Last night in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio competed for the Quilico awards for the third time in this format. Owen McAusland was off singing in Lucia di Lammermoor in Victoria and Andrew Haji was down with the flu so seven singers actually sang. As usual the standard was very high and it can’t have been easy for the judges. Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Ian MacNeil had a bit of an off night but that left five singers who I has extremely close on my notes. No permutation of three from five would have particularly surprised me.
The first prize winner was soprano Karine Boucher. She gave very beautiful, smooth accounts of Marietta’s Lied and Sombre forêt from Guillaulme Tell. Hers is the kind of voice that wins competitions. She produces lots of gorgeous tone with great control. Personally I could use a bit more drama and individuality but I’d say the same thing about Renée Fleming.
Second prize went to bass-baritone Gordon Bintner for a suitably dramatic reading of Vedrò menr’io sospiro from Le nozze di Figaro and a nicely coloured, if rather slow, O du, mein holder Abendstern from Tannhäuser. He has great stage presence and gets a bonus from me for picking material that’s a little off the usual competition menu.
Third went to mezzo Charlotte Burrage. She sang a pleasing version of Sarah’s aria from Roberto Devereux. It’s become a bit of a favourite of hers I think. I’m not entirely convinced her future lies in bel canto but there were some pleasing, genuine mezzo, dark colours there. The judges asked for the Komponist’s aria from Ariadne auf Naxos as her second offering a bit to my disappointment as she was also offering When I am laid in earth which I rather like. Actually though the Strauss was really good though it might have sounded even more ecstatic if taken a little faster.
The two to miss out were bass-baritone Clarence Frazer and soprano Aviva Fortunate. Maybe singing before the intermission didn’t help their chances? Anyway, Clarence was in the best form I’ve ever seen him in with a swaggering and powerful account of the Largo al factotum and a very competent and rather beautiful Pierrot’s Tanzlied. Aviva also sang well using her powerful voice to good effect in Come in quest’ora bruno from Simon Boccanegra. The judges asked for Non mi dir for her second number though Sombre forēt might have suited her better. There’s no doubt she nailed the Mozart and it clearly went down well with fans of that kind of voice in that rep. Personally I prefer my Mozart a little lighter and this felt a bit like taking a .50 calibre machine gun grouse shooting. Snark aside, the RBA is very unkind to dramatic sopranos. Aviva has tons of talent. Personally I’d rather hear it in a more helpful space.
So despite the absence of, arguably, the two most mature talents in the Ensemble Studio we got an interesting evening with some fine singing and terrific accompaniment by Michael Shannon and Jennifer Szeto.
All photos by Chris Hutcheson.