As previously revealed the line up for last night’s Centre Stage; the COC’s gala competition cum Ensemble Studio final audition featured four mezzos, two sopranos and two baritones. Not a tenor to be had. As was the case two years ago the competition was split into two parts; a late afternoon session for an invited audience and an early evening public session separated by a cocktail reception. Each singer presented one aria in each session. Accompaniment was provided by the COC Orchestra with music director Johannes Debus.
The music offered was largely standard competition fare. There was plenty of Mozart, Rossini and Gounod plus a little Verdi and Donizetti. Bonus points then to the two young ladies who offered up Purcell and Strauss. The standard was high and it can’t have been an easy night for the judges. I’m also not entirely sure how they come to their decisions, particularly how much weight they give to performance on the night versus perceived potential. They also have had plenty of opportunity to see the singers in rehearsal which I imagine helps shape opinions.
I didn’t do too badly in the prediction stakes. I had the eventual second place winner top of my card and the eventual winner in third, though reviewing my notes (no mean feat when they were written in the dark) I think I should have had her higher. I think her conservative choice of repertoire over influenced my thinking process.
The eventual winner was mezzo Emily D’Angelo (who also scooped the Audience Choice prize). She’s very young. Still an undergrad in fact. She has a fairly light, bright instrument at this point but she’s pinpoint accurate and has a very even sound right across her range. She sang Voi che sapete before the interval, which I thought was a rather soft choice though she sang it very well indeed. Her second piece was a very clean version of Contro un cor. Clearly there is huge potential here and the judges’ decision is very understandable. A trouper too, as she was on crutches for the evening.
Second also went to a mezzo, Lauren Eberwein. She’s somewhat older and already in the Emerging Artists program in Philadelphia. She has a darker, perhaps wilder, voice and I found it very interesting. Her choice of material was bolder. She offered up the Komponist’s aria from Ariadne auf Naxos for her first shot and then reverted to more conventional competition territory with Parto, parto after the interval. Both were well done and I think here we have a talent that will shine in trouser roles.
Third place went to baritone Bruno Roy who was praised for bringing art song qualities to his arias. This is where I get confused about intent because if “art song qualities” means a little too small for a big opera house I would fully agree. Like the other baritone, Zachary Read, he sang accurately and with feeling but at times was pretty much covered by the orchestra. Both, I thought, were good singer actors but have they got the heft to survive as an operatic baritone? I have my doubts.
Of the also sangs, my favourite was, you’ve guessed it, another mezzo. Marjorie Maltais sang two really difficult arias; Non più mesta from La Cenerentola, which wasn’t perfect but was exciting, and a really idiomatic Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle? from Roméo et Juliette. She would have been in my top three and I have to wonder if the judges just couldn’t see their way to a mezzo grand slam.
Honourable mentions to the fourth mezzo, Pascale Spinney, for singing Dido’s lament and to soprano Samantha Pickett for being that hardest thing to be in a singing competition, a young dramatic soprano. Perhaps it would have been better if the larger audience had heard her Verdi rather than her Mozart.
As an event Centre Stage seems to be maturing. I’m told over 1000 tickets were sold and it’s an interesting audience. The well heeled opera going crowd is well represented but there were also a lot of singers there as well as the usual noisy bunch from the University of Toronto Opera Division and the Glenn Gould School, looking and sounding rather like a party in an Evelyn Waugh novel. Hosting was rather well handled by Ensemble Studio Members Charles Sy and Karine Boucher and the “keep the mob quiet while the judges deliberate” performances were from Andrew Haji and Joyce El-Khoury, both sounding wonderful. We even got a few uplifting words from the Lieutenant Governor.
Photo credits: Michael Cooper.