Toronto - Can it get any better than this?
Tafelmusik and Soulpepper
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra photo by Sian Edwards
I sit inside Koerner Hall, its attractive wooden framework seemingly woven in an intricate embrace from ceiling to floor, the resulting acoustics amplifying the tenor soloist's rich opening lyrics, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people", and I wonder, can Christmas get any better than this - listening to Tafelmusik's take on Handel's Messiah?
I have enjoyed Boston, Chicago and Niagara's version of Messiah as well as that of the Toronto Symphony along with the formidable Mendelssohn Choir adding up to a chorus of 100 plus, but Koerner Hall, just west of the ROM, is much more intimate an experience than that of rival Roy Thomson Hall. The size of the chorus and orchestra is much smaller, but Tafelmusik's chamber choir and baroque orchestra, directed by Ivars Taurins, are equally amazing to behold. They pack a powerful punch.
The soloists are superb, but the chorus is equally gifted, and when they launch into, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given I am swept away almost to tears with their beautiful harmony and recitative repetitions. I'm also captivated by Taurins who energetically employs his entire body to cajole, encourage and incite hypnotic sound sculptures that he frames with his artistic hands.
We all rise as one for the Hallelujah Chorus transfixed by Charles Jenners' libretto which accompanies Handel's striking music. I am impressed by Rufus Muller, an English-German tenor with attitude, Joanne Lunn, one of Britain's leading baroque sopranos and Brett Polegato, a powerful baritone who performs all over the world including La Scala. But, it's the talented chorus that keeps one magically attuned throughout as they sing enchanting lyrics from He shall purify to All we like sheep.
At the intermission, I notice that former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and husband John Ralston Saul, former International President of PEN International, are in the sold-out crowd. This is amusing as they were also at a performance we shared of The Well-Tempered Clavier in Parry Sound. My spouse and I will have to stop hob-knobbing with VIPs.
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, photo by Sian Richards
To complement Tafelmusik's Messiah, the next day we take in Soulpepper's annual A Christmas Carol in Toronto's Distillery District which was packed with people celebrating winter.
John Jarvis, who plays Marley's ghosts, reminds us at the beginning "that this is a ghost story" and quickly we are engaged in Dicken's Christmas scenario of diligent Bob Cratchit (Jordan Pettle) trying to support his poor family including Tiny Tim (Cody Black) working for the mean-spirited, bah-humbugging Ebenezer Scrooge (Joseph Ziegler) who gets a wake-up call not once but three times thanks for former partner, the deceased Jacob Marley (Jarvis) who plays a convincing ghost.
Ziegler, a Stratford Festival regular and co-founder along with Albert Schultz (Artistic Director) of Soulpepper, is perfectly suited for this Victorian morality tale, and amidst a sparse stage, he convincingly transforms from a money-grubbing Donald Trump to a let's-all-get-along Nelson Mandela - after the three ghostly visits.
Soulpepper is a highly accomplished non-profit theatrical group that works to develop youth as well as producing top-notch plays, in the same professional league as that of Shaw and Stratford. Its home base,
the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, is easily located in the Distillery District at 50 Tank House Lane, and it's convenient to get to on the King streetcar (every 3-4 minutes). Get off at Trinity and walk five minutes south.
We stayed at the Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard Street perfectly located between College and Dundas Streets and allowing us to easily take the subway to arrive at both venues. An upgrade allowed access to the Lounge for breakfast on the 27th floor which also boasts a pool. We enjoyed a tasty supper in the hotel's T-bar which was inexpensive considering that we were in downtown Toronto.