Students Thriving in Summer Jobs, Summer Programs, and Summer Festivals!
Several of my students are working hard at summer jobs in retail, serving and office work, looking toward the university year and wisely planning ahead for summer programs. Those who are in summer programs are in various programs in Toronto, across Canada, the United States, and Europe. Summer programs are important ways to stay in training, strengthen the professional network connections, building repertoire and/or roles, and developing professional skills – the ones you are taught formally, and the ones no one ever talks about. These are learned from the experiences themselves. Summer programs offer compelling introductions to other social cultures and arts cultures, other parts of the country and world, and are terrific immersion experiences in problem solving and learning how to emerge with a greater pathway to personal goals and ideals.
Soprano Sydney Baedke, who will be entering her final undergraduate year in performance, is attending the Aspen Music Festival program in Colorado, on a full tuition scholarship. She has several solo and chamber music performance assignments, and will perform the role of “Muffin” in William Bolcolm’s opera, The Wedding.
Doctoral student Christina Haldane, soprano, is on the faculty of the Musique sur Mer en Acadie programme in Caraquet, New Brunswick, directed by pianist and coach Carl Philippe Gionet. Christina will also appear in recital and then in a performance of Haydn’s oratorio, The Seasons, with conductor Richard Mascall and the Georgian Bay Symphony Orchestra at the Kincardine Summer Music Festival.
Cottage time is for relaxation. We seldom get away to our cottage in the Haliburton Highlands, but we certainly treasure it.
University of Toronto Faculty of Music Convocation 2016
It’s a big day, and the culmination of university studies for undergraduate and graduate students, their families, friends, and certainly their teachers! We all gather to honour the occasion and to celebrate the accomplishment!
Opera Night at George Restaurant!
COSA Canada Singers: Operas in Concert with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s What Next Festival of New Music May 18-25, 2016
Miracle Flight 571: Lloyd Burritt – Concert Premiere
Singers: Andrea Nùñez, Charlotte Burrage, Ryan Downey, Nathan Keoughan,
Christina Bell, Ana Paula Cunningham Malagon, Jacob Abrahamse, Matthew Cairns, Quinn Mitchell, Lawrence Shirkie
Swoon: James Rolfe and Anna Chatterton
Singers: Maeve Palmer, Allison Arends, Tonatiuh Abrego, David Roth
The Whitening of the Ox: Jeffrey Ryan and K.V. Skene
Singer: Bradley Christensen
The Virgin Charlie: William Rowson and Taylor Graham
Singers: Julie Ludwig, Ryan MacDonald, Jeremy Ludwig
The Perfect Screw: Abigail Richardson and Alexis Diamond
Singers: Julie Ludwig, Ryan MacDonald, Bud Roach, Jeremy Ludwig
Chamber Music of Cecilia Livingston, Abigail Richardson-Schulte and John Laing, with members of the HPO
and Singers: Christina Haldane and Chelsea VanPelt
Sharing Today’s Stories of Humankind, Through… the Age-Old Stories of Humankind.
The cycle of birth, joy, living fully, struggle, death and rebirth were illumined in an oratorio fashion by the pianist Mia Bach and students of the University of Toronto Oratorio Ensembles Class, at St. Basil’s Catholic Church on Tuesday, April 5th, as part of the St. Basil’s Parish Concert Series, with John Paul Farahat, Director of Music and Principal Organist. The class now enjoys being a regular part of the church’s Family Concert Series, and performs each term during the academic year.
Centre for Opera Studies in Italy: COSI 2015!
High School Reunion!
Woodstock Collegiate Institute was the scene of much fun and many hugs on May 30th, 2015. I feel so fortunate to have travelled through these years with my high school friends. High school. Awkward and anxious as it was at times, it was also the magnificent making of us in many ways. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was too busy with the surprises of joyful reconnections, and the gratitude of wonderful memories.
To walk through the modest halls and classrooms of this 75-yr. old building crystallized again the ideas from which we grew our roots. If we consider “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm,” (Anonymous), we know we don’t always keep that enthusiasm, but we remember to reclaim it at times and places like this, when everything was new and everything was possible.
What a day it was! Rejoining the world after these hours of being bubbled in the past was a refreshing re-emergence. It brings to the surface a quote from Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town: ‘Does anybody realize what life is while they’re living it- every, every minute?’ No, we don’t, but we are transformed by what we do realize.
What we also want to realize is the nurturing of WCI Music with support and camaraderie. We can enjoy getting together, and playing a meaningful part for WCI’s music students and community. “High up! Sky Up! Red and White!” Here’s to Chuck Baxter and Igor Saika-Voivod for their fine teaching in singing, band, strings, ensembles and productions. WCI Music Students & Alumni are thriving thanks to you and your colleagues before you! For me it was Sue Willson, Art Patterson, Lew Tebbutt, and Ellen Kellerman, but others have their own “Thank You” lists. I sense a 2016 WCI Music Students & Alumni event in the works!
COSI’s Operatic Luncheon gives “top tear” entertainment!
As the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy’s 2015 program is but weeks from launching, we had a marvellous time on May 24th at Roberto Martella’s Grano Restaurant for our Operatic Luncheon!
COSI’s Board Chair and Gala Host, Mary Lou Fallis, CM, humorously led our afternoon as we dined and delighted ourselves with very beautiful operatic gems. Joseph Macerollo, OC, first regaled us virtuosically with his accordion, and pianist Kathryn Tremills, COSI’s Director of Collaborative Activities, was our vibrant, resident orchestra for these filling operatic portions of Mozart, Rossini, Puccini and Verdi. Sopranos Lucia Kramer Cesaroni and Danika Lorèn, mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo, tenors Adrian Kramer and Justin Stolz, and bass Vartan Gabrielian served us favourites from Le nozze di Figaro, Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Bohème, and La Traviata.
Did you want tickets to the Canadian Opera Company, Tafelmusik, or the Stratford Festival? Our silent auction had them, thanks to generous sponsors and the rallying enthusiasm of board member Brenda Morgan. How about a voice lesson from Mary Lou Fallis, or a vocal health consultation from Aaron Low and The Voice Clinic? Those were up for auction, too, and they all went to the highest bidder!
COSI 2015’s performance offerings include Mozart’s Così fan tutte, with the COSI Orchestra conducted by Vancouver Opera’s Leslie Dala, Cavalli’s La Calisto with the COSI Baroque Ensemble conducted and stage directed by the Dutch Touring Opera’s Timothy Nelson, and Artistic Director Darryl Edwards conducting oratorio works by Mozart, Dvorak and Verdi, with pianist Shannon Hiebert. The Courtyard Concerts series will have and songs and arias by Gioacchino Rossini performed by our young COSI Artists. http://www.co-si.com
Führerbunker Makes Piece With Shocking Delusion
The COSI Connection’s latest world stage premiere, Andrew Ager’s Führerbunker, has boldly stood up to the downfall of a tyrant. “Performances are strong across the board led by an extraordinary portrayal of Hitler by tenor Jonathan MacArthur. ” (Opera Ramblings) On Stage Door, Christopher Hoile posted, “I’m glad that the COSI Connection production (Centre for Opera Studies in Italy) had the courage to stage this world premiere.”
Spreading its roots in Canada, the COSI Connection empowers its COSI alumni and others with “Extraordinary Opera Training!” With a series of opera premieres, operas in concert, and Opera @ Home performances, its singers are building their careers and their confidence. After COSI’s productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Cavalli’s La Calisto in Sulmona, Italy this summer, the COSI Connection will present a series that includes The Yeomen of the Guard in concert, and the world premiere of Lloyd Burritt’s Miracle of Flight 571. What’s up next? Join us for An Operatic Luncheon on May 24th at Grano Restaurant, with singers Lucia Cesaroni, Danika Lorèn, Emily D’Angelo, Adrian Kramer, Justin Stolz, and Vartan Gabrielian, and COSI faculty pianist Kathryn Tremills. Get your tickets at co-si.com
Music Research Workshop & Symposium: July 13-19, COSI 2015.
The COSI Connection’s latest production marks the 70th anniversary of “Victory in Europe Day” (V.E. Day) with this historical drama of the “Lest we forget” kind. Toronto’s Tranzac Club gives a pub goer’s view to what a previous generation lived, and what we should know.
Springing to Life – IN CONCERT!
The University of Toronto’s Oratorio Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Darryl Edwards, will be in concert at St. Basil’s Church on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 7:30pm. The ensemble features singers enrolled in the final year of the Bachelor’s in Voice Performance program as well as the singers in the Advanced Certificate and Masters in Voice Performance programs. The concert is entitled “Et Resurrexit” and will feature Handel’s magnanimous work, La Resurrezione. Come and enjoy the opportunity to experience this emotionally-driven work in celebration of Easter.
Borrowed Passions: COSI Connection Performs in Hamilton, with two John Laing premieres.
Many thanks to Michael Bloss and Dean Peter Wall from Christ’s Church Cathedral, Hamilton, for our “COSI Connection” concert there! I was delighted to conduct the premiere of John Laing’s brilliant solo quartet with organ, “Watching With Jesus.” John’s solo aria for tenor and organ, “My Song Is Love Unknown” was a tour de force for Charles Sy (above, left). I am grateful, too, for the superb singing of Claire de Sévigné (above, right), Charlotte Burrage, Ryan Paul Downey, Tenor and Stephen Hegeduss. It was a thrilling afternoon, and a pleasure to introduce these fine vocal artists to Hamilton.
Aviva Fortunata will represent Canada at Cardiff’s Singer of the World competition.
Some of you remember her as a young singer from Calgary’s Mount Royal Conservatory program. Others heard her at the University of Toronto during her B.Mus. and Mus.M. (Opera) studies there, or as the winner of the Jim and Charlotte Norcop Prize in Song. At the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, she appeared as “Apollonia” in Haydn’s La Canterina, and later as “Donna Anna” in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. At Opera Merola of the San Francisco Opera Association, she appeared in Argento’s Postcard from Morocco as “Lady with the Cake Box.” Toronto recently beheld her superb “Ho-jo-to-ho-ing” as “Helmwige” in Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Canadian Opera Company. Now we will all get to see Aviva Fortunata as she represents Canada in Cardiff at its Singer of the World Competition! This prestigious competition came to its greatest prominence in 1989 as the launching point for the careers of Dimitri Hvorostovsky (first prize) and Bryn Terfel, winner of the Lieder Prize. Congratulations and “In bocca al lupo,” Aviva!
COSI Connection was delighted to make its CONCERTS@100 debut on February 21st. The audience warmly welcomed us as we shared our winter-warming box of musical chocolates with an offering of “First Love, Lasting Love” arias.
COSI Connection in Hamilton!
Thanks to an invitation by Michael Bloss, Director of Music Ministries at Christ’s Church Cathedral, the COSI Connection will be having its first Hamilton performance. Outstanding artists in their own right, and acclaimed performers of the University of Toronto Opera, three have had celebrated training either at the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble (Claire de Sévigné and Charlotte Burrage) or Montreal Opera Studio (Stephen Hegedus), and having recently won the COC Ensemble Studio “Centre Stage” competition tenor Charles Sy will take his place there for the 2015-2016 season. All are alumni of the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy and its “Extraordinary Opera Training!” The occasion has been further honoured with the premiere of new works by composer John Laing, who has written settings of “My Song Is Love Unknown” for tenor Charles Sy, and “Watching With Jesus” for solo quartet. Both works will be accompanied on the organ by the composer.
This Lenten concert will include works by Bach, Pergolesi, Handel and Mozart, framed with Passion readings and reflections.
Katherine Whyte, soprano @ the Metropolitan Opera!
To realize dreams and career goals is a wonderful thing. Katherine Whyte began her voice studies at the University of Toronto in September 1998, at the same time I began teaching there. We worked together through her B.Mus. (Performance) and Mus.M. (Performance) degrees, until she was accepted into the Juilliard Opera Center in 2004. After a touching Gilda in Rigoletto at the English National Opera, and such Canadian Opera Company appearances as the title role in Glück’s Iphigénie en Tauride and Iris in Handel’s Semele, she is returning to the Metropolitan Opera as Brigitta in Tchaikovky’s Iolanta.
Katherine sang her first leading role as Mimì in La Bohème at the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy (COSI) in 2008. With the COSI Connection in May, 2014, she appeared in recital with pianist Steven Philcox. Katherine is also a very effective teacher and master class clinician, will be teaching a studio class for my U of T students this month!
U of Toronto Opera @ Campbell House
Brilliant! A bio-libretto by Michael Patrick Albano which opens doors to scenes each set by a different U of T composition student, in the venue that was the very home of the opera’s characters. The opera, Footsteps in Campbell House is about, for and in Campbell House (built in 1822), the home Upper Canada Chief Justice Sir William Campbell and his wife Hannah. The audience members (maximum allowable size – 38) travel from room to room to experience each period scenario. The whole event lasts under an hour! The compositions and performances are enthralling, comic, poignant and entertaining. This is yet another exciting realization of our new opera generation at the University of Toronto. Brilliant!
Link to Toronto Star Article
Studio of Michelyn Wright, Markham, ON
In June of 2014, I happily accepted an invitation from voice teacher Michelyn Wright to do a day-long masterclass and workshop with her students. Michelyn was a student of mine for her B.Mus. and Artist Diploma before obtaining her M.Mus. at Mannes in New York. She later became Canada’s first teaching intern in the NATS Intern program. It was a pleasure to spend the day with her eagerly engaged students, fine singers all! It was certainly a full circle moment to observe how Michelyn’s students are being taught so well, and they are singing so effectively and with such meaning. Pianist Ellen Meyer was a tremendous artistic support for each and every student. It was such a fulfilling day to work with each singer, and draw them to their best singing!
Sarah Bissonnette, soprano
One of my University of Toronto students, Sarah Bissonnette, from Boucherville, Quebec, is taking her third year of study at Germany’s Freiburg Conservatory: Hochschule für Musik Freiburg. She’s had an incredibly valuable time away, and is making the very most of it! We look forward to all she has coming up, including her appearances as Giunone in La Calisto at the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, and her third-year recital at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music in September. Below is a photo from her portrayal this week as Arminda in Freiburg HS’s La Finta Giardiniera. Congratulations to Sarah!
Claude Watson School for the Arts!
I had a wonderful time working with the talented and enthusiastic singers at the Claude Watson School for the Arts in North York. I was invited by Alan Torok, internationally acclaimed composer and classical guitarist, and Claude Watson’s Music Department Head, and Dr. Timothy Sullivan, vocal music teacher for the school. I have wonderful memories of premiering in the mid-1990s in London, Ontario, a suite of carols brilliantly arranged by Alan Torok. Timothy Sullivan is well-known for his opera, Florence: The Lady With the Lamp, and more recently, for two song cycles: A Magic Casement (soprano, mezzo-soprano, and two pianos) and A Soft and Golden Fire (voice, flute, and harp).
We had a session about voice registers for male and female singers, and explored some movements of the Mozart Requiem. These singers have wonderful voices, fascinating insights, and tremendous curiosity. Mozart’s masterwork will amaze them as they get ever deeper into all it has to say to them and within them!
The grade 9-10 vocal music class was a singing feast! The students’ favourite section of the Mozart Requiem at this point is the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). We discussed its text as well as that of the work’s opening section: “Requiem eternam…” “Eternal rest…”. For the second part of our session we had a mini-masterclass. I had the privilege of hearing Curtis, a countertenor, Julia, a soprano, and Tony, a baritone. We worked on performance skills and the differences between singing and performing. Exciting voices! Ben, a young collaborative pianist in the class was outstanding in his performance with Curtis of Darius Milhaud’s Poèmes Juifs, “Chanson d’Amour.”
My oratorio students at the University of Toronto presented their annual OraSTORYo! performance in Walter Hall on Tuesday, January 13th, 2015. Handel, Mozart and Mendelssohn were well represented, as well as Rheinberger, Telemann, Haydn, Wilberg and Orff. These fine performers -at the fourth-year and graduate levels (pictured below), are now preparing for their performance of Handel’s La Resurrezione at St. Basil’s Church, 50 St. Joseph Street, Toronto, April 8th, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. I am also grateful for the work of my exceptional colleagues in this course, pianist Mia Bach, and doctoral teaching assistant Charlene Santoni.
Five days previously, we headed by bus to Jackson’s point, where at a retreat centre we had a super time with the singers of North Toronto Collegiate Institute. We enjoyed lunch, and after our performance, we did a choir workshop on Handel’s Zadok the Priest, followed by a reception where students interested in university music study chatted with us. That was busy! Carol Ratzlaff, NTCI vocal music teacher, and Artistic Director of VIVA! Youth Choirs is such a strong example of leadership for terrific music making in our high schools – schools that are not designated as high schools for the arts.
OPERA PREMIERE: The Wings of the Dove, May 14 & 15, 2013
The COSI Connection took its inaugural flight at Heliconian Hall, Toronto, on May 14th, with The Wings of the Dove. The COSI Connection is an exciting convergence of the former Concert Opera Group, which began in September 2006, and alumni from Canada’s Centre for Opera Studies in Italy (COSI), which launched its inaugural program in June, 2007. The COSI Connection powerfully builds a Canadian bridge to the “Extraordinary Opera Training” that Canadian singers, pianists and stage managers undergo within COSI’s international forum in Sulmona, Italy. It then activates these newly focussed language,artistry, performing skills, and deeper career proficiencies throughout Canada.
The Wings of the Dove (2012), with a libretto by British actor Jeffrey Lewis from a portion of Henry James’ same-titled novel, and an opera score by Andrew Ager, comes 52 years after Douglas Moore’s version of the opera, five years after the film directed by Iain Softley, and 110 years after James first penned the work. Two capacity audiences enjoyed the first performances from the perfectly-suited Edwardian setting the Heliconian Hall provided. As Costume Designer, Lisa Magill captured the essence perfectly, and Michael Patrick Albano’s stage direction stirred the clash of self-serving silences behind the overt lyricism. Andrew Ager’s score yielded two sumptuous arias, Millie Theales’ “I am a dove” and Morton Densher’s “We’ll be the best of friends,” along with compelling accompanied recitative and arietta inflections for most of the opera. You can read John Teraud’s Musical Toronto review here.
Loudly Let the Trumpets Bray! April 28, 2013
To sing Gilbert and Sullivan arias with conductor Vicki St. Pierre, London Pro Musica and Orchestra London Canada was a treat: the tenor arias from Trial by Jury, The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, Ruddigore, Princess Ida and Utopia, Ltd. were all represented, along with the brilliant commentary of Brian Jackson, Orchestra London Canada’s Principal Pops Conductor. Lots of fun!
Benjamin Britten’s Saint Nicolas: April 21, 2013
What a pleasure it always is to work with Paul Merritt, Director of Music at First-St. Andrew’s United Church Choir in London, ON. His music program there is really excellent. His choir is large, loyal and exuberant, and has always been! It was also a pleasure to work with the Amabile Youth Singers (Brenda Zadorsky, Artistic Director), and the professional orchestra which Paul had assembled. Saint Nicolas is a unique masterpiece in the way Britten met church choir, children’s choir, tenor and orchestra in such a profoundly dramatic way.
Launching the COSI 2013 Audition Tour
I always marvel at the enriching life that is given to all of us who choose a life in music. The progress of my singing students captivates me, working side by side with my colleagues energizes me, and the opportunity to create art enthralls me. “Life is happiness indeed!” (Candide, Lillian Hellman)
Of course there is lots of hard work and some drudgery that goes along with that, but its the fulfillment that motivates.
That’s what underlies the tremendous efforts around COSI and The Concert & Opera Group. “Extraordinary Opera Training!” is the goal, and the bonus result is the fulfillment of building skills and careers, and creating and sharing vocal art with a larger circle of people. That’s what buoys us and extends us. The action to this creativity is what makes the difference!
The COSI Gala in Toronto (Etobicoke) & The Mikado in London, ON.
September 21st and 23rd, 2012, were made incredibly exciting with our annual COSI gala in Toronto (Etobicoke), and our concert in London, ON, with Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado with our outstanding soloists, and sing-along choruses with the audience.
With tremendous thanks to our hosts Stamos Katotakis and Lynne Smith, one hundred guests gathered in their magnificent home to celebrate COSI and to raise a glass (thanks to Marlene and Simon Nyilassy, and Tawse Winery) to its “Extraordinary Opera Training!” COSI Board Chair Paul Cahill launched the evening, and the Aradia String Quartet regaled us with Mozart before a highlights version of The Mikado was performed by COSI alumni. A Japanese inspired menu of foods and desserts greeted the guests to continue the celebration. It was a marvelously enjoyable and successful event!
The Pause that Refreshes!
Various vacation snapshots
For those of you who ask me, “What did you do on your sabbatical?”, I have chronicled some of the highlights below. I made the most of it; it was a professional development bonanza!
COSI 2012: The Centre for Opera Studies in Italy
COSI was the grand finale to my sabbatical, and a blissful one, too. The professional highlights form a cascade of shared experiences:
Program and community building with COSI’s Executive Director in Italy, Tania Puglielli.
Each of the four performances of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro with two exciting casts with Kevin Mallon conducting his Aradia Orchestra, and the gloriously detailed stage direction of Tom Diamond.
All four performances of Puccini’s Suor Angelica with two compelling and meaningful casts conducted by Les Dala (Aradia Orchestra), and the imaginative stage direction of James Marvel.
Three distinctively profound performances of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater at the fountains of Goriana Sicoli, the San Panfilo Cathedral in Sulmona, and for the Catholic Sisters of the L’Aquila Conference.
Courtyard concerts galore in the Annunziata Courtyard in Sulmona, and piazzas in Introdacqua and Pratola Peligna.
The teaching of curious, expectant and tremendously capable singers and collaborative pianists to be at their musical, physical and mental ideal.
The production building with indefatigable and brilliantly solution-oriented faculty and volunteers, taking starring roles from behind the scenes.
Time spent with treasured colleagues from across Canada and Europe.
The considerable privilege of premiering a new song cycle, “Ovid Songs for tenor and piano,” in Ovid’s birthplace – to a Sulmona audience, with the composer Andrew Ager as the collaborative pianist.
The sum of all this was a dedicated training and creative performance bonanza that lived and thrived because of the hard work and joy of wonderful people. I am grateful.
An Art Song Premiere
What a thrill it was to premiere Lloyd Burrit’s Image-Nation! The VISI audiences are well-numbered and very friendly, and there is a curiosity and hunger for song performance, and new works. Lloyd Burritt, Larry Nickel, Imant Raminsh, and Leslie Uyeda brought provocative works to our notice; the singing of Robyn Drieger-Klassen and Lynn McMurtry, Phoebe McRae, Tracy Satterfield, Julie Simson and the collaborative piano artistry of Alison d’Amato, Terry Dawson, Arlene Schrut, Erika Switzer all elevated the week.
Vancouver: The Vancouver International Song Institute.
I’m in Vancouver from June 3-11. The Vancouver International Song Institute is a marvel. Founded by UBC Professor Rena Sharon, VISI has grown to become a formidable and engrossing event that defies one single title. It is a conference, a symposium, an art song festival, and a summer training program for university singers and pianists. I am sure it encompasses more classifications, too.
Along with pianist Terence Dawson and Vancouver Symphony french hornist Ben Kinsman, we will be performing Image-Nation by Vancouver composer Lloyd Burritt, based on texts by poet Robin Blazer. Burritt calls the three songs of Image-Nation a “song cycle,” as they embrace the poet’s remembrances of youth and reflections in old age.
I am looking forward to meeting my performing partners. We’ll meet for the first time on Tuesday and will have a good amount of rehearsal time before the performance on Sunday, June 10. In the meantime, this three-week VISI program is a powerful amalgam of lectures, lessons, performances and workshops that magnetize “the singer and the song” in a much larger and more inclusive context.
Planning for 2012-2013
For U of T, COSI, COG and myself, I have been making plans as we prepare the on-ramp for 2012-2013 academic year and music season. It’s wonderful to plan ahead. For Voice Studies at U of T, “The Singing Year 2012-2013” has many treasures, and it will be presented at the “Voice Studies Welcome and Showcase” on Tuesday, Sept. 18th in Walter Hall at 12:10. Even as we launch COSI 2012, COSI 2013 looks ahead to Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito and the international premiere of Andrew Ager’s opera, Le Ali della Colomba (The Wings of the Dove). The Concert Opera Group will greet the new season with performances in Toronto and London, ON, of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. The casting purposely integrates three levels: professional singers, emerging artists, and student singers. This way, they can amaze and inspire each other, nurturing themselves and their audiences. Some of these singers will be reprising their roles in January, 2013 with the choirs of North Toronto Collegiate Institute at their singing retreat on Lake Simcoe (Jackson’s Point). It’s become an annual “Flash Mob” or impromptu “Happening,” where we arrive to spend much of the day with the high school singers, with one part of the time dedicated to a workshop performance in which we have prepared the solo roles, and the choirs have prepared the choruses. We put it all together, and I provide the congealing commentary that replaces the dialogue. It’s rousing fun, that’s what it is! To create a semblance of costuming, I have in the past simply selected suitable character hats from Malabar’s Costumes. It’s a little difference that makes all the difference!
So – the upcoming season, including my own singing projects, is very exciting. I’m especially looking forward to performances of Benjanmin Britten’s Saint Nicolas, which are marking the 100th year since Britten’s birth.
I happily accepted an invitation for a short “professional development” trip to NYC, where I enjoyed the cascades of excitement the city and its marvellous arts institutions have to offer.
A highlight was The Steins Collect exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Stunning and completely engrossing. I especially enjoyed seeing just how detailed an artist the young Pablo Picasso was. The highly detailed refinement of his portraits was that of a “draftsman,” before he took on other approaches. He followed the rules meticulously before he broke them! The museum also displayed a series of black and white picture projections of the Steins’ apartment in Paris to show how it evolved into a small contemporary gallery of its own, as Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo collected the art of their friends, and before Leo and Gertrude parted ways in 1913-1914. The pictures re projected onto a space that has the identical dimensions of the original apartment walls. A fascinating re-creation!
London, ON: COAA
I was pleased to return to give master classes at the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy at Western University on May 18-19. It’s always a pleasure to help singers uncover and polish their best singing and most engaging performing. Hats off to Prof. Sophie Roland (Chair of Performance Studies, Western) in her work to bring this program to such a continually thriving and beneficial life.
Stratford: “The Pirates of Penzance”
As a birthday present from last month, Dianne got us tickets to the Stratford Festival’s The Pirates of Penzance. Stratford’s series of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in the 1980’s was jaw-dropping, and they coincided with the several productions in which I sang and then conducted with Western’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society while a student. It was a lot of fun, and great training for an undergrad. My father sang in G&S productions while at Toronto’s Jarvis Collegiate Institute, and I have a group of his cast photos of HMS Pinafore, Iolanthe and The Gondoliers (from 1948-1950) framed in our home. It was something wonderful that we shared, since I sang in Woodstock Collegiate Institute’s productions of The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, and The Mikado in 1976, 1977, and 1979. I learned so much, and gathered a lifetime memories along the way.
I have made a point of generating Gilbert and Sullivan experiences for my own undergraduate students when I can, as a way of ramping up to the greater intensity of language and vocal skills required as professional opera singers. With University of Toronto singers, we’ve done workshop versions of Pirates and Pinafore with singers from North Toronto Collegiate Institute, with The Mikado coming up in 2013. Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo’s first stage role was as Phoebe in The Yeomen of the Guard at Western, and as an undergrad, tenor Michael Schade sang his first G&S roles with me (as Edwin in Trial by Jury and Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore) when I conducted concert versions of those shows with orchestra with the Woodstock Fanshawe Singers in 1986. He went on to record the tenor roles in Pinafore and Mikado with Sir Charles MacKerras and the Welsh National Opera. The Concert Opera Group has recently performed The Pirates of Penzance (with Claire de Sévigné as Mabel, Andrew Haji as Frederic, and Clarence Fraser as the Pirate King) in London, ON, in a “Concert Version with Sing-Along Choruses,” and the COG will perform The Mikado there on Sept. 23/12 Katherine Whyte as Yum-Yum (appearing this year at the COC as Iris in Semele), Andrew Haji as Nanki-Poo, and Marion Newman as Katisha.
The Vancouver Symphony’s artistic director (and opera composer) Bramwell Tovey got his conducting sea legs as music director of the New D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and Liz Upchurch (Music Head of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio) was a rehearsal pianist to some of Britain’s finest singers within the same group. She remarked to me how she marveled at how the singers would stand in the wings to learn from each other as they each developed their roles, time after time.
As for Stratford’s The Pirates of Penzance, wereally loved everything… but the singing. Modestly voiced singers who are over-miked and trained in a broadway belt style – that was the technique of choice, and it is not our cup of tea. We prefer singers who are self-amplified. The orchestral writing was “dumbed down” and simplified, so that the exciting runs were replaced with quarter-notes at at a walking pace; it had a semblance of the same thing, but it wasn’t the same thing. It did, however, make it easier for the single players of each string instrument(!) to survive in the pit, with their instruments miked to sound like a fuller ensemble. Finances turned this score into an “arrangement;” this is understandable, but it was not near the original version!
Oh well – we had a great time. We enjoyed the present while remembering the past, and we look forward to the hilarity of further G&S enterprises at Stratford, as long as we can right the listing vocal ship at the Canadian Opera Company.
A Weekend in Newfoundland
It was a terrific experience to return to Newfoundland to adjudicate at the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Music Festival. This year it was held (for the first time) in Clarenville. Its newly opened community centre houses a hockey arena and a 250-seat theatre. I joined Executive Director Joan Woodrow and fellow adjudicators Thomas Davidson (piano) and Theo Weber (strings). We were pleased to award baritone Steven Griffin the top provincial award in the voice category. Sharing perspectives with my colleagues was also a privilege, since we adjudicated each class together, with the specialist in each area taking the lead. For flute, percussion and guitar, we drew on our combined experience and it was a completely absorbing pleasure!
The rugged landscapes of Newfoundland are endlessly mesmerizing. The population of the island is merely 500,000, so the open spaces are vast. Bodies of water large and small are plentiful. Huge, jutting rock surfaces thrust from the Atlantic, and narrow isthmuses give other-worldly views of vanished land revealing itself from the mist. A cross-Newfoundland road trip with my wife is definitely on our planning boards.
To say that I enjoyed delicious cod while I was there would be obvious. I also enjoyed my first taste of toutons with molasses.
At the airport, I was called to the gate, and asked to give up my seat so that a family could sit together. I was happy to do that. Air Canada said it would give me another available seat a couple of rows up. That’s not what happened. I was moved to first class! What a treat.
On the way to the airport, we took a swing by the picturesque community of Brigus. I only had my iPhone with me for picture taking, so I’ve included an online photo below.
Two weeks in CHINA!
I enjoyed one exciting time after another in China. It was frustrating for me that I could not update this blog while I was there, since the glorious moments kept happening. I was happy to see my personal conceptions of China be replaced by real interactions and experiences. China’s rich cultural history is everywhere. Life there is considerably more liberal and progressive than I ever imagined. The food is fresh, healthy and fantastic, even though I did have my own “ick” food factor perhaps shared by others. (Example: the scrambled eggs with what I thought were bean sprouts was actually scrambled eggs mixed with little fish that actually looked like bean sprouts. The little black specs were their eyes. It tasted good, but I’d not order it again!). It was also notable how much easier it is to eat healthily in a culture that is not dominated by the wheat and corn syrup industries. Fresh vegetables are everywhere; rice, noodles and bread are appropriately proportionate. I was grateful for that!
The two cities I visited, Xi’an and Beijing, have populations of 8.5 million and 20 million, respectively. The sheer numbers of people make social practices interesting. There is a primal “survival of the fittest” mentality in general, but it is not to be taken personally. Getting yourself to the front of the line is a way of life. Traffic often moves at a very slow crawl. Often, but not always. Men’s globulous public spitting and constant, loud throat clearing are common. As a singer and voice teacher, this drove me crazy! I had to practice meditative breathing techniques to cope with this. On the other hand, touring such places as the Forbidden City, Xi’an Terra Cotta Warriors, the Ming and Qing Dynasty tombs, the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, Peking Opera,Tosca at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, the Beijing Summer Palace, the 2008 Beijing Olympic site, Flying Goose Temple (Xi’an) and Xi’an’s Old City Wall – were all breathtaking.
Professionally, my time in China was tremendously welcoming and so rewarding. I taught several afternoons of master classes with singers AND teachers performing. I also enjoyed introducing unfamiliar works in recital (Duparc, Wolf, Jack Behrens, Mozart’s Idomeneo), while celebrating works familiar to them, too (Handel, R. Strauss, Verdi). I even managed to perform two encores (including a Chinese folk song – in Chinese ). I made many new friends in China – a treasured experience. Their kindness and care were extraordinary and unforgettable. I am deeply grateful for this life opportunity, and I look forward to developing the many possibilities that were proposed to me. Great Expectations!
Sights and Sounds of China
I’ve included some candid video of the Peking Opera performance I was privileged to see on April 19th. It was in an “opera tea” kind of setting, with tea and cookies served at tables in the theatre. It was also being filmed by CCTV. I’ll be adding more photographs below as time allows.
China’s “National Centre for the Performing Arts”
This building was designed by a Parisian architect, and holds four theatres: 1) Opera 2) Peking Opera 3) Musicals 4) Movies. It is directly across from the Chinese “Parliament,” or “The Great Hall of the People.” It is gargantuan.
Inside the Forbidden City, a.k.a. “The Palace Museum”
April 11, 2012 Leaving the Czech Republic
Our time here has been extraordinary! We are so grateful for the many experiences we have shared here. Yesterday we were hosted by a Czech hunting ranger/guide and his wife and family. We feasted on wild boar, deer and beef, and quark – a very thick and creamy yogurt. WARNING: This next section may be disturbing to some of you. We went to one of the strangest stight-seeing stops I have ever heard of. It is among the Czech Republic’s top tourist destinations – an ossuary, or a place for the deposit of bones of the dead. The displays were constructed those who wanted to honour a discovered burial site of “unknown soldiers” of the early 1400’s. This ossuary has the bones of 40,000 people. It is a sacred place, an emotionally powerful place, and a most peculiar one. On our way back, we stopped once again in Hradec Králové, and climbed to the top of the “White Tower.” It is so named because it is constructed of sandstone. It was a “long and winding” way up this 16thc. bell tower, but views were fantastic. Unfortunately, I had to forgo my masterclass across the border in Poland, because of a scheduling crunch between Easter break and my trip to China. I look forward to doing this another time. This was a perfect time of professional and cultural immersion, and I am deeply grateful for all we experienced and shared.
April 9, 2012 Easter Monday
Easter Monday. My 52nd birthday. A wonderful day. We saw what the “Whipping Day” was all about (see posting for April 2nd). It dates back to the 13th century. Some Czechs enjoy the celebration tremendously, some loathe it, and some merely tolerate it – all with good reason!
The castle tour introduces interesting anecdotes, fascinating histories, a diverse display of weaponry and a large portrait gallery. The landscapes are captivating, too. It also boasts a novel souvenir shop.
April 8, 2012 Easter Sunday
We spent the day in Prague, and started with St. Margaret’s Catholic Church. The service included a Mozart mass with orchestra and soloists, in the organ loft above the packed church. Very celebratory! We attended the baptism of our friends’ son, and were happy to be a part of the ceremony.
Prague’s Old Town Square was very busy, mostly with tourists from the United Kingdom.
April 7, 2012 Saturday of Easter Weekend
Easter Decor’ns 4
We paid a visit to a folk wood sculptor, Jan “Honza” Kužel, in order to buy a gift for the priest who will be performing the baptism of our friends’ youngest child the next day. www.janek66.cz
After our visit to Jan “Honza” Kužel’s workshop, we drove to “Veselý Kopec.” or “Happy Hill,” the Czech Republic’s version of “Pioneer Village.” It depicts Czech village life in the 17th and 18th centuries.
April 6, 2012 Good Friday
This was a day for traveling and more sight seeing. I learned that the Czech Republic has three regions: Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, and we are staying in Bohemia, which is famous for its crystal. Many people are certainly familiar with Bohemian crystal, and Dvořák’s Moravian duets, and the composer Leoš Janáček was born in Silesia. We started the day with a traditional Good Friday breakfast: a large round loaf of dessert bread with the sign of the cross marked on it.
Then we were off to the market in Hořice:
Our afternoon included a stop at Karlova Karona (“Charles Crown”) – a Zámek outside Hradec Králové, built by a royal duke. There are several peacocks on the estate, which got me clicking my camera. One was in a tree, and two were close by.
As elsewhere, many of the castle estate’s buildings are undergoing renovation, so the old is mixed with… the renewed.
In observation of Good Friday, we joined our friends in listening to Bach’s Matthäus Passion throughout the day, and watched a live stream broadcast from the Leipzig Thomaskirche (J.S. Bach’s church) in the evening, while making Easter eggs with our friends’ children.
As is also traditional, at one point in the day we visited the graves of departed family members at the cemetery.
April 5, 2012
This was a day for sight-seeing! We took a tour of a more modern Czech castle (a “modern” castle, in this case, one built between 1839-1857, is called a “Zámek”). “Hradek u Nechanic” is in a new Tudor-Gothic design. There is a price for admission for the tour (in Czech), and an additional price for taking pictures. I was happy to oblige, and it was worth it.
Many of the “portal” doors, cabinets and altars were made locally, and also brought from Italy and Germany, a bordering nation with which the Czechs have a complex, closely intertwined, and sometimes difficult history.
I was fascinated to see that the castle’s chapel has a pipe organ.
This is quite a castle mansion to see, and it seems to offer very limited tourist access (Christmas and Easter).
Traditional Easter foods were displayed in table settings throughout the castle. There are many different kinds of bread (rope-shaped “Judas” bread, bread shaped like lambs, cross-marked bread, etc.).
The dedication of the restoration is considerable. There is an entire wing that is as yet untouched, and is in a state of tremendous decay. I have been told there was little if any upkeep of such properties during the years of Communist rule (1948-1989). Buildings of architectural and historical importance were often used for housing governmental or military bureaucracy, for storage, or were completely neglected.
April 4, 2012
Today was an exciting day. Within it was a dress rehearsal and a performance, but within that was a series of thrilling musical moments, great times with new musical colleagues, and new memories with longtime friends.
Yesterday was the first orchestra rehearsal with the Filharmonie Hradec Kralóvé and its conductor, Andreas Sebastian Weiser. He is a tremendous pleasure to work with, and his orchestra, equally so.The rehearsal was held at Orchestra Hall, which is in a former movie theatre that was heavily renovated. It now has an orchestra pit, and seating for 500.
The acoustics are quite dry; that’s perfect for rehearsing! We had a richly interesting exchange of traditions, in that Maestro Weiser, a native of Stuttgart and a former boy choir singer, shared some of his insights on the Matthäus Passion with me. I shared with them some of the traditions of Messiah, since “Comfort ye” and “Ev’ry Valley” were not familiar to this ensemble. While in North America we listen to Messiah at Christmas, Czechs most often listen to Jakub Jan Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass.
“Rehearsals are for rehearsing and performances are for performing,” and I used the rehearsal time to gather the tempo, style and pacing information I needed to know for the performance. It ultimately made such a difference for me; I could zero in on what would actually happen.
The dress rehearsal and performance were in the Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (1658). It’s considered the “new” church in the old town square, since the “Cathedral of the Holy Ghost” was built in the early 1300’s. As you can imagine, the acoustics were heavenly. I mostly sang in front of the orchestra, but also from the choir loft with its historical baroque organ. The conductor took slightly slower tempos to adjust to the generous acoustics. The Czech Boys Choirbrought its “A game” to this concert, and unbeknownst to their conductor, for their first-ever performances of the choruses “And the Glory of the Lord” and “Lift Up Your Heads,” they sang it from memory.
They had used their music in the dress rehearsal, and the boys decided amongst themselves that they would go on stage without music.
This was a bold and potentially disastrous decision, but it had a superbly happy ending, thank goodness! The choir will sing its first SATB Messiah later this season, and its a big undertaking. I felt terrific about my performance. I dared myself to sing a few ornaments I had never done before, and felt good about the style-tone switch needed between Bach, Gounod, Handel and Franck within a short amount of time. The audience gave us two enthusiastic standing ovations, and we had three “curtain calls” if that’s what you would call them in a church. The audience was very kind, and yet, very cold, since out of necessity, everyone needed to wear a coat! Interestingly, Christmas concerts are not held in churches, because in December the buildings are so frigid, no can sit for that length of time in an unheated stone church.
The post-concert reception was held in the church courtyard, where I was given a formal thank-you, and signed picture post-cards the Czech Boys Choir Administrator, Martin Sedlacek had made for me to autograph for each of the members of the choir. It’s a concert tradition for the choir and its soloists, and a very gracious one, too. The city newspaper did an interview with me that appeared in today’s paper. Within the interview, I was asked about the kind of music I enjoy listening to. I gave a long list that included Baroque orchestral and keyboard works, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. I also included British brass band music, Scottish pipes and drums, and added, “By the way, I also like Oktoberfest music, too.” Of course, that became the title of the article!
I close my account of today with gratitude for this tremendous opportunity and experience. To Jakub Martinets, (actually spelled Martinec) and Jennifer Beynon-Martinets, who invited me to do this concert, it will remain richly memorable, for all the best reasons!
April 2, 2012
I am so pleased to be writing to you from the Czech Republic. It is very Dvořák and Smetana-like here, with views of small villages and broad-spanning, gently rolling countryside. I was told by a Czech that this country’s citizens are known for their hospitality to visitors, and their jealousy of one another! Only a Czech could see that… or say it! Today’s schedule included a master class at Charles University in Prague. The city is decorated for Easter, with birch trees laden with ribbons and balloons.There is a strange Easter tradition here. The women are symbolically “whipped” on Easter Monday!
On that morning (any time from 8 a.m. – noon) children and men go from house to house. At each house, children may choose from an assorted basket of hard-boiled, decorated eggs, and the men get a shot of plumb vodka, as well as a ribbon for the end of their whip. (The idea is to get as many ribbons as possible from as many “whippings” as possible). The whips are made of freshly-cut, braided willow branches, tied on either end; they are sold at the market. Everyone is also served chocolate treats (see right). All of these gifts after given to the men after they have recited a poem of greeting, during which the women are “whipped” in order to give them energy for the coming year. As soon as the greeting or poem is done, so is the whipping. The other part of the tradition (that is seldom practiced) is that the women then throw a bucket of water over each man’s head. The addition intention is for friends and neighbours to visit with each other for an hour or two. The master class at “Univerzita Karlova” was meaningful and fun. There were about 20 singers in the class, and I worked with a soprano and then a tenor, for about 90 minutes.
The instructor for the class, Mrs. Vulova, remarked on how similar voice issues are around the world. So true! I was impressed with the capacity of all the students to understand English. My corny humour was appreciated with quick laughter, and it was rewarding to hear how the singers improved by hearing my telling of the basic principles we all teach and share. I was pleased to receive a return invitation, and I’d certainly like to return! After the class there was time to visit nearby, at Prague’s famously beautiful “Old Town Square. It was especially interesting to see it dressed for Easter.
March 29, 2012 p.m.Dianne and I head to the Czech Republic tomorrow. I am looking forward to an Easter concert with the Czech Boys
Choir in Hradec Králové. My repertoire will include excerpts from the Matthäus Passion and Messiah, the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” and “Panis Angelicus.” I am also doing some teaching/master classes at Charles University in Prague. It will be wonderful to return there; I first sang in Prague in 1995. I have never been to Poland, so I am also looking forward to visiting the Poznan Conservatory for a master class and lecture. I hear it’s a beautiful old city. My camera is ready! An overriding highlight of the trip will be to spend time with Jennifer Beynon-Martinec and Jakub Martinec, founder and artistic director of the Czech Boys Choir. Their work with the choir is superb in its vocalism and musicianship. They are longtime friends who also happen to be wonderful musical artists.
March 29, 2012 a.m.
It was a pleasure today for me to return to my alma mater, Western University (aka UWO), to give a master class to the voice students of Gloria Gassi. Gloria is working with some of my students for part of my sabbatical leave, and I am grateful for her help and guidance with my students. I have known Gloria since we met as students at UWO in 1979. She was doing a graduate T.A. as the conductor of the choir in which I was singing as a first-year undergraduate. Since that time, she has had a distinguished career as a teacher and singer. I trust her ears, and her teaching talent is so strong and nurturing. (I invited her to work with some of my University of Toronto students in the important weeks around their recitals, and I am grateful she accepted.) During the class at Western, I was delighted to have a visit from Dean Betty Anne Younker, who sat in for a few singers’ sessions. Lots of fun! I was especially happy to hear a peace that was new to me: “Nuit d’Etoiles” by London (ON) composer, Jeff Smallman. I know Jeff has composed more songs, and we should all take notice!
March 25, 2012
I was delighted to recommend two of my students as performers for a gala at which Dianne and I were invited guests. It was a fabulous evening, with singing, dancing, celebrating, and enjoying the Abruzzese food we’ve come to love so well when we travel to Sulmona each summer. Charles Sy [B.Mus., (Perf., year 3)] and Claire de Sévigné (Mus.M. ’11) were featured soloists last night at an event sponsored by Toronto’s Abruzzo Federation, honouring the musical contributions of conductor Sabatino Vacca, who hales from the Abruzzo Region in Italy. Charles and Claire have both performed in the Abruzzo Region, as part of the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy program in Sulmona. Charles Sy performed songs of Abruzzo composer Paolo Tosti: “Non t’amo più,” “Ideale,” and “L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra ” with members of the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra (Sabatino Vacca, conductor), and Claire de Sévigné, with collaborative pianist Kimberley Bartczak, offered opera favourites, “Quando men vo’,” “O mio babbino caro” and “Caro nome.”
The event was emceed by Francesco Ventresca, and celebrated the many Abruzzese who emigrated to Toronto, the families they have raised here, and the cultural legacy and ongoing vitality they bring to life in our city today. The audience numbered about four hundred, and was appreciative and welcoming.
March 19, 2012
“For lo, the winter is past…”
For this final weekend of winter, we enjoyed a “pause that refreshes,” at our cottage in the Haliburton Highlands. We had not been there since Thanksgiving, so it was a welcome visit. This short trip was just right, and helped me to recalibrate for what’s ahead. The time away without having to be “on” was perfect. Since I love so many things about my career, and I am a w0rk-work-work kind of person, my wife’s encouragement of me to find a hobby finally “caught,” and as you’ve seen, photography has taken my interest. I took these photos this morning, before we left to come home. My maternal grandfather, a veteran of the first world war, was a motorcycle courier who was at one point buried in a blast while en route, and also suffered those infamous German gas attacks in battle. When he returned from the war, he worked as an army photographer. Perhaps some of that has carried over. In any case, it’s now an interest of mine, and while I have little skill at it, I do enjoy finding nature subjects to photograph.
This short trip was just right, and helped me to recalibrate for what’s ahead. The time away without having to be “on” was perfect. Since I love so much about my career, and I am a w0rk-work-work kind of person, my wife’s encouragement of me to find a hobby finally “caught,” and as you’ve seen, photography has taken my interest.
Tonight I am doing a voice workshop for the Viva! Youth Singers of Toronto, and its Artistic Director, Carol Ratzlaff. I always like to excite, cajole, (and haul, if necessary!) singers into their best singing and music making. I also very much like the choir’s philosophy and do what I can to support the organization. It is now “in its twelfth season as a downtown group of choirs whose mission is to provide children and youth with artistically excellent musical opportunities in a supportive, inclusive environment.” Some of you have sung at VIVA! functions that were “friendraisers” and others that were “fundraisers.”
March 16, 2012
My next travel stint begins on March 30th, when I leave for the Czech Republic. While there, I will be giving a master class at Charles University in Prague (April 2nd), a performance with the Czech Boy’s Choir in Hradec Králové (April 4), as well as lecture/master class at Poznan, Poland.What am I doing until then? Why, practising, of course!
March 15, 2012
Home! Things wrapped up well in Calgary. I met with my friends and colleagues I could not see while the festival was on, planning future ventures to include Calgary singers in the COSI program.
March 13, 2012
This afternoon I had the pleasure of adjudicating a Mozart Violin Sonata class at the side of Hungarian-American violinist, Zoltan Szabo. It was a pleasure hear such excellent playing from Eva Aronian and Sarah Bliel. It was also fun to recall my school training as a double bass player from grades 7-13! These young virtuosos were far beyond that, but in my adjudications I invited them to listen to Mozart opera arias and concert arias sung by Edita Gruberova and Diana Damrau. The Opera Aria (Advanced Standing) classes were tonight, as this evening finished my adjudicating in Calgary. The singing was a complete pleasure to listen to. The task of comparing excellences is a difficult one. I was told that my remarks were always “positive and poetic.” While I appreciated the compliment, I immediately thought of those who were visibly upset because in performing, their reach had exceeded their grasp, or they did not receive the kind of placement or recognition they’d hoped for. I asked the singers to consider their intrinsic goals, congratulate themselves for those they had met, and give themselves a “Good to know!” for those they had not. For all the feedback I gave them, they were to consider the content (whether positive or “Good to know”) either helpful/useful, or irrelevant. That way, they could move forward.The prize winners of the Opera Classes (Advanced Standing) are pictured here with me (from left to right): Hannah Pagenkopf, soprano, Allyson Hop, soprano, me, Abbey Curzon, soprano, and David Ng, baritone. They all brought their best, and their best made for an exciting evening. I am grateful to Mary Ross, Executive Director of the Calgary Kiwanis Music Festival for her invitation, and for the exceptional level of organization the festival enjoys. It is Canada’s music festival “mother lode,” and I am honoured to have been a part of it.
March 12, 2012
I’ve been adjudicating in the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and its Orpheus Theatre. One aspect I have enjoyed is that it is across the corridor from… a hockey arena! What a terrific combination of arts and sports. My adjudicating here is now winding down. I have been so inspired and buoyed by the high level of Calgary’s singers. Some are verging on a professional level of artistry with Bach and Mozart, with a tremendous amount to commend them to careers. Time, training, opportunities, networks, happenstance and of course, fine singing, will converge to decide the rest. I have also enjoyed adjudicating the occasional string and woodwind classes with my colleagues. Sonatas for flute, oboe and violin, and it’s been a fascinating experience to share in the universal qualities of phrasing, articulation, style, ornamentation, and production. My many years of recital and jury adjudicating have allowed me to always write in pen, and to finish writing when the singing has finished. I do this, too, so that there is time for master class and workshop time with singers. Lots of fun! Developing demonstrative performance skills, discovering balanced resonance instead of nasality, breathing issues for baroque coloratura, and developing a solo singing quality instead of a high and locked laryngeal position. These are just some of the great opportunities we’ve shared together here. I’d love to discuss singers I’ve particularly enjoyed, and performances that have been wonderfully memorable, but… I cannot. I can say that the high standard of singing has made this an exciting experience for me. I took a few pictures today with my old Sony Cybershot “point and shoot” as I walked around the SAIT campus. Along with Mount Royal University and Conservatory and the University of Calgary, Calgary is bustling with thriving post-secondary institutions. As much as the University of Calgary’s Music Department has been shrinking over the past few years, Mount Royal University’s music has been exploding. It is set to open new performing arts training and performance facilities between 2013 and 2014. Long-time friends treated me to La Brezza Italian restaurant last night. The food was really delicious, and other than the annoying wobble of the Neapolitan singer on the recorded Italian music playing in the background (LOL), the atmosphere was really enjoyable. Somewhat endearing was the owner who gifted us with shots of limoncello, but the catch was that we had to agree to vote his restaurant as #1 on tripadvisor.ca. He would not leave our table until we agreed, plied with instruction sheets on how to access the voting website!
March 9, 2012
I am having a great time at the Calgary Kiwanis Music Festival. I was last here in 1998. Since that time I have held many of the friendships my Calgary colleagues, and communicate with them quite regularly. However, music festival rules do not allow adjudicators to discuss music festivals until they are all over. There must be no contact with adjudicators. I don’t know who teaches whom, or who studies with whom. That’s the way it should be! There should not even be a perception of favouritism, or a feeling that certain singers have an “in” or do not have an “in.” I do find it hilarious, though, to watch the lengths to which my friends and colleagues are going to not meet my eyes or even acknowledge I am in the room, knowing full well that we’ll have a wonderful time together after my work at the festival is finished. Suffice it to say that the magic of Amsterdam has been replaced by the vocal magic of the fine young singers of Calgary. Every day brings new singing pleasures and treasures. It’s a bonanza. Participation in this festival is more embraced by solo singers than is the Toronto Music Festival, which is more renowned for its large participation of large ensembles (choirs, bands and orchestras). For this reason, I made a point of accepting the invitation to adjudicate. I have not been disappointed! One small highlight outside the festival is to have visited Earl’s. Western Canada is famous for its Earls restaurants. I was there last night. It’s a highlight because while I was there, I remembered all terrific times I’d had there with friends over the years, when visiting Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary. It’s all about the people! Toronto now has its own Earls, and London, ON, will soon open a location, too! Since I have little else I can share about the exciting goings-on at the Calgary Kiwanis Music Festival, I’m posting a few more of my pictures from Amsterdam:
March 5, 2012
My master class at Opera Studio Nederland was a complete pleasure – at least for me! The repertoire constituted the kind of central arias you would expect: “Warm as the autumn light,” “O vin, dissipe la tristesse,” “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen” “Tornami a vagheggiar” and “Se vuol ballare.” The singers were open to what I had to say, and that was welcoming. The four hours went by very quickly, with a 15-min. cappuccino break in the middle! The singers are all planning on doing auditions for agents and opera companies after the completion of this month’s program. It was a pleasure to hear that two Canadians – soprano Johane Ansell, and mezzo-soprano Rachel Wood will be part of the 2012-2013 Opera Studio Nederland. It is a strong “gateway” program for gaining access to European houses and employment. The singers with whom I worked today were not only from Holland, but also from the USA, the Ukraine, and Turkey. I very much look forward to returning to Amsterdam – with my wife next time(!), so we can take in the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, the Netherlands Opera and the Concertgebouw. As you can see from my snapshot to the left, Amsterdam is a city of dreams! On the walk to the Opera Café for dinner, I was introduced to a chocolate shop called Puccini. Please put it on your “must” list for when you visit here, perhaps when you audition for the Opera Studio. You’ll either thank me, or curse me! I’ll be rising early in the morning to get my final glimpses of this enthralling city, and then off to the airport, en route to the Kiwanis Music Festival in Calgary. I’ll have Amsterdam’s glories in my mind as I take in the hopefully equally picturesque imaginations of Calgary’s singers and their songs.
March 4, 2012
After the conquest of Napoleon in the early 1800’s, the emperor placed his brother, a butcher, as the new king of the Netherlands. Things didn’t work out so well, and he was recalled after a year. His legacy, however, was the conversion of the Amsterdam Town Hall into the Royal Palace of
King Louis Napoleon. This was a very nice treat for me on an early Sunday afternoon! I recommend it; it isn’t Windsor Castle, but the plasterwork in the grand hall is beyond compare from anything I have ever seen. It does look like a town hall converted into a palace, but the decor and furnishings are so beautiful. Shortly afterward, I went to the Opera Studio Nederland for its singers’ performance of Charpentier’s La Descente d ‘Orphée aux Enfers.
It has a compelling score and the direction strongly guided us through the story, with a superb band (the Baroque Orchestra ” ‘t Kabinet” of Daniel Boothe) and an effective minimalist production to demonstrate those who were living and those in “The Underworld.” The singers were very enjoyable, and I looked forward to working with them the next day.
March 3, 2012, p.m.
Upon my arrival in Amsterdam, the cab driver from the airport took little time to explain to me the difference between a “Coffee Shop” and a “Café.” Cafés are coffee pubs – wonderful places. When I joined colleagues from the Amsterdam Opera Studio in a café this afternoon, a cat was sleeping in the centre of the padded bench on either side of us. Pets are allowed in Amsterdam’s cafés. While I was there at least three dogs of various sizes came in with their owners. Coffee Shops are not easily confused with cafés; you can smell one before you see it. It’s not at all for coffee, in fact, I don’t think you can get coffee in one. These places are for smoking pot. If I didn’t know what pot smelled like before coming to Amsterdam, I certainly do now. I say that because European cigarette tobacco (at least tobacco I am familiar with in Germany) smells especially foul, but the air in the Amsterdam streets has demonstrated a clear difference! On a more elevating topic, I spent a very pleasant evening at the home of Nathalie Doucet and Jacob Lalkens. They live near Edam (of the Gouda Cheese fame). It was also a pleasure to meet their dog, Cookie. I have often heard of her, and seen her in pictures, but we had never met. I enjoyed myself tremendously as we (not Cookie – Jacob, Nathalie and I) “talked about the old days” and new adventures in our lives and careers. In addition to her work at the Amsterdam Opera Studio, Nathalie is an opera coach at the Dutch National Opera Academy. Nathalie and Jacob were delighted to prepare for me a highly typical Dutch meal for dinner: “stamppot,” or to us, “mash pot,” since the food is mashed in a pot. It was really delicious. Potatoes are mashed with kale (or various other vegetables) along with butter and garlic. In the centre of the mound goes a large meat ball, and at the side, sausage. Over all of this is poured gravy. It’s not a low-calorie dinner, but it is very tasty. For dessert: “Vla!”It sounds like “flaw.” It’s something like a cross between a pudding and a custard, and it comes in containers like our litre-sized milk cartons. It is for pouring. There are all kinds of vla flavours and textures. They mentioned “stracciatella,” and “fluffy.” We had vanilla and chocolate. I didn’t have a second helping, but I could have!
March 3rd, 2012 a.m.
I am in Amsterdam now, having enjoyed Schipol Airport (really!), with its museum and innovative layout. I chuckled to myself when I was reminded that outside the United Kingdom, Europeans don’t line up for anything. They swarm and smarm. My camera, case, and all my lenses were inspected – that was a first for me. The views here are spectacular. I had forgotten that Amsterdam is a canal city. It’s magnificent! Its architecture is captivating, and the old city centre is riveting.
I heard surprisingly little Dutch spoken in the city centre – mostly the Queen’s English. There is a flower market, and the Heineken Beer Museum, but also the Rijksmuseum (which stores the Rembrandt Collection) and the Van Gogh Museum. Tomorrow I will see the Amsterdam Opera Studio’s production of Charpentier’s Orphée,and I will do a masterclass with the same singers on Monday. I am also looking forward to meeting up with Nathalie Doucet and her husband Jacob. Many of you will remember Nathalie from two years ago, from when she was coaching singers at the University of Toronto. She is now repetiteur and coach for the Amsterdam Opera Studio.
March 2nd, 2012
I spent from Feb. 27-Mar. 2 visiting Sulmona, making plans for COSI 2012. I was pleased to meet with the mayor, Fabio Federico, who was thrilled to hear we are preparing to “fill the air of the city with music.” COSI’s Executive Director in Italy, Dottoressa Tania Puglielli (a University of Toronto graduate) kept me busy reviewing accommodations she had secured, and discussing performance dates and programming. There was time, too, to visit a few of COSI’s favourite spots – Bar Giardini (with a big greeting from Paolo and his family), Di Silvio’s Gelateria (with Massimo and Mila – all smiles and welcomes), and Ristorante Clemente, where the head waiter theatrically and humorously chided me for ordering a cappuccino after dinner. That-s a no-no! COSI 2012 is a confetti bouquet of anticipation!
January and February:
Learning new music for song premieres.
Teaching master classes and workshops in the Greater Toronto Area.
Writing a book review, research reports and proposals.
Reading books on research methods, such as case study research, grounded theory, survey research, and an overall look at qualitative and quantitative research as they best apply to discovery and development of singers and teachers in the voice studio.
Graduate voice auditions at U of T (yes).
Several meetings at U of T (yes again) for urgent and impending issues: “present mirth hath present laughter; what’s to come is still unsure.” (Wm. Shakespeare: Twelfth Night).