Yesterday saw the first of this season’s free concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. As has become the norm it featured the singers of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. This year it was dedicated to the memory of the late Lotfi Mansouri and included a couple of short tributes to him.
Six of the Ensemble’s singers are new this year, as is the sole pianist, so these were mostly singers I haven’t heard a lot of. I’ve also observed how much members of the Ensemble Studio develop in the programme and last year we had a solid group of third years with a few new entrants. The balance has shifted to the other extreme and so no surprise that yesterday we heard more potential than polish.
Of the new members bass-baritone Gordon Bintner is probably the most developed. He has a big voice and a confident stage presence and gave a rollicking account of Non più andrai. Aviva Fortunata is also one to watch. She’s a genuine dramatic soprano with the size of voice and tone colour already to handle lighter dramatic roles. Come in quest’ora bruna from Simon Boccanegra suited her very well. Mezzo Charlotte Burrage had the guts to do the notorious Komponist’s aria from Ariadne auf Naxos. It wasn’t perfect but it was heartfelt and showed great promise. There were also more than decent performances of standard fare by mezzo Danielle MacMillan, baritone Clarence Frazer and tenor Andrew Haji. Danielle, along with Claire de Sévigné, can be seen as one of Aunty’s nieces in the upcoming Peter Grimes and would certainly tempt me to The Boar for a pint.
It’s equally interesting to hear the returning members see how they progressed over the summer. Everybody seems to be progressing fine. Claire de Sévigné rocked Flakermillli’s aria from Arabella. It’s rather silly but she made the most of it. Sasha Djihanian and Cameron McPhail both gave us arias from Falstaff. Understudy preparation? (Apparently not entirely. Sasha will be singing Nanetta with Opera Hamilton this season) Owen McCausland sang Quanto è bella and seemed to be experimenting, not unsuccessfully, with a bigger, more Italianate, sound.
The new pianist is Michael Shannon. He has terrific virtuosity, really gets into the music and puts on quite a show. If he can acquire more rapport with the singers he could be a really top notch collaborative pianist.
Finally, in tribute, I suppose, to lotfi, we had a special guest appearance by Simone Osborne, accompanied by Anne Larlee, singing Ernest Charles’ When I Have Sung My Songs. What a fine singer she has become. It was truly gorgeous. If NYCO doesn’t fold New Yorkers will be able to catch her role debut as Susanna later this season. Don’t miss it.
It’s always great to hear the new and returning COC Ensemble young artists each fall. Small correction – the nieces in Grimes are being sung by one of the mezzos (Danielle MacMillan) and one of the sopranos (Claire de Sevigne). And for Sasha Djihanian, it’s more than understudy prep as she’s singing Nanetta in Opera Hamilton’s Falstaff coming up soon this October!