Elena Tsallagova and Sandra Horst entertained the crowd in the RBA yesterday with a flower themed recital of French and Russian songs. It was a very well chosen selection that allowed Ms. Tsallagova to display her versatility. From Debussy’s quite operatic Rondel chinois, where she showed a lot of power for a young lyric soprano, through the varied moods of Bizet’s Feuilles d’album where by turns she was dramatic, sombre and very playful. Throughout she was extremely demonstrative while managing excellent phrasing and impeccable French. She has an interesting range of colours too, from extremely bright through to quite covered and dark and she’s not afraid to use them. Actually, the way she threw herself into the material I don’t think she is afraid of much!
Today’s noon recitalists in the RBA were Andrew Haji and Liz Upchurch. We had been promised Britten’s Serenade but an absence of non-knackered horn players due to the COC’s Götterdämmerung run scuppered that and instead we got a very varied program of songs and arias on the theme of love and its travails. Four Brahms songs kicked things off and produced some very fine lieder singing. Beautiful throughout with fine phrasing, characterisation and diction there was more. The final “wonnewoll” of Wie bist du, meine Königin was a thing of floaty beauty and there was a real sense of ecstasy in Mein Liebe ist grün.
The Christina and Louis Quilico Awards are a singing competition for members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. This year’s edition took place early yesterday evening in the RBA. Only five members of the Ensemble Studio were competing. Megan Quick and Sam Pickett were not for reasons that I don’t think were announced and Aaron Sheppard was sick. So it was a pretty brief affair. The format as usual was that each contestant offered three arias and got to sing the one of their choice with the judges choosing which of the other two they should sing.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA was dedicated to the late Stuart Hamilton, founding director of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Current members, mezzo Emily D’Angelo and baritone Bruno Roy, each gave us two sets of French songs accompanied respectively by Hyejin Kwon and Stéphane Mayer. Ms. D’Angelo gave us Débussy’s Chansons de Bilitis and the curiously Débussy like Trois Mélodies by Messiaen. Both sets are quite meditative and impressionistic and Ms. D’Angelo’s very beautiful voice suited them well. There’s more there than beauty of tone. She’s showing some interesting, very mezzoish, colours in the voice now and there’s clearly plenty of power in reserve as she showed on a couple of occasions. It’s so easy to forget how young she is when a performance is this accomplished. Ms. Kwon was a sympathetic accompanist.
And so to the boys who gave us Poulenc’s La fraîcheur et le feu and Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. The Poulenc piece rather races along with the piano part, impressively played by Mayer, often much more interesting than the vocal line. Roy was at his best in the more hectic passages where his diction and command of French were at a premium. When the music became more expansive he didn’t quite seem able to expand with it; the voice lacking bloom in both upper and lower registers and with no real sense of some underlying power. This was more of a handicap in the Don Quichotte songs. Roy managed some decent physical and vocal acting, especially in the drinking song, but there just wasn’t enough heft to put in the swagger required in these pieces.
Prior to the performances, the COC’s Janet Stubbs made a short speech in memory of Stuart which managed, in a very brief span, to convey both the impact he had on the Canadian and wider opera scene and a sense of his more endearing eccentricities.
The COC Orchestra Academy program is a mentorship scheme for young orchestral musicians providing a bridge between student and professional life somewhat akin to the Ensemble Studio for singers and pianists. Today at noon in the RBA we gort the chance to see the current crop in action in all baroque program featuring Jacqueline Woodley as soprano soloist.
Things are still a bit quiet on the vocal music front (the lull before the storm judging by my agenda) but there are a couple of free concerts of interest at noon in the RBA next week. On Tuesday, bass Goran Jurić, currently singing Sarastro at the COC, is teaming up with Anne Larlee in an all Russian program featuring works by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Spiridov. Then on Thursday there’s a concert in the chamber music series featuring the members of the COC orchestra academy. But once again, the chamber series deceives because half of the program (at least) features soprano Jaqueline Woodley in a series of Handel arias. Later, at 7pm at The Fifth Pubhouse, the COC is hosting Opera Trivia Night with trivia master Russell Harder. It’s free but ticketed. Tisckets from coc.ca or the Four Seasons box office. The COC’s Magic Flute continues with the first chance to see the alternative cast on Sunday afternoon (29th) at the Four Seasons Centre, which is pretty close to sold out. No doubt the matinee show will be a lot of kids’ first opera.
Having been tipped off that yesterday’s RBA noon concert was to be a vocal recital rather than, as previously billed, a chamber concert I made the trip through the snow to catch it. Three of the Royal Conservatory’s Rebanks fellows were singing with Helen Becqué at the piano and assorted staff and alumni added for the final number. Attendance was a bit sparse perhaps unsurprisingly given the weather and the evident confusion. That was a shame because it was an interesting, varied and well presented concert combining well known works with some much less well known fare.