Opéra de Montréal
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
What you missed
One of the best-cast and least-tampered-with Opéra de Montréal presentations in recent memory. Australian soprano Nicole Car was admirable in every way as Tatyana. It said something about the intensity of her tone and truth of her acting style that we forgot during the Letter Scene that we were in big, cavernous Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts. Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis applied a virile and vibrant tone to all of Onegin’s music. Fans of mezzo-sopranos had an array of firm sonorities to choose from in Christianne Bélanger as Larina, Stefania Toczyska as the nurse and Carolyn Sproule as Olga, who must seem the gayer of the two sisters with the darker voice. All acted well. Tenor Owen McCausland believably embodied the frustrated Lensky and (after adapting to his surroundings in Act 1) sang with pathos and ringing tone. Bass Denis Sedov, the lone Russian in the cast, portrayed Prince Gremin with a gravelly voice that seemed of a certain age – quite in keeping with the character. Adding a limp to the old general’s deportment was an inspired touch. Spencer Britten, a light tenor from the Atelier lyrique, performed a little magic show as Monsieur Triquet. The OdM chorus as prepared by Claude Webster was hearty.
The directors could not resist deploying a few clichés of modern stagecraft, notably the use of silent senior-citizen Doppelgängers who view their younger selves with sadness. All this does is drain the plot of its natural suspense. And there was surely no need to turn the chorus into a mob, abstractly persecuting Onegin and pointing at the audience. Presumably the Orchestre Métropolitain strings got their act together for performances after the premiere of Sept. 14. (Wind standards were high.) A conductor of big gestures and no baton, Guillaume Tourniaire manipulated tempos to dramatic effect in the Letter Scene. The polonaise, on the other hand, was brittle and fast. AK
Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Brahms and Strauss
One might almost characterize the evening (Sept. 17) as a contrasting pair of concerts despite the common thread of German romanticism. Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 came first and got the once-over-lightly treatment. Guest conductor Donald Runnicles decreed a quick tempo in the first movement. Woodwinds eked out some lyricism in the second theme despite the conductor’s apparent indifference to the grazioso indication. To be sure, there were flickers of light and shade in the middle movements and something of an awakening in the finale, with its smack-on sforzando chords. But on the whole, we felt we were hearing the Third Serenade Brahms never wrote rather than the Third Symphony he did.
Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration was given a different orientation entirely, starting with a larger complement of strings. In this score Runnicles let phrases rise and fall with arch-romantic largesse and derived full value from the orchestra in front of him. Every hero on his deathbed needs a heartbeat, which timpanist David Kent supplied. The horn chorale at the start of the final sequence was warm and solemn. The climax was powerful because it was balanced.
Strauss’s Oboe Concerto of 1945 featured TSO principal Sarah Jeffrey as soloist. The long lines of the opening minutes often sound like run-on sentences. My appreciation, as usual, increased in the playful development. There could be nothing but praise for the exquisitely autumnal tone of this player in the Andante and the delightful articulation of the finale. Cadenzas spoke with the human quality for which the instrument is renowned, at least when played like this. A burly southpaw with a big beat, Runnicles elicited much tender detail from the orchestra, reminding us of Strauss’s total mastery of this dossier. AK
Nagano/OSM Opening Night
Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 “Babi Yar” was a brave choice for an OSM season opener. Cast in five movements, it runs the gamut from sorrowful to scornful, confines itself vocally to males and makes many of its musical points at a sustained fortissimo. The Yevgeny Yevtushenko text refers to a Nazi massacre. The hourlong-plus experience can be onerous for a gala crowd, unless the performance is as inspired as it was under Kent Nagano on Sept. 17 in the Maison symphonique.
It is hard to describe in words the mix of horror, irony and humanity that the composer calibrates so exactly in music. Babushkas lining up at a grocery store might seem suspect material for great art, but the quietly resonant OSM lower strings seemed to embody the soul of the people as well as the quotidian tasks at hand. The huge climax toward the end of this Adagio was entirely coherent as a tapestry of sound. It is indicative of the authenticity of Shostakovich’s egalitarian impulses that his tribute to the women of Soviet Union is expressed so convincingly by men alone.
The stellar quality of the OSM Chorus as prepared by Andrew Megill was apparent in the opening movement, in which Yevtushenko’s condemnation of anti-Semitism – no less in the Soviet Union than elsewhere – is most explicit. A bass of remarkable richness and intensity, Moscow-born Alexander Vinogradov was able to add a touch of soft idealism to his tone in the sequence evoking Anne Frank. (Vinogradov was ill on the second night and had to leave the stage, putting Nagano in the curious position of finishing the symphony with no soloist.)
Soloist, chorus and orchestra were exactly coordinated, a situation we could attribute both to the dedication of the participants and Nagano’s thorough comprehension of the score. The Scherzo (in which personified Humour finds his severed head stuck on a pike) was both ghastly and rhythmically vibrant, while the Largo communicated the fear of life under the regime with original orchestral colours (including a tuba solo) that were fascinating in their own right. The concert started with in an upfront and well-articulated performance of the latter by the Russian pianist Denis Matsuev. AK
Montreal Baroque Festival
“Concert” does not quite do justice Il Cortegiano, a show presented by the Montreal Baroque Festival on June 23 in Le Château, a former movie palace near the Jean Talon Market. As well as vocal and instrumental selections, we had period dance and a little fencing presented in a dramatic framework that cast the five members of the (vocal) Ensemble Alkemia as easy-going, cellphone-consulting hipsters and the multi-talented actor Renaud Paradis as a comic master of ceremonies who reads prescriptions from the aforementioned Renaissance handbook and is then required, with generally amusing results, to practise what he preaches.
All the fun would have been of no avail without high performance standards. There was nothing slipshod about the singing in robust 16th-century Italian madrigals by Girolamo Conversi and Andrea Gabrieli or earlier, more austere Flemish numbers by Josquin des Prez and Guillaume Dufay. Polyphony was clear and equitable. Soprano Dorothéa Ventura provided a burnished top. Tenor Philippe Gagné was an expressive advocate of a monody by Giulio Caccini. Even Paradis (who sometimes joined the Alkemians) had a modest solo, reportedly derived from a bas-relief at the ducal palace of Urbino (the court profiled in Book of the Courtier).
Singers in causal garb often ignored the fourth wall of this proscenium theatre by hanging around on (or in front of) the apron. The costumed and formal dancing of Les Jardins choréographiques made for an agreeable contrast. An onstage group comprising members of Flûte Alors! and the Bande Montréal Baroque (including a harp rather than a harpsichord) provided spirited backup. Vincent Lauzer of the former group sounded so pure and articulated so beautifully he was almost a problem. Margaret Little traded her bass viola da gamba for a treble instrument to play a cover of the late-medieval setting of O rosa bella by Johannes Ciconia. AK
Festival d’opéra de Québec
Wagner : Le Vaisseau fantôme
Cette année, le Festival d’opéra de Québec dirigé par Grégoire Legendre réussit l’exploit de présenter, en première mondiale, la production du Vaisseau fantôme de Wagner mise en scène par François Girard, celle-là même qui partira en tournée à New York, Amsterdam et Abou Dabi.
Dès l’ouverture, les projections vidéo, signées Peter Flaherty, nous plongent dans les profondeurs aquatiques, là où Senta a déjà rejoint le Hollandais volant pour l’éternité. L’animation visuelle ressemble à une constellation d’étoiles filantes qui forment tantôt des courants, tantôt des creux de vagues, tantôt le mât et les voiles du redoutable vaisseau. Première ingéniosité.
Deuxième ingéniosité : François Girard et son équipe, avec notamment John Macfarlane aux décors, ont imaginé un ensemble de cordages immense qui tombe sur la scène comme un rideau. Cet ensemble rappelle, bien sûr, les cordages d’un navire, mais aussi le métier à tisser sur lequel travaillent les jeunes filles du village. Inévitablement, l’entrelacement des cordes évoque des images symboliques, entre étouffement et désir d’étreindre.
De cette production, on garde aussi en mémoire les apparitions terrifiantes du Hollandais. Là encore, les animations de Flaherty et les éclairages de David Finn servent le propos magistralement. Projetée sur la toile de fond, l’ombre du capitaine – et, plus tard, de son équipage – traduisait parfaitement sa présence fantomatique. On peut toutefois regretter que les mouvements de Gregory Dahl, dans le rôle principal, n’aient pas correspondu exactement au reflet de son personnage, ce qui a été par moments une source de distraction.
N’empêche, le baryton canadien s’est démarqué par sa forte présence physique, bien plus que par sa voix. Techniquement, Gregory Dahl a livré une bonne prestation, mais il lui manquait le souffle et la puissance de Daland, incarné brillamment par Andreas Bauer Kanabas. De son côté, Johanni von Oostrum (Senta) a montré une image exactement inversée à celle de Dahl : très grande personnalité vocale, mais une présence physique plutôt réservée. En témoigne son jeu scénique pendant l’ouverture, redondant et sans véritable aura.
À souligner, la très grande prestation du Chœur de l’Opéra de Québec, tant chez les hommes que chez les femmes, notamment lors de la scène de fête (début de l’acte III). C’est aussi dans ce type de passage énergisant que l’Orchestre symphonique de Québec, sous la direction de Jacques Lacombe, s’est le mieux illustré, avec une grande homogénéité entre les cordes et les cuivres