Last night saw the Ensemble Studio’s big main stage performance. Rather than perform one of the COC’s current productions (hard to imagine how they could cast one from the current line up) we got scenes from three operas; two of them from the COC’s current season. They were performed with the orchestra on stage in front of the backdrop to the opening scene from the current Die Zauberflöte and in concert dress rather than costume (more or less, there were some nods to the roles in question) and with some blocking as far as limiting movement to the front of the stage permitted.
Things kicked off with the overture and most of the first act of Mozart’s La finta giardiniera. It’s not a favourite of mine but it does provide young singer friendly arias for pretty much every voice type. The stars here were Charles Sy, with a very polished Don Anchise holding things together, and Lauren Eberwein sounding really good in the pants role of Don Ramiro. Danika Lorèn was also pretty good as the fake gardener and Mireille Asselin, rejoining the ensemble for the night showed off her comic gifts as the hissy servant Serpetta. Bruno Roy showed he could do comedy as Nardo, the hapless but faithful servant. he made a pretty good hand of his one aria too. Nice work from Stephane Mayer at the harpsichord and, as ever, the orchestra sounded great. Still, a long excerpt from this particular piece wasn’t overly exciting.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the second offering; Norma and Adalgisa’s duet from the last act of Bellini’s Norma sung by new additions Sam Pickett and Megan Quick. It was good, very good! These two young ladies have big voices and I’ve heard them before in student shows but never in a space like the main auditorium of the Four Seasons Centre. They both soared over the orchestra and sounded quite lovely. When they were singing together the blend of the voices was particularly fine. I’ve never seen either of them look quite as glamorous as last night either.
After the interval we got most of the final act of Handel’s Ariodante. This was clearly intended as a vehicle for rising star Emily D’Angelo in the title role and she did not disappoint. She absolutely nailed her two big arias with accurate, stylish singing and real dramatic flair. It’s terrifying to remember how young she is (22 I think). Danika Lorèn was also impressive as Ginevra, showing real Handelian style as she had at the Quilico awards. Mireille Asselin also got to show off more than her ability to be hissy as Dalinda. She managed the tricky high coloratura in her aria very well and sang a lovely duet with Aaron Sheppard (Lurcanio). No big numbers but very decent vocal acting from the rest of the cast; Charles Sy as Edoardo, Bruno Roy as the king and Lauren Eberwein as the weaselly Polinesso.
It was a good evening but I’m not sure how I feel about this semi-staged “scenes” concept. It feels a bit artificial and what really is the point of lots of recitative outside the context of the whole story? Ideally, I’d like to see the Ensemble Studio actually doing an opera as they did for a few years. Failing that, I think one might as well make it a concert.
Photo credits: Bronwen Sharp