Thirteen songs in search of an audience

This morning I went to the COC website to see what Josh Hopkins would be singing at lunchtime.  Bottom line, he wasn’t.  His recital had been replaced by a hastily put together program of pieces to be sung by Owen McCausland, Karine Boucher and Aviva Fortunata.  Given that Liz Upchurch said it was pieces they were looking for an audience for I’d guess it’s audition/competition rep that they are working on and therefore, to some extent, work in progress.

First up was Aviva with a very competent version of Einsam in trüben Tagen from Lohengrin.  I do think this kind of music is hard to do with piano accompaniment and the RBA acoustic does tend to make listening to dramatic sopranos a bit of a sound cannon experience which exacerbates the piano thing.  I love this piece but even when well sung, and it was, I miss the orchestra.  She followed this with Liszt’s setting of Hugo’s Oh! quand je dors.  There’s no doubt that Aviva is developing an ability to “sing pretty” which is no mean feat for her voice type.  She was to return for the final set (this was a sort of club sandwich arrangement) with Resphigi’s rather weird Nebbie and a very dramatic account of Frank Bridge’s Love Went A-Riding.

Karine Boucher’s first number was Regnava nel silenzio from Lucia di Lammermoor. I think I’m starting to see why Karine is so highly rated.  There was a fearlessness about this performance that was really impressive and the fireworks were suitably glittery.  Her second set was songs by Wolf  and Strauss.  I know this isn’t the finished deal but she still doesn’t sound as comfortable to me in German as she does in French and Italian.

That last comment was probably influenced by the “meat in the sandwich”, Owen McCausland’s really impressive account of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.(1)  This was real lieder singing.  He has learnt to make the voice do the acting and avoids the overly operatic approach that bedevils many young opera singers when they sing art song.  Maybe he can’t quite hit eleven on the dial yet on the odd occasions it’s needed but he’s pretty close and his voice is quite beautiful.  A real highlight.

A special word for the pianists too.  Liz Upchurch worked with Aviva and did a rather good job of replacing a 100 piece orchestra.  Jennifer Szeto was especially impressive in the Donizetti.  It’s actually quite fun to listen to bel canto on the piano as it kind of exposes the little tricks that the composer is pulling out.  And, of course, great lieder singing demands great piano playing and Timothy Cheung was a most sensitive and artistic partner.

I think it’s really admirable that our young singers and their amazing circus mistress can put programs like this together at short notice.  Of course they are going to be a bit variable but never boring!

(1) I have no idea how often Owen gets sandwiched between two young ladies so don’t ask.

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