Picnicking with Wagner

Brandon Jovanovich and Heidi Melton sing their socks off. Photo: Christina Alonso

When you're off to Canada's biggest classical music festival you really need a good picnic. Fortunately I live in Quebec and so a farmers' market is easy to find. Before setting off for Lanaudiere we meet Didier Lopez at his patisserie stand. "Your lemon and raspberry pie was the best of my life," I tell him at the Sainte-Anne-des-Lacs eco-gourmet marché. Didier looks as if women say this to him all the time. It's going to be four and a half hours on the lawn with Wagner so as well as Didier's tart we also choose goat cheese saucisson from Aux trois petits couchons verte market stall (they are from  Terrebonne,  Lanaurdiere), parmesan and french sticks from local baker Dominic Cole's stall and a bottle of wine of course.

Dider Lopez models his Basque tart

As we settle onto the lawn at Lanaudiere we realise these classical music lovers are equally well prepared for an evening of Wagner's Lohengrin under the stars. There are martini glasses, umbrellas, tables groaning with picnics, ladies in summer hats and people struggling to unfold their garden chairs. We buy sparkling wine and settle down in our garden chairs (supplied free) to enjoy a lunch before the show in the sprawling Parc George Rondeau in the surprisingly hot sun. We have tickets for the amphitheatre but we choose to see the first two acts on the lawn.
Blue skies and classical music. What's not to like?
The Lanaudiere Festival began in 1977 and developed an international reputation, attracting singers who are equally comfortable on stage at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as well as here in the countryside in Joliette, an hour from Montreal. This year Kent Nagano has conducted the MSO here and we are seeing golden boy Yannick Nezet-Seguin with the Metropolitan Orchestra. I love my opera so I'm thrilled to see baritone Etienne Dupuis (recently fabulous in Dead Man Walking at Montreal Opera). 
A dream ticket to Lanaudiere
By Act 3 we were ready to move into the auditorium and chatted to a local man who confessed he did not know opera but seemed happy enough. He seems surprised to find a Brit here in his home town. Why not? This is a festival not to be missed. It seems incredibly well organised too despite a man at the bar who asked me "What is it with you women, always asking a million questions?," as we waited in line. Garden chairs are free for early birds, there are tables and umbrellas in the sun to enjoy a drink and a bite. But the real pleasure is a live orchestra on a summer evening with a glass of wine.


It's 28C here and we are sweltering as the concert begins. The singers must compete with the odd airplane, motorbike and a feisty blue jay but the performance is a real treat. We especially love watching Yannick Nezet-Seguin on the big screen. A camera in the orchestra reveals his every move and he appears to be in a state of ecstasy. It's riveting viewing. The sun falls below the trees at last and when tenor Brandon Jovanovich begins to sing I imagine I hear a communal intake of breath from the crowd. It's the kind of voice which silences the audience completely. We are all thinking the same thing. This voice is gorgeous. We especially loved soprano Heidi Melton as his wife, Elsa and Brit and bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams who wrote on Twitter that he found his natural voice in this production.

L'Assomption river in Joliette, Quebec

As the concert ends and there is a third standing ovation we make our way back to our hotel, choosing not to drive back to the city. Four and a half hours of Wagner and an afternoon drink can make you a bit sleepy and we fall into bed at the Hotel Chateau Joliette ready to explore this pretty town in the morning. Read about it here


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