A Valentine's Playlist

with the NAC Orchestra

2024-02-14 20:00 2024-02-14 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: A Valentine's Playlist


In-person event

Looking for love with strings attached? Celebrate Valentine’s Day with us as we welcome Ottawa-born mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta to Southam Hall for an evening of musical wine and roses. Giunta brings to life three lovely and romantic songs from Kurt Weill’s musical comedy One Touch of Venus (with lyrics by Ogden Nash), showcasing the rich range of emotion and vocal dexterity that have made her an international star. Felix Mendelssohn was just 17 years old when he composed his...

Read more

Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
Wed, February 14, 2024

Our programs have gone digital.

Scan the QR code at the venue's entrance to read the program notes before the show begins.

Last updated: February 7, 2024


FELIX MENDELSSOHN Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21 (12 min)

GUSTAV MAHLER “Adagietto” from Symphony No. 5 (10 min)

KURT WEILL Three songs from One Touch of Venus (10 min)
“Foolish Heart”
“Speak Low”
“I’m a Stranger Here Myself”

Wallis Giunta, mezzo-soprano

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 (6 min)

Rachel Mercer, cello

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY Romeo and Juliet  Fantasy-Overture (20 min)


TEXT & TRANSLATION for Three songs from One Touch of Venus

Lyrics by Ogden Nash

“Foolish Heart”

Will you tell me how these things happen?
Have I trusted in love too much?
When did the magic vanish?
Have I somehow lost my touch?
How gay the world could be
Could I love you, could he love me?

Love shouldn't be serious, should it?
You meet, you kiss, you start
I fancied that I understood it
I forgot my foolish heart

Love can't be illogical, can it?
You kiss, you smile, you part
It happens the way that you plan it
If you hush your foolish heart

Poor foolish heart
Crying for one who ignores you
Poor foolish heart
Flying from one who adores you

Ah, love used to touch me so lightly
My heart now betrays me so
I would dance with a new lover nightly
But my foolish heart says no
Ah, love used to touch me so lightly
My heart now betrays me so
I would dance with a new lover nightly
But my foolish heart says no

Paroles de Ogden Nash

« Cœur follet » 

Me direz-vous comment c’est arrivé? 
Ai-je trop fait confiance à l’amour? 
Quand la magie s’est-elle éteinte? 
Aurais-je perdu la main? 
Combien le monde peut être gai!
Pourrais-je t’aimer, peut-il m’aimer? 

L’amour ne doit pas être sérieux, pas vrai? 
On se rencontre, on s’embrasse, on commence
J’imaginais tout comprendre 
J’oubliais mon cœur follet

L’amour ne peut pas être absurde, pas vrai? 
On s’embrasse, on se sourit, on se sépare
Tout se passe comme tu l’as prévu 
Si tu fais taire ton cœur follet

Pauvre cœur fou
Pleurant pour celui qui t’ignore
Pauvre cœur fou
Fuyant celui-là qui t’adore 

Ah, l’amour m’effleurait à peine
À présent mon cœur me trahit
Je voudrais danser avec un nouvel amant chaque nuit
Mais mon cœur follet s’y refuse
Ah, l’amour m’effleurait à peine
À présent mon cœur me trahit
Je voudrais danser avec un nouvel amant chaque nuit
Mais mon cœur follet me dit non

“Speak Low”

Speak low when you speak, love,
Our summer day withers away,
Too soon, too soon.

Speak low when you speak, love,
Our moment is swift, like ships adrift,
We’re swept apart too soon.

Speak low, darling speak low,
Love is a spark lost in the dark,
Too soon, too soon,
I feel wherever I go
That tomorrow is near, tomorrow is here,
And always too soon.

Time is so old and love so brief,
Love is pure gold and time a thief.
We’re late darling, we’re late,
The curtain descends, ev’rything ends
Too soon, too soon,
I wait darling, I wait,
Will you speak low to me,
Speak love to me and soon.

« Parle tout bas » 

Parle tout bas quand tu parles, amour, 
Notre jour d’été s’étiole, 
Trop vite, trop tôt. 

Parle tout bas quand tu parles, amour, 
Notre moment passe vite, comme des bateaux ivres, 
Nous sommes séparés trop tôt. 

Parle tout bas, chéri parle tout bas, 
L’amour est une étincelle perdue dans la nuit, 
Trop vite, trop tôt, 
Où que j’aille je sens 
Que demain est proche, demain arrive, 
Et toujours trop tôt. 

Le temps est si vieux et l’amour si bref, 
L’amour est d’or pur et le temps est voleur. 
Il est tard chéri, il est tard, 
Le rideau tombe, tout s’achève 
Trop vite, trop tôt, 
J’attends chéri, j’attends, 
Parle-moi tout bas, 
Parle-moi d’amour et vite. 

“I’m a Stranger Here Myself”

Tell me, is love still a popular suggestion
Or merely an obsolete art?
Forgive me for asking a simple question
I'm unfamiliar with his heart
I’m a stranger here myself.

Why is it wrong to murmur I adore him
When it’s shamefully obvious I do?
Does love embarrass him or does it bore him?
I’m only waiting for my cue
’Cause I’m a stranger here myself.

I dream of a day, of a gay warm day
With my face between his hands
Have I missed the path? Have I gone astray?
I ask, and no one understands.

Love me or leave me, that seems to be the question
I don’t know the tactics to use
But if he should offer a personal suggestion
How could I possibly refuse
When I’m a stranger here myself?

Please tell me, tell a stranger
By curiosity goaded
Is there really any danger
That love is now outmoded?
I’m interested especially
In knowing why you waste it
True romance is so fleshly
With what have you replaced it?
What is your latest foible?
Is gin rummy more exquisite?
Is skiing more enjoyable?
For Heaven's sake, what is it?

I can’t believe that love has lost its glamour
That passion is really passé
If gender is just a word in grammar
How can I ever find my way
When I’m a stranger here myself?

How can he ignore my available condition?
Why these Victorian views?
You see here before you a woman with a mission
I must discover the key to his ignition
And if he should make a dramatic proposition
How could I possibly refuse?
How could I possibly refuse
When I’m a stranger here myself.

« Je suis moi-même une étrangère » 

Dites-moi si l’amour reste une proposition prisée 
Ou s’il est seulement un art dépassé? 
Pardonnez-moi si je pose une question naïve 
Je ne connais pas son cœur 
Ici je suis moi-même une étrangère.   

Pourquoi ai-je tort de murmurer que je l’adore 
Alors que c’est aussi flagrant? 
Serait-ce que l’amour l’embarrasse ou l’ennuie? 
Je n’attends qu’un signe de lui 
Car ici je suis moi-même une étrangère. 

Je rêve d’un jour, chaud et joyeux 
Avec mon visage plaqué entre ses mains 
Ai-je raté le chemin? Me serais-je égarée? 
Je demande, et personne ne comprend.   

Aime-moi ou quitte-moi, telle semble être la question 
J’ignore les tactiques à utiliser 
Mais s’il me fait lui-même une proposition 
Comment pourrais-je refuser 
Alors qu’ici je suis moi-même une étrangère?   

Dites-moi, je vous prie, dites à une étrangère 
À la curiosité dévorante 
Y a-t-il réellement quelque risque 
Que l’amour soit maintenant dépassé? 
Je voudrais surtout savoir 
Pourquoi vous le gaspillez 
Une idylle vraie est si charnelle 
Par quoi l’avez-vous remplacée? 
Quelle est votre dernière lubie? 
Le gin-rami est-il plus délicieux? 
Skier sur la neige est-il plus agréable? 
Pour l’amour du Ciel, qu’est-ce que c’est?

Je ne peux croire que l’amour a perdu son éclat 
Que la passion est vraiment du passé 
Si le genre n’est qu’un terme grammatical 
Comment ne trouverai-je jamais mon chemin 
Alors qu’ici je suis moi-même une étrangère? 

Comment peut-il ignorer que je suis disponible? 
Pourquoi ces perspectives victoriennes? 
Vous avez devant vous une femme en mission 
Je dois trouver la clé qui l’allume 
Et s’il me fait gravement une proposition 
Comment pourrais-je refuser? 
Comment pourrais-je refuser 
Alors qu’ici je suis moi-même une étrangère. 



Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21

In 1825, Shakespeare’s plays were reissued in German translations by A.W. Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck. Not long after their release, Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) was voraciously reading them with his siblings and soon felt inspired to compose an overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Completing the piece in August 1826, he unveiled it to his family in a private performance with he and his sister Fanny at the piano. In February 1827, the overture received its public premiere in Stettin, conducted by Carl Loewe. It was a resounding critical success for the prodigious young composer, who had just turned 18. Since then, the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mendelssohn’s first orchestral work, is regarded as one of his early masterpieces (along with his Octet composed in 1825) and remains among his most popular works in the concert hall today.

This Overture established the 19th-century trend for concert overtures, which are like opera overtures in form and concept, except they’re stand-alone pieces. Typically, the music alludes to the plot of the dramatic source—in this case, Shakespeare’s comedy of interconnected love stories. At the request of his publishers Breitkopf and Härtel, Mendelssohn wrote the following note explaining the ideas behind the music of his Overture:

I think it will be enough to remember how the King and Queen of the elves, Oberon and Titania, with all their attendants, continually appear throughout the piece, now here, now there; then comes Prince Theseus of Athens who goes hunting with his wife, then two pairs of fond lovers, who lose and then find each other, and finally a troop of clumsy, coarse tradesmen, who ply their ponderous amusements, and then the elves, who tease everyone—and on this is built the piece. When, at the end, everything has turned out well, and the principal characters leave, fortunate and happy, the elves return, and bless the house, disappearing as morning breaks. So ends the play, and also my overture.

This fantastical “scenario” is brought to vivid musical life through Mendelssohn’s colourful orchestration and an imaginative web of motives that undergo transformation as the Overture progresses. The piece begins and ends with four chords intoned in the woodwinds, which the composer Franz Liszt likened to “slowly drooping and rising eyelids.” “In between,” he continues, “a charming dream-world” is depicted, firstly, the quiet scurrying of elves or flitting of fairies by the violins. The orchestra bursts through with a joyous, heroic theme (Prince Theseus and his bride Hippolyta on their hunt), which is later followed by a winding melody in the clarinets, tenderly answered by the violins (the lovers’ song). Then, overtop stomping cellos and double basses (the clumsy tradesmen), violins and upper woodwinds present a boisterous tune with an obvious “heehaw” motive (alluding to the donkey-headed weaver Nick Bottom). The elves resume their busy bodying, but then fade off into a weary reminiscence of the lovers’ song in the minor mode. With the return of the woodwind chords, a varied reprise of the overture’s main motives is initiated—the scurrying elves, the lovers’ melody, the trademen’s heavy-footed tune with Bottom’s heehaws, and finally, the prince’s heroic theme. With all now well, the elves return to make their final blessing and in the sleepy glow of the prince’s melody and the closing chords, a new day dawns.


“Adagietto” from Symphony No. 5

The intense feelings that arise from falling in love have, not surprisingly, inspired the creation of much remarkable music that has resonated with many hearts. One such work is the “Adagietto”, the fourth movement from Gustav Mahler’s (1860–1911) Fifth Symphony. On November 7, 1901, at a soirée with other Viennese artists and intellectuals, Mahler met Alma Schindler. He, at age 41, was the ambitious composer of immense symphonies, a notable conductor, and the artistic director of the prestigious Vienna Hofoper; she was 19 years his junior, brilliant, wealthy, and beautiful, with a fondness for artistic geniuses. At the time, Alma was involved with the composer Alexander Zemlinsky, but within a few weeks she and Mahler were secretly engaged; they married in March 1902, with Alma already pregnant with their first child.

Their marriage was a turbulent one, but the “Adagietto” captures the intense passion (certainly Mahler’s for Alma) that they felt in the early days of their whirlwind romance. Mahler apparently composed it in November as a “declaration of love for Alma!”, as Willem Mengelberg, the conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and a friend of the composer, recorded in his score to the symphony. Mengelberg had further scribbled, “Instead of a letter, he sent her this manuscript without further explanation. She understood and wrote back that he should come!!! Both have told me this!”

Scored for strings and harp, the movement has a three-part structure, with a soulful melody accompanied by the harp bookending a more impassioned, angsty central section for the strings. The effect of the outer panels is like that of a lover serenading their beloved with a song, albeit one without words. In private though, as Mengelberg recalled Alma writing to him, it appears Mahler had written to her a poem, the words of which are meant to go with the melody of the first violins:

Wie ich dich liebe,
Du meine Sonne,
ich kann mit Worten Dir’s nicht sagen
Nur meine Sehnsucht
Kann ich Dir klagen
Und meine Liebe
Meine Wonne! 

      How much I love you,
      you, my sun,
      I cannot tell you that with words.
      I can only lament
      To you my longing
      And love.
      My delight!

The middle section features an increasingly insistent downward sigh gesture, which is a paraphrase of the “gaze motive” from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, when the characters fall in love as they look at each other. Being a talented musician and a promising composer in her own right, there’s no doubt Alma would have picked up the hint!


Three songs from One Touch of Venus

“Foolish Heart”

“Speak Low”

“I’m a Stranger Here Myself”

There are few things in life that are as mysterious, thrilling, and discombobulating as falling in love. It’s no wonder the subject is often at the centre of so many stories. Kurt Weill’s (1900–1950) Broadway musical comedy One Touch of Venus from 1943 explores this singularly human experience in a touching and darkly humorous way. The titular Venus is an ancient statue from Anatolia, recently acquired by the wealthy art connoisseur Whitelaw Savory living in New York. One day, the barber Rodney Hatch, who was visiting Savory to cut his hair, sees the statue and on a whim slips onto its finger the engagement ring that he was going to give to his fiancée, Gloria. Venus suddenly springs to life and becomes obsessed with Rodney, whom she views as her liberator. Rodney flees in terror, but Venus passionately pursues him, wreaking havoc along the way, while also wondering whether she, a goddess, could submit herself to life as a human being. 

In its day, One Touch of Venus, with S.J. Perelman’s racy script, pushed the bounds of decency for a Broadway musical; in fact, Marlene Dietrich, whom Weill had wanted to play Venus (for Dietrich’s Broadway debut) and had composed the character’s songs with her in mind, ultimately refused to be part of it, calling it “too sexy”. In the end, the producers decided to cast against type and put Mary Martin in the role. For Ogden Nash’s biting lyrics, Weill created a symphonic score displaying his mastery of American popular idioms, including swing, barbershop, Irving Berlin–style ragtime, and the blues, as well as homages to Broadway shows and operetta, as composer Mark N. Grant has pointed out. Weill also worked closely with choreographer Agnes de Mille on the dance numbers. The original production of One Touch of Venus ran for 567 performances—it was a hit for Weill and it made a star out of Martin.

In this concert, you’ll hear Venus’s three songs that form the musical’s emotional core. Set to a Viennese-style waltz, “Foolish Heart” is Venus’s second song, in which she’s trying to comprehend why her divine charms are having no effect on Rodney. She expresses her frustrations about the vagaries of romantic love, wondering why she’s attracted to Rodney when he appears to feel oppositely (“Poor foolish heart / Crying for one who ignores you… / Flying from one who adores you”).

“Speak Low” is one of Weill’s great love songs and an enduring popular classic. The first line is a slight variation on the line “Speak low, if you speak of love” from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which Weill had suggested Nash to use. In this sultry number tinged with melancholy, Venus tenderly urges Rodney to take the leap into love with her, because “Time is so old and love so brief, and everything will end “too soon, too soon,” a feeling all mortal lovers know too well.

The jazzy swing number “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” is Venus’s first song in the musical. Rodney has resisted her advances and, being the goddess of love, she doesn’t understand why. She wonders whether she really understands love (if it at all can be understood) and questions whether love has changed since antiquity—“is love…merely an obsolete art”? Is “passion really passé”?

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) was “the last representative of Russian late Romanticism”, as musicologist Geoffrey Norris describes the composer. Rachmaninoff ignored the modernist trends that arose during the early 20th century, favouring instead lush, colourful scoring and a tonal harmonic palette for his orchestral compositions. His melodies are unabashedly lyrical, highly expressive, and often full of yearning—one of love’s fundamental feelings.

In addition to orchestral and piano music, Rachmaninoff was a prolific writer of songs, which are prized for the subtlety of his musical settings to the sentiments of their texts. Between 1910 and 1912, he composed 13 songs on texts by several principal poets of Russian Romanticism, including Alexander Pushkin and Yakov Polonsky. Each of these songs were tailored to the individual talents of certain Russian singers. In 1915, Rachmaninoff added Vocalise as the final song of this collection, which was published as Op. 34.

Dedicated to the soprano Antonina Nezhdanova, Vocalise is unique within the collection for being a genuine “song without words”, originally to be sung on a vowel of the singer’s choosing. The melancholy melody, as interpreted by the performer, is thus the bearer of the song’s meaning, conveying deep emotions—possibly yearning, nostalgia, heartache—that are beyond words. A testament to its universal appeal, Vocalise has been popularized through many arrangements for various instrumental and vocal combinations, such as the one you’ll hear tonight for solo cello and orchestra.


Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture

There’s perhaps no better medium than music, with or without words, that can express the rollercoaster of emotions love can bring. Many 19th-century (i.e., Romantic-era) composers were inspired by stories about forbidden love, with Shakespeare’s play about Romeo and Juliet—the star-crossed lovers who belonged to warring families—being a favourite. Of the works created on that topic, the Fantasy-Overture by Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) is probably the best known nowadays; many of you will no doubt recognize its “love theme”, which has been used in TV shows and films.

The idea to compose an overture on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet came originally from Mily Balakirev, the leader of the group of Russian nationalist composers known as “The Mighty Handful” who were based in St. Petersburg. He and Tchaikovsky developed a close professional relationship, and the overture was the first fruit of their association. In November 1869, Tchaikovsky wrote to Balakirev that he had sketched out most of the piece, noting that he had followed the scenario and structure that Balakirev had given to him: “the overall scheme is yours: an introduction representing the friar; the struggle – allegro, and love – second theme.” Upon seeing the draft, Balakirev liked some of the themes but not others, which Tchaikovsky was willing to revise accordingly. The first version was performed with moderate success, but Tchaikovsky continued to revise the score, creating a second version in 1870, and then another ten years after that. Published in 1881 with a dedication to Balakirev, the third version is the one that’s usually performed today.

As according to Balakirev’s plan, Tchaikovsky uses three main themes throughout his Fantasy-Overture to evoke the central drama of Shakespeare’s play. The first opens the piece—a chant-like melody, first intoned by low clarinets and bassoons, and later repeated in the woodwinds. Following the slow introduction, a brusque theme depicts the warring Montagues and Capulets; the “struggle” music also includes skirmishing string passages, snappy figures hurled back and forth between woodwinds and strings, chase-like imitative counterpoint, and offbeat cymbal crashes. The chant-like theme is soon drawn into the conflict. After the battle subsides, English horn and muted violas sing the love theme, its yearning and sighing phrases tender and somewhat tentative at first, then taken up by flutes and oboes with more confidence. It relaxes into a dreamy episode with harp accompaniment—Romeo and Juliet in the glow of their love.

The “struggle” music returns, this time developing greater force along with the chant-like melody, which becomes a terrifying climax blasted by trumpets. Through more offbeat cymbal clashes, we reach the reprise of the main theme. Soon though, the love theme returns, this time blossoming on full strings with pulsating woodwinds. The melody soars to passionate heights, but any sense of resolution is thwarted; the “struggle” music begins to interfere again and reaches a peak of desperation, then collapses. With a thunderous roll of the timpani, it’s all over. Fragments of the love theme appear as a mournful lament over the timpani’s funereal pulse; the woodwinds follow with a sombre chorale. After the strings play the final strain of the love theme, full-orchestra chords bring the Overture to a resounding close.

Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD


  • Conductor Jessica Cottis
  • wallis-giunta-c-tim-dunk-2
    Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta
  • rachel-mercer
    Cello Rachel Mercer
  • Co-Host Marjolaine Lambert
  • Stage Manager Tobi Hunt McCoy
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra

NAC Orchestra

First Violins
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Jeremy Mastrangelo
Marjolaine Lambert
Zhengdong Liang
Manuela Milani
*Martine Dubé
*Oleg Chelpanov
*Heather Schnarr

Second Violins
Emily Westell
Emily Kruspe
Frédéric Moisan
Carissa Klopoushak
Leah Roseman
Mark Friedman
Edvard Skerjanc
**Karoly Sziladi
**Winston Webber
*Renée London
*Andréa Armijo Fortin
*Sara Mastrangelo

Jethro Marks (principal)
**David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Paul Casey
Tovin Allers
David Thies-Thompson
*Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh

Rachel Mercer (principal)
Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
Timothy McCoy
Leah Wyber
Marc-André Riberdy
*Karen Kang

Double Basses
Max Cardilli (assistant principal)
Vincent Gendron
Marjolaine Fournier
*Paul Mach

Joanna G’froerer (principal)
Stephanie Morin
*Christian Paquette

Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen
*Melissa Scott

English Horn
Anna Petersen

Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice
*Shauna Barker
*Juan Olivares

Darren Hicks (principal)
Vincent Parizeau

*Jessie Brooks (guest principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Lawrence Vine
Lauren Anker
Louis-Pierre Bergeron

Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
*Bradley Luna

*Steve Dyer (guest principal)
Colin Traquair

Bass Trombone
Zachary Bond

Chris Lee (principal)

*Simón Gómez (guest principal)

Jonathan Wade
*Andrew Harris

*Angela Schwarzkopf

*Frederic Lacroix

Principal Librarian
Nancy Elbeck

Assistant Librarian
Corey Rempel

Personnel Manager
Meiko Lydall

Orchestra Personnel Coordinator
Laurie Shannon 

*Additional musicians 
**On leave

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees