Once a year the COC Ensemble Studio get to show their talents on the big stage with a fully staged performance of a current production. This year’s choice of Atom Egoyan’s production of Così fan tutte was a good one. It showcased the talents of the singers really well and by using a different quartet of lovers in each act they were able to provide substantive roles for all the singers of the ensemble. I won’t dwell on the production as I have already reviewed it. The only changes I noted were a few change ups on the visual gags and that the “Albanians” kept their disguises on for quite a lot longer than with the main cast. So, how about the performances?
Anchoring the piece were the Don Alphonso of Gordon Bintner and the Despina of Claire de Sévigné. Both were impressive. Bintner sang quite elegantly and acted with great maturity. Don Alphonso is usually sung by somebody twice his age but he managed to muster up real gravitas and commanded the stage when he needed to. Claire was in her element. She’s a good comic actor and she made the most of her opportunities. The part sits nicely for her voice too and we got a very convincing Una donna a quindici anni with similar bite in In uomini, in soldati, sperare fedeltà?.
The first quartet was made up of Aviva Fortunata (Fiordiligi), Charlotte Burrage (Dorabella), Andrew Haji (Ferrando) and Cameron McPhail (Guglielmo). I think this would have been the first time either of the girls have performed to an audience of that size in a major opera house and they did very well. Fortunata made a very impressive job of Come scoglio and Burrage was equally impressive in Smanie implacabili. The boys were on great form. Haji was singing better than I have ever heard him with a particularly fine Un’aura amorosa. McPhail is a natural comedian and was very much in his element being both funny and just a bit sinister in Non siate ritrosi. Chemistry is really important in this act and Burrage and McPhail shone in their “interactions”. But really there was so much to like in this act with fine ensemble work backed by the excellent chorus.
Act 2 saw the appearance of Sasha Djihanian, Danielle MacMillan, Owen McCausland and Clarence Frazer so, overall, there was rather more big stage experience on show. It was all very solid again in this rather trickier act. Perhaps I’m the only one who finds that act 2 of Così drags a bit and, of course, it’s crueller than act 1 thus placing slightly different dramatic demands on the singers. There are fewer solo set pieces but Djihanian gave us a touching Per pietà, ben mio, perdona and Macmillan was charming in È amore un ladroncello. One does wonder though which closet Fiordiligi’s uniform came from in scene 3 as all the men in this production are at least three times the size of the diminutive Djihanian.
Act 2 Guglielmo isn’t a very winning personality it’s not easy to bring the part off. So, while Frazer perhaps isn’t as natural a comic talent as McPhail, it’s commendable that he did manage to inject some edge into this performance. For example, he was appropriately spiteful during the finale and in the gloating in scene 2. McCausland was on good form with fine ensemble work, good acting and a touching Ah, lo veggio. Bintner was quite a powerful presence throughout the act leading up to his triumphant Così fan tutte. Once again, excellent ensemble work throughout the act. A hat tip too to Johannes Debus and the orchestra for excellent and most sympathetic support to the singers.
Overall, the “gap” between this cast and the main cast was really quite small. The voices were somewhat smaller pretty much across the board and no other cast could match the Layla Claire/Wallis Giunta looks and chemistry but it was all really rather fine. This performance deserved the loud and long ovation it got from the largish audience who had braved another bitter Toronto evening to attend.