Last night, for the second time (the first was in 2011) the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio competed for the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards; a prize competition created by Christina in memory of her husband, baritone Louis. It was the usual competition format; the singers offer three arias, they sing one and then the judges choose which of the remaining two they will sing. It being the Ensemble Studio on show the standard was extremely high. Nine singers and eighteen arias is too much to report in detail so I’ll concentrate on the winners.
English National Opera’s new season includes two Christopher Alden productions that originated at COC. Die Fledermaus is brilliant and a must see. Rigoletto may be a bit more of an acquired taste though it certainly has its strong points. The London cast for Fledermaus doesn’t look as strong (to me) as the Toronto cast but the Rigoletto has the estimable Quinn Kelsey in the title role, Barry Banks as the Duke and Anna Christy as Gilda.
My reviews of the Toronto performances; Die Fledermaus, with Ambur Braid and with Mireille Asselin (as Adele) and Rigoletto, with Lynch, Lomelli and Osborne and with Kelsey, Pittas and Sadovnikova (Rigoletto, Duke, Gilda).
Ms. Braid is braver than me. Snakes are about the only thing I’m irrationally afraid of. Now I want to see her work this angle in to Queen of the Night!
Toronto based Opera Atelier have announced their 2013/14 season. The Fall production is a revival of the company’s 2008 Abduction from the Seraglio sung in German with English dialogue (groan). Casting is Lawrence Wiliford as Belmonte, Ambur Braid as Konstanze, Carla Huhtanen as Blondie, and Adam Fischer as Pedrillo and Gustav Andreassen as Osmin. A no doubt bare chested Curtis Sullivan will play the non-singing role of Pasha Selim. It’s an interesting cast especially considering the impact Ambur has been making recently and I’ll more than likely take a look. Continue reading
Last night saw the COC Ensemble Studio’s annual main stage performance. This year it was Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito in a Christopher Alden production. It’s a somewhat quirky production that I haven’t fully digested yet and may need to wait until after seeing the main cast on the 22nd to come to a more considered view. My initial reaction is that it has a lot of interesting ideas, maybe one or two misguided ones and that the whole thing, while interesting, isn’t completely coherent. That said, Alden productions often seem more coherent second time around. And whatever I might think of the production, it didn’t distract from some very fine performances.
The COC today announced six new singers will join the Ensemble Studio for the 2013/14 season. If you read my review of the Ensemble Studio competition in November you’ll not be surprised. The three prize winners; bass-baritone Gordon Bintner, tenor Andrew Haji and mezzo Charlotte Burrage are among the six as is my pick, dramatic soprano Aviva Fortunata. The remaining two are baritone Clarence Frazer and mezzo Danielle MacMillan who were also quite impressive in the competition.
The Ensemble Studio is losing Mireille Asselin, Neil Craighead, Rihab Chaieb, Chris Enns and Ambur Braid as well as both pianists; Timothy Cheung and Jenna Douglas, at the end of this season though all of them can be seen in some capacity in La Clemenza di Tito next month. Rihab is also appearing in Dialogues of the Carmelites in the spring. There’s no word on new non-singing talent for Ensemble. I’m going to be really interested to see what’s next for these guys. We’ve had some good times together.
I was back at the Four Seasons Centre last night for another look at the new Die Fledermaus; this time with Mireille Asselin as Adele. There were a number of things about the production that I noticed more on a second look. The most notable was the lighting (by Paul Palazzo). It’s superb. It’s atmospheric without falling into the trap of being so dark one can’t see anything. Obviously too I saw the kind of prefiguring that goes on throughout the production differently knowing where things were going to go. It’s clever and insightful without being too intrusive. I also noticed one or two bits of comic business that either passed over me on opening night or have been added since. Was the Fidelio joke there on opening night? My overall verdict hasn’t changed. It’s a funny, sexy production that can be enjoyed on many levels and one of the best things I’ve seen in ages.
So how was Mireille? She was very good and very different from Ambur Braid. Mireille is pretty much your classic soubrette; what I guess we are now calling an -ina voice. It’s not a particularly big voice but she’s accurate and musical. She’s also a very decent actress. One feels that she’d be an ideal Adele in a perfectly conventional Fledermaus. For this rather spikey, edgy version though I’d go with Ambur. Her bigger, almost abrasive, voice and her more flamboyant acting (considerably helped by her rather striking appearance) really fit this production. I’m glad I got a chance to see both of them.
Christopher Alden’s recent productions in Toronto; Rigoletto and Der Fliegender Holländer, were controversial, rather cerebral affairs that delighted his fans but tended to puzzle, and even infuriate, the more conservative critics and opera goers. His Die Fledermaus, which opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre, has something for everybody. There are two main threads uniting the three acts. The first is the piece as an allegory of Austrian bourgeois society from an insecure pre WW1 period through a period of unbridled hedonism in the 1920s to the beginnings of Fascism. The second is a much more explicit depiction of Falke as the ringmaster of the whole circus. He goes from manipulative Freudian psychiatrist in Act 1 to Orlofsky’s confidante in Act 2 to, bat costumed, sitting astride the giant watch that hangs above the stage; the only character aloof from the takeover of the drama by the sinisterly Fascistic Frosch. All this is strung together by prefiguring later elements in earlier scenes. In Act 1 the party goers from Act 2 invade the scene via the fractured wall of Rosalinde’s bedroom as Gabriel imagines the delights to come. A silent but frenetic Frosch appears on stage at various points in the first two acts although his identity isn’t apparent until the coup de theâtre that carries us into Act 3. Additionally Alden does not shy away from bat imagery, including it’s darker overtones. There are bat shadows on the backdrop during the overture, Falke first appears as a Dracula look alike, the ‘ballet’ are batgirls and we close out with Falke, again dressed as a bat, overseeing the denouement. There’s a lot going on and I shall be very happy to see this again and delve deeper (a recurrent theme with Alden productions). Continue reading
So, as promised here are my thoughts on yesterday’s Ensemble Studio recital at the Four Seasons Centre. It’s always interesting to see the Ensemble Studio together; to see how returning members have developed since last heard and to hear the newcomers. This is what we got.
Soprano Claire de Sévigné gave us “Chacun le sait” from La fille du régiment. It’s a good piece for a young singer and shee sang it with spirit and enthusiasm and acted with gusto. Perfectly idiomatic French too of course. She has a lovely voice and is clearly one to watch.
Last night saw the annual main stage performance by the COC’s young artist programme, the Ensemble Studio. This year it was Handel’s Semele in the production which I saw a couple of weeks ago. The main roles were cast from the Ensemble Studio with the the exception of the countertenor role of Athamas which was played by Ryan Belongie, an Adler Fellow. The title role was split with Mireille Asselin singing the first two acts and Ambur Braid coming in for the third act. This seemed like a sensible solution given the size of the role and the two singers’ strengths. Continue reading