The final concert of the year involving members of the Ensemble Studio took place yesterday in the RBA. First up were Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon with Britten’s Les Illuminations. This is a formidable challenge for both singer and pianist and we were treated to a performance of real intensity and maturity. Charles seemed to be sufficiently in technical command of the material to let himself go a bit and have some fun with the more ironic bits of Rimbaud’s rather extraordinary text. His French diction was more than good enough for this, even in the places where the notes pretty much fall over themselves. There were some very pretty sounds where needed and real intensity, particularly in Parade. Hyejin was excellent too. The piano part is no mere support in this piece. It’s challenging and demands real partnership with the singer. All in all, it was a performance that made one forget that these two have only been in the program for a year.
Things are really starting to slow down so this will be the last “upcoming” post before the summer lull when this feature will go on hiatus. Next week there’s the final vocal concert of the season in the RBA. It’s on Tuesday at noon when Karine Boucher will perform Ravel’s Shéhérazade with Charles Sy joining in with Britten’s Les Illuminations. On Sunday 21st at 5pm in Mazzoleni Hall, Christina Campsall has a recital of 20th century works including the challenging Messiaen piece, Poèmes pour Mi. It’s free.
We were back at the COC last night for the first performance of Carmen by the alternative cast. (First cast review) As so often seems to be the case with these double cast shows it felt almost like a different production. The biggest differences are produced by the new Don José, David Pomeroy, and the new Carmen, Clémentine Margaine. Pomeroy is a very decent singer but he doesn’t have the ease, power and bloom of Russell Thomas. What he does have is vastly superior acting chops. His Don José is a believably complex human being. We can see his decline from rather boring and provincially stuck up into despair(1). It’s palpable. Margaine’s Carmen is a similar story. Her voice isn’t as big or dark as Anita Rashvelishvili(2) but she’s much more physical on stage. Further, Pomeroy and Margaine are much more credible as a couple. The net result is the drama that was rather missing in the first two acts on Sunday. The price is not hearing two absolutely incredibly beautiful voices.
Once a season the young artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio get to perform one of the company’s productions on the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre. Last night it was the Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro. I’ve said enough about the production already here and here so let’s cut to the chase.
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA involved members of the cast of the Ensemble Studio performance of Marriage of Figaro in a semi-staged series of excerpts from the opera. The Ensemble Studio annual stage performance is always worth seeing and this year I think it’s going to be a real treat. Highlights today included Gordon Bintner’s Count. The guy can sing but here there was a swagger that should be just perfect for the Guth production. Jacquie Woodley’s Cherubino was utterly brilliant. Aviva Fortunata nailed Porgi amor, so often a disappointment I find. And I really liked Karine Boucher’s Susanna. She’s not always been a favourite of mine but her slightly dark for a soprano tone seemed really well suited to this music and blended especially well with Aviva. Ian MacNeil impressed too as Figaro, though it’s a role that’s a bit downplayed by this production, and I shall be curious to see what he does with it in the full version. Megan Latham, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Aaron Sheppard rounded out today’s cast with the indefatigable Hyejin Kwon on piano. If you don’t yet have tickets for the performance on the 22nd I strongly suggest getting some. They are only $22 or $55 for the best seats. As Claire Morley said in her introduction this could be an event that’s talked of for years to come.
As previously revealed the line up for last night’s Centre Stage; the COC’s gala competition cum Ensemble Studio final audition featured four mezzos, two sopranos and two baritones. Not a tenor to be had. As was the case two years ago the competition was split into two parts; a late afternoon session for an invited audience and an early evening public session separated by a cocktail reception. Each singer presented one aria in each session. Accompaniment was provided by the COC Orchestra with music director Johannes Debus.
Yesterday saw the first free concert of the season in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It was a chance to see the 2015/16 Ensemble Studio; two new singers, one new pianist and six singers and a pianist from last year. The format was one aria per singer with few surprises. We also got to hear the core quartet casting for the Ensemble Studio performance of Le Nozze di Figaro later in the season. No surprises there either; Il Conte – Gordon Bintner, Iain MacNeil – Figaro, La Contessa – Aviva Fortunata, Susanna – Karine Boucher. That leaves four tenors for the other roles…
The Ensemble Studio got to do their thing last night with their annual main stage performance; this year, of course, Joan Font’s production of The Barber of Seville. This year only one role was split; Andrew Haji singing Almaviva in Act 1 with Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure coming off the bench for the second half. The other main roles went to Clarence Frazer as Figaro, Charlott Burrage as Rosina, Iain McNeil as Doctor Bartolo, Gordon Bintner as Don Basilio and Karine Boucher as Berta. Ringer Jan Vaculik sang both Fiorello and the Officer.
This morning I went to the COC website to see what Josh Hopkins would be singing at lunchtime. Bottom line, he wasn’t. His recital had been replaced by a hastily put together program of pieces to be sung by Owen McCausland, Karine Boucher and Aviva Fortunata. Given that Liz Upchurch said it was pieces they were looking for an audience for I’d guess it’s audition/competition rep that they are working on and therefore, to some extent, work in progress.
Yesterday lunchtime the Ensemble Studio gave us a preview of their upcoming performance of the Barber of Seville. The production, of course, will be the one currently on stage at the Four Seasons Centre and there were clear echoes of that in the way yesterday’s event was put on though they also played with the fact that Almaviva will be split between Andrew Haji and Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure with much pulling and pushing into place.