Just one of the great things about being the COC's General Director is that I get to represent my company at cultural events all over the world. So I went to Montreal yesterday afternoon for the inauguration of the new concert hall for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, la Maison Symphonique de Montréal. Since my arrival in Canada this is the second opening of a new concert hall that I got to attend (the first being Toronto's splendid Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory) and I found myself sitting there last night thinking how lucky I am to live and work in a country that, against all odds, continues to grow its cultural infrastructure.
The hall itself has been designed by the same team that was responsible for our Four Seasons Centre, Diamond & Schmitt Architects, Sound Space Design and Fisher Dachs Associates, with the addition of Artec Consultants. Its shoebox shape has a functional beauty that reminded me of our R. Fraser Elliot Hall and, as one might expect, the acoustics are glorious: detailed, warm, rich and transparent.
There really is no better piece to open a new hall than Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and it was a real pleasure to see Kent Nagano and the musicians of the Montreal Symphony embrace the possibilities of their new home. Preceding the symphony was a marvelously showcase of Quebec composers and writers with pieces by Claude Vivier, Gilles Tremblay, a new commission by Julien Bilodeau and texts by Joséphine Bacon, Yann Martel, Marie-Claire Blais and Wajdi Mouawad that had also been commissioned by the orchestra for the inauguration.
Now, I'm just about to return to Toronto for our rehearsals of Iphigénie en Tauride and Rigoletto. In two weeks from today we will open our 2011/12 season.
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My festival summer should have ended with the performance of Vivaldi's Griselda in Santa Fe yesterday evening, but luckily David Holloway, the Director of the Apprentice Program, invited me to attend the dress rehearsal of the second program of Apprentice Scenes this morning. With excerpts from Jonathan Dove's The Flight, Béatrice et Bénedict, Manon, Così fan tutte, Sweeney Todd, Capriccio, Eugene Onegin and Rigoletto, the apprentices seemed even more impressive to me then in their first program last Sunday and some of the individual performances were truly outstanding, even at 11:00 a.m.! I'm grateful I could attend.
The performance of Vivaldi's Griselda yesterday evening was a true highlight of my festival summer. It actually was the first Vivaldi opera I've seen on a stage and I'm still astonished how masterfully he characterizes the roles with his music. The story of a queen of humble origins, repudiated and put through a series of trials by her king, just to be reinstated as the queen at the end of the piece is unbelievably moving. The production by director Peter Sellars and Los Angeles-based visual artist Gronk has been controversial with the public and some critics here, but, frankly, I don't quite understand why. Not only does it propose one of the most beautiful and suggestive sets I've seen in a while, it also treats the characters of the piece with so much tenderness and emotional depth that I was spellbound in my seat for the entire duration of the performance. I'm glad our Toronto audience will get to see Peter's work soon. Add to a marvelous production a superlative cast headed by Paul Groves (our Idomeneo in 2010) and Meredith Arwady (Death in our BAM tour of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables in March), Isabel Leonard (coming to the COC soon), Amanda Majeski (not coming yet, but I would love to have her) as well as countertenors David Daniels (also coming soon) and Yuri Minenko. Opera doesn't get much better.
Tomorrow I'll be back in Toronto and on Tuesday we will start rehearsals for our new Rigoletto. The COC's 2011/12 season will start on September 22.
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After La Bohème and The Last Savage I continued my operatic program here in Santa Fe with the Apprentice Scenes on Sunday evening. The Apprentice Program is one of the most prestigious in North America and attracts a number of the most talented young singers each year. As I had missed their auditions earlier this month I was happy to see them see fully staged scenes with piano from The Cunning Little Vixen, Lee Hoiby's Summer and Smoke, John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, Semele, Carmen, Idomeneo, Porgy and Bess and Italiana in Algeri. It was quite amazing to see how these young artists inhabited their roles and there was some substantial future star material to watch. What I hadn't known is that the program isn't for singers only, it is also open to young stage technicians. What an opportunity for all of them to learn their craft here.
We Germans have a difficult relationship with Charles Gounod's Faust. The reduction of Goethe's famous play to a simple love story between Faust and Marguerite leaves a bit too much to be desired. In fact, for a long time the opera was performed as Margarethe in Germany to obscure the connection with Goethe. For more succesful treatments of the same subject I would rather go to Berlioz, Boito or Busoni. All that said there is some terrific music in Gounod's score. Who could resists the magic of the Garden Scene or the Final Trio, especially when they are as sylishly performed as by Frédéric Chaslin in the pit and Bryan Hymel (our Pinkerton and Don José in 2009/10), Ailyn Pérez and Mark S. Doss (our Thoas in Iphigénie en Tauride this coming September and October). I'm still humming.
Alban Berg's Wozzeck might contain a few less hummable melodies, but the performance I heard here on Wesnesday evening was outstanding. A great cast inculding Richard Paul Fink in the title role (his last role with the COC was the Water Goblin in Rusalka), Nicola Beller Carbone as Marie (our Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) and Eric Owens as the Doctor (I'm very happy that he will perform with the COC in the future) and David Robertson in the pit made Berg's great score sound like the kind of music Mahler might have written had he lived for another twenty years. Don't think I am trying to take away any of Berg's merits as a composer with this remark. To me, Wozzeck is one of the very few perfect operas and I feel very lucky that after the brilliant performance at the Met in April I got to hear this wonderful piece performed so brilliantly a second time just a few months later.
Vivaldi's Griselda will be my last Santa Fe Opera tonight.
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