Last night we went to the Quilico Awards competition. The prize was set up in honour of Canadian baritone Louis Quilico to support various aspects of vocal competition and performance and it has been competed for and awarded in different ways over the years. This year it was a vocal competition featuring the ten young singers of the COC Ensemble Studio. It was held in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons centre and Alexander Neef (COC), David Spears (Opera Hamilton) and John Hess (Queen of Puddings Music Theatre) were the judges. It was a free gig but held at 5.30pm with minimal publicity on a week day so it perhaps wasn’t surprising that the audience was a bit thin. The format was that each singer prepared three arias. S/he sang one of his/her choice then the jury selected one of the other two. The third was held in reserve in case of a tie (which didn’t happen). Liz Upchurch was the accompanist throughout which was rather impressive in itself.
The standard was really very high. I’ve heard all these singers before, either in recital and/or on stage at the Four Seasons Centre. They are all good and getting better. Repertoire was quite varied. There was lots of Mozart (unsurprising since the Ensemble Studio’s last two productions have been Idomeneo and Die Zauberflöte) but we also got Barber, Purcell, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Handel, Verdi, Wagner, Floyd, Smetana, Korngold, Britten and Barber. Quite a variety really.
One of my top picks would have been Met bound Wallis Giunta (mezzo) who sang “Parto, parto” from La Clemenza di Tito which I’ve heard her do before and the very different “Nobles seigneurs, salut!” from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. Wallis’ musicality (as well as technical ability) was very evident in the way she tackled the tricky rhythmic flexibility of the piece. (You can check out what I mean about tricky rhythms here).
The other would have been baritone Adrian Kramer who goes from strength to strength. He gave us “Pierrot’s Tanzlied” from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt and what has rather become his party piece, Sid’s aria “Tickling a trout” from Britten’s Albert Herring. Watch out for this guy. He has a very good voice and wicked comic timing but showed he also has a lyrical side in the Korngold.
Had I been a judge I would have found picking a third winner close to impossible. There was so much to like. So what did the judges decide?
In third place they had tenor Chris Enns (a fine Tamino earlier this season). Last night he gave us Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin and “Here I Stand” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. I particularly liked the Tchaikovsky which showed off a nicely developing lyrical tenor voice very well.
Second was dramatic soprano Ilieana Montalbetti. Ileana is a bit of an anomaly. The other girls in the programme are your modern lyric, look the part, sort of modern soprano/mezzos (one of them moonlights as a fashion model). Ileana is the one truly dramatic voice and can we say she looks a bit more like the popular image of a dramatic soprano (actually she’s not really that big but…). She gave us “Come in quest’ora bruna” from Simon Boccanegra and “Einsam in trüben Tagen” from Lohengrin. The RBA is not a huge space and it was piano accompaniment so I don’t think she was close to maximum power (I’ve heard her sing much louder!) but the impression of lots of gas in the tank was definitely there along with a good deal of control and attractive tone colour.
The winner was Adrian Kramer. No surprise there.
Fortunately for us we will get to see most of these singers next month on stage in various roles. Ambur Braid is singing Amore in Orfeo ed Euridice, where Simone Osborne is understudying Isabel Bayrakdarian’s Euridice. Rihab Chaleb will sing Tisbe and Ileana will sing Clorinda in La Cenerentola. Ariadne auf Naxos has a slew of Ensemble Studio members in the cast. Simone Osborne sings Naiad, Adrian Kramer is the Wigmaker, Chris Enns is Scaramuchio and Michael Uloth is Truffaldino and it seems like everyone is understudying something!
There are good things in Toronto. How many places can you see ten first rate singers perform for two hours in a beautiful, acoustically excellent setting, for free?