Salute to Vienna: The Strauss Symphony of Canada, Niels Muus, conductor, with Lilla Galambos, soprano; Thomas Weinhappel, baritone; Kiev-Aniko Ballet of Ukraine; International Champion Ballroom Dancers. Roy Thomson Hall, 2:30 p.m. January 1, 2018.
I call it the Attila Glatz Doubleheader. I’m of course referring to the New Year’s Eve Bravissimo and the New Year’s Day Salute to Vienna. In less than twenty-four hours, Toronto music lovers — those smart enough to have bought tickets — are treated to popular opera/operetta arias, elegant waltzes and rousing polkas, lovely classical ballet, swanky ballroom dancing, plus as many corny jokes from the host or maestro as one can bear. What’s not to love?
Since its inception in 1995, Salute to Vienna has been taking place on the afternoon of New Year’s Day at Roy Thomson Hall. The concert yesterday marked the 24th edition, an enviable record. One of the success stories of Hungarian-Canadian impresario Attila Glatz and his wife Marion, Salute to Vienna New Year’s Concert originated in Toronto and is now presented simultaneously in more than twenty cities in the US and Canada.
For this show, I try to arrive early each time and station myself in a spot with a good vantage point for some serious people-watching. With each passing year, the audience demographic is increasingly superannuated, with more canes, walkers and wheelchairs than ever. I applaud our mobility-challenged audience members for making the effort to attend. Long a tradition in German-speaking countries, Neujahrskonzert is often during the day. In the case of Vienna, it’s almost always at 1100 hours in the Musikverein. And it’s packed!
Our version in Toronto has grown very popular over the years, now selling out routinely. Last year, the biggest name was Wagnerian tenor Andreas Schager, in town for the Götterdämmerung Siegfried, and he made a surprise cameo appearance. Yesterday, the two headliners were coloratura soprano Lilla Galambos and baritone Thomas Weinhappel, not household names on this side of the pond, but both with nice voices and easy on the eye. Niels Muus led the “pick-up orchestra” Strauss Symphony of Canada, made up of many of the same musicians as the previous evening’s Opera Canada Symphony.
The show opened with a scintillating reading of the Overture to Die Fledermaus. Maestro Muus was not shy about pushing and pulling the tempi, dishing out rubati a-plenty, setting the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Then it was Ms. Galambos showing off her pleasant soubrette in Adele’s scene. Her voice suits the maid, but later as Hanna Glawari the merry widow, I don’t think it worked as well. Her voice is much too light – it’s like Adele the maid trying to be Rosalinda the mistress!
Mr. Weinhappel acted up a storm in “Da geh’ech zu Maxim” from Die lustige Witwe, looking every bit the dandy that is Danilo. His is an attractive and virile baritone, robust if somewhat imperfect, with a hint of a slow vibrato when pushed. No matter – it’s his consummate stage persona that counts. A total of four duets with him and Ms. Galambos, from Grafin Maritza, Die lustige Witwe, Ziguenerbaron, finish off with the fabulous Rudolf Sieczynski tune, an ode to the great city of Vienna, “Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume,” sung as a duet! Yes, old-fashioned, schmaltzy, formulaic and predictable, but you know what? I liked it, a lot!
Elsewhere, we had the obligatory dancing from two troupes, the ballet dancers from the Ukraine, and the ballroom dancing champions from Hungary. These young dancers looked almost identical in height and weight, not to mention the perpetual smile on the women’s faces, that you swear they are made from the same cookie cutter. Don’t get me wrong – they were wonderful. I have also observed something odd. The ballerinas don’t dance en pointe in Salute to Vienna in Roy Thomson Hall. Why? Is it the floor?
I’ve also noticed the singers had mikes discreetly taped to the right cheek. Amplification is a no-no in opera, but these gala shows seem to be an exception. For what it’s worth, at the Silvester-konzert at the acoustically friendly Semperoper Dresden conducted by Christian Thielemann yesterday, the top singers Angela Denoke, Elisabeth Kuhlmann and Daniel Behle were all miked! O well.
Through it all, Maestro Muus, who looks like a kindly older uncle, entertained the audience with his folksy humour, his jokes mostly enjoyable, his slow delivery less so. The encores, as usual, were the Blue Danube Waltz, followed by the obligatory Auld Lang Syne, and finished off with the Radetzky March, a perfect winter tonic. Exactly two hours and a half including a very rushed intermission.
Here’s to all Ludwig van Toronto readers — I wish you all a happy, healthy, and musical 2018!
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO