Salute to Vienna: The Strauss Symphony of Canada, Matthias Fletzberger (conductor) with soloists Polina Pasztircsák, Andreas Schager, Alexander Kaimbacher, and members from the Kiev City Ballet at Roy Thomson Hall. Jan. 1.
To my fellow Torontonians, I have a question:
What did you do for entertainment on New Year’s Day? Maybe you joined our beloved Mayor John Tory for a family skate? Or were you in Queen’s Park for the traditional New Year’s Levee hosted by Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell? Or perhaps you’re the hale and hearty type and went for a Polar Bear Swim?
None of those for me! My New Year tradition is to attend Salute to Vienna at Roy Thomson Hall, an afternoon of Arias, Ballets, and Banter, sure to delight anyone with a musical sweet tooth. This annual concert is now in its 22nd year, and judging by the sold-out crowd, it’s the hottest ticket on New Year’s Day. This year I decided to show up a whole hour early, parked myself across from the entrance in a comfortable chair right behind the media desk, for some serious people-watching. I couldn’t help noticing what a superannuated audience it was! That said, many elderly patrons came with young children — perhaps grand or great-grandkids? And judging by the turn-outs of their feet, some were likely budding ballerinas?
While I don’t have any statistics to back it up, I’ve always found classical music matinee audiences have the highest percentage of physically challenged seniors. This New Year’s Concert was no exception — I counted several dozen walkers and wheelchairs, not to mention endless canes. Lest I be accused of ageism, I admit I’m joining that demographic soon enough! I have nothing but admiration for the mobility-challenged seniors who still have the desire and will power to attend, despite their physical issues. To them, I say ‘Bravo!’
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Now to the concert itself. Year in, year out, this show doesn’t vary all that much — a felicitous mix of operettas, classical ballet, ballroom dancing, ubiquitous waltzes, all enhanced by a maestro chosen for the gift of the gab as well as being an expert in this light and frothy repertoire. It’s all very pleasant, easily digestible fare, perfect for those still recovering from all the New Year’s Eve revelries. This year the conductor was Matthias Fletzberger from Vienna. Speaking to the audience between numbers, his personable manner as much as his conducting prowess made the two-hour concert seemed short. He led the “Strauss Symphony of Canada,” in reality a pick-up orchestra with quite a few members of last evening’s “Opera Canada Orchestra,” including the Concertmaster Marie Berard, who’s moonlighting from the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra. But like last evening, these musicians were highly experienced, and their playing throughout was never less than enjoyable.
The two vocalists on this occasion, Hungarian soprano Polina Pasztircsák and Austrian tenor Alexander Kaimbacher, were outstanding vocally, not to mention they were very easy on the eyes. Pasztircsák has a beautifully clear lyric soprano, and Kaimbacher an equally mellifluous lyric tenor. The two voices blended beautifully in the duets, especially in “Lippen schweigen” from Merry Widow. It also helped that they made a very attractive and dramatically believable Hanna and Danilo. Typically these shows have a heavy dose of dancing. This time around, it was three pairs of dancers from the Kiev City Ballet and two pairs of Hungarian championship ballroom dancers. All youthful, slim — as if made from the same cookie cutter — and fleet of foot, the dancers were suitably sparkling in pieces by Franz Lehar and Johann Strauss.
A pleasant surprise was the cameo appearance of German tenor Andreas Schager, currently in rehearsal as Siegfried in Götterdammerung at the COC. Incidentally, Herr Schager was the tenor in Bravissimo! back in 2014, singing arias from Boheme and Turandot. This time around, he sang an operetta aria loaded with high notes, quite astounding coming from a Wagnerian tenor who has Siegfried and Tristan in his active repertoire! The downside of his cameo appearance was the omission of the originally scheduled Csardas from Die Fledermaus to be sung by Ms. Pasztircsák. Given the program was quite short to begin with — two hours ten minutes including an intermission — it really wasn’t necessary to make the cut. Also unfortunate was the amplification of the singers, a practice that is almost unknown in European opera houses.
As in previous years, no Salute To Vienna would be complete without the Blue Danube Waltz, which was played as an encore. It was followed by the obligatory Auld Lang Syne, and the beloved Radetzky March. That combination certainly whipped the audience into a frenzy. When Maestro Fletzberger came back out to speak to the audience, everyone thought there was another encore coming. Well, no such luck! He was there to announce that tickets to next year’s show would go on sale immediately afterward — talk about enterprising! No matter, judging by the smiles on the faces of the audience leaving the theatre, and the long lineup at the box office booking next year’s show, they went home happy.