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.
John Terauds may have proclaimed the death of the art song recital in Toronto, and he may even have a point about recitals with high ticket prices, but the line up outside the Four Seasons Centre yesterday for a recital of French chansons rather suggests that the taste for the form has not gone away. The admirably chosen programme of songs, mainly by Poulenc with some Ravel and Milhaud thrown in, was performed by members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio.
Every year the COC Ensemble Studio engages in an exchange programme with the Atelier Lyrique of L’Opéra de Montréal. Each year that results in a joint lunchtime recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It seems to be a popular gig. The doors were closed today at 11.40 for the noon performance (it’s first come, first served). Thankfully, writing this stuff gets me a reserved seat or I would have missed out. The show is always worth seeing because it’s not at all unusual for the best singers from the Montreal programme to move onto the Ensemble Studio.
On Sunday 27th January at 2pm Russell Braun and Rihab Chaieb are giving a recital of German songs in the Glenn Gould Studio. Tickets are $60 but only $25 for under 25s.
The following evening Peter Sellars is giving a talk on his production of Tristan und Isolde at the Toronto Reference Library. This one is free but ticketed. Tickets are available from the TPL website.
And in free RBA noon concert news, on 24th January Sasha Djihanian and Cameron McPhail with pianists Timothy Cheung and Jenna Douglas are offering up Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées and Schumann’s Dichterliebe.
Yesterday saw the first free lunchtime concert of 2013 at the Four Seasons Centre. Five singers from the COC’s Ensemble Studio gave us a programme of works by Mozart and Salieri, mostly comparative rarities. I enjoy hearing the singers of the Ensemble Studio because it’s not just a chance to hear some good singing but also to see how voices are developing and make some guesses about whether one is seeing a future star.
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.
Dean Burry’s opera for children The Brothers Grimm had its 500th performance last night at the shiny new Ada Slaight Hall at the Daniels Spectrum in the revitalised Regent’s Park neighbourhood. It’s a work that premiered in 2001 and has been a staple of the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour ever since. It’s played an important role in developing young Canadian singers as performers as evidenced by the fact that the original cast brothers were Joseph Kaiser and David Pomeroy. 500 performances!
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.
Each year the Studio Ensemble at the Canadian Opera Company does an exchange with its counterpart the Atelier Lyrique de’l'Opéra de Montréal. Part of this collaboration is a free concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre featuring singers from both companies. Last year I found it quite hard to write about as, frankly, Montreal didn’t bring much to the party. This year, happily, was different.
Two of the Montreal singers really impressed me this time. Philip Kalmanovitch is a tall, slim baritone with an engaging stage manner and a very nice voice indeed. He kicked off the programme with the Largo al factotum from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. I would not have thought it possible to overact this piece but Kalmanovitch came close! It was very characterful, well sung and he communicated that he was having fun very effectively. We also got a characterful Là ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni sung with Jacqueline Woodley. Their voices blended very well and the acting was good too. His final piece was the much more romantic Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. He didn’t seem quite as at home in this repertoire and he could use some work on shaping his lines but, again, he sang with beautiful tone and the closing pianissimo was very well done.
I was just as impressed by mezzo-soprano Emma Parkinson. She has a lovely smoky voice of some power. In her first number, Come ti piace, imponi from La clemenza di Tito she was singing with the Studio Ensemble’s biggest voice, soprano Ileana Montalbetti. I was worried going in that she’d be blown away (probably literally) but it wasn’t so. They actually worked very well together. Emma and Ileana collaborated again with the addition of baritone Philippe Sly in Soave sia il vento from Cosi fan tutte. This wasn’t so successful. Even when she’s throttling back, Ileana has a distinct ‘slice’ which doesn’t really suit a Mozart number like this and the voices didn’t really blend. I really want to hear what she can do with an orchestra in a genuine spinto role. Also, Philippe sang well enough but it’s going to be a long, long time before he sings Don Alfonso. Getting back to Emma, she also sang a spirited Parto, parto, agian from La Clemenza di Tito. This was the real deal and raised hairs on the back of my neck. There was power, passion and variation of tone colour. Her coloratura was a bit ragged in places but that will come. Ms. Parkinson is one to watch.
The Montreal contingent was rounded out by mezzo Aidan Ferguson and tenor Isaiah Bell. Ferguson sang Va! laisse couler mes larmes from Massenet’s Werther, Sein wir wieder gut from Strauss’Ariadne auf Naxos and collaborated with Mireille Asselin in the Presentation of the Rose from Der Rosenkavalier. She and Jacqueline Woodley also sang a very musical version of Belle nuit, ȏ nuit d’amour from Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. Ferguson is musical, she’s got plenty of power and was markedly better in the Strauss and Offenbach pieces than in the Massenet where she was a bit wobbly. She just doesn’t sound like a mezzo to me. The voice is very bright and open and I wonder whether she won’t end up as a dramatic soprano.
Bell seems very young. He started out with a very diffident Unis dès la plus tendre l’enfance from Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride. He sounded a bit underpowered and undercharacterised. He was better in the duet My Tale Shall be Told from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (sung with Philippe Sly as a characterful Nick Shadow) where he showed he could convey some real feeling. He finished up with Si, ritrovaria io giuro from Rossini’s La Cenerentola. This really needed more power. he has the notes but he doesn’t have the exciting, ringing top end needed to bring a piece like this to life. He is very young though and with a bit more power and confidence could be quite promising.
The Toronto singers were really in back up roles in this gig but they all performed very well. Mireille Asselin showed she has the classic qualities of a young lyric soprano in her cameo as Sophie and Jacqueline Woodley was excellent in the Offenbach though to be honest I’d much rather hear her singing Weir, Golijov or Saariaho where she truly excels. Philippe and Ileana I’ve already mentioned. Accompaniment on the piano was by the Studio Ensemble’s Jenna Douglas and Timothy Cheung who were, as ever, just excellent.
All in all, a very worthwhile effort all round.
It feels good to be back listening to live music after a bit of a drought. Today I was at a lunchtime recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre given by members of the Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble. It was very good indeed. I want to start with the undoubted highlight; Jacqueline Woodley‘s performance of Judith Weir’s piece for unaccompanied soprano, King Harald’s Saga. It’s a complex, fascinating and very difficult piece requiring the singer to switch between voices and to pull off a range of singing styles. Woodley was awesome. I’ve heard her now in quite a few contemporary pieces, though perhaps none as hard as this, and she has always impressed.
Almost as impressive was Ileana Montalbetti’s performance of Libby Larsen’s Donal Oge. It’s a work that requires considerable power from the singer and Ileana, unsurprisingly delivered. She’s got a big voice and she knows how to use it. Neil Craighead gave us two songs by Cecile Chaminade. He sounds a good deal more powerful than last time I heard him. He has a lovely tone and now the power too. He hasn’t quite got the knack of throttling it back yet but that will come I expect. We also got some fiendishly difficult Alma Mahler songs which clearly taxed tenor Chris Enns. They would have taxed anyone I think. Mireille Asselin gave a pleasing unaccompanied performance of a piece from Hildegard von Bingen and the programme was rounded out by two duets by Fanny Hensel sung by Asselin and Craighead and Montalbetti and Enns.
The pianists were the excellent Jenna Douglas and the even more impressive Timothy Cheung. All in all, this was as good a concert as I have heard in the COC’s free lunchtime series.