Centre Stage

So last night was this year’s iteration of the COC’s glitzy competition with cash and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake.  It’s a bit of a weird thing to write about because the public, and this year the media, only see a fraction of what the judges are judging.  We saw each singer do one aria.  There had been a closed round earlier in the day to which, unlike in previous years, the media were not invited.  Then there’s what the judges have seen in rehearsal, reputation etc.  All in all what happens on the night influences the outcome about as much as at an Olympic figure skating event.  So, in many ways it’s surprising that my picks were as close to the judges as they were.


Picking the winner was pretty easy.  Mezzo soprano Simona Genga brought the house down with Adieu forêts from Tchaikovsky’s Jeanne d’Arc.  Power, sensitivity, dramatic flair, colours.  They were all there.  As my partner said “voices like that don’t come along very often”.  So the $10,000 first prize and the $1500 Audience Choice prize were in the bag.  I’d say that the only thing standing between her and a place in the Ensemble Studio is the prospect of an offer from somewhere shinier.


Baritone Joel Allison was always going to be in the running.  He sang a rather understated Scintille, diamant from Les Contes d’Hoffmann but it was elegant and solid and I’ve heard enough of this young man to know, as did the judges, that he is versatile and has a great instrument.  I had him pegged in third place but no surprises that he actually got second.

Third place went to soprano Anna-Sophie Neher who sang Je veux vivre from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.  I wasn’t that impressed.  There’s power there but I thought she sounded a bit fluttery and squally but who knows what had happened earlier.  I was more taken by soprano Natalie Image who sang the Snow Maiden’s aria from the Rimsky-Korsakov opera.  I thought she had good control and plenty of oomph and some dramatic sensibility but not, apparently, enough.


The others who missed out were all pretty good.  It was a tough competition.  Chelsea Rus showed some stylish singing and pretty good comedic talent in Quel guardo, il cavaliere from Don Pasquale.  Jonah Spungin gave a suitably showy account of the Largo al factotum but I wonder if that’s ever really going to impress.  It’s every young baritone’s party piece.  The one tenor on show, Matthew Dalen, gave a perfectly sound account of Salut! demeure chaste et pure from Faust but didn’t really generate the excitement that wins tenors competitions.

Ben Heppner hosted in his usual genial fashion while demonstrating that he has many talents but not, alas, a flair for stand up comedy.  Johannes Debus conducted the COC Orchestra who, besides, the seven arias, gave us the overture from Il Seraglio.  A cymbalic gesture perhaps (I’m not much good at comedy either but it’s better than Ben’s Joan of Arc joke).  The special guest dropped in to keep us all happy while the judges deliberated was, perhaps unsurprisingly, artist in residence Jane Archibald.  She gave us some rather fine Donna Anna and Violetta, perhaps demonstrating that there really is a gap between even the best aspiring young singer and the finished article.


Photo credits: Michael Cooper.

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