Yesterday saw the first free lunchtime concert of 2013 at the Four Seasons Centre. Five singers from the COC’s Ensemble Studio gave us a programme of works by Mozart and Salieri, mostly comparative rarities. I enjoy hearing the singers of the Ensemble Studio because it’s not just a chance to hear some good singing but also to see how voices are developing and make some guesses about whether one is seeing a future star.
To the music then. First up was a Salieri duet Signor Poeta mio sung by bass-baritone Neil Craighead and baritone Cameron McPhail. They are both very accomplished singers with Neil perhaps being more the finished article. He’s very polished and seems very much in control of his voice now. Cameron is still a bit raw though he has plenty of power and a very pleasant voice to listen too. He also seems set to follow in the footsteps (facesteps?) of such masters of the extreme facial expression as Luca Pisaroni and Brett Polegato. Solo pieces for each later in the programme confirmed these opinions.
Claire de Sévigné sang Mozart’s song Das Veilchen which is one of those light charming little numbers that light, charming young sopranos sing so well. And Clarie did. As we were to see later there’s rather more to her than that.
Next was Sasha Djihanian with Mozart’s Grazie al numi parti… Nel grave tormento from Mitridate. What an interesting voice! I don’t know whether I would call it beautiful and it’s certainly miles away from the classic YAP young lyric soprano sound. What it has is really interesting tone colour, especially in the lower registers and astonishing ‘slice’. I don’t know how loud, objectively, Sasha’s voice is but it resonates and I’m sure will cut through an orchestra. I really want to see how her voice develops. She could be quite special.
Tenor Owen McAusland sang Ah vile!… Or degli affanni from Salieri’s Falstaff. He’s got quite a powerful voice for a young tenor and is very musical but the voice sounds a bit rough around the edges. Tenors take time to find their true voice and the basics are there so I’d expect that to smooth out. It’s actually rather like Chris Enns sounded when I first heard him.
The programme continued with a couple of trios by Mozart. First came Mi lagnerò tacendo from Claire, Sasha and Neil. I hope there’s a photograph of this because it’s a bit like Fafner and Fasolt meet Happy. Sasha in heels is head and shoulders shorter than Neil in ordinary shoes and Claire is almost as tall as Neil, in heels anyway. That aside, the singing was great and Sasha showed that she can make her voice blend without making it bland. She also showed, in Das Bandel, a rather slight but funny little number sung with Owen and Cameron, that she can be quite charming too.
The concert finished with Ai passi erranti from Salieri’s La Passione di Gesù Cristo. This piece has horrendously difficult coloratura and some scary high notes and wide intervals. Claire wasn’t absolutely note perfect but she made a really impressive job of it. There’s more than just a pretty light lyric there for sure.
Piano accompaniment throughout was by the always accomplished Timothy Cheung and Jenna Douglas.
So, another interesting lunchtime with the Ensemble Studio. It really is fascinating to see how much singers can mature even in the comparatively short time they stay in the programme.
All photo credits: Chris Hutcheson