This Week in Toronto (May 10 – 16)


Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian as Ilia in COC’s Idomeneo

(Photo: Michael Cooper)
The vocal scene this week continues with all three COC productions appearing on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre. I have now seen all three, and can truthfully report that they are all hits. Yesterday I attended the opening of Idomeneo. One of my most memorable evenings at the opera was a production of this Mozart opera at the O’Keefe Centre back in 1987, with sets and costumes designed by Michael Levine. To me, that show marked a sea change of production values at the COC, from very traditional and representational sets to a much more modern, fluid and interpretive approach. The cast of Siegfried Jerusalem, Delores Ziegler, Carol Vaness, and particularly Ruth Ann Swenson as an absolutely exquisite Ilia, remains etched in memory. I am happy to say this new production matches that early attempt and in many ways exceeds it. It also features a great cast headed by American tenor Paul Groves in the title role. Known as a French and Mozart tenor, Groves sang with lovely timbre and acted with conviction. Former COC Ensemble member Krisztina Szabo returns as a very fine Idamante. This role is long and arduous, particularly so in this production as an extra piece, the concert aria “Non temer, amato bene” is added, which Szabo sang beautifully. What a surprise all of a sudden to hear the violin solo introduction to this aria, seemingly out of nowhere! Another former Ensemble member, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, with her beautiful lyric soprano and dramatic acuity, was an ideal Ilia. American soprano Tamara Wilson who sang Amelia in Simon Boccanegra last season returns as the fiery Elettra. To my ears, her voice is much more suited to Elettra than the placid Amelia. Her “D’Oreste, d’Ajace” brought down the house. Yet another former Ensemble member tenor Michael Colvin sang the supporting role of Arbace, a role he sang in the last revival of this opera in 2000. It was good that a typical cut to the score was restored in Act Three to allow Colvin an extended aria, “Se cola ne fati e scritto”, which he sang very well. Colvin will sing the title role in a single special performance on May 19 that features present and former COC Ensemble members. The supporting roles were all well taken, particularly tenor Adam Luther as the High Priest. Conductor Harry Bicket, a celebrated Baroque conductor, led the COC forces with uncommon lyricism. The work is through-composed and with Bicket at the helm, it was one continuous lyrical outpouring. The orchestra pit was raised for this show and the sound coming from the pit was thrilling. If I were to quibble, there were elements about the stage direction that I would take issue with, but then with modern re-imaginings of this piece, it is to be expected that not everyone will be pleased. From a visual standpoint, the production is very beautiful – lovely colours and wonderful lighting changes. I am not sure why Arbace is blind – it seems to go against his singing “all I see is death and destruction…” Also why both the first part of Ilia’s arias that opened Acts 1 and 3 were sung with the scrim down? Also, I was surprised and a little disappointed that Groves did not sing the more florid, Munich version of “Fuor del mar” – given he has such good technique and flexibility. I spoke to COC General Director Alexander Neef at intermission, and he explained that Groves came to this engagement after having just sung a heavy role and didn’t have sufficient time to readjust his voice, which is certainly a reasonable explanation. With all the restored (and added) music, the show was about three hours fifteen minutes, but with such a beautiful performance, it seemed almost short! You can catch the second and third performances of Idomeneo on Wednesday 7:30 pm and Saturday, also on 7:30 pm. Maria Stuarda can be heard this evening and Thursday at 7:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre. As I mentioned here last week, both Serena Farnocchia and Alexandrina Pendatchanska blew me away. This show is well worth attending. And if Wagner is more your thing, be sure to catch The Flying Dutchman at 7:30 pm on Tuesday and Friday. On Thursday at noon, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre, there will be a concert of Highlights from Idomeneo sung by members of the COC Ensemble Studio. These singers will be participating in the special performance on May 19, so this is a preview – not to be missed! Be sure to go 45 minutes early to ensure a seat.
By a quirk of scheduling, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is in hiatus this week. But there are plenty of other companies presenting a myriad of concerts this week. The Toronto Philharmonia is presenting Czech pianist Boris Krajny in Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 on Thursday May 13 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York. Kerry Stratton conducts. Also on the program is something called Fifth Day Suite by Hardy and Riley, a piece new to me. I went to the Philharmonia website and discovered that it is a Canadian premiere. The George Weston Recital Hall is one of my favourite venues, so it is nice to have a reason to go there again. For ticket information, go to
On Saturday May 15 at 8 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio, the Aradia Ensemble under Kevin Mallon is presenting Thunderbird, a program of traditional Native songs and bird-inspired Baroque pieces. It stars First Nations mezzo Marion Newman, who had such a success in Giiwedin. Go to for more information about the concert and tickets.
On the piano front, Chinese Canadian pianist Li Wang is giving a noon hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre. He is the first winner of the Canadian Chopin Competition in 2000. On the program is Albeniz’s Iberia Book 3, plus the bravura Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise by Chopin, a piece that I never get tired of hearing. Be sure to get there 45 minutes ahead of time to ensure a seat.

About Author

Joseph K. So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, but his first love is music, which he studied as an undergraduate student at the State University of New York. Since seeing his first live opera – La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi at the Met in 1967, the singing voice became his lifelong favourite instrument. In addition to his longtime contributions to La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene, he is Associate Editor of Opera Canada and a frequent contributor to Musical Toronto.

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