Yesterday saw the first free concert of the season in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It was a chance to see the 2015/16 Ensemble Studio; two new singers, one new pianist and six singers and a pianist from last year. The format was one aria per singer with few surprises. We also got to hear the core quartet casting for the Ensemble Studio performance of Le Nozze di Figaro later in the season. No surprises there either; Il Conte – Gordon Bintner, Iain MacNeil – Figaro, La Contessa – Aviva Fortunata, Susanna – Karine Boucher. That leaves four tenors for the other roles…
So, how was the singing? First up was new boy Charles Sy with a very accomplished Dies Bildnis. Smooth legato, clear high notes, good diction. This was a very good performance for a first year ES member. Then it was Gordon Bintner with Donne mia, la fate a tanti. This too was very polished and evidence that he has power to spare.
The second new member is Aaron Sheppard, also a tenor, and he had a go at Dalla sua pace. This was more of a work in progress, as one would expect at this stage in the process, but promising. Karine Boucher gave us a sneak peak at Rossini’s Maometto II by singing Giusto ciel, in tal periglio. This is very serious Rossini indeed and she produced an appropriate depth of tone and emotion. It’s becoming quite a meaty voice with some interesting colours. One to watch.
Jean Philippe Fortier-Lazure sang the only English language piece; Where’er you walk from Handel’s Semele. It’s one of those pieces that’s so hummable that it’s easy to forget just how tricky it is in places. Here, it was pretty well navigated with some tasteful ornamentation in the repeat. Iain MacNeil produced a nicely idiomatic Bella siccome un angelo from Don Pasquale. Another emerging powerful baritone here.
Then there was Andrew Haji. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sing French romantic rep before but, to nobody’s great surprise, he sang En fermant les yeux from Manon easily and very, very beautifully. I’ve yet to see Haji try something that he doesn’t make sound easy. Maybe he should have a go at Tibetan throat singing? Aviva Fortunata closed things out ambitiously with Toi qui sus le néant from Don Carlos. It’s really pleasing to see how she’s developed in the last couple of years. The raw power was always there but there’s much more control now, especially in the upper register. Great French diction too. I got just about every word and that doesn’t happen every day with a big soprano voice.
Accompaniment provided with the customary skill by Jennifer Szeto and new girl Hyejin Kwon.
Photocredit: Chris Hutcheson