Here we go again

Yesterday lunchtime saw the first free lunchtime concert of the season in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  Following tradition, it was presented by the members of the Ensemble Studio.  Or, to be more accurate, by six of the nine as an unprecedented three singers had fallen victim to the virus that is apparently sweeping the Toronto opera world (HighCbola?).

Credit: (l-r) Jennifer Szeto, Andrew Haji, Karine Boucher, Charlotte Burrage, Clarence Frazer, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Iain MacNeil. Photo: Karen Reeves

Credit: (l-r) Jennifer Szeto, Andrew Haji, Karine Boucher, Charlotte Burrage, Clarence Frazer, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Iain MacNeil. Photo: Karen Reeves

First up was new member bass-baritone Iain McNeil with “Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo” from Cosí.  He has quite a powerful voice that promises well for his time in the Ensemble.  Lots of confidence too.  Next up was mezzo Charlotte Burrage with “All’afflitto è dolce il planto” from Roberto Devereux.  It’s an interesting choice for Charlotte’s dark toned and quite dramatic voice.  She controlled it really well and gave a very mature performance.  I’m looking forward to seeing her as one of the Valkyries later in the season.

Another newcomer, tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, gave us “Vainement, ma bien aimée” from Le Roi d’Ys (probably the best number in a pretty undistinguished opera).  He’s promising.  His top notes still sound rather pinched but he’s got a characterful voice and a more open upper register is something he may well grow into.  Another newbie, soprano Karine Boucher sang “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi.  Not the most original choice of repertoire perhaps but very nicely sung, if maybe a little under characterised.  Maybe it’s that I don’t find this piece, out of context, as interesting as I do in the opera.

And talking of repertoire choices, baritone Clarence Frazer performed Pierrot’s Tanzlied from Die tote Stadt.  I think maybe there should be a five year moratorium on this piece in recitals and competitions.  It was well sung but the over familiarity was causing me to tune out a little.  Last up was tenor Andrew Haji, famous for his portrayal of our beloved(?) mayor and recently returned from triumphs in the Low Countries (which makes him sound a bit like Sir Philip Sidney which he isn’t).  He gave us a swaggering version of “Questa o quella” from Rigoletto.  It was very good.  He’s got presence and ringing, Italianate, top notes.  One feels that here is a singer at the start of a very bright future.

Jennifer Szeto accompanied all the singers at the piano and did a thoroughly professional job.  So, an enjoyable start to another season.  The great thing about this “traditional” opening concert is that despite, or perhaps because of, the inevitable imperfections, it gives us a baseline for the terrific progress we see each year in our young artists and it allows us to play the fun game of spotting the next Ben Heppner.  Let’s wish for a speedy recovery for the stricken and hope that nobody else comes down as we head to opening night for the opera season proper next Friday.

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