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.
Today’s free lunchtime concert in the RBA was given by Topher Mokrzewski wearing his pianist hat; as opposed to his conductor, accompanist, music director, vocal coach or tap dancing hat.
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.
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.
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!
In February I attended a brilliant lunchtime concert of vocal music by Kaija Saariaho sung by three singers from the COC Ensemble Studio. I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. The composer was so taken with the standard of performance that she has arranged for them to perform a slightly different selection of her works in Washington DC in February.
If you aren’t from Toronto or Montreal (or perhaps Paris, Lyon, Dublin or Belgrade) you probably haven’t heard much about Mireille Asselin, Rihab Chaieb or Jacqueline Woodley (except maybe on this blog) but you will! Strongly recommended both for the music and the singers.
Word on the street is that there are only “a few hundred” tickets left for the COC’s February run of the Peter Sellars/Bill Viola Tristan und Isolde. It’s a fair bet that most of the available tickets will be for nights when Burkhard Fritz is singing rather than Ben Heppner. If you want to see Heppner I’d plan on buying now rather than expecting something last minute to turn up. I’d expect there to be horrific line-ups for the same-day nosebleeds and standing room tickets (and I don’t have the stamina to stand through Tristan!).
Christopher Alden’s production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito apparently isn’t selling so well, despite a stellar cast and a production that got very good reviews in Chicago. This makes me a sad panda. Unfashionably, perhaps, I regard Clemenza as one of Mozart’s best operas, perhaps his very best, so the chance to see it with a wonderful cast is one I would not miss. My current plans call for me to see it twice; with the principal cast and with the Ensemble Studio, but I shall be sorely tempted to get in for an extra look earlier in the run than my current tickets!