The full Ensemble Studio was on display yesterday for an all Russian lunchtime concert. First up was Megan Quick with a couple of Rachmaninov songs. Megan’s timbre is very dark and it seems to be a natural fit for those Russian vowels. She was followed by Bruno Roy with a couple of Tchaikovsky numbers. He’s come on a lot in his time in the Studio. There’s some heft to the voice now and some quite impressive top notes. Good stuff.
The COC has announced four additions to the COC Ensemble Studio for 2018/19. I don’t think there any surprises. The three prize winners from last season’s Centre Stage are joined by Lauren Margison, daughter of Richard and currently with the Atelier Lyrique in Montreal. Just for fun I researched how long the four had been on the OR radar. The most recent is Montreal based soprano Anna-Sophie Neher who was unknown to me until Centre Stage. Next would be mezzo Simona Genga; UoT graduate and top prize winner at Centre Stage. She first appeared in these pages in a review of a UoT concert in 2016. Bass-baritone Joel Allison has been on the watch list for a while. He first showed up in a review of a Talisker Players concert in March 2015 and I’ve followed him closely ever since, including his Norcop Prize winner recital. But by far the longest history goes to soprano Lauren Margison who I first wrote about as a 19 year old singing with her dad in the RBA in 2011! I wonder whether that record, seven years from first appearing in OR to joining the Ensemble Studio, will ever be broken. For the record, graduating this summer are Samantha Pickett, Megan Quick, Bruno Roy and Toronto’s favourite naked soprano Danika Lorèn.
To the Four Season’s Centre last night to check out one of the COC’s adult education events. This time it was about the baritone voice in all its aspects and featured Liz Upchurch at the piano and, mostly, doing the talking with Ensemble Studio members Sam Chan and Bruno Roy plus ES graduate Neil Craighead back in Toronto to sing Ceprano (not soprano) in Rigoletto doing some singing.
Besides the singing, of which more later, I think there were two takeaways from the evening though it was not actually divided up that way. One, fascinating, dealt with the development of the voice and the sheer number of years it takes for bigger voices to more or less grow up. Also, how do you develop and stretch the voice while staying vocally healthy. Neil is 34 and his voice is really just beginning to get where one can see it going, which is likely big to very big. Sam and Bruno, much younger, are still going through the process of figuring out what Fach (see below) they really are. This seems to happen to everyone except maybe genuine basses, high sopranos and the really obvious tenors. It was pretty cool for instance to heat Bruno sing a tenor aria though not, of course, something like Pour mon âme.
Yesterday at noon we had the traditional season opening performance by the COC Ensemble Studio in the RBA; the Meet the Young Artists concert. There were two new singers and a new pianist joining six members returning from last year. First up was Danika Lorèn with Deh vieni non tardar. I think I’ve run out of new things to say about Danika. It’s all there; a very easy upper register, interesting colours and a growing degree of artistic assurance. I just want to see her on the big stage. Stéphane Mayer was at the piano with his usual sympathetic elegance. He really is rather good!
The Canadian Art Song Projects sesqui commission premiered today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s a piece by Ana Sokolović for soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone and pianist and today, as was always intended, it got its first outing from members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It was billed as a “song cycle” and, while it’s certainly a setting of poems to music, that description really doesn’t do it justice. Sokolović’s music always seems to have dramatic potential and here that was realised extremely effectively by Anna Theodosakis to create a piece of performance art with many dimensions.
May continues to be a busy month. There are a couple of interesting concerts at noon in the RBA next week. On Wednesday 17th there is the unveiling of the annual Canadian Art Song project commission. This year it’s extremely ambitious. It’s a cycle of sixteen songs by Ana Sokolović setting texts drawn from right across Canada. It’s called dawn always begins in the bones and will be performed by Danika Lorèn, Emily D’Angelo, Bruno Roy and Aaron Sheppard with Liz Upchurch at the piano. (You can also hear this work in the Temerty Theatre at the Conservatory at 7.30pm on Thursday May 25th along with Andrew Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier and Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem). On Thursday 18th tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon bid farewell to the COC Ensemble Studio with a performance of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. It should be a real treat.
Last night saw the Ensemble Studio’s big main stage performance. Rather than perform one of the COC’s current productions (hard to imagine how they could cast one from the current line up) we got scenes from three operas; two of them from the COC’s current season. They were performed with the orchestra on stage in front of the backdrop to the opening scene from the current Die Zauberflöte and in concert dress rather than costume (more or less, there were some nods to the roles in question) and with some blocking as far as limiting movement to the front of the stage permitted.