Yesterday, as has become customary, the 11th season of free concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre began with a concert given by the COC Ensemble Studio. It’s always interesting as there are always new members; some of whom I will be familiar with from UoT or the Conservatory and some not. It’s also a “level setter” to see how much progress people make during the year because there are usually one or two singers who still seem to be finding their way into their voice. I really didn’t see any of that yesterday. I think what I saw and heard was the strongest line up I’ve seen yet with no obvious weak links.
New bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian started things off with Leporello’s catalogue aria from Don Giovanni. The voice is very much as I remember from Centre Stage. It’s big, dark and rather bassy. Certainly his lower range sounds better than the top of the voice which, to me, lacks a degree of agility and light that I’d prefer in Mozart. I can see him being very effective in heavier stuff when the time is right though.
Anne-Sophie Neher sang Piangerò la sorte mia from Giulio Cesare. It’s a tricky aria and she did really well with it. There was some tasteful ornamentation in the repeat which she handled well. She really has a lovely, classic lyric soprano.
Simona Genga produced a very well characterised Ah, Tanya, Tanya from Eugene Onegin. The dance rhythms were there. The spirit of fun was there and she sounded entirely secure. Rachel Kerr’s accompaniment here I thought was particularly fine too.
A clean shaven Joel Allison knocked it out of the park with the insane Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori from Handel’s somewhat obscure cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. This piece probably has the widest range of anything in the bass-baritone repertoire. It ranges from the D below the bass staff to the A above it and requires a fair bit of agility. It’s not that it has long ascending and descending runs either, it jumps all over the place. He nailed it.
Lauren Margison is understudying Rusalka so no surprise that we got Song to the Moon. It was really nice to hear Czech and Russian rep on the same programme and there was a great deal to like in Lauren’s rendering of this well known number; sweetness of tone and some power both present.
Tenors are often the ones who seem to take time to hit their stride. Not Matthew Cairns who hit the road running with a Che gelida manina that had beauty of tone, heft and a real “ping” on the high notes. Taller sopranos should be happy too. At maybe 6’4″ he sorts what Rebecca caine described as the “short arse tenor problem”.
Jamie Groote closed things out with the Komponist’s aria from Ariadne auf Naxos. It’s a student recital and competition standard and I’ve heard it umpteen times but this was one of the best young singer versions I’ve heard. There was intensity and more than decent diction in what is quite a tricky piece. Good stuff.
So seven very, very solid singing performances backed up highly competent accompaniment from Rachel Kerr and new kid Alex Soloway. Things look promising.
Photo credit: Chris Hutcheson.