Such was the title of yesterday’s performance by the UoT Opera ‘s performance in the RBA. Now personally I don’t subscribe to the notion of the 19th century (ugh!) as a “golden age” of anything but yesterday suggested that the UoT program, if not quite in golden age territory is going through a bit of a purple patch. This was, I think, the best student performance overall that I have heard in the last two or three years.
The program was well put together. Instead of the usual succession of over familiar arias we got seven duets, a trio and a quartet.First up were Emma Greve and Daniel Thielmann with Norina and Malatesta’s Pronta io son from Don Pasquale. She’s got a pleasant flexible voice and very good stage presence. He proved to be the first of several impressively powerful baritones. They worked well together too and set the tone for the session.
I did a bit of a double take when I saw that Rebecca Grey and Brenden Friesen were offering the Germont père/Violetta duet from Act 2 of La Traviata. This is a hard scene to get right requiring considerable emotional maturity as well as vocal skill. It was really quite impressive. She got the emotional temperature right and he didn’t overdo it. Friesen has a very dark baritone and a very deep speaking voice. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops.
Sarah Amelard and Jamie Groote gave us Dôme épais le jasmin from Lakmé. It’s a bold choice again as it can easily descend into sonic mush. Here the blend was good and the singing accurate. It was very enjoyable.
Matthew Cairns and Andrew Adridge offered up Au fond du temple saint from Les Pêcheurs de perles. Again there was a really good blend in the voices with Matthew displaying an ability to really project his high notes in a rather exciting fashion. Andrew is a bit less dark vocally than the first two baritones which worked well here. The finale was terrific, raising the hairs on the back of my neck.
Next up was Antonia’s dying scene from Les contes d’Hoffmann. Joel Allison gave a truly Satanic, just short of OTT account of Dr. Miracle. He just gets better. The voice is rock solid and he’s acting now with the voice as well as gesture. It’s easy to see why he’s so effective in lieder. Alyssa Durnie was pretty effective as Antonia but was somewhat outmatched by Simona Genge singing eerily and powerfully as the mother.
Next was Una volta c’era un rè from La Cenerentola. Georgia Burashko was a convincing Angelina. She has a flexible, accurate voice with very good diction but is, at this point, a bit on the light side. Enjoyable with piano but a bit hard to imagine with orchestra. Her Ramiro, Josh Clemenger, just isn’t a Rossini tenor yet. He’s young so we’ll see where it goes.
Back into heavier territory with the Nedda/Silvio duet from Pagliacci. Leanne Kaufman and Joel Allison. There was a sense of young singers who can already do verismo. Joel was throttling back a bit here, sounding more lyrical and a good match for Leanne who definitely has the right type of voice for this rep once she develops a tad more power. Impressive for a student performance though.
The one bit from Samson et Dalila is the duet Insensée! Oser m’accuser. Simona Genga knocked this out of the park. It wasn’t just a flow of intense, beautiful tone. her French diction was impeccable. I could understand pretty much every word. Samson doesn’t really get much of look in in this duet but, when he did, Matthew Cairns confirmed that there is a fine dramatic tenor in the making here. The ringing high notes and the overall sound production are really quite exciting.
The concert closed out with a quartet from von Flotow’s Martha. It was a good idea to throw in some operetta for the less experienced singers and here Tatiana Stanishich, Emma Bergin, Josh Clemenger and Alex Halliday showed good stage skills and pleasant singing. Lots of room for growth here. Halliday in particular seemed quite accomplished though unsurprisingly lighter than the more experienced baritones heard earlier.
Pano accompaniment throughout was provided by Perri Lo and Benjamin Zsoldos with a cameo from Sandra Horst.
The first UoT concert of the year is always interesting. It’s a starting point for a year’s work in which one expects everyone will develop and usually they do. This year they seem to be starting from a pretty good place which augurs well for the season and could make for a very interesting Ensemble Studio competition.