I know, I know, I've been on summer hiatus. Don't worry, I'll be filling you in on the Art Life and Stilettos summer transcontinental trek in no time. In the meantime why not take a break from the serious world of classical music and check out some rarely seen crossover talent? No, not that kind of crossover...
Opera singer, and singer songwriter Ashleigh Semkiw will be headlining the Drake Underground on Saturday, August 18. Ashleigh is a unique artist, in that her most recent operatic performance was in the spring of 2012 with Chicago Opera Theatre in their production of Shostakovich's Moscow, Cheryomushki, and if you're expecting her pop stylings be reminiscent of Renée Fleming's most recent pop curious album Dark Hope, rest assured that Ashleigh writes and performs her own music and is decisively marching to the beat of her own drum. You can check out Ashleigh's music and art at www.ashleighsemkiw.com
...and for those of you who can't afford the price tag but still want to attend the event, why not consider volunteering for the evening? "Join Opera Atelier for Mirage: the 2012 Versailles Gala and help support their education, outreach and artist development programs by applying to volunteer as a server, a live auction spotter, or even a wardrobe assistant. This is your chance to rub elbows with Toronto's elite and get exclusive behind-the-scenes access at the same time!"
Will Arnett, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Poehler. (CNW Group/Toronto East General Hospital)
Every once and a while I try to step out of my box and have a new experience. Attending opera and classical music performances is obviously on the top of my list of regulars, along with events in all the performing arts, but attending comedy festivals is something I just don’t do often enough. When I was offered the opportunity to attend the Toronto East General Hospital’s first annual comedy gala, I decided it was about time to write about something else that makes me smile.
The event, which was aptly titled “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” turned out to not only be a fun, inspired evening but a night that made me appreciate the power we have as individuals to collectively affect the lives of others. In this case, the result was overwhelmingly good, and I’m sure being within arms distance of the well-adored (at least by me) Canadian comic, Will Arnett really helped seal the deal.
Yes, that Will Arnett. The same Arnett I fondly remember playing G.O.B. on Arrested Development, the one who played one half of a wicked, hot pick wearing, figure skating pair in Blades of Glory, and my personal favourite, as the little boy in a suit, Devon Banks on 30 Rock.
Sure, Arnett was hilarious at the Gala, but what struck me most is how dedicated his family and adoringly doting wife, Amy Poehler are to supporting the hospital. Will’s dad, Jim Arnett has served on the hospital’s board for seven years, and the Arnett family was commemorated for their long-term support of the hospital. Will was awarded the title of Toronto East General's first-ever "Honourary Doctor," to which he replied, "I'm the first doctor at the hospital that failed math and science...But I've got great bedside manner.”
Will donated his time and talent to host the event, helping to introduce the new five million dollar donation from Peter and Diana Thomson, which will establish the Ken and Marilyn Thomson Patient Care Centre, a surprise announcement of a one million dollar donation from the Jain Family, toward’s the hospital’s capital redevelopment campaign, and to introduce the evening’s comedic headliner, Jerry Seinfeld.
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Hello lovelies, thanks for stopping by today. I've been expanding my horizons and have published an article in Panoram Italia Magazine. It's a profile on Bruno Billio, a sculptor and designer who is the current artist in residence at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. I had a great time interviewing Bruno in his surreal work/living space at the hotel. Spending time with people who so fully live and breathe their art is truly an amazing thing.
Every once and a while I find myself having to take a small break from writing and maintaining this wonderful site because something has come up in another aspect of my life. If only time were more forgiving, because then I would have the time to do everything I want to all at once. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. That being said, have no fear, the site is not going anywhere. I just wanted to help you solve the mystery of why I’ve slowed down a bit recently. I am still as devoted as ever to Art Life and Stilettos and thrilled that you have come along for the ride with me. Stay tuned for more interesting arts coverage and articles. If you have any ideas for the site, are interested in making a guest contribution or being interviewed please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com
Now, for your reading, viewing and listening pleasure, I thought it might be fun for me to share some unexpected criticisms of some of history’s most prolific opera composers. It’s your inspirational moment of zen:
The Overture to Tannhäuser is one of the most curious pieces of patchwork ever passed off by self-delusion for a complete and significant creation...When it is stripped and sifted, Herr Wagner’s creation may be likened, not to any real figure, with its bone and muscle, but to a compound of one shapely feature with several tasteless fragments, smeared over with cement, but so flimsily that the paucity of good material is proved by the most superficial examination.
H.F. Chorley, The Athenaeum, London, May 19, 1855
Those who were present at the performance of Puccini’s opera Tosca, were little prepared for the revolting effects produced by musically illustrating the torture and murder scenes of Sardou’s play. The alliance of a pure art with scenes so essentially brutal and demoralizing...produced a feeling of nausea. There may be some who will find entertainment in this sensation, but all true lovers of the gentle art must deplore with myself its being so prostituted. What has music to do with a lustful man chasing a defenseless woman or the dying kicks of a murdered scoundrel? It seemed an odd form of amusement to place before a presumably refined and cultured audience, and should this opera prove popular it will scarcely indicate a healthy or credible taste.
Photo of Ivars Taurins dressed as Maestro Handel by Gary Beechey - Courtesy of Tafelmusik
Tis the season for Handel’s Messiah. The tradition of performing this particular oratorio has become as synonymous with the holidays as the Nutcracker and a Charlie Brown Christmas. If you have never seen a Messiah before, here are a few that might pique your interest, performed by some of Toronto’s best. If you’re a Messiah veteran, why not check out Tafelmusik’s sing-along version–don’t forget to bring your score–I’ll be there on Sunday singing along with the soprano soloist. If you fall into the category of people who have no interest in seeing Handel’s yuletide opus, or if you’ve heard enough Messiah’s that you want to scream, there are a few alternative events on this MASSIVE list that should provide for some spirited, anti-entertainment from the likes of Unsilent Night, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Opera pop supernova, Naria.
The opera tenor Roberto Alagna, who started out signing in a Paris pizza bar, confessed to a huge admiration for Barbara and said he learned from her how to perform in small spaces like L’Ecluse, whichseat no more than 60 people, most of them eating their dinner through a performance.
Jonas Kaufmann really wants you to watch Faust this weekend. How can you say no to that face?
THE BIRDS TAKE UP THEIR CHARMING SONGS ONCE MORE Special guest narrator: Bruce Hunter Vivaldi - Four Seasons Musical Improvisations – The Audience becomes the Storyteller
The holidays are a time to be together with those you love. Join with friends, family and community and participate in some music making with Via Salzburg. The Baroque sounds of Vivaldi prepare our ears as Via Salzburg and our audience create music together for the first time. Friday, December 9, 2011, 8pm. Rosedale United Church, 159 Roxborough Drive, Toronto.
BACK TO BACK - CONTINUUM MUSIC Continuum Musicco-presented with the Music Gallery and Toronto New Music Projects, Back to Back is a concert of works for small ensemble by experimentalist extraordinaire Vinko Globokar. This event, together with a New Music Concerts performance on December 11, creates a rare concentration of Globokar’s work that is not to be missed. The programme includes Dos à Dos, Terres brûlées, ensuite…, a brilliantly theatrical trio for piano, saxophone and percussion with electronics by Thomas Kessler, and a group improvisation led by Globokar on trombone. Performers - Composer and trombone: Vinko Globokar (FR) With: Thomas Kessler (electronics), Wallace Halladay (saxophone), Stephen Clarke (piano), Ryan Scott (percussion), David Schotzko (percussion). December 9, 2011, 8 pm. The Music Gallery, 197 John Street, Toronto, ON, CA, M5T 1X6
Gratuitous photos of ripped men covered in pizza dough. It’s art, don’t judge. Exhibition by Chris Curreri. [Daniel Faria Gallery]
Don’t know your fachs from your fermatas? Do "falcon," "dugazon" and "baryton-martin" sound like high priced cocktails to you? Want to impress that opera singer next door? You should read this article about musical terminology. [Opera News]
Pablo Heras-Cased, the young Spanish one to watch, has been named principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Watch out for performances at Carnegie Hall and Caramoor. [NYTimes]
“The astonishing thing about this debut album of prim and chilly Canadian synth pop is singer Katie Stelmanis—the shuddery force in her operatic voice, and the way she builds it into layers and harmonies that feel like little sculptures.” Austria’s lead singer, Katie Stelmanis sang with the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus, the band performed at Operanation 2011, and is New York Magazine’s number one album choice for 2011. [NYMag]
I spent this summer in Germany and Austria, I’d like to pay homage to those two nations with a list of the best schnitzel in Toronto. [BlogTO]
"Back in the 1970s, when Tori Amos was a pre-adolescent girl in the preparatory program at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, none of her teachers would have imagined that one day she would be recording her own compositions for the renowned classical label Deutsche Grammophon." [The Globe and Mail]
Beer, jam sessions, jeans. It’s a classical music revolution, and it’s happening all over North America. [The Globe and Mail]
Topless Ballet Lessons with Roberto Bolle: Yes, It's Really as Good as it Sounds. [Opera Chic]
The Art Life and Stilettos Performance Calendar. December 2 - December 4, 2011
To submit your event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Soulful Messiah - Ballet Creole Soulfully danced to Quincy Jones’ Grammy Award-winning R&B rendition of Handel’s Messiah, this universal holiday tradition will leave you singing “Hallelujah!” throughout the festive season! Enriched by the uplifting voices of Aretha Franklin, The Boys Choir of Harlem, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight, Ballet Creole infuses tap, African-Caribbean, ballet, jazz and modern dance in this unique celebration of life through dance and music. With the eclectic energy of Ballet Creole’s Dance Company, and featuring David Cox (former Stomp member), Soulful Messiah drives its dancers and its audiences to rejoice! Now celebrating its 10th year anniversary with enhanced lighting and new costumes, it’s the perfect time to discover the magic of this season favourite. Friday, December 2, 2011, 8:00 pm - Sunday, December 4, 2011, 8:00 pm. Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay West. http://www.balletcreole.org/
Eve Egoyan “Returnings” music by Ann Southam
Eve Egoyan will perform works recorded on her new CD Returnings, world première recordings of music for solo piano by Ann Southam. The performance will include three Toronto premières including the world première of Returnings II: A Meditation. Along with Simple Lines of Enquiry, this disc represents the complete works for solo piano that Ann wrote with Eve in mind. Friday, December 02, 2011. 8pm. Glenn Gould Studio. http://www.roythomson.com
I like to take opportunities as they come. Most of the time I'm pleasantly surprised with the outcome, and being given the opportunity to attend Tapestry New Opera's Pub Operas was definitely no exception. When I found out about the performance I was super excited. An opera written about a pub, inspired by a pub and performed in a pub, and in the Distillery District no doubt, sounded pretty great to me. Of course I probably should have paid more attention to the description of the venue because once I was past the Distillery's toll booth of a front gate, I spent about ten minutes trying to find the Ernest Balmer Studio. For whatever reason I just couldn't get the idea of an opera taking place in Sloan’s Pub out of my head and I kept circling all the festive looking watering holes hoping that Tapestry would be warming-up inside. I soon realized that they actually have a performance space on the third floor of one of those festive looking buildings. The show was not in a pub.
Alright, I can accept that they didn't perform in an actual bar, it was their studio space dramatically turned into a Scottish pub, complete with bartenders and Steam Whistle on tap. It was pretty cool, plus it gave them control over having a stage set up that worked best for the opera, room for a small orchestra with grand piano and of course, gave the performers a generous backstage area to work with. Ah, reality. Anyway, back to the opera itself.
Tapestry provided us with the operatic equivalent of a five course meal complete with the ghost of Chopin, a crazy lady, happy and angry drunks, live country music, a robbery, a wedding, a serial killer, and a dead guy. The beer was cold, the snacks were Scottish, and the opera was undeniably satisfying. Scottish composer Gareth Williams provided the modern score that at times seemed minimalist inspired and at other moments felt more theatrical. The libretto was written by Canadian, David Brock. He was a way with words that gave the characters life and humanity.
Pub Operas was - Wayne Strongman, Music Director; Xin Wang, soprano; Heather Jewson, mezzo soprano; James McLean, tenor; Benjamin Covey, baritone.
Tapestry New Opera's next production will be, The Tapestry Songbook, January 28, 2012. "This concert will showcase bravura arias from the extensive library of Tapestry produced operas, performed by artists from the Tapestry New Work Studio Company and participants from Tapestry’s New Opera 101 Master Class/Workshop. Soprano Xin Wang, Baritone Peter McGillivray and Collaborative Pianist Christopher Foley return as both performers and master class clinicians."
Pub Opera's Assistant Director, Michael Mori, sent me some artistic rehearsal photos that really capture the mood of the night. You can watch the slide show below, or click through the pic by pic gallery.
Ten things to do in Toronto this weekend: November 18 to November 20, 2011
Alfred Hitchcock's heartwarming story of a boy and his mother is one of the most legendary shockers of all time. Screening is part of Icy Fire: The Hitchcock Blonde series, at tiff. “Both worshipped and victimized, the cool, aloof blonde was one of Hitchcock's key obsessions. Explore the Master's fair-haired fixation in such suspense classics as Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho.” Psycho screens Saturday, November 19, 2011. 5:00pm. The series runs until December 11.
CHAGALL’S MUSICAL WORLD
Koffler Chamber Orchestra. The kick-off concert of the Koffler Chamber Orchestra season is inspired by the Art Gallery of Ontario’s stunning fall exhibition of Marc Chagall and the Russian modernist artists. The program features Chagall’s favourite composers, Mozart and Tchaikovsky in addition to composers who share the painter’s Russian Jewish background. Chagall often depicted klezmer musicians and the milieu of Eastern European Jewish culture, reflected in the original composition – Klezmer Dance Suite – created especially for the Koffler Chamber Orchestra by Toronto clarinetist, Martin van de Ven. Like Chagall, Alfred Schnittke draws upon both tradition and modernity. Schnittke’s Piano Concerto is reprised by Russian-born Toronto musician Andrew Burashko who gave its Canadian premiere. Sunday, November 20, 2011, 3:00PM.
Art Gallery of Ontario, Walker Court, 317 Dundas St. W. FREE with admission to the AGO.
Operanation 8: A Muse Ball, the fundraising gala thrown by the Canadian Opera Company in support of the Ensemble Circle was definitely the highlight of my fall event season. It was my first time attending the bash and I was blown away by how many people (over a thousand) came out to support our great musical talent. I have a bunch of photos that I'll be putting up in a future post, but for now I hope you enjoy this video I produced. The best part is the amazing clip of Rufus Wainwright performing "The Art Teacher." I was standing so close I felt like I could reach out and play some upper harmonies with him on his baby grand. Look out for cameos by the outstanding COC Musical Director, Johannes Debus, and the ever charming General Director, Alexander Neef.
Lang Lang is in Toronto for a 10-day engagement. He takes on all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos, plus works by Mendelssohn, Smetana and Martinů, and he will be premiering a piece by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng. To November 19. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St. http://www.tso.ca/Concerts-And-Tickets/Residencies/Lang-Lang.aspx
I was invited to the launch of Maya Chendke's new book, Awake but Dreaming, at the Shangri-La in Toronto. Awake but Dreaming explores the pitfalls of fame and the cult of celebrity. The main characters hail from Toronto and Maya made sure to include as many local favourites as she could, and even had these Toronto gems show off their goods her launch. Boutiques, bakeries and custom made cocktails all told the story of Awake but Dreaming from Maya's and her characters' perspective. I just started reading the book, and so far I'm loving it. It's a fun, easy read that has already taken me on a worldwide adventure and reminded me of how great it is back home. Check out the photo gallery and slideshow below, and don't forget to check out Maya's new book. You can read a chapter for free on her website or purchase it here and here.
Rosemarie Umetsu and Diana Di Mauro - Photo by Enzo Di Mauro
There are few things I love more than music and fashion, as you may have guessed, so when the fabulously talented and classical music loving designer Rosemarie Umetsu got ahold of me to cover both the reopening of her Atelier on Davenport Road and the launch of Soundstreams Encore, who was I to refuse? I took a video of the evening that features an interview with Rosemarie about her fashion designs, an interview with Soundstreams Founder and Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney about his work and music in Toronto, and a bunch of info about Encore. I think it's a fun initiative that will help draw younger audiences to more creative musical programming. Percussionist Ryan Scott did a very unique demonstration and had a special surprise for all the guests. A surprise that had me giggling with delight, that's for sure.