International stars grace the classical stage

Opera, ballet and classical music lovers have a wealth of choices as international stars will grace Montréal’s finest stages this winter and spring 2019.

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Montrealers shine at the MCO

The McGill Chamber Orchestra continues its 79th season with Tchaïkovsky & Tétreault at the Bourgie Concert Hall on January 19, starring internationally-acclaimed 25-year-old Montréal cellist Stéphane Tétreault, who was just 12 years old when he performed with the MCO for the first time. Tétreault is a huge talent with a big career ahead of him.

Another Montréaler, Alexandre Da Costa – one of the most sought after violinists in the world – will join the MCO to play the music of Strauss and Wagner in Da Costa at the Opera on February 9, also at Bourgie Concert Hall.

Fresh from her debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Montréal soprano Sharon Azrieli joins the MCO for Hector Berlioz’s magnificent song cycle, Les nuits d’été, in the French Music concert at Oscar Peterson Hall on March 31.

Grand opera

The Opéra de Montréal winds down its 2018-2019 season with three productions, beginning with the gay-themed Champion, composed by American jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard and Pulitzer-winning librettist Michael Cristofer. Described as “jazz meets opera in the boxing ring,” Champion tells the true story of one of the greatest boxers of the 20th century, Welterweight prizefighting champion Emile Griffith, a bisexual man who accidentally killed his opponent Benny Paret in the ring after Paret infuriated Griffith by touching his buttocks and making homophobic remarks at the weigh-in. Champion runs at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier on January 26, 29 and 31 and February 2.

Next up is the lesbian-themed Twenty-Seven, about famous couple Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who welcomed the greatest artists of their era – Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse and Fitzgerald – in their Parisian salon at 27 Fleurus Street. Twenty-Seven runs for six performances at the Centaur Theatre from March 23 to 31.

The OdeM will close its season with George Bizet’s iconic opera Carmen, directed by renowned filmmaker Charles Binamé, for five performances at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier from May 4 to 13.

Speaking of Carmen, opera fans will love Franco–Belgian playwright Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s musical production Le Mystère Carmen (The Carmen Mystery) about the life of George Bizet, who achieved few successes before his final work Carmen, which he was convinced was also a failure following its world premiere in 1875, three months before he died at the age of 36. Carmen has since become one of the most beloved and most performed operas in history. This much-anticipated production stars Schmitt, Montréal soprano Marie-Josée Lord, tenor Jean-Michel Richer and pianist Dominic Boulianne, at the Théatre du Nouveau Monde, from February 26 to March 15.

Opera McGill showcases the outstanding professional-calibre work of McGill University students, and will present three performances of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at the Monument National from February 1 to 3. Opera McGill will close its season with three performances of Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, at Pollack Hall from March 29 to 31.

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A night at the symphony

Montréal is home to two great symphony orchestras, the Orchestre Métropolitain, headed by Montréal native Yannick Nézet-Séguin (also the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York), and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, led by Grammy-winning conductor and rock star of the classical world, Maestro Kent Nagano.

In his thirteenth year at the helm of the OSM, which is marking its 85th season, Nagano conducts the orchestra and renowned Montréal contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux –a regular performer at the Met – in The Rite of Spring, which has become one of the OSM’s signature classics, on February 24 at the Maison symphonique de Montréal.

Other OSM highlights include Mahler’s Fourth Symphony with guest American conductor David Robertson and featuring the “celestial” voice of soprano Karina Gauvin in the last movement, “Das himmlische Leben” (The Heavenly Life), for three performances on January 16 and 17.

OSM must-sees include revered American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas (music director of the San Francisco Symphony) and young piano prodigy George Li who make their OSM debuts together, with Liszt’s First Piano Concerto and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, in two concerts on May 22 and 23.

The music of Canadian classic rock icon Michel Pagliaro gets the orchestral treatment with guest conductor Simon Leclerc in the OSM POP Series at the Maison symphonique on April 3 and 4. It will be amazing to see The Pag sing with a full orchestra behind him!

The OSM also presents Don Juan, the symphonic French-language adaptation of Felix Gray’s popular musical Don Juan, at the Maison symphonique for six performances from February 12 to 16.

The OSM with Nagano at the helm devotes its final concert of the season to French composer Hector Berlioz, for three concerts at the Maison symphonique on May 29 and 31 and June 1.

Over at the Orchestre Métropolitain, Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the much-anticipated Bluebeard’s Castle on March 1 at the Maison symphonique.

Other OM highlights include Hymns of Praise, conceived of as a symphony-cantata, spotlighting the Choeur Métropolitain and the voices of Karina Gauvin, Myriam Leblanc and Andrew Staples on June 2 at the Maison symphonique.

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One Night Stands

For their 35th season, Les Violons du Roy welcome conductor Bernard Labadie and La Chapelle de Québec choir to perform La Messe en si mineur de Bach – Bach’s B-Minor Mass, which they will also perform at Carnegie Hall – at the Maison symphonique on May 11.

The I Musici de Montréal chamber orchestra presents charismatic American cellist Joshua Roman at Bourgie Concert Hall on March 24, and closes its season with its blockbuster 35th Anniversary Concert with soprano Marianne Fiset and celebrated cellist Stéphane Tétreault at the Maison symphonique on May 26.

To mark its 70th anniversary, the Pro Musica Society presents Grammy-winning violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja with pianist Polina Leschenko at Salle Pierre-Mercure on March 31, and celebrated German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Maison symphonique on March 15.

A special concert of note: first performed on Good Friday 1731 in Leipzig, the music of J.S. Bach’s St. Mark Passion is now lost, and only the libretto still exists. Under the direction of Jean-Sébastien Vallée, the choir of St. Andrew and St. Paul will present the Canadian premiere of Robert Koolstra’s reconstruction of the St. Mark Passion setting based on the original libretto, reusing Bach’s own music to complete the work, on Good Friday, April 19, at the glorious Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, whose Gothic Revival architecture looks like it comes straight out of Robin Hood.

Classical dance

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal host the Polish National Ballet, which will perform the timeless Swan Lake at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier for seven performances from February 21 to 28.

For the first time in 20 years, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal will remount Giselle, a staple of the classic repertoire, which originally premiered at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1841. It will run for four performances at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier from April 11 to 13.

To close its 21st season, the superb Danse Danse series presents The Propelled Heart by the Alonzo King Lines Ballet at Théatre Maisonneuve from April 30 to May 4. Visionary American choreographer Alonzo King’s highly-anticipated new work features live vocals by the supersonic Lisa Fischer, longtime back-up singer for The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner and Chaka Khan. This is a show not to be missed.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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