Tag Archives: Canadian Opera Company

Seven Quick Takes Friday – Alone but not lonesome edition

Seven Quick Takes Friday

How did I spend my week alone you ask?

    1. I finished a terrific book. My review (posted on Goodreads):Bee Season
      Bee Season
      by Myla Goldberg
      My rating: 5 of 5 stars
      An incredible feat of a first novel. Of a tenth novel for that matter.This is the story of a family and the secrets held by each of the members. Told over the arc of two seasons of spelling bees, the relationships between the various dyads are very finely drawn. Each family member is experiencing a kind of very personal suffering or angst, and the novel weaves their stories into a sort of coat of many colours.It is not a sad book per se, but we meet these characters as they struggle to be true to themselves with sometimes unexpected results.Highly recommended.  View all my reviews
    2. Many thanks to the Canadian Opera Company for sending out their usual pre-opera reminder with links to reading resources etc. Otherwise, I might not have realized that my second time round with Peter Grimes on Saturday starts at 4:30 pm and not 7:30. I saw it opening night when Ben Heppner was indisposed. This time, fingers crossed, he will be on stage. Seeing it with a friend who likes Heppner, but not so much Benjamin Britten. We’ll have a good discussion at dinner afterwards, regardless.
    3. It’s not all operas and orchestras around here. Sometimes what a gal needs is a few hours of concentrated lounging in front of the television. This week, as I struggled to kick this cold, I caught up on a few of my fave series and suddenly wondered “What is it that makes bad boys so attractive to women?” I mean, women who are otherwise not interested in the immoral or illicit. Even bad boys who (to me) are not that physically attractive? (Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire, played by Steve Buscemi) Or those that are? (Fitz in Call Me Fitz, played by Jason Priestly.) Okay, maybe the latter is a bit easier to understand, but he’s really a nasty piece of work on the show.
    4. Carter’s Baby Gowns

      What is the matter with all these people staring (and commenting) in wonderment at Prince George in a christening gown (or “dress” as they are wont to call it?) Have they no clue? Have they never seen old photos or footage of a traditional christening? In fact, babies of both genders have been clothed in gowns for centuries. When they were newborns in the 1990s, my boys wore long gown-like sleepers that my mother had set aside from when my sibs and I were babies. They were very practical, cozy, and cute.

      Prince George in reproduction Victorian christening gown.
    5. This is why your band needs to have a tubist, not a bass player (with apologies to Michael’s flat-mate, a bass player.)

    6. My (church) choir is putting on a concert to raise funds for the restoration of the organ. It’s Friday November 1st at 8 pm at Blessed Sacrament Parish (Yonge and Lawrence W, Toronto) and we’ll be joined by the marvellous Victoria Scholars and some special guest instrumentalists. More details to follow early next week after I actually make it to a rehearsal (*sniffle). Free to attend. Donations gratefully accepted.
    7. A big happy birthday to my sister Frances who turns 15 months younger than me today!  Here we are with our parents before the baby brother arrived.

      Berkman Family, early 60s.
      Berkman Family, lets just call it the 60s.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in high school anymore….

My trip to Montreal last week to visit Michael was as lovely as it could have been, given that I had a cold and was not feeling 100% (or even 25%, to be honest.) Because I was driving from the cottage, the trip was only three and a half hours or so, the start of which was through lovely Ontario farmland as I headed west to the 401 at Brockville. I stopped there to walk around a bit and re-energize myself, and arrived in Montreal late in the afternoon.

I checked in to the charming Hotel Kutuma, recommended to me by a friend and offering an excellent rate on Hotels.com. It’s on St. Denis near Sherbrooke, walking distance to Michael’s apartment, and surrounded by cafes and shops. It’s small hotel above an Ethiopian restaurant, and my room was luxurious with an African theme. It had a kitchenette, gorgeous bathroom, multiple heating and cooling controls, and a little balcony overlooking the rear of the building. There were even two wrapped toothbrushes with mini-toothpaste tubes in the bathroom, a first for me.

The bonus for this post-Thanksgiving trip was that Michael had performances with two of the ensembles he’s in, on two successive nights. He’d elected not to come home over Thanksgiving so that he could have more time to prepare his repertoire, and his flat-mate, another music student, did the same.

We had a quick dinner at a local pub (Ye Olde Orchard Pub and Grill) where I realised I was having my first drink in a public location with my son who, in Quebec, is of legal age (18). His call was for 6:30 so I dropped him off at the music building and took my time finding parking (a difficult feat I must say in this bustling city.)

The concert was Opera Choruses presented by the Schulich School Singers and was very impressive. The director, Patrick Hansen, walked us through the different chorus groupings, and the choir was joined by members of Opera McGill when required.

Schulich School Singers, October 2013.
Schulich School Singers, October 2013.

The concert finished with the spectacular show stopper Who holds himself apart from Peter Grimes (that I’d seen very recently at the Canadian Opera Company.) Michael confessed to me afterwards that there was some amount of chaos in the choir during a couple of moments of the performance, but with Britten, it’s sometimes hard to tell. It sounded fantastic to me.

Michael is one of a handful of non-voice majors in this ensemble and remarked that his voice is really [technical stuff that I didn’t understand but is good.] He likes to push himself and be around musicians working at a higher level than he is. He credits his voice teacher here in Toronto (Paula Wickberg) for giving him a great foundation for singing at this level, and also for talking him (texting him?) through the audition process.

I spent much of the second day lounging around at the hotel, trying to feel better. I had told Michael that I’d take him to Costco or wherever, but I really didn’t feel up to it and his schedule didn’t have very many openings. So we simply had dinner at Frites Alors! and arrived at Tanna Schulich Hall for his second concert, this one with Jazz Orchestra I.

Michael auditioned on his bass trombone for the McGill jazz orchestras (big bands, in other words) and didn’t think he did very well. The audition was just sight reading, and he hadn’t picked up his trombone very much over the summer as his main focus was getting ready for the tuba ensemble auditions. So he was surprised to get placed in the top of the three orchestras, the only non-Jazz student. The group is led by Joe Sullivan and the concert featured three of his original compositions, as well as pieces by Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, and John Coltrane. No doubt his years in his high school stage band and two years with the Jazz.fm Youth Big Band paid off, as well as a series of lessons with Barnaby Kerekes and Jules Estrin.

McGill Jazz Orchestra I
McGill Jazz Orchestra I

They sounded great, and I was hoping to find a video online of the band but no luck. Michael plans to take some courses from the Jazz department (even though he’s in the classical program) as he’s headed for a rather eclectic musical career.

The next morning we met for breakfast before I headed home. I recall the last couple of years of high school, when all he wanted was for it to be over and to be able to focus on what he loved: music. He seems really content, is making friends, and enjoying Montreal. He’s managing to combine all of his interests (classical tuba, jazz trombone, and singing) into an academic program that will prepare him for whatever comes in the future. We’re proud of him for following his dream and, as parents, that is what you want for your children.

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Falling into the arts. It’s that time again.

Not only does the fall bring TIFF, cooler weather, and reading under a cozy throw, but our opera and orchestra subscriptions begin. Although I’d been to the Peter Grimes rehearsal a week ago, last evening was the first of our opera series with the opening of Puccini’s La Boheme.

Latin Quarter scene from La Boheme. COC.

It was a new production by director John Caird and was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. As he writes in his notes, not all that much happens in the opera, but the juxtaposition of some bald humour and intense sorrow was intoxicating.

There are two casts for this opera, and we heard Italian soprano Grazia Doronzio as Mimi and Canadian Joyce El-Khoury as Musetta, both making their COC debuts. Both captured the essence of their characters, Mimi suffering and stumbling, Musetta flirting and vivacious.

The music is familiar and, apart from some issues with sound balance between the orchestra and the voices and (possibly) a couple of late entries, luscious.

We’ll also be at the opening of Peter Grimes on Saturday which promises to be quite different: music by Britten, a tragic story with little respite, and a more avant-garde design.  It was a scheduling fluke that ended us up attending two opening nights, and you don’t always get the best performances, but it’s also nice to see it all come together but still be (a little) on the edge of your seat, knowing that the singers and musicians have been working towards just this moment.

Ahhh….

On a side note, it was a crazy day yesterday in terms of logistics of getting to dinner to meet my date and then to the Four Seasons Centre. It required me to change my clothes away from home and I didn’t make the best choice of footwear. I stumbled on the steps down to the subway, shocking some poor 14-year-old boy who put out his hands to help me. Luckily, by some stroke of genius, I had thrown a pair of emergency flats into my bag: you know those little shoes you can buy at the drugstore to get you home from an event when your feet hurt from your high-heeled shoes and (maybe) you’ve had too much to drink. I took off my too-lose wedge sandals and switched into those babies in the subway station and I was good to go! Popped the sandals back on when I got to the opera, and then back in to flats to head home. The sandals are going into my giveaway bag as they now have negative energy and I will be too nervous to wear them ever again. The flats will find a permanent place in my bag.

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Ciao, sweeties!

Culture blast

I love Toronto. I know, we’re the centre of the universe blah, blah, blah.

But really, these past couple of days have reminded me about the wonderful benefits of being in a large, culture-filled city, particularly in my current retired-with-grown-kids state.

The Canadian Opera Company

As a supporter of the Canadian Opera Company, I was blessed with a pass for 2 tickets to see Tuesday’s working rehearsal of Britten’s Peter Grimes. It stars great Canadian tenor Ben Heppner in the namesake role. The brother of a friend is also in it (Roger Honeywell as Bob Boles), plus a friend from choir (and voice teacher for Michael) is in the chorus (Paula Wickberg). I invited my brother to join me.

Unlike other rehearsals I’ve been to, this was early on in the process so there was lots of stopping and starting, which was great. We saw Music Director Johannes Debus put the orchestra through it’s paces, as well as tightening up timing and articulation of the chorus and the onstage drummer. We also saw some staging worked through so that, for example, Swallow could see the conductor to get his vocal cue while tumbling over and under a table (and the Nieces.) The rehearsal was also a great way to hear some of the music repeated a few times as it is new to me. I will now be able to recognize some of the the themes when we attend. We only saw Acts 2 and part of Act 3, but I’m excited to see the whole work in performance on October 5.

Last night, Zouheir and I attended a Star Talk at the Toronto Reference Library that featured an interview by Richard Ouzounian with Ben Heppner. It was a lovely surprise to see my three aunts there as well. Heppner comes across as a real family man who has managed in latter years to limit his performance schedule to 50 days per year. He said that his critics thought that this would spell the demise of his career, but he found that, the law of supply and demand came in to play here and he is in more demand (and better paid) than ever. A video of this interview should be up here within the next few days.

The COC has an excellent online listening guide and study guide for this opera. I will definitely be browsing through the latter before we see the performance.

Also in culture this week: Ai Weiwei at the AGO. Next post.

English: The Scallop The Scallop statue at Ald...
English: The Scallop The Scallop statue at Aldeburgh Suffolk. Dedicated to Benjamin Britten, who used to walk along the beach in the afternoons. Created from stainless steel by Suffolk-based artist Maggi Hambling, it stands four metres high, and was unveiled in November 2003. The piece is made up of two interlocking scallop shells, each broken, the upright shell being pierced with the words: “I hear those voices that will not be drowned”, which are taken from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)