My summer in the city 2018

I love summer in the city. This year it has been sunny and hot although sometimes too hot and humid, but my flowers look great, and it is super to sit outside in our back garden and sip rosé in the early evening with Charles and Oscar. Barbecue time has arrived and our favorites are seafood; particularly sea bass sprinkled with sesame oil and some Ketjapmanis, a sweet Indonesian soy sauce.  This condiment is also good on veal chops or chicken breasts where I will add Five Chinese Spices for an aromatic touch.

When we return to Toronto from Florida I try to get as many cultural events scheduled as possible. This city has a plethora of concerts, theatre productions, festivals and opera. The Canadian Opera Company featured two operas in the spring, and I saw them both. If by chance this is your first blog, then you might not know that my career as an opera singer was unique and wonderful, and I am a great fan of the new breed of young singers, and naturally have informed opinions about them, and opera performances. So I love attending and watching. Do check out my book, Aria: Song of a Life, if you want to know more about me. It is available at Amazon and other online suppliers. It is not so much a book about my career, but about overcoming adversity and finding a positive outcome. You could also check out my website:, but back to the operas.

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The pairing of The Nightingale and other Short Fables by Stravinsky was particularly stunning. I had seen this in 2011 when it premiered, but this presentation was truly enchanting and magical, and I enjoyed it even more than before. Robert Lepage, the director, is brilliant and innovative. The use of puppetry in this piece as well as water on stage, and technical wizardry, made the performance mesmerizing. The singers were outstanding, with Jane Archibald excellent as the nightingale. Her voice took on a haunting quality, and happily lost much of its brittle brightness. She shone.


Jane Archibald in The Nightingale


Sondra and Keri in Anna Bolena

The second opera, with my favourite soprano, Sondra Radvanovsky was Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. This new production was terrific. I also adored bass baritone Christian Van Horn, as King Henry 8th, before his fat days, King Henry that is, and Keri Alkema as Jane Seymour. The opera is bel canto, or about beautiful singing, not a thrilling drama exactly, unless you like a lot of murder, but the cast was superlative, and all could sing exquisitely. The standing ovations went on and on and I was blissed out. We visited Sondra backstage afterward, and she was as charming and accessible as ever. I was so charged that I couldn’t fall asleep until very late, well late for me, 1:00am. The next day I performed horrifically on the golf course.


backstage with Sondra

The COC will be producing a new opera next fall, called Hadrianwritten by Rufus Wainwright with the libretto/book by Daniel Mac Ivor. Charles and I are involved with supporting this, along with nine other couples. The company treated us all to a wonderful evening of simply delicious food, at Nota Bene restaurant. The appetizers passed around were my favorites; beef tartare, raw tuna, oysters, and then to top it all off, after a splendid dinner, a concert by Rufus. He is simply a brilliant pianist/singer/composer, and a charming dinner companion. The hit of the evening was his version of Leonard Cohen’s Halleluia, sung and expressed intensely. Cohen was the grandfather of Rufus’ daughter, Viva. See: Rufus’ baby.  I am looking forward to Hadrian, which will star Thomas Hampson and Karita Mattila, both of The Metropolitan Opera. The evening was so much fun that I felt excited all the way home.


Rufus at the piano


at the table

When I return to Toronto I always try to spend at least a lunch or supper with old friends. Carrol Anne Curry is one of them. She and I sang together in operas many years ago, and now she is one of the most important singer’s managers in Canada. We both were dear friends of Stuart Hamilton, our beloved coach and buddy, who died at the beginning of 2017. I always met with Stuart at Scaramouche restaurant when I returned from Florida, so Carrol Anne and I decided to do our own tribute dinner to him, and toast him with champagne and good gossip. The two of us never run out of things to say and the evening along with the food was splendid, although our table was stuffed away in a corner practically in their pasta bar. Perhaps the management doesn’t like two women out. The restaurant has been around for years I would guess around 40, so perhaps they haven’t quite gotten into the 21stcentury yet regarding women diners.


Stuart and his book

Another wonderful and notable restaurant in Toronto on the Ossington, stretch, is my sister’s fave, La Banane. She treated us to a terrific meal there for our anniversary; the food is unusual, with many raw bar entries, as well as things like liver and onions and lobster ravioli. The service to our booth was first-rate. The noise level, like a lot of Toronto restaurants is certainly not perfect for an intimate conversation, but if you turn your hearing aids down, is workable.


Ian preparing sushi and ‘maitake’ or hen of the wood mushroom dish at Skippa

Speaking of restaurants, we love Skippa. I may have mentioned it before, but it is Japanese, they describe it as seasonal Japanese, and is very simple at first glance. The fish is impeccable and beautifully cut and served. It is small and now very popular. We usually eat at a communal table. The night in question we sat with a couple of chefs from another eatery.

Eating is always on our priority list when we return to the city. There is a overabundance of restaurants, and many are in our neighborhood, within a 5-minute walk. In Florida we have to drive at least 20 minutes to eat in a good restaurant, and mostly we eat at home. Azarias, named for the owner, Mark, is always full of energy, is very noisy, but has great, reliable food. And the dishes are small plates that can be shared. Nice to sample many different flavors. The chef is super and the host and the waiters all very eager to please. The bar is fun too, and you can be comfortable eating there alone.

We visited the kids on the west side of Montreal, in a small town called St. Anne de Bellevue, after our return to Toronto in the late spring, and I combined that with attendance at the International Vocal Competition that is held every three years in downtown Montreal. We drove from Toronto and we stopped in Kingston on our way. It is a bit of a diversion, but usually merits a stop for a tasty lunch at Chez Piggy, a Kingston Institution. The city on Lake Ontario is small and charming and if you are ever taking a trip to Montreal by car, well worth a stop. Kingston Penitentiary is also there, and worth a visit as it is now a museum.

Lunch was good, not great. Chez Piggy has been around a long time, and I think rests on its reputation a bit too much. The waiter was quite incompetent. However, a visit to their food shop, and bakery Pan Chancho is a must. We loaded up on takeout food for James and the girls. This time it was spicy shrimp, lamb ozzo bucco, many salads, Nanaimo bars, some wine, and than we continued our travel to Quebec.


lamb shanks (osso bucco) and risotto

I believe that kids love routines and we followed the same one that we started many years ago. We first checked into our charming hotel, Chateau Vaudreuil, which sits on the Lac de Deux Montagnes, or the lake of Two Mountains. It is a very pretty hotel, a mixture of French and Italian in design and cuisine. We are treated very nicely there as we have been staying in Vaudreuil for about 10 years at this same spot.


statuary and friend and ubiquitous geese


yours truly reading in the gardens at Chateau Vaudreuil

Then we met up with our two grand daughters, Rose 11, and June 8. Sometimes we pick them up at their mother’s house, and sometimes we meet at their father’s, or their mom just drops them at the hotel. I then prepared the food I had bought in Kingston and we had a lively dinner. The girls love being with their father and staying over in their bunk beds. After a few hours we left for our hotel, about 10 minutes away with plans for them to come to us in the morning.  The next morning they arrived with their bags and checked in for one night. I had already had my exercise swim in the lovely indoor pool, but we all put on suits and headed down for a swim together that lasted almost the entire afternoon. We spent some time at the tiny beach, and we went out for lunch to a taco place not far away.


on the beach


in the hot tub

In the evening we ate in the dining room and had Caesar Salad prepared at the table, and other goodies. After a late night visit with James, and a good night’s sleep, we all ate breakfast together. Normally the girls would head to the pool, and we would head back to Toronto, but this year was different. However, the basic routine has been followed every time we visit.


J.P. preparing caser salad

Lara, the girl’s mom, picked us up and drove me into Montreal. The plan was for all of us except the men, to have lunch together and get caught up. It was definitely a long time since we had done this sort of thing, and it was delightful. I also checked into my Montreal hotel, The Sofitel, a very sleek, French hotel in a wonderful location downtown. After hugs all around, and many ‘I love you’s, I readied myself for the first afternoon of my attendance at The Concours/Competition.

I had chosen to stay for only two days, as my anniversary was coming up and I thought it would be a good idea to spend it at home with Charles. Although the Concours lasts 10 days, I had signed up to attend the Finals of the Art Song Competition, a master class the following day, and the semi finals of the Aria. I had donated some money towards the contestants of The Art Song component because my dear old friend Jim Norcop had asked me to do this. Jim was the first person to audition me in Vancouver when I was starting out as a young opera singer. We have remained friends since that day in 1967, so I just couldn’t say no. He is the force behind the Art Song in this Competition. But I shan’t go into anymore details, except to say that I had a wonderful time listening to the young singers.


Montreal and Leonard Cohen

I was delighted to be asked to join a group going to a cocktail dinatoire or cocktail reception, a new expression for my French, at the home of the Director of the entire event. I got a ride with some folks from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and we chatted amicably the entire route. This party was held in an incredible condominium near the harbor. Every unit was over 5,000 sq. ft. and each terrace faced an indoor atrium filled with palm trees, banana plants and a multitude of tropical shrubberies. Many of the guests admired this scene while we drank yummy wines, and ate masses of interesting appetizers that only the French seem to create.


atrium and Ben

I had a lengthy and amusing conversation with the famous tenor and broadcaster, Ben Heppner, was snubbed by the snooty Keri Te Kanawa, who I had met years before, and generally had a wonderful time enjoying the arts talk and gossip, not to mention the food and wine.

The next day I lunched with Jim at Maison Boulud in The Ritz Carlton  Hotel. What can I say, but exquisite, then in a rainstorm we headed to the Master Class given by Warren Jones, which was an eye and an ear opener mostly because he worked with both the singers and the accompanists. I was thoroughly entranced, and I have been at a great many Master Classes over the years. Then in the evening I watched the Aria Finalists with orchestra, singing their hearts out, well some of them.


brilliant young singer Emily D’Angelo

I loved a mezzo-soprano from Toronto, who is a mere 23 years old, Emily D’Angelo, and predict great things for her future. Actually the best part of my few days immersed in song, was my memories. In 1970 I was in this competition. It had a slightly different name then, Concours International de Montreal, and was run somewhat differently, lasting 2 weeks, but it was a pivotal moment in my career. I was billeted in a warm French home, looked after very well, practiced every day with the five sons of the family listening to me attentively, had my fans from the family and their friends at my performances, and I was a prizewinner. I also had my first glass of Pouilly Fumé, and remarkable French cheeses and charcruterie. I loved that time, and I enjoyed this past revisit a great deal.

outdoor reception in busy Toronto

I headed back to Toronto sated with music, wonderful times with my grand daughters, and a general sense of well-being. Now I shall stop. I will continue in my next blog and tell you about the wonderful Stratford Festival, our brief trip to Vancouver, and other things that make my city fun to be in during the summer.

Till then,



Oscar  at the piano




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