Homage to Vienna, a tradition adopted to celebrate the New Year

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For the past century or so, New Year’s celebrations across the Western world would not have been the same without the tradition of the famous Vienna concert.


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It’s synonymous with tail-tail orchestral players, an audience in evening dress and glittering with glamor, sparkling candelabras and, of course, waltz.

You can see why this particular combination is so appealing at the start of a New Year when we leave the old behind and embrace the hope of the new. The tradition dates back to a glorious time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – glorious, that is to say for those who could afford it – intoxicating hedonism of dancing, ballrooms and romantic intrigue, all of it. fortunately dependent on the class system of the European nobility.

The music was made to match. The orchestral works are built on the unforgettable dance, waltzes and polkas of the extraordinary Strauss family. Operas have been eclipsed in popularity by operettas where nothing is really that serious (or difficult), but everything is extremely entertaining.


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Sir Francis Price of the Edmonton Opera presented the Salute to Vienna concert last Sunday at the Winspear Center, Edmonton’s traditional event inspired by the Vienna example set up by the Salute to Vienna Concert organization, which promotes similar concerts across North America. The Edmonton Opera has supported him here for 27 years.

The Winspear was silent last year due to the pandemic, and though this year’s concert lacked a bit of glamor – much of the audience was dressed for the extreme cold rather than the ballroom, while the The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra wore a mishmash of masks – the hall was still brilliantly decorated and lighted, and the atmosphere of joy and hope was palpable.

A feast for the senses

The formula is proven. There was a mix of waltzes and polkas, some featuring a trio of young ballroom dancing couples, cryptically named “International Champion Ballroom Dancers”. There were some extracts from popular German-language operettas by Johann Strauss Junior, Lehar, Kálmán and lesser known but still popular in Germany and Austria, Carl Millöcker.


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These were sung by Austrian Michael Helm, vocally not the most subtle of tenors, but with a full and emphatic voice ideal for this material, and Polish coloratura soprano Katarzyna Dondalska.

She is also familiar with this repertoire, so often vocal fireworks, and put the audience to their feet with a brilliant, indulgent and wonderfully entertaining interpretation of the mechanical doll Olympia from Offenbach’s tales, virtuoso at the same time in his singing and acting. And if it was the music of a French intruder, the indulgences of Second French Empire Paris were no different from those of mid-19th century Vienna.

It was also interesting to experience the musical change of the 19th century and from the Strausses to the fin-de-siècle and early 20th century sounds of Lehar and Kalman. The traditions remain the same – especially the dances – but the melodies are of different sensibility, reflecting a changed Vienna, more sentimental and closer to classical Hollywood scores, notably in the overture Land of Smiles by Lehar.


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Hungarian conductor András Deák set the scene with a quick, spirited, and disciplined interpretation of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Overture Die Fledermaus. Much of this genre of music emphasizes a rather bright, even sound. only on individual instruments. ESO produced such a sound, responding beautifully throughout the concert, even though they were a bit torn by the Blue Danube encore – it’s too easy to forget that they just got back together after the long stop, and it was a long gig.

Blocked by a stale note

The dancers added color and flair, especially in their lush costumes, favoring reds, blacks and silver. The only jarring moment in the concert came with the choreography of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Entweder-oder! Polka (Either-Or Polka), where they dressed in traditional folk costume with a story of men flirting with women and apparently harassing them.


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It was uncomfortable from both a sexist and social point of view (as if to suggest that this is the behavior of the popular masses). As a friend told me, “You could get by with this in Europe, but it doesn’t work well in Canada”.

And there was an experiment that did not work, at least not for this established customer: to reduce the transmission of the virus, no program booklet was physically distributed; I was also unable to find program details on the web ahead of time. Two panels in the foyer had a QR code that guests could scan to access the digital program, though likely unknown to older people.

Nevertheless, these small inconveniences did not upset the real good humor, the camaraderie and the pure musical pleasure of this concert to celebrate the new year.

May the tradition continue for a long time!

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Homage to Vienna with Edmonton Opera and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Driver András Deák

Soloists Katarzyna Dondalska and Michael Helm

Or Winspear Center

When Sunday January 2



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