The Ensemble Studio Competition again last night. Seven singers were competing with Ben Heppner’s jokes for cash prizes, champagne and, possibly, a place in the COC Ensemble Studio. There’s one thing I think is vital to understand about the Ensemble Studio Competition. The judges have been working with the singers for a week. The audience gets to hear them sing one aria. It’s easy to see why there isn’t always concurrence between the hall and the judging table. (That’s my excuse anyway).
So after an introductory overture from Luisa Miller from Johannes Debus and the orchestra it was on to the singing. First up was mezzo Sarah Bissonette with “Nobles seigneurs, salut” from Les Huguenots. It was a good start. She has an attractive voice, very good control and considerable stage presence.
Kirsten LeBlanc followed with “Non mi dir” from Don Giovanni. Very much a young singer’s voice I thought. It’s very bright and not as smooth as it might be. Better left in the cellar for another couple of years?
Bass-baritone Alex Halliday sang “Sorge infausta una procello” from Handel’s Orlando.
Plenty of control and willing to throw himself into the part with some committed physical and vocal acting. Maybe a little underpowered?
Soprano Midori Marsh is a known quantity in Toronto and the UoT claque was in full voice. She didn’t disappoint with “Quel guardo, il cavaliere” from Don Pasquale. She has a lovely sweet toned voice and breath to burn. Her comic acting is pretty good and she certainly holds the audience. For the first time I was sure we were seeing one of the prizewinners.
Tenor Marcel d’Entremeont, fresh off the AtG La Bohème tour, sang “Kuda, kuda” from Eugene Onegin. It’s a lovely aria and he sang it with control, considerable beauty of tone and some power. Maybe though it’s just not a “knock your socks off” tenor aria.
Charlotte Siegel sang the Jewel aria from Faust. I liked her voice and it was highly competent but I wasn’t blown away. Bass Brendan Friesen closed things out with “La calunnia” from the Barber of Seville. He’s a genuine bass with just the sort of timbre that one wants to hear. A bit short on oomph though. It’s an aria where even the words themselves demand a big crescendo and we didn’t get it. If we had I think he’d have been among my winners.
So, at the end of the day I had Marcel d’Entremont and Midori Marsh at the top of my card with Sarah Bissonette third though I felt the last place was a toss up. This was a pretty even field and, unlike, some previous years, the conclusion didn’t seem preordained.
The first prize to be announced was the CBC Young Artist Development Award which comes with a professional recording session and is picked by Ben Heppner and CBC producer Alison Howard. That went to Marcel d’Entremont. It was, after that, a bit of a surprise that he didn’t feature in the judges’ picks. Third prize went to Charlotte Siegel, second to Alex Halliday with no big surprise that Midori Marsh scooped both first prize and the Audience’s Choice.
Photo credits: Michael Cooper