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Jonas Kaufmann

Thursday, July 24, 2014

La Scena Musicale

July 14

Toronto Summer Music Festival 2014 - a Preview

La Scena Musicale Toronto Summer Music Festival 2014 – A Preview By Joseph So “Summertime, and the music is lovely...” With apologies to Ira Gershwin for my corny appropriation (and alteration) of his lyrics from the divine Porgy and Bess, I must say it sums up perfectly my feeling of the state of summer music in our fair city of Toronto. For years, one would have to travel far and wide in the summer to get a classical music fix. But this is no longer the case – the TO summer is no longer the musical desert of yore. Yes I still make my annual treks to a few select places for opera – I had just returned from the Glyndebourne Festival and the Münchner Opernfespiele. But now I make sure that I am in town for TSMF (Toronto Summer Music Festival), a three-week celebration of classical music-making of a very high order. This year, more than ever, the offerings are enticing indeed. The theme of TSMF 2014 is The Modern Age, a period that loosely encompass classical music in the first quarter of the 20th century, give and take a decade or so at either end. This takes us from around 1890 through to the 1930's, a period when music underwent extremely exciting transformations from tonality to serialism, culminating in the works of the so-called Second Viennese School. A look at the program of 2014 TSMF shows the emphasis however is on tonal music, highlighting the works of Late Romantic musical giants the likes of Strauss and Mahler, to the Impressionism of Ravel and Debussy, the Russian music masters Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, as well as the great English composers Elgar and Vaughan Williams. Also entering into the equation is the rise of popular musical idioms such as folk and jazz. With such a broad stroke, the 2014 edition of TSMF is ambitious, audacious, and exciting, with something for every musical taste. There are plenty of programming highlights to be sure, so my choices here reflects my personal taste. For full details, go to Pianist Beatrice Rana The two areas of focus of the 2014 TSMF remain chamber music and art of the song. The Festival opens with the Emerson String Quartet in a recital at the acoustically friendly Koerner Hall on July 22. Chamber cognoscenti will remember them as having played so beautifully on the soundtrack of The Late Quartet. Now we can hear them in person in a program of Beethoven, Schubert and Britten. The brilliant Italian pianist Beatrice Rana, winner of the 2011 Montreal International Musical Competition (Piano Edition) and the Silver Medal of the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition, will give a recital on July 23 at Walter Hall, in a program of Bach, Chopin and Prokofiev. The New York based Orion String Quartet will be in town July 24 for a program of Haydn, Brahms, and Dvorak, with special guest pianist Peter Serkin (who is a great pianist in his own right of course but old-timers like yours truly still think of him as son of the great Rudolf). It's extremely exciting for the Festival to present soprano Sondra Radvanovsky in a recital of songs and arias, including the works of Beethoven, Verdi, Cilea, Rachmaninoff, Duparc and Copland. (July 31 Koerner Hall). While not all the songs fall within the Festival theme, Radvanovsky is such a wonderful singer that even if she sings the telephone book, it'll be worth hearing! Anyone who saw her magnificent performance as Elisabetta in the recent COC Roberto Devereux will know what I mean. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky For the Art of the Song, audiences can experience the artistry of a great singer, British baritone Christopher Maltman together with the dean of collaborative pianist Graham Johnson on August 6 at Walter Hall. I had the great good fortune of hearing Maltman just last week, as Lescaut in Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Part of a stellar cast that included the hottest tenor on the planet Jonas Kaufmann and the super-glamorous Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais, Maltman more than held his own in a rather thankless role. The theme of Maltman's recital, The Soldier – from Severn to Somme, is one of remembrance, of the victors and victims of war in the songs by Mahler, Mussorgsky, Butterworth, Ives, Finzi and Poulenc. Graham Johnson is one of three artists giving public masterclasses as part of the Art of the Song program. The other two are baritones Francois LeRoux and Sanford Sylvan. Maltman will appear in a Musicians Up Close event on August 5th2 pm in Walter Hall, just before the Johnson masterclass. Perhaps the biggest coup of TSMF 2014 is the presence of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Principals of the TSO will give a chamber recital of works by Dohnanyi, Mahler and Strauss (August 7 Walter Hall). The big event is the Closing Night Concert with the full TSO forces on August 12 at Koerner Hall before they leave for their European tour. The participation of the TSO this summer is surely a watershed that will make TSMF a major musical force to be reckoned with in the future. In late May, I had the opportunity to sit down with TSMF Artistic Director Douglas McNabney for a wide-ranging talk. This was our fourth pre-festival talk, since his taking over the TSMF from Agnes Grossmann. He was in town to present the noon-hour preview concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, and spent the day busy dealing with TSMF business. Ever friendly, cordial and totally unflappable, McNabney fielded my questions with thoughtful, articulate answers. As usual, we reviewed the past season as well as looked a little into the future: TSMF Artistic Director Douglas McNabney LSM: Let's begin by first looking back at last year's festival. Would you say your goals were accomplished?DM: Oh yes, very much so! Last summer we had a 30% increase in attendance, and our advance ticket sales this year are ahead of last year. LSM: What do you think accounted for this big jump in attendance?DM: The Festival has become better known, and we don't have any competition in the summer. I really believe the festival theme, La belle epoque, was partly responsible. Paris at the turn of the caught the imagination of the public. It's a thread that ran through all the concerts. LSM: That's great. Looking back at last season, what do you think could have been done better or can be improved upon in the future?DM The big challenge is always reaching our public. We have 1200 seats to sell in Koerner Hall and 500 seats in Walter Hall. You would think if we could reach our target audience, we shouldn't have difficulty filling these seats. The traditional print and broadcast media have changed and they no longer pay as much attention (to classical music.) This year we've done something really interesting to increase the notoriety of the Festival. We've got the involvement of Toronto Symphony Orchestra... LSM: That's quite a coup! How did you manage to get them on board? It should raise the profile of TSMF. DM: They've put us in their season brochure. They announced the European tour and the first stop is Toronto Summer Music. We print 30,000 copies of our brochure; and they print 500,000! It always surprises me how many in Toronto have never been to the Festival, but that's only normal as it's only our 9th season. We're really beginning to establish ourselves, having events like the TSO put us into the spotlight. From there we can do more interesting things. We are really punching above our weight, to invite an organization like the TSO. A lot of it is based on personal connections... I know Andrew Shaw and Loie Fallis very well. These are people I've gone to school with. There is a trust there. LSM: Part of building audience is through outreach. How's that going?DM: The big thing we did last year was the “Shuffle” and it was a hit. It's based on the shuffle function of the ipod. For the first two years (of my tenure), we called it the Friday Night Experiment. I was always looking for an occasion to do something a little different, an alternate style. Some of our public would go to this and other public would come and it would be an interesting mix, and through that people may buy tickets to the regular season. (We found out) no, that's not how it works. Last year we found the right way – marketing it as almost a different festival. We have to go for a different public, serving a different public. It increases the notoriety of Festival and when people talk about TSMF they can find something in it for them, and it's not going to be the Emerson String Quartet, and it's fun and it's very high quality. These are not garage bands... it's going to be world music and serious jazz bands. I think we're doing the right thing. LSM: How do you do the promotion for these new, alternate events? DM: Last year we did the promotion in and around Heliconian Hall (the concert venue) in Yorkville, mostly with sandwich boards. It's 'Pay What You Can.' The Yorkville area is teeming with people; our concerts in Heliconian Hall were frequently full – we couldn't seat everybody for one of the tango shows. It's fun and different. We bring some of the Festival young artists into the program. They really love it – it's different and eclectic. They come and and play just one movement of the work. The idea is to do something a little different while maintaining the quality. It worked well last year and we're going to continue with it. LSM: I'm curious – how did you get Sondra Radvanovsky on board?DM: I work with Roman Borys of the Ottawa Chamberfest, two of us work together as a package. It means she's taking one week out of her holiday to do this, but she thought it was an interesting enough proposition. The details are still under negotiation. [Note: since the interview, the program has been announced, and it includes Ah Perfido!Beethoven's formidable concert aria, plus several operatic chestnuts and some of the best known songs by Rachmaninoff and Duparc] LSM: I noticed that you are offering song recitals with your Art of the Song fellows...DM: Yes. In the past, we've always had the Art of Song participants to sing within Mentors and Fellows programs. Many people complained that it wasn't enough of an occasion to highlight the singers. This year they'll have two concerts. Eight singers and five pianist, and we'll get to hear them all. LSM : What are you most proud of in this year's festival?DM: Bringing the Toronto Symphony is a huge undertaking. It's a tremendous financial responsibility, much bigger than anything the Festival had undertaken in the past. I had to work really hard to convince the board to do this. The TSO has been helping's a wonderful collaborative effort, to help us reach potential new donors. For the TSO, the alternative was to do their regular, free concert at David Pecaut Square. That reaches a big public, but this way they get to play in Koerner Hall for the first time. There's a whole video team assembled to document the concert and their tour. LSM: I've noticed that there is a strong Asian presence among the Art of the Song program participants, and there seems to be more Asians in the audience for both the symphony and the opera. Are you trying to tap into that? DM: Yes we do have a very strong Asian presence (among the fellows) this year. We still don't have the (Asian) public yet. Having them as fellows, we hope we're going to bring in the audience. We have an Asian board member – he's young, energetic and well connected. We are working on building long term relationships with the communities – it's building trust and it's always long term. LSM: As a voice fan, I must say I've really been impressed with the wonderful people you've brought in for the Art of the Song program, despite the disappointments of a few cancellations in the past...DM: This year we have Christopher Maltman here to do a very well thought out program, with a real theme that takes you through World War One. Graham Johnson is here for a week to give masterclasses. This is just our 4th Academy, already we've had Sir Thomas Allen, Gerald Finley, Elly Ameling, Roger Vignoles, and Julius Drake, all amazing artists and teachers. The only one missing is Malcolm Martineau and I'm working on it! LSM: Let's talk a little about this year's theme, The Modern Age. I've noticed that the programming have pretty much stayed within the boundaries of tonality rather than venturing into Serialism, which is of course the major musical transformation of this period. Can you say something about that? DM: You know, one of my big passions is Schönberg and the Second Viennese School. I am interested in the whole creative process, his whole voyage, how he got into it following the horrors of World War One, its parallels in the visual arts, the Cubist movement and the German Expressionism, etc. But I won't be doing that as part of TSMF. We're doing the Chamber Symphony, still very tonal, but that's as far as we'll get this year. We'll have some of our young artists do this repertoire. This material has to be presented in a special way so as not to lose my audience... LSM: Looking into the future – what would next year's theme be?DM: It's Music of the Americas, a very rich and diverse thematic area with lots of possibilities. We'll take some of the American composers who studies in France – everybody from America studied in Paris in those days. Just Copland is a lot of fantastic music; we can also broaden into jazz. The problem next year is to limit it to the great music. LSM: Thank you and my best wishes for a very successful Festival.

Angela Gheorghiu (unofficial)

July 4

France 3 offers Adriana at midnight

France 3 will rebroadcast Adriana Lecouvreur, the Royal Opera House 2010 production starring Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann (as Maurice :D) and the rest of the stellar cast. July 6 at midnight on France 3 TV

parterre box

June 16


The Salzburg Festival has long had the image of this place where for a little over a month, the very best singers are brought together with the very best conductors and the very best directors to create the very best productions the opera world has to offer. Tickets are notoriously expensive and hard to get. Expectations are thus always extremely high for any Salzburg Festival performance and production. A performance can’t simply be “nice.” It has to be out of this world. A production can’t simply be a solid repertory utility production. It has to be for the ages, such a great production that opera houses all over the world will clamor for that production. In recent years, the Willy Decker Traviata started at Salzburg Festival 2005 and traveled to New York and now is a Met staple. Last year’s big hit was the Herheim Meistersinger. The opening scene of Peter Stein’s staging of Verdi’s Don Carlo quickly makes it clear that this will not be a production for the ages. The Fountainbleu Forest consists of a bunch of freezing peasants (dressed vaguely like Russian serfs) huddling in a sterile white room with windows in the back. Elisabeth (Anja Harteros) enters every inch the queen, in furs and a sparkling royal gown. Carlo (Jonas Kaufmann) is in a black fur coat. They are both shivering and the snow starts to fall in this white room. Are they inside? Outside? I guess outside, because they’re all shivering and at the end of the scene Carlo is left alone with the falling snow. By now I’m sure you can guess what kind of production this is: spare nonsensical minimalist sets, rather fancy “period” costuming, and completely static to non-existent personregie. This is basically the same kind of Don Carlo you could imagine Rudolf Bing mounting for the Met in the 1950’s. Only difference is the use of the five-act version (now standard). The singers seem to have been directed to simply stand and look miserable for five acts. Even the bro-mance between Posa (Thomas Hampson) and Carlo is G-rated, without even a hint of homoerotic longing. The only break from tradition is Eboli (Ekaterina Semenchuk) isn’t wearing an eyepatch. Some things about the production make nonsense of the libretto. For instance, Don Carlo and Eboli have their nighttime accidental encounter except the stage is brightly lit with festive paper lanterns. The scene ends with Posa stage left, Eboli stage center, Carlo stage right, all singing straight to the audience. I hate to use the term park and bark but there’s really no other way to describe the direction. Other attempts to set a scene just come across as amateurish. The Auto-da-Fe scene has two tiny thrones perched on wooden unpainted bleachers. The infidels are led to two tiny wooden stakes recessed to the very back of the stage, hidden behind rows and rows of chorus members, so you can barely see what’s happening to them. And why the hell are some guys dressed in sombreros? The production shows its sloppiness in other ways. When Posa is shot, we see Hampson reacting to being shot, but his shirt is completely white. Then he crouches downwards, squeezes the fake blood bag, and all of a sudden he’s blood-spattered. The whole production is just a muddled, boring mess. Musical values are much higher. Kaufmann, Harteros and Semenchuk are all excellent. Casting for Carlo has gotten weird over the years. I saw Roberto Alagna and he was pretty fine, but then there’s been a string of miscast Infants. There was Ramon Vargas, who made a nice stab at the role that pushed his lovely lyric tenor to the limit. And Rolando Villazon, who flat out had no business singing this part. And … James Valenti? What a relief then to hear a Carlo with enough spinto heft to do the role justice. Kaufmann’s dark timbre suits the role of the brooding, tortured Infanta and his high notes as usual have that thrilling trumpet-like brilliance. With that being said, Kaufmann needed stronger direction than Stein gave him. You know how some people have Resting Bitchface? Kaufman kind of has Resting Glumface. Left to his own devices, he kind of just wandered up and down the stage looking glum for five acts. Harteros’ voice has a soft-grained, feminine timbre but enough strength in the middle-to-lower register to resonate in this role. She has beautiful float on her high notes. Her voice isn’t really Italianate or very warm, but you can’t have everything. Her natural dignity and grace are also a plus. “Tu che la vanita” has some unexpectedly off-key singing in the beginning of the aria but one is still impressed by the voice’s sweep and scope. But she also needed stronger direction than she received here. Whereas Kaufmann left to his own devices just turns glum, Harteros decided to go for the overwrought angsty facial expressions and silent film acting. “Io vengo a domandar grazia alla Regina” has her making crazy bug eyes and waving her arms frantically like she was directing traffic. Later she resorts to rolling on the floor. And yet, even with these reservations, Harteros is probably the best the world has to offer right now in this rep. Semenchuk is a vocally appealing, visually sexy Eboli. She injects some much-needed life and sparkle to the zombie-fest. Her “Veil Song” lacks the necessary agility but she sings a thrilling “O Don fatale” and she alone on the stage seems to have gotten the message that this is a performance, and not an embalmed museum piece, and that when you’re singing to someone, it’s normal to make eye contact instead of making a face straight at the audience. Her acting is organic, natural, and strangely Eboli thus becomes the most sympathetic character of the opera. The problems are in the lower male voices. Hampson’s instrument has dried up, and there’s practically no body left to his hollow, aging baritone. His Posa isn’t even well-acted. There’s no sense of the slippery political machinator from Hampson: he’s as wooden and arch as ever. Matti Salminen is 68 years old and really showing his age. He still brings great dignity and gravitas to the role of Philip, but in terms of actual voice? There’s not much left and pitch strays. “Ella giamai m’amó” has him covering up for his vocal deficiencies by some artful whispering. But there’s no core to the voice. Plus, Philip is more than a dignified old monarch, which is all Salminen makes him. There should be more hardness, more ruthlessness to his characterization. Much more exciting is Eric Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor. Robert Lloyd makes a nice cameo as Charles V. Antonio Pappano’s conducting is excellent, and the Wiener Philharmoniker live up to their own high reputation. Verdi’s score sounds grand, sweeping, terrifying. However, sometimes it sounds too grand, sweeping, and terrifying. Germanic, if you will. I’m not sure Verdi is supposed to sound like Mahler. For a supposedly state of the art video, the sound balance is very poor. The voices often sound tinny and distant, like this was a 1950’s broadcast off the airwaves, and then in another scene they’ll sound vibrant and practically bouncing out of the stereos.

Opera Cake

June 8

Der Glyndebournenkavalier

Arte portal Arte Concert [ex Arte Live Web] will live broadcast the Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier (staged by Richard Jones -- the best British director). Mezzo TV is also broadcasting the show. Interestingly, Robin Ticciati will be conducting. He's only 31 and starting from this year he is also the Glyndebourne festival music director. Among the cast member keep an ear on a superbissimo Andrey Dunaev (tenor)... Judging only from the first 15mins, Tara Erraught is excellent as Octavian. Always good to see a new name --with that voice that can do everything-- 100% invested in a big role on a big stage. Go Tara! It's funny that Glyndebourne decided to stage the same opera  the same year as in Salzburg. Since the Salzburg festival is free falling quality-wise it will be interesting to see their response this summer. In any case they cannot do worse than in Ariadne auf Naxos 2 years ago (Boy was that dreadful! Even Jonas Kaufmann looked and sounded vulgar, and our dear Elena Mosuc completely out of her comfort zone...) Kate Royal is a very good singer but I'm not sure if this role is a little too big for her... Lars Woldt sounds very good too, but I have to say that Peter Rose owns this role today... Apparently I listened to his Fasolt (Rheingold) at Opéra Bastille but I don't remember much... Oh that show was revisited by the director and all the revisions painfully trivialized the show... Bravissimo Andrey! This opera is really difficult to stage without a touch of Regie. It is so obsolete theatrically that it really takes a huge effort from a spectator to pretend to be naïve and buy into the plot. It's all beneath the plot that is actually interesting. Hopefully Jones will surprise us with something by the end of the show... Stefan Herheim --in his pre-Puccini days-- did a superb production of this opera for the Stuttgart Oper. I like the reference to Freud! Fine job Richard! Plus Kate shines in Da geht er hin. Hopefully we'll get to listen to Tara singing live at a theater. She sounds brilliant! Simple but lovely ending of Act One. Nice violin-sostenuto touch by Ticciati too. Intermission Off we go: Act 2. We meet with our Sophie du jour: Teodora Gheorghiu. Everyone was waiting for this moment to happen... One of the most beautifully composed songs... Everything is so delicately beautiful in this scene. Brava Teodora! Why is there Faninal written on the wall? Would the crowd really be confused otherwise? I like the presence of this creepy blond guy in the background, whose insolence indicates the inexorable end of aristocracy -- and also helps removing the smell of mothballs of this libretto ;)  Now the Faninal on the wall makes more sense... and this is why Richard Jones is what he is -- an excellent director! Other than that, waiting for Hab mir's gelobt ;) Meanwhile Annina brings to Ochs the letter from Mariandel... Intermission Teodora Gheorghiu parle très bien le français... She liked working with Richard Jones and she liked the collaboration between Ticciati and Jones during the months of rehearsal to produce this show. Very nice girl! Hope she will not suffer from cancelaitis angelis in her career... Lars Woldt sang this role already 83 times! Third Act: Funny detail with the automatic bed :) Excellent work by Richard Jones -- again Freud. Terrific timings! Are the traditionalists outraged because of the reference to Freud (both implicit and very explicit)?! Mme Marschallin is back... Kate Royal is much better in this role than I thought she could be. Brava Kate! Marie-Therese... Beautiful singing... Brilliant Teodora! Hab mir's gelobt MAGNIFICENTLY SUNG! And so Mohammed  is the next one obsessed by the Marschallin ;)   Final touch, signed Richard Jones. TBH I thoroughly enjoyed the show: vocally, musically, theatrically -- everything was wonderful! One of the best shows we've ever seen from Glyndebourne. Thank You to the Festival and the sponsor for letting us see this gem. _

The Well-Tempered Ear

April 26

Classical music: Here are the 2014 winners of the BBC Music Magazine awards for classic music recordings.

By Jacob Stockinger In another week or two, the live concert season will start winding down until mid-June when the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top) will start its three weeks of concerts . Then in mid-July will come the Madison Early Music Festival (below bottom). Here are links to those two events: But one of the compensating pleasures of the upcoming spring “intermission” is that you can catch up of some recent or new recordings that you might have overlooked or not had time to listen to during the regular concert season. At least, you will do that if you are like The Ear. So, in that spirit, here is a list of the 2014 winners of the BBC Music Magazine for classical recordings, which this year also include the Classical Music App of the Year. I have sampled some of the recordings, and so far I have to agree: Some bias toward British musicians, music and labels notwithstanding, these are fine, outstanding recordings. You will find some familiar names among the honorees: Daniel Barenboim , Alisa Weilerstein (who has performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in the Overture Center with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ), Sir Edward Elgar , Riccardo Chailly , Leipzig Gewandhaus , Johannes Brahms (you can hear some of his symphonies in a YouTube video at the bottom), Ludwig van Beethoven , Benjamin Britten , Johann Sebastian Bach , Elliott Carter, Richard Wagner, Jonas Kaufmann , Giacomo Puccini and Felix Mendelssohn . But there is always room for more suggestions. So I encourage all readers to send in any relatively new recordings that they consider discovered good enough to be shared. Just leave the information in the COMMENT section. Meanwhile, here is a link to the BBC winners: Tagged: Alisa Weilerstein , Arts , Arts and Entertainment , Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society , BBC , BBC Music Magazine , Beethoven , Benjamin Britten , Cello , Chamber music , Classical music , Concert , concerto , Daniel Barenboim , Early music , Edward Elgar , Elliott Carter , Felix Mendelssohn , Giacomo Puccini , Jacob Stockinger , Johann Sebastian Bach , Johannes Brahms , Jonas Kaufmann , June , Ludwig van Beethoven , Madison , Madison Early Music Festival , Madison Symphony Orchestra , Music , opera , Overture Center , Piano , Riccardo Chailly , Richard Wagner , Wisconsin Union Theater , YouTube

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