TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​

Pauline Viardot


​Soprano Lucia Cesaroni and mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy
Photo Credits: Samantha Gaetz and Bo Huang 

This was an ingenious program, featuring arias by Rossini, and, more importantly, a chance to hear concert and operatic arias composed by women who were connected to him, most by singing roles in his operas. The gracious lady who sat next to me this afternoon politely remarked that reviews are important to ‘keep them honest,’ and her point is well taken, but I think that this time the performers are the ones keeping us honest by bringing to our attention neglected repertoire and the important contributions of women to the world of nineteenth-century music.

Lucia Cesaroni and Allyson McHardy are two rising Canadian operatic talents. Cesaroni is a coloratura with a full, flexible voice, very impressive in the high range and also attractive to listen to in the lowest register. McHardy is a mezzo with a rich voice, darker in colour than her colleague, beautifully expressive. Individually and together they were very impressive.

Cesaroni performed Farewell to Nice, composed by Maria Malibran (1808-1836), a celebrated mezzo soprano who sang roles in operas by Rossini in London and in Italy (Rosina of the Barber of Seville, Desdemona of Otello, and others). Able narrator Iain Scott informed the audience that Malibran wrote this song for Rossini. The singer used her praiseworthy breath control and fine lower range to good advantage here.

Malibran’s sister Pauline Viardot (1828-1910) was even more famous. In addition to her singing, Viardot studied the piano with Liszt, and on her first concert tour at age ten, she accompanied herself (performing her own songs) on the piano. Viardot's voice had a range of three octaves. Robert Schumann published one of her compositions and dedicated his songs on poems by Heine to her (Viardot performed piano duets with Clara Wieck Schumann). Georges Sand in her novel Consuelo, made Viardot the heroine. Like her sister Malibran, Viardot sang roles in Rossini operas, including Desdemona. Unlike her sister, Viardot had a long performance career all across Europe. Berlioz arranged the role of Orpheus in Gluck’s opera for Viardot's voice. She composed six operettas and a large number of songs. Cesaroni gave a compelling rendition of the composer’s Hai luli!. McHardy’s performance of Viardot’s Madrid was expressive and exciting. McHardy and Cesaroni sang the same composer’s Habanera. The ensemble was excellent in rhythm, tuning, tone, and character.

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON March 17th 2018

Mazzoleni Masters Series You’re Welcome, Rossini 
(and Thank You to the Sopranos)

Rossini’s duo on The Venetian Regatta was performed with verve, as the two sopranos enjoined Antonio to pull harder on the oars (old Beppe being too tired to win the race). Cesaroni gave a virtuosic performance of his Tarantella, also showcasing the agile playing of pianist Rachel Andrist. Cesaroni’s facility in the top part of her range was evident in her singing of Rossini’s Gloomy Forest from William Tell. McHardy sang Rossini’s Willow Song, Desdemona’s indirect lament before Otello ends her life. Rossini’s aria, unlike Verdi’s contribution, is a strophic aria with regular verse of seven-syllable lines (Verdi’s Willow Song is through composed and uses three different verse forms in a short span of time).

The program featured two compositions by contralto Karoline Ungher Sabatier (1803-1877), who also had roles in operas by Rossini, who praised her vocal and dramatic talents highly. After a duo, McHardy sang the nocturne with careful diction and precise expression. The nocturne is a genre of nuance and subtlety, and it has been described as musical composition in a ‘feminine way,’ whether a vocal or keyboard work, and whether composed by a man or a woman.

Two works by Clara Wieck Schumann were included, If you love beauty, a modified strophic aria sung by Cesaroni, and the composer’s wonderful Lorelei, a dramatic aria in the same genre as and similar in style to Schubert’s Erlking, given a dramatic performance by McHardy.

Mezzo soprano Isabella Colbran (1785-1845) was married to Rossini for 23 years, and the roles of the heroines in many of his opera roles were written for her (Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra, Otello, Semiramide, and six others). McHardy sang her concert aria I hear you, oh my heart, and it was easy to imagine how the composer’s voice must have inspired Rossini to compose those beautiful roles.

The renowned soprano Giuditta Pasta (1797-1865) also sang roles in several Rossini operas (including Cenerentola, Otello, Elisabetta, and Semiramide); she influenced the music of Bellini and Donizetti. Tonight’s program showcased her Invitation to the country, a bel canto aria that allowed full scope for the luscious vocal stylings of McHardy.

Soprano Adelina Patti (1843-1919) made her debut with Lucia di Lammermoor, and was the first to perform the role of Aïda in London. We heard her aria Speme arcana which, Scott informed us, she frequently inserted in her performances of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. Cesaroni gave a fine performance of this and also, a surprise on the program, Adelina Patti’s favorite encore, Home Sweet Home, which, Scott also told us, she sang in the White House before President Lincoln. Several recordings of Patti are easy to find online, including her singing of Casta diva.

Altogether this evening was an eye and ear opener. The talents of these two singers are considerable. More than once my mind turned to some of my favorite sopranos as I listened to their performances. Dare I mention Victoria de los Angeles? I expect that we will hear a great deal more of both of these sopranos, and in roles that are more and more prominent. I hope that they will continue to cultivate their interest in parts of the repertoire that have been ignored. You’re welcome Rossini, and thank you Ms. McHardy and Ms. Cesaroni!​

Adelina Patti

Altogether this evening was an eye and ear opener. The talents of these two singers are considerable. More than once my mind turned to some of my favorite sopranos as I listened to their performances. Dare I mention Victoria de los Angeles? I expect that we will hear a great deal more of both of these sopranos, and in roles that are more and more prominent. I hope that they will continue to cultivate their interest in parts of the repertoire that have been ignored. You’re welcome Rossini, and thank you Ms. McHardy and Ms. Cesaroni!​

The Royal Conservatory of Music will present Bernstein @ 100 featuring Jamie Bernstein, Wallis Giunta, Sebastian Knauer, and the ARC Ensemble at 8pm on Friday April 6th 2018 in Koerner Hall.