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By L.H. Tiffany HsiehDonizetti’s 43rd opera, the fictional historical tragedy Maria Stuarda, doesn’t exactly have all the right ingredients for an all-time favourite. Its plot drags, its music awkwardly cheerful in character, and its male lead a spineless hero who is hardly a match for one queen never mind two.So it was a delight to see the Canadian Opera Company take on this relatively dull work on May 10 and be smitten with the Shakespearean, Elizabethan production that was created for the Dallas Opera by director Stephen Lawless and set designer Benoit Dugardyn.The gloves came off at one point and…

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One of most exciting singers today is Bulgarian soprano Alexandrina Pendatchanska. Toronto audiences have a chance right now to hear her as Elisabetta in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. The voice is a rare one—a dramatic coloratura with gleaming tone and steely power at the top. Her acting as Elisabetta is deliciously over-the-top, like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford rolled into one—you can’t take your eyes off her. She also takes vocal risks. In the performance of Stuarda I attended last week, she went from a triple forte to a ppp in a split second, taking my breath away. The chest register…

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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…

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Photo: Howard Dyck”I believe that the arts make us better people. I believe they enable us to transcend our own limitations, encourage us in our weaknesses and failures, and empower us in our pilgrimage in this vast, wondrous and kaleidoscopic adventure called life” – with these profound words that form the opening of his personal credo and clearly coming from the bottom of his heart, conductor Howard Dyck bade farewell to his beloved Grand Philharmonic Choir, where he served as the conductor for the past 38 years. There he was, standing in front of a full house filled with his…

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By L.H. Tiffany HsiehViolinist Stefan Jackiw didn’t draw a full house at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall Wednesday night (May 5, 2010). That’s too bad. He is a rare find.The newly 25-year-old American, who looks like 15, made his gentle Toronto debut with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K.216. With his eyes closed, Jackiw swayed and turned. There was no fanfare, just pure and simple. His bowings were long and then short, quick and then slow, creating sweet poetic cadences the way Mozart had intended. By the time the catchy rondo ended softly in thin…

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The Canadian Opera Company’s revival of Idomeneo opens this Sunday. Mozart was only 24 when he composed this work, his first successful opera seria. It had its premiere at the Cuvillies Theater in Munich in 1781. Located just around the corner from the National-Theater (where the Bavarian State Opera performs) in the Residenz, Cuvillies underwent major renovations and reopened two years ago during the Munich Opera Festival with a new production of Idomeneo. I had the pleasure of seeing a performance there with British tenor John Mark Ainsley in the title role. It was videotaped for DVD release. To mark…

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By L.H. Tiffany HsiehJust a week ago, she had to cancel her concerts due to a sore arm. But pianist Yuja Wang showed no trace of fatigue during her triumphant Toronto debut recital at Koerner Hall Saturday evening.Wang, a Chinese-born Curtis Institute grad, is a new generation artist who has risen quickly in recent years to much critical acclaim, and it was easy to see why. She walked briskly on stage, bowed in such speed and depth that her head almost banged the piano, and showered the audience with three Liszt-transcribed Schubert lieder — Gretchen am Spinnrade, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, and Der…

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Confrontation between soprano Serena Farnocchia as Maria Stuarda (r) and soprano Alexandrina Pendatchanska (l) in COC’s Maria Stuarda (Photo: Michael Cooper) For opera lovers, the big news is the recent opening of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, the first fully stage production of this work in Canada. It is showing at the Four Seasons Centre. Its stellar cast is headed by Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia, whose limpid tones are always a pleasure. The exciting Bulgarian soprano Alexandrina Pendatchanska sings Elisabetta, and American tenor Eric Cutler is Leicester. There is only a single performance this week (tomorrow May 4 at 7:30 pm) as…

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By L.H. Tiffany HsiehIf you are there for the music, it’s gorgeous. If you are looking for more in the latest revival of Canadian Opera Company’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, it’ll depend on how long you can endure looking at the stage at a slant.Allen Moyer’s set design of this previously run production (in 1996 and 2000) for the COC is ingenious in more than one ways. It is a ship at sea — a rectangular box that extends the length of the stage but tilted to the right. The ship then transforms into a spinning room, a home, and a…

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The Canadian Opera Company is presenting the first fully staged production of Maria Stuarda in Canada. It boasts a truly stellar cast – Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia in the title role, Bulgarian soprano Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Elisabetta, and American tenor Eric Cutler as Leicester. Maria Stuarda, together with Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux, are known as Donizetti’s “Three Queens”. Composed in the bel canto style, the vocal and dramatic demands on the principals are daunting indeed – beauty of tone, coloratura flexibility, seemingly unending breath reserve, dramatic expression etc. It’s no wonder that these operas are so rarely staged. In…

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