is unusual is the way the concerts are distributed throughout the month. (We notice things like this at The WholeNote office.)

The week of the 15th to the 19th is a little thin: that’s the week of the schools’ March Break, so I suppose it’s understandable that many groups have chosen not to perform at this time. But, as a result, the following weekend – March 26, 27 and 28 – constitutes a “perfect storm” of performances, with 76 concerts over three days.

For concert-goers, I suppose this is a good thing, although the sheer abundance of choices could be a tad overwhelming. But when things like this happen, as they occasionally do, I always wonder if concert presenters shouldn’t perhaps be a little more prudent in their scheduling – lest they find themselves up against too much competition. Still, if each and every one of these 76 concerts attracts a large and enthusiastic audience, there’s no harm done.

As well, two other aspects of the month’s offerings stand out as noteworthy. For one thing, March is the busiest month for University music departments. Students who have been preparing all year are ready to show the world what they can do, in campus concerts in around Toronto. As many of these events are either free, or open to the public for a modest ticket-price, March is a month of good musical value.

Also, this month’s WholeNote shows that the benefit concert is still very much a part of our musical life. In Ori Dagans column, on page 47, you can read about some remarkable efforts to raise money for Haiti that have taken place in the jazz community. And on the opposite page, you’ll see an advertisment for a particlarly impressive fundraising event. “Sing for Haiti,” on March 7 at Metropolitan United Church, brings together six of the top choirs in Toronto, plus CBC announcer Tom Allen and singer-songwriter Melanie Doane. Met United has a seating capacity of about 800 – so with tickets priced at $20, this concert could raise $16,000 for Doctors Without Borders and Free the Children. Given the desperate situation in Haiti, let’s hope that every ticket is sold.

In The WholeNote’s Listings Section, you’ll also find a benefit concert for University Settlement Music and Arts School on March 20, performed by soprano Anne Yardley, and mezzo Michelle Simmons, at St. George the Martyr Church. But this is just a prelude to a much bigger benefit concert the following month. On April 18, the piano duo team of Anagnoson and Kinton will appear at Glenn Gould Studio, to raise funds for University Settlement’s programme for families in need.

Last but not least, the Three Cantors will take to the stage at St. Anne’s Anglican on March 26 for a good cause. You can read more about this trio of singing Anglican clergymen, and their ongoing efforts to raise money for the Primates World Relief and Development Fund in Allan Pulker’s column on page 20.

March winds are chilly in this part of the world – but there’s plenty of music in the air, to help us all get through what’s left of
the winter.

Colin Eatock, Managing Editor

The tragic earthquake in Haiti inspired three highly spirited full houses at Hugh’s Room, thanks to the fundraiser’s organizer, three-time Juno Award winning jazz artist, Jane Bunnett. The January 12 disaster came just days shy of what would have been Haiti’s 4th Annual Jazz Festival, an event which would have brought Bunnett’s band Spirits of Havana to the country for concerts on stages and workshops in schools. Heartbroken over the devastating disaster, she worked prestissimo to arrange the fundraiser.

47_jane bunnett“January 28 was available, so we took it, and it sold out quickly, so we booked January 31 and when that sold out we got February 1. It was so fast - the poster never even went out! I felt funny asking the musicians if they were available for a third night.”

Artists who donated their talent include Don Thompson, Hilario Duran, Molly Johnson, Laura Hubert, Amanda Martinez, Telmary Diaz, Dionne Brand, Madagascar Slim, Bill King, Sophie Berkal-Sarbit, Big Rude Jake, Chris McKool, and Bunnett’s own Spirits of Havana.

“I was truly amazed by the generosity of the people. We raised $40,722 and when the Canadian government matched it, the total was over $80,000.” Notably, Mario Romano made a remarkable $25,000 contribution and several people wrote thousand-dollar cheques, all funds going to Doctors Without Borders.

Three days prior to these happenings, “Curtain Down for Haiti” was a tremendous success at the Pantages Hotel. The January 25th fundraiser raised over $2000 for the Red Cross, most of it coming from the thin pockets of young musical theatre artists. The evening was co-produced by Jennifer Walls, Amy Smith and the multi-talented host of “Curtains Down”, Jenni Burke.

47_ jenni burkeAffectionately nicknamed Jenni B, Miss Burke is a contagiously warm, funny and versatile stage presence. Her open mic “Curtains Down” is a weekly Monday night geared to singers of musical theatre, pop, jazz and cabaret, all of whom owe much to accompanist Michael Barber on the piano. By turns hilarious, dramatic, sweet, tragic and generally flamboyant, “Curtains Down” is an impromptu variety show that is consistently entertaining. Now held in the Pantages Hotel lobby, which is steps from Dundas subway station, and for a limited time every Monday: $5 martinis and wine! The latest updates about this event can be found on the “Curtains Down” Facebook Group or

Speaking of open mics and community, one of the highlights at Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out vocalist-friendly jazz jam 5th anniversary show at Chalkers ( was a performance by popular television personality Fred Penner, who delighted everyone present with “The Cat Came Back”. The beloved Mr. Penner comes back to Hugh’s Room on March 18th. Kids of all ages absolutely must check out his website!

At 19 years of age, prodigious drummer Adam Arruda is set to take the jazz world by storm. Awarded the Zildjian Outstanding Young Drummer Award eight years in a row, he is reportedly working on relocating to New York City. While he’s still in town, check out astounding Arruda’s anticipated tributes to groundbreaking jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk, “The High Priest of Bop”, on the nights of March 4 at The Rex Hotel and March 25 at Tequila Bookworm. If anyone deserves two tributes in one month, it’s the man who was the opposite of square and whose middle name was Sphere! The two evenings will inevitably be very different, not only venue-wise but also in terms of instrumentation. Joining Arruda at the Rex will be none other than Dave Restivo on piano, Michael Davidson on vibes and Pat Reid on bass; at TB he’s hired Trevor Giancola on guitar, Michael Davidson on vibes and a pair of bass players: Dan Fortin and Devon Henderson. To sample Adam Arruda check out

47_alex pangmanSeeking inspiration? Canada’s “Sweetheart of Swing” is a walking, singing miracle that sweetly swings from her great big heart. After years of fiercely battling cystic fibrosis, Alex Pangman recently underwent a successful double-lung transplant and is now singing with more air than ever before. Her musical style is rooted in the “trad” jazz singing of the 1920s and 30s, all her own but reminiscent of Mildred Bailey, Annette Hanshaw and Connee Boswell. Catch the tantalizing jazz of Alex & her Alleycats – Dr. Peter Hill on piano, Ross Wooldridge on clarinet, Chris Banks on bass and Chris Lamont on drums – at The Rex Hotel on Saturday, March 20 starting at 9:45pm. Pangman can also be heard every Sunday 7-9pm with hubby Tom Parker’s tasty country band Lickin’ Good Fried at the Dakota Tavern.

On to a new and noteworthy house gig on the Danforth: Roberto Occhipinti’s trio now holds down a weekly Saturday matinee from 4-7pm at the Dora Keogh Irish Pub, just steps from the Broadview subway station at 141 Danforth Avenue. Occhipinti’s on bass, Hilario Duran on keys, Mark Kelso on drums and weekly special guests such as star saxophonist Pat LaBarbera. Priceless music, no cover charge, and no you can’t get a better deal than that!

The Brampton community has a brand new opportunity to embrace live jazz, with the fancy Fireside Jazz Series Brampton, Friday and Saturday nights at Aria Bistro & Lounge. This certainly isn’t a No Cover situation, but if you can treat yourself plus one to a romantic evening out, the menu and venue both look promising. Reservations are “a must” with seating limited to 40 patrons and “Dinner & Show” packages that start at $75: Playing at Aria on March 5 and 6 is this reporter’s current favourite singer Laura Hubert with dependable Dr. Peter Hill on keys. Hubert’s band can also be found at the Rex Hotel on March 13 for their monthly Saturday matinee 3:30-6:30pm as well as every Monday night at the Cameron House for a 10-midnightish nightcap.

Ori Dagan ( is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can best be reached by email at

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