Kevin Newbury’s production of Bellini’s Norma at the COC (co-pro with San Francisco, Chicago and the Liceu) is perhaps best described as serviceable. I have seen various rather desperate efforts made to draw deep meaning from it but I really don’t think there is any. That said, it looks pretty decent and is efficient. The single set allows seamless transitions between scenes which is a huge plus. So, what does it look like? It’s basically a sort of cross between a barn and a temple with a back wall that can raised or moved out of the way to expose the druids’ sacred forest. There’s also a sort of two level cart thing which characters ascend when they have something especially important to sing. Costumes were said to have been inspired by Game of Thrones; animal skins, leather, tattoos (which actually don’t really read except up very close), flowing robes. Norma herself appears to be styled, somewhat oddly, on a Klingon drag queen. The lighting is effective and there are some effective pyrotechnics at the end. All in all a pretty good frame for the story and the singing.
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 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…
This morning I went to the COC website to see what Josh Hopkins would be singing at lunchtime. Bottom line, he wasn’t. His recital had been replaced by a hastily put together program of pieces to be sung by Owen McCausland, Karine Boucher and Aviva Fortunata. Given that Liz Upchurch said it was pieces they were looking for an audience for I’d guess it’s audition/competition rep that they are working on and therefore, to some extent, work in progress.
The COC’s new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville opened last night at the Four Season’s Centre. The production is by the Catalan collective Els Comediants, the same team who did La Cenerentola a few seasons back, with direction by Joan Font and designs by Joan Guillén. It’s a riot in a good way. It’s bold, colourful and very well choreographed. There are giant props; for example a huge guitar from which Almaviva sings his serenade and a giant pink piano which serves for all kinds of shenanigans. A lot of the “sung action” is doubled by actors in a sort of on stage projection cube. Scene changes are “on the fly” and the curtain only comes down for the interval and the end. Bold, clever, slick.
Alek Shrader as Count Almaviva. Photo: Michael Cooper
Last night in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio competed for the Quilico awards for the third time in this format. Owen McAusland was off singing in Lucia di Lammermoor in Victoria and Andrew Haji was down with the flu so seven singers actually sang. As usual the standard was very high and it can’t have been easy for the judges. Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Ian MacNeil had a bit of an off night but that left five singers who I has extremely close on my notes. No permutation of three from five would have particularly surprised me.
Iain MacNeil, Aviva Fortunata, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Karine Boucher, Clarence Frazer, Charlotte Burrage, Gordon Bintner, Jennifer Szeto and Michael Shannon