Do I give you something too?

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I was on a train somewhere in Spain Sometime in the night

I drew up my knees in second class

And watched in the blue light

Strangers beside me, strangers across from me

They've closed their eyes

So far away from home the empty stations echo

As we go dreaming by

I miss you like crazy

I wish that you were here holding me

In the Blue Light by Jane Siberry on Grooveshark

A night at the opera: La Boheme - we laughed, and laughed some more.....

Last week I went to my first live, full-length opera. Up until a few years ago, I was not an opera fan, although my exposure had only been the Bugs Bunny versions from Saturday mornings. I liked the music, but it just wasn't something that I was interested in going to watch-a bunch of people singing in languages I didn't know being overly dramatic all over the stage, visions of fat ladies in viking helmets, it just didn't appeal.

Then Ben took an interest in opera and things changed. He was three or four when I picked him up from daycare and he was humming an aria from Carmen. We encourage every interest, so I dived into the internet and started reading all the opera stories (frick most of them are sad) and we got opera cds and listened to them. I talked to my friends who were opera fans and got them to tell me about performers and the background of the operas and the history. I went to a couple of Live at the Met performances at the movie theatre, and took Ben to see the Carmen Met show a couple of years ago which we both enjoyed, although Ben might still have fonder memories of the licorice and the announcer for the evening, Rene Flemming.

So I've been meaning to go to the opera for a while, but haven't gotten around to it, when suddenly it all came together- Guislaine and Adriana were both available and the opera was a classic - La Boheme. Can't go wrong with that, really. We got our tickets in the nosebleeds (or as Adriana pointed out, the hip and young section) and on Wednesday night we met outside the entrance. We dressed for the occasion, really, what's the fun in not making it an occasion considering the price of the tickets, and went in and climbed stairs, and stairs, and more stairs. We actually had good seats near the middle and an excellent view of the stage. Guislaine and Adriana told stories of previous opera shows (the one about opera at the Big O was hilarious) and finally the lights dimmed. Show time!

La Boheme is supposed to be pretty sad, but it starts relatively happy - starving artists joking around, deciding to go out, a romance between Rodolfo and Mimi (they call me Mimi, I don't know why) that is engineered by the guy pretending he can't find her key and blowing out his candle to make it darker - sly devil, and then a big scene at the Cafe Momus with the introduction of Musetta and the strange appearance of a toy maker, Parpignol, for really no reason. They make a big deal about it though. When the scene ended, the lights came up and we talked about it. First, the translations, in French and English which sometimes didn't match and Adriana said didn't always convey the Italian. Sometimes they were downright funny. Then we joked about the romantic scene and how fast that moved along and then the mysterious toy maker. What was the deal with him? Guislaine suggested we should write a sequel just about him, perhaps with his toys coming to life and going on a rampage through the rest of the opera, and thus © La Boheme 2 - Parpignol's Revenge was born. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the opera...... Honestly, he doesn't appear in the rest of the opera, what is the big deal with him?

Great fun, then the next act starts at the gates and Marcello talking to Mimi and Mimi telling him how jealous and awful Rodolfo is being. Then she hides and listens when Rodolfo and Marcello are talking and finds out he feels bad about making her stay at his cold flat and that she's dying, which surprisingly she doesn't realise, which was kind of funny. Then she's discovered because of all that coughing (amazing that she can sing), she tells him she's going back to her place (the translation here is "goodbye, no hard feelings" which has now become a catch phrase for the three of us) and they confusingly agree to stay together until the Spring. I've heard all of the music in the past, but this was the first time I was reading a translation as it was going along. Mimi's "Donde lieta uscì" is beautiful to hear, but I was amused to find out that she is basically singing about her hat.

More discussion during the set change: what the hell was the whole staying together until Spring about? And seriously, how is she surprised when Rodolfo says that she's dying?

Final act- The guys are both missing their ladies and singing about it, then they all start horsing around which was really well done and nice and light. Then Musetta rushes in with Mimi who is on her last legs and the whole thing gets pretty sad from there. Colline's song about his coat is a bit odd, but I guess he needed something to sing about. Her death is sort of subtle, she doesn't die while singing, she just quietly passes while the other characters are mourning her imminent demise and praying. While it was sad, it didn't really bring out a lot of emotion in me. This could be the young age of the cast or the direction, but for someone who cries at dog food commercials, I was shockingly tearless at the end. Still, it was a wonderful night, with beautiful music, good friends, lots of laughing, and ended with burgers and fries in our fancy clothes at midnight.

I'm doing that again!

Mahler's 2nd, Resurrection - Orchestre Montreal, Yannick Nezet-Seguin

It was beautiful. My crush conducted marvelously ;-) I set off through town, 30 minutes before the show (friend got stuck in traffic), only to find myself stuck in even more traffic. I finally managed to find a spot on Rene Levesque and ran up the street in the rain, in heels, umbrella being blown inside out, dodging puddles and feeling the damp chill on my legs. Worked through the maze of construction to get to the ticket counter and waited my turn. Mezzanine, G, but centre.

Ran upstairs, sat, waited. Speech about 30th anniversary of OM, short video, speech from YNS, what a sweetie. Then, MUSIC!

You know that you can expect good noise when there are six percussionists, two sets of kettle drums, that HUGE drum, and three other sets of clangy things, eight bass (basses?), two harps, obviously the rest of the instruments, and a choir behind it all.

Close my eyes, it starts, beautiful noise, then a part with strings where I started crying because it was so lovely. Dry my tears, flowing along with the big music, the quiet areas, the gentle, soft plucking, tinging, light, then heavy and dramatic.

The horns kept leaving then coming back, at some point I realised that they were playing in the wings. Three quarters through, three of the percussionists left, and the guy leading the way was trying to push open the wrong door without success before being redirected by the guy behind him.

The man sitting next to me had his elbow well into my side and possessed a muscle tic and kept jabbing me in the ribs. This grew worse once he fell asleep.

The mezzo soprano was rich and I could understand what she was singing, the soprano, as with most sopranos, I can rarely make out every word, but I actually made out even fewer, sounded nice though. She was on the "stick side" of Yannick and I swear he was close to poking her eye out a few times. Must have been farther away though because she didn't flinch.

The percussion was incredible, in a few places it came out like shimmering waves over the rest of the music and I was delighted at the joy I felt. The end was big and dramatic and clashy banging strings sawing, my crush in a frenzy of arms.

Back out into the cold and rain and home. Overjoyed that I went.

In love with the cello

Just finished listening to all six of Bach's Cello Suites performed by Jean-Guihen Queyras. His playing was marvelous - lively and crisp, playing that tore at my soul and then lifted it into the sky. I sat there in awe that anyone could store this much beauty in his head and bring it out from his fingertips. At the first break, Adriana turned to me and asked how anyone who is able to play something like that can get on with their day like a normal person. How many hundreds of hours of practise did it take to create so much wonderfulness that sang in my ears and thrilled me? I got out floating, wanting to hug the world and take it all into my heart.

Tango!

McGill Chamber Orchestra with Victor Simon

McGill Chamber Orchestra with Victor Simon

From the choir, Maison Symphonique, Montreal

From the choir, Maison Symphonique, Montreal

At the end of September I headed back to the Maison Symphonique to hear an evening of tango - Una Noche en Buenos Aires - with the McGill Chamber Orchestra and Victor Simon. Victor Simon, an Argentinian pianist and composer who fell in love with our city and founded Montreal Tango, is a master of spontaneous tango. Watching him play is a humbling experience for any piano student. He makes the intricate, finger-flying rhythms seem effortless, possessed digits weaving the seductive sounds, classic tangos as well as his own compositions. According to his web site, Victor didn't take up tango composition until he left his home for Montreal, an impulse the audience surely appreciated. The McGill Chamber Orchestra with Boris Brott played marvelously and the joy of the musicians was obvious. Tango is fun, and passionate, and freeing. The hall was tuned for the evening - seating was reduced and the ceilings were lowered and the musicians all sat on a single level. The sound was very good, the hall seems designed for the piano - the clarity of the Steinway in the new hall is delicate and clean and sharp. I cannot wait to hear more pianists to hear if there is a difference with a full hall. For the second half of the concert, the piano was moved from the front of the stage to the back to accomodate dancers who occasionally appeared from the wings to dazzle the audience with giros, ganchos, and sacadas. I have recently fallen completely in love with this dance (I'll share that in an upcoming post), and it was all I could do to keep myself from leaping out there and failing to dazzle everyone with my very basic step. Oh! And guess where I was sitting? In the CHOIR! When there is no choir, the seats are used for regular patrons and so I jumped at the chance to face the audience and get a new perspective on the orchestra. Sound is great in this area, but any talking using the microphone is garbled and difficult to make out, so skip the opening speeches.

There are many performances of Tango Montreal coming up and they've just released a new album, so check out their site.

La Maison Symphonique - new concert hall for Montreal

new concert hall

new concert hall

September 11 was the inaugural children's concert for Montreal's newest concert hall. Five years after the project was approved, and 266 million dollars later, La Maison Symphonique is open for business! I bought our tickets in June, some of the last available in the balcony, and waited all summer in anticipation of the opening. I read the less-than-stellar reviews of the grand opening first show and Beethoven's ninth, but was not discouraged, and on the Sunday I got everyone dressed up and we headed downtown. By the time we got there, the kids and I were pretty excited. There was a lot of activity around the area with the Marathon des Arts festival happening at Quartier des Spectacles, with free tours of the hall being held to draw people in.

Approaching the hall, it is obvious that the building is not finished. Bare plywood and make-shift ramps are everywhere and the windows at the back reveal insulation, ducts, pipes, and general construction. Inside, the reception areas are sparsely furnished and airy. The spaces do not appear as large as Salle Willfrid Pelletier though, which makes me wonder how the traffic around the bars during intermissions will fair. Narrower stairs and escalators reside where I think that a wide staircase should have been. Elevators are also present, and the design seems beautifully thought out for wheelchair accessibility. I also spied some back stairs which will be no doubt ugly but will afford an easier escape. Both kids were delighted with the open space, running around an empty top reception level before heading into the concert hall. The glass walls made the space during a matinee bright and the hanging wooden sculptures are charming and set the tone for inside. The inside of the concert hall is finished, and is beautiful despite the outgassing of wood and upholstery. The light beech wood contrasted with the metal is clean and modern and a dramatic change from the weight and dark of the older Place des Arts halls, although I question the creamy white seat fabric which may be overly hopeful and ill-though-out by the designers.

We found our seats and settled near the middle at the top of the shoebox. Even on the balcony, the stage does not seem as distant. And the view is impressive indeed: 1900 seats and room for 120 musicians and 200 singers. The choir area can also be used for spectators, and being able to surround the performers allows for more seating and makes the music more of a community event. Everything about the new design seems more relaxed and casual and inviting.

The concert began without a lot of ceremony and Nagano appeared with two young female pianists, one his daughter, for Saint-Saen's Carnival of the Animals. Naomi's attention was very short-lived, and I had to start hissing at her almost immediately, but Ben and I were entranced and I tried as much as possible to point out which animals were being imitated so they could follow along. Peter and the Wolf was next and Naomi was constantly asking what was happening, sometimes quite loudly as I tried to quietly translate the narration for her. The last was a ballet by Debussy which was performed by École supérieure de ballet du Québec students and which was simply too long to hold the attention of children, or adults for that matter. In addition to the restless youngsters, I saw more than one parent checking their smartphones. I think opting for a shorter excerpt from a ballet and finishing with a more dramatic musical selection would have been more appropriate for the audience. I still remember the thrill my children got from the Queen of the Night's aria last year and going back many years to another children's concert, the Star Wars theme which left small boys humming down the stairs enthusiastically and perhaps considering a career in music.

Now, the sound. Yes, it is not life changing. In my opinion, it will take about a year to tune the room completely. I don't think that this is a failure, it is a process. There is simply no way to perfect a sound for every size orchestra and every type of music and different audience sizes without playing in the hall and tweeking. The sound baffles (nine motorized canopies that move individually) are designed to be adjusted and the hall was acoustically well planned, so even though there will have to be some changes made, eventually the sound will evolve to meet the expectations of the conductors and the audience members. I didn't find the sound muddy, but from the balcony it was dulled, and didn't seem to hit the audience with enough resonance. I want to sit in different areas and see what else is happening on lower levels of the room. Luckily, I think that the initial reviews may mean that tickets will be readily available this season, hopefully at discounts.