Once a season the young artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio get to perform one of the company’s productions on the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre. Last night it was the Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro. I’ve said enough about the production already here and here so let’s cut to the chase.
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA involved members of the cast of the Ensemble Studio performance of Marriage of Figaro in a semi-staged series of excerpts from the opera. The Ensemble Studio annual stage performance is always worth seeing and this year I think it’s going to be a real treat. Highlights today included Gordon Bintner’s Count. The guy can sing but here there was a swagger that should be just perfect for the Guth production. Jacquie Woodley’s Cherubino was utterly brilliant. Aviva Fortunata nailed Porgi amor, so often a disappointment I find. And I really liked Karine Boucher’s Susanna. She’s not always been a favourite of mine but her slightly dark for a soprano tone seemed really well suited to this music and blended especially well with Aviva. Ian MacNeil impressed too as Figaro, though it’s a role that’s a bit downplayed by this production, and I shall be curious to see what he does with it in the full version. Megan Latham, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Aaron Sheppard rounded out today’s cast with the indefatigable Hyejin Kwon on piano. If you don’t yet have tickets for the performance on the 22nd I strongly suggest getting some. They are only $22 or $55 for the best seats. As Claire Morley said in her introduction this could be an event that’s talked of for years to come.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured two members of the Ensemble Studio. Andrew Haji, standing in for an indisposed Charles Sy, and Jennifer Szeto performed Liszt’s Tre Sonetti di Petrarca. Thesesongs were unfamiliar to me and came as a pleasant surprise. They are very Italianate and very operatic and have a pretty involved piano part (unsurprisingly). Haji displayed his uncanny ability to find exactly the right idiom for the music and sang with beauty and expression as well as nailing the three high D flats. Szeto was a most accomplished accompanist. Great dress too! New Yorkers can catch these two in the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration at Carnegie Hall on Saturday where they will perform the same music.
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…
The Ensemble Studio got to do their thing last night with their annual main stage performance; this year, of course, Joan Font’s production of The Barber of Seville. This year only one role was split; Andrew Haji singing Almaviva in Act 1 with Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure coming off the bench for the second half. The other main roles went to Clarence Frazer as Figaro, Charlott Burrage as Rosina, Iain McNeil as Doctor Bartolo, Gordon Bintner as Don Basilio and Karine Boucher as Berta. Ringer Jan Vaculik sang both Fiorello and the Officer.
Today’s lunch time concert in the RBA was a lieder recital by two Ensemble Studio members; bass-baritone Gordon Bintner and tenor Andrew Haji. Both singers sang settings of texts by Heinrich Heine. Bintner, accompanied by Jennifer Szeto kicked off with selections from Schubert’s Schwanengesang to be followed by Haji and Liz Upchurch with Schumann’s Dichterliebe.
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.