Ensemble Studio Competition 2019

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).

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The contestants with Alexander Neef and Johannes Debus

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Rusalka – Dream or Nightmare?

David McVicar’s production of Dvořák’s Rusalka opens with a prelude while the overture plays.  We see the Foreign Princess and the Prince.  She appears to be upbraiding him and he is drinking hard.  Are we seeing a failed/forced marriage that in reality the Prince made rather than some preferred alternative?  Is what we see over the next three and half hours some dream version of what might have been?  In this most Freudian of operas, why not?

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Is Iago a nihilist?

I managed to catch the fourth performance of the COC’s current run of Verdi’s Otello last night.  It’s a David Alden production that first aired at ENO and it’s a very dark take on an already dark story.  It’s set maybe circa 1900 and the sets are stark but the lighting is dramatic with lots of contrasts and giant moving shadows.  The overall Zeitgeist seems to be of a society that has seen too much war; a sort of collective PTSD.  This comes over in a number of ways.  The scenes that usually lighten things up a bit; the victory celebrations in Act 1, the children and flowers in Act 2, don’t here.  In fact they are downright creepy.  There’s also a female dancer, used rather as Christopher Alden used Monterone’s daughter in Rigoletto, who clearly doesn’t expect good things from returning soldiers.

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Opera for Toronto

Last night at the COC there was a special performance of Puccini’s La Bohème.  The cast was made up, for the most part, of current and past Ensemble Studio members and tickets had been made available free to a variety of community groups.  It was billed as “Opera for Toronto”.  There had also been a small number of tickets available on line on a first come basis and, by the looks of things , a fair number of comps for the cast.

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Afarin Mansouri giving an introductory talk in Farsi – Credit: Gaetz Photography

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Egoyan’s Così – brunette edition

The COC season continued last night with Atom Egoyan’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, first seen in January 2014.  There are some changes from the previous outing but most of what I had to say about the production holds good still.  This time there have been cuts.  The show now runs as two ninety minute acts plus an interval and it feels tighter and doesn’t drag so much in the second act.  In the process some of the heavy handed symbolism has been discarded; fewer pinned butterflies.  I think the physical comedy may have ratcheted up just a touch but maybe that’s me misremembering.  And the girls are brunettes, rather than redheads, but still well matched enough to look like sisters.  Musically, I think it’s been lightened up somewhat.  Bernard Labadie, something of a period specialist, conducts and Michael Shannon accompanies the recits on a fortepiano.  But, still, fundamentally the same show.

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