Today we said goodbye to Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon as members of the Ensemble Studio. They went out on a high note (indeed quite a few high notes….) with a very fine performance of Schubert’s epic cycle Die schöne Müllerin. Charles was in fine voice for the whole 65 minutes or so. He was delicate and floaty where he needed to be and fierce when warranted. It was lovely and text sensitive and proof, if anyone still needed it, of what a fine singer he has become in the last couple of years. Hyejin was equally accomplished. The limpid delicacy of the intro to Wohin was just gorgeous but she also summoned up real power and volume when needed. She was, as always, tremendous fun to watch. We writers tend to focus on the singer and not give due weight to the pianist’s contribution. Today we were reminded of how wrong that is.
I hope both of them stick around the Toronto scene and I look forward to seeing them in future endeavours. Thanks guys!
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.
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.
It’s that time of year when it’s traditional to do best of the year lists. Fortunately this is all about music because in most other respects 2016 was a bit of a horror show. So here goes. As far as opera proper was concerned it was a pretty good year. There were no real howlers in the COC’s season. It was solid and, at its best, better than that, For me, Ariodante was the standout; an intelligent, thought provoking production backed up by extremely good acting and singing. I was really expecting to like the Claus Guth Marriage of Figaro more than I did. I enjoyed it but I was a bit perplexed by the lightening up that had taken place since Salzburg in 2006. Opera Atelier had their best show in quite a while with Lucio Silla but even Wallis Giunta couldn’t save a misconceived Dido and Aeneas.
Back to the Four Seasons Centre last night for a second look at Norma. This time with Elza van den Heever singing the title role. Van den Heever has a more conventional voice than Sondra Radvanovsky. It’s perhaps not as dramatic and distinct but it’s an accurate, flexible instrument with plenty of colours and big enough for the role. She’s also every bit as good as an actress so I don’t think the production suffers from losing its “headliner”. Russell Thomas impressed again. He’s so much better as Pollione than he was as Don José. The acting is convincing and he really gets the chance to let rip here with what is a truly glorious tenor voice. All the obvious comparisons suggest and are not ridiculous. Isabel Leonard was also very fine last night and the duets with van den Heever were perhaps the highlight of the show. Hat tip too to Charles Sy who never sounded out of place even when Thomas was singing all guns blazing, It’s only two years since he was singing in a student production of HMS Pinafore.
The tenth season at the Four Seasons Centre opened with the, by now traditional, lunchtime concert by the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Six of the eight singers and one of the two pianists are new recruits which is unusual and more of a chance to level set than see how anyone has developed.