Centre Stage is the COC’s annual gala/competition with cash prizes and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake. Last night eight young singers competed. The format was one aria before the reception; for judges and invited guests, and one after; for all the punters. So here, in the order they sang in the first half are my thoughts.
Soprano Vanessa Croome sang Dürch Zärtlichkeit from Entführung and Tornami a vagheggiar from Alcina. The latter was quite good and easier on the ear than the Mozart. The problem was the common young soprano issue of an upper register not quite fully under control yet. Time may fix that.
Vartan Gabrielian is an interesting bass baritone. He has a very dark bass timbre but not the low notes of a true bass. I wasn’t much taken by his Madamina, il catalogi e questo, which I found competent but dull. Vi ravviso, o luoghiameni from Somnambula was much more interesting. I’m curious to see how this voice develops.
Noelle Slaney gave us the first Caro nome of the evening, which I enjoyed. Her Je suis encore tout étourdie from Manon in the second half though sounded a bit underpowered.
Tenor Matthew Cairns gave us Ah, la paterna mano from Macbeth in the first half and Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père from Massenet’s Le Cid in the second half. It’s a very muscular voice with the full tenor range and both pieces showed considerably emotional maturity. Not your average young tenor but a voice and presence that impressed me.
Mezzo Jamie Groote played safe in the first half with Voi che sapete but went out a bit more on a limb with Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. It’s the sort of voice one could see making a very competent fist of the standard trouser roles.
Bass-baritone Aaron Dimoff started off with Scintille, diamant from Hoffmann which was OK but not exactly scintillating and rather lacking in menace. O du, mein holder Abendstern was quite a bold choice and, again, competent but not exciting.
Andrea Lett opened with Batti, batti. I’ve seen Lett before and she’s a great comedienne with fabulous moves; none of which were evident in this slightly colourless performance. Nerves? Caro nome in the second half was better but not exactly a show stopper.
Finally there was tenor Rocco Rupolo with De’ miei bollenti spiriti and Che gelida manina. Now these are the sort of arias that make the careers of the likes of Domingo or Pavarotti (or, if you like, Michael Fabiano). They rely on the high notes being thrilling. Rupolo has the notes but they are not thrilling so it feels rather like being offered a truffled partridge but the chef forgetting the truffles. It’s a very nice partridge but…
And so to being judgemental it being a competition and all. At the ned of the first round I had Matthew Cairns, Jamie Groote and Noelle Slaney at the top of my card. The second half left me less sure about Slaney and I had pencilled in Rupolo in third. Needless to say the judges had, at least in part, other ideas.
The CBC Development awards went to Matthew Cairns and Andrea Lett. The third prize went to Jamie Groote, the second to Vartan Gabriellan and first to Matthew Cairns. Two out of three isn’t bad guessing given the ways of competition judges. Audience choice went to Andrea Lett. Given that the UoT claque was out in force it was almost bound to go to a UoT grad but a bit surprising that she pipped Matthew.
Oh yes, there was also Emily D’Angelo, three years on from winning the competition, keeping us all amused while the judges did their thing with immensely polished versions of Una voce poco fa and Sein wir wieder gut!
And FWIW they seem to have the catering bit sorted out. Food and drink were easy to get at without the scrum of some previous years. Good stuff too.