Yesterday afternoon’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured local tenor Andrew Haji and Welsh baritone Jason Howard in a program somewhat loosely linked to England. Neither singer was, I think, 100% well (Haji’s cold was announced, Howrad’s merely obvious!) but both battled through manfully and gave us some fine singing. There were some interesting contrasts especially in the first half of the program. Andrew kicked off with Francesco Santoliquido’s I canti della sera. I’m no expert on Italian art song but these did sound like songs rather than opera arias, at least in the hands of Andrew and Rachel Andrist. In contrast, Jason’s set (Tosti’s L’ultima canzone, Respighi’s Nebbie, Tosti’s L’ideale and Verdi’s In solitaria stanza), with Robert Kortgaard sounded distinctly operatic and suited Jason’s darkish voice rather well.
Yesterday at noon Ileana Montalbetti, currently appearing in the COC’s Götterdämmerung and pianist Rachel Andrist gave a recital in the RBA. It was five years to the day since they last performed together in that space. Then she was a promising young singer, now she comes over as a considerable interpretative artist. The voice is even bigger (and for a piano recital in the small and not very friendly to dramatic sopranos RBA(*) that was a bit of a challenge) but what’s notable is how much more drama and meaning there is in each number.
Thursday seems to be the big day next week. Ileana Montalbetti and Rachel Andrist have a lunchtime recital in the RBA. There’s Strauss and Mozart and Beethoven and more. Ileana has been a really impressive Gutrune in Götterdämmerung so I’m excited to see her in recital. That evening there’s a choice of the annual COC Ensemble Studio performance at the Four Seasons Centre where the Ensemble members will be offering staged scenes, with full orchestra, from Mozart’s La finta giardiniera, Bellini’s Norma and Handel’s Ariodante. The alternative is Tapestry Songbook VII featuring Krisztina Szabó, Keith Klassen and Stephen Philcox performing numbers from Tapestry’s extensive back catalogue. That’s at the Ernest Balmer Studio at 7.30pm. There are repeat shows on Friday at 7.30pm and 10pm. Looks like both 7.30pm shows are sold out but late night Friday is still available. Operaramblings’ extensive spy network (not Louise Mensch) suggests that patrons may also learn something to their advantage. The day before, Wednesday at 7.30pm, there’s a Don Giovanni in concert at Royal St. George’s Chapel. Actually seeing as how dancer Bill Coleman is involved it may not be entirely straight “in concert”. The cast includes Alexander Dobson in the title role, Katherine Whyte, Colin Ainsworth, Taiya Kasahara, Vania Chan and Matthew Li plus a “special guest”. Tickets at www.opera-is.com or on the door. There is still time to catch the COC’s winter offerings. The Magic Flute plays today, tomorrow and Friday with the last Götterdämmerung next Saturday. That last seems to be sold out but the usual rush and standing room deals may apply.
Schubert’s Winterreise is sometimes described as the Everest of lieder singing and, as such, is something of a rite of passage for baritones. It’s much rarer to hear it sung by a soprano but today, on a day when there was more snow in Toronto than one encounters these days on the Hillary step, Adrianne Pieczonka, accompanied by Rachel Andrist, offered it up in the intimate Mazzoleni Hall. It took me two or three songs to get into it. The colours of the soprano voice are so not baritonal that the music sounded unfamiliar and disconcerting. By Der Lindenbaum though I was won over. Here was singing of a limpid beauty few baritones could match and from then on I was revelling in the new perspectives that hearing a soprano sing this music brings. I think it was greatly helped by Adrianne’s approach which definitely favoured bringing out the drama and the emotion of the text rather than wallowing in beautiful tone. That was there when she wanted it but there was much else besides. It was an emotional roller coaster from the (relative) optimism of Die Post through to the devastating last couple of numbers. By the end of Der Leiermann I was a puddle but possibly not quite as damp and deep as the critic sitting next to me (whatever Twitter might report). Rachel’s work at the piano was equally illuminating. This is a show they need to take to a much larger audience.
Late notice I guess but Adrianne Pieczonka and Rachel Andrist are performing Schubert’s Winterreise at Mazzoleni Hall this afternoon. It’s sold out anyway. Later, at 7.30pm, UoT Early Music is presenting a concert version of Purcell’s Fairy Queen in Trinity College Chapel. Tomorrow at the relatively unusual time of 5.30pm the members of the Ensemble Studio will be competing for the Quilico awards. That’s in the RBA and free. Also in the RBA, at noon on Tuesday, you can catch Andrew Haji singing a very varied Valentine’s Day program. Then on Thursday, same time, same place, Elena Tsallagova, Pamina in the COC’s current Magic Flute, presents a Russian and French program. The Magic Flute and Götterdämmerung continue at the COC.
Tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon Off Centre Music Salon opens its 2016/17 season at 3pm at Trinity St. Paul’s. It’s an all Russian show called Four Seasons or Mother Russia. It will feature songs by Prokofiev’s The Ugly Duckling and songs byTchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff, as well as Arensky’s Piano Trio in D minor (op. 32). The highlight is the Toronto premiere of Valery Gavrilin’s song cycle Seasons inspired by Northern Russian folklore and chanting traditions. Performers include cellist Igor Gefter, pianists Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin, violinist Mark Skazinetky and singers Joni Henson and Ryan Harper.
Last night ten singers who had taken part in an intensive class/coaching with Sondra Radvanovsky showed us what they could do. The program was organised and presented by the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists at the Alliance Française. It says quite a lot about the current state of supply and demand in the opera world that nine of the ten singers were female and seven were sopranos. We were given one aria per singer and a lot, inevitably I suppose, of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini with one aria apiece for Verdi and Puccini.