Today saw the annual lunchtime concert in the RBA in which members of the COC Ensemble Studio collaborate with visitors from the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. There were three singers from each program but rather unusually only one of them was female; soprano France Bellemare. Naturally I was rather focussed on the visiting singers as the three Toronto participants; Gordon Bintner, Clarence Frazer and Andrew Haji are very much known quantities. Of the visitors it was very much Ms. Bellemare who shone. She has a very accurate, lovely rich voice with perhaps still some work to do on the top of her range but very easy to listen to and she’s musically and dramatically convincing too. Her version of Micaëla’s Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante was very competent though I’m not sure it’s ideal rep for her. The Song to the Moon from Rusalka though fitted her like a glove. This was really lovely singing. She also did very well in duet with Clarence Frazer in Lippen schweigen from Die Lustige Witwe or The Merry Widow or La Veuve Joyeuse as all three languages were used! She can waltz too though perhaps not as well as Clarence. Ladies, if you need a dance partner consider Mr. Frazer. She also shone in the final number; the Libiamo from La Traviata. I confess when I saw the program and saw that she would be partnered by Andrew Haji I rather expected her to be sung off the stage. She wasn’t. She held her own with a tenor who will sing this role on the COC’s main stage next season. No mean feat. This young lady is definitely one to watch.
The men from Montreal were Ensemble Studio bound tenor Aaron Sheppard and baritone Josh Whelan. They collaborated in a very decent version of the opening scene of Così fan tutte with Gordon Bintner displaying his comedic talents as Don Alfonso before launching into solo territory. Aaron gave us decent accounts of Tradito, schernito from Così and recital/competition/audition staple Vainement, ma bien aimée. I’m still not really sure what I think of his voice but I guess I have three seasons to figure it out. Josh Whelan proved a bit of a puzzle. His solo pieces Ah, per sempre io ti perdei from I Puritani and Look, through the port from Billy Budd didn’t seem well suited to him. There was little trace of a natural bel canto voice in the former and he seemed, pardon the pun, at sea in the latter which is, admittedly, a very, very tough sing musically and dramatically. Certainly the Mozart seemed to lie much more in his comfort zone.
Accompaniment was expertly provided by Toronto’s Jennifer Szeto and Montreal’s Maxime Dubé-Malenfant.