This Week in Toronto (Oct. 19 – 25)

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Stormy Landscape, painting by Nicolas Poussin that inspired Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe
Two big news on the operatic front this week.  First is the opening of Pyramus and Thisbe at the Canadian Opera Company, the first mainstage Canadian opera since Randolph Peters’ The Golden Ass, with libretto by Canadian literary icon Robertson Davies, way back the last Century! Yes, it was 1999 when the COC was still performing in the Hummingbird Centre, previously known as the O’Keefe.   It starred the beloved Canadian mezzo Judith Forst. I recall enjoying the show. Sadly my positive reaction wasn’t shared by some critics, and to my knowledge this opera has never been revived, underscoring the risk of putting on contemporary pieces. The COC is taking a considerable risk with Pyramus and Thisbe by Canadian composer Barbara Monk Feldman, her first foray into opera. It’s based on the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, about a boy and a girl who fall in love but are forbidden to marry by their parents. Sounds familiar?  This archetypal story of the star-crossed lovers is also the basis for many literary and musical creations, from Shakespeare’s and Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette to Bernstein’s West Side Story.Composed in 2008-2010, this short opera involves two soloists, here sung by baritone Phillip Addis and mezzo Krisztina Szabo. This is paired with two other short Monteverdi pieces, Lamento d’Arianna, the surviving fragment of the opera on the story of Ariadne; and Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.  The three works add up to a total of 70 minutes performed without an intermission, an extraordinarily short evening as opera performances go! I attended a media preview very early in the rehearsal process and find the music intriguing. The third singer, tenor Owen McCausland, is the narrator in Il combattimento. COC Music Director Johannes Debus is at the helm. Oct. 20th and 23rd 7:30 pm, and Oct. 25th 2 pm at the Four Seasons Centre.
Rehearsal of Il combattimento (l. to r. Krisztina Szabo, Christopher Alden, Phillip Addis, Owen McCausland) Photo: Chris Hutcheson)
Meanwhile, La traviata is receiving uniform praise from the critics and the public. It continues on Oct. 21 and 24. I went to the first All Canadian cast show on Oct. 16 and it was a terrific performance with three excellent principals, so either cast you can’t go wrong!

Opera Atelier’s Armide by Lully
The other big news this week is the fall season presentation of Opera Atelier‘s Armide by Lully. Composed in 1686, it’s about as far removed chronologically and aesthetically as you can get from the Monk Feldman opera which is receiving its world premiere this week.  If the set backdrop of Pyramus and Thisbe is inspired by Rothko, OA’s Armide is ultra-traditional. OA is the premiere baroque company in Canada, so everything is historically informed if not totally authentic.  This show stars OA frequent guest soprano Peggy Kriha Dye in the title role, opposite the Renaud of tenor Colin Ainsworth. The cast also includes Aaron Ferguson, Daniel Belcher,  Stephen Hegedus, Meghan Lindsay, Carla Huhtanen and Olivier Laquerre, making this an exceptionally strong cast. David Fallis leads the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Six performances October 22 to 31.  With it’s fantastical story, it fits right in with the Halloween Season. To top it off, to celebrate OA’s 30th anniversary season, after its run at the Elgin, it travels to the Palace of Versailles – how cool is that!
Soprano Erin Wall (Photo: Tara McMullen)
As part of its Decades Project (1900-1909), the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting  A Sea Symphony featuring two of Canada’s premiere singers, soprano Erin Wall and baritone Russell Braun. In keeping with the nautical theme, the Vaughan Williams piece is paired with Debussy’ La Mer, showing the divergent style of the two composers from the same period. TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian conducts. Wednesday Oct. 21 and Saturday Oct.24 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein (Photo:
American pianist Simone Dinnerstein gives a recital at Koerner Hall on Sunday Oct. 25 3 pm. On the program are Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op. 15, Bach’s French Suite No. 5, Schubert’s Four Impromtus, plus an unfamiliar work by American composer Philip Lasser, Breughel Suite. The very short program note on the Koerner website mentions that images of Breughel paintings will be projected on a screen during the playing of the Lasser composition, a Canadian premiere.
Cuarteto Casals (l. to r. violinist Abel Tomas, cellist Arnau Tomas, violinist Vera Martinez, violist Jonathan Brown)
The Barcelona-based Spanish string quartet, Cuarteto Casals, is giving a recital of  Mozart, Ravel, and Kurtag under the auspices of Music Toronto, on Oct. 22 8 pm at its usual venue of Jane Mallett Theatre.
Opera By Request, the artist-driven opera group, is presenting one of Rossini’s most scintillating comic creations, L’Italiana in Algieri. William Shookhoff is at the piano. The concert opera takes place at the College Street United Church 452 College St. in downtown west on October 23 7:30 pm.

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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