I caught the second performance of the current run of Carmen at the COC this afternoon. It’s a revival of the production previously seen in 2010 but with, we are told, debuting director Joel Ivany being given some freedom to change things up a bit. Obviously he was mostly constrained to use the existing sets and costumes which, for reasons that escape me, transplants the piece to 1940s Cuba which was, as far as I know, markedly short of both gypsies and bull fights but there you go. Actually it matters scarcely at all because both sets and costumes are generic scruffy Hispanic and could be anywhere from Leon to Lima. For the first two acts too the blocking and Personenregie is pretty standard too. It’s all really down to the chemistry between the singers and the quality of the acting and neither is anything to write home about. It says a lot when Frasquita is scene stealing. Fortunately it livens up a lot after the interval. The third act is atmospheric and Micaëla’s aria is deeply touching and for the first time I felt genuine emotion. It gets even better after that with a really effective use of the whole auditorium for the parade which had much of the audience clapping along and a clever stage set up for the crowd during the final confrontation scene. I don’t think it’s a production for the ages but it’s better than merely serviceable and I’ve seen much worse Carmens. And, frankly, it’s simply not realistic to expect one of the season’s cash cows to push the envelope very far.
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.
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.
Each year, round about now, the COC stages a lunchtime concert or two featuring departing members of the Ensemble Studio singing music that has special meaning for them. Yesterday we heard Clarence Frazer and Charlotte Burrage with Jennifer Szeto at the piano.
Last night in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio competed for the Quilico awards for the third time in this format. Owen McAusland was off singing in Lucia di Lammermoor in Victoria and Andrew Haji was down with the flu so seven singers actually sang. As usual the standard was very high and it can’t have been easy for the judges. Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Ian MacNeil had a bit of an off night but that left five singers who I has extremely close on my notes. No permutation of three from five would have particularly surprised me.
Iain MacNeil, Aviva Fortunata, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Karine Boucher, Clarence Frazer, Charlotte Burrage, Gordon Bintner, Jennifer Szeto and Michael Shannon
Yesterday lunchtime saw the first free lunchtime concert of the season in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Following tradition, it was presented by the members of the Ensemble Studio. Or, to be more accurate, by six of the nine as an unprecedented three singers had fallen victim to the virus that is apparently sweeping the Toronto opera world (HighCbola?).
Credit: (l-r) Jennifer Szeto, Andrew Haji, Karine Boucher, Charlotte Burrage, Clarence Frazer, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Iain MacNeil. Photo: Karen Reeves
I only managed to get to the first half of yesterday’s Ensemble Studio lunchtime concert. It was Brahm’s Liebeslieder-Walzer Op. 52 performed by Claire de Sévigné, Charlotte Burrage, Andrew Haji and Gordon Bintner with Liz Upchurch and Michael Shannon providing the four handed accompaniment. I’m not a huge Brahms fan and this was pretty much that late 19th century sentimental stuff I don’t really get; somewhat schmaltzy waltz rhythms setting somewhat schmaltzy texts. It was well done though. Haji, in particular, sang with a fine attack and the different voice combinations made interesting contrasts. I thought the music came off best when the girls sang together and when the guys sang together. Both pairs have voices quite different in timbre and blended to good effect. The more complex four voice sections seemed to come a bit unstuck in the RBA. I’m 99% sure it was the acoustic not the singers but certainly textures got quite muddy at times. The accompaniment was, unsurprisingly, very good indeed. Work pressures meant I had to leave before the second half of the programme which featured John Greer’s Liebesleid-Lieder.
Once a year the COC Ensemble Studio get to show their talents on the big stage with a fully staged performance of a current production. This year’s choice of Atom Egoyan’s production of Così fan tutte was a good one. It showcased the talents of the singers really well and by using a different quartet of lovers in each act they were able to provide substantive roles for all the singers of the ensemble. I won’t dwell on the production as I have already reviewed it. The only changes I noted were a few change ups on the visual gags and that the “Albanians” kept their disguises on for quite a lot longer than with the main cast. So, how about the performances?
Today’s lunchtime concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre featured members of the COC Studio Ensemble performing extracts from Act 1 of Così fan tutte as a teaser for their performance of Atom Egoyan’s production on February 7th. This promises to beeven more confusing than usual as the young lover roles are all being shared to accommodate everyone. Today, Clraence Frazer and Danielle MacMillan being sick we had but one Guglielmo, Cameron McPhail, and one Dorabella, Charlotte Burrage. Andrew Haji and Owen McAusland alternated as Ferrando and Sasha Djihanian and Aviva Fortunata doubled Fiordiligi (those two, at least, are easy to tell apart). Gordon Bintner sang Don Alphonso and Claire de Sévigné played Despina.
Yesterday’s free concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre saw four members of the Ensemble Studio singing contrasting works by Benjamin Britten. First up was bass-baritone Gordon Bintner with excerpts from Tit for Tat; settings of works by Walter de la Mare. These were full blooded performances and Bintner gave full reign to his powerful and flexible voice. It’s a terrific instrument but I would have preferred a little more restraint and subtlety, especially in something as intimate as these pieces. Next up was tenor Andrew Haji with excerpts from Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo. It was rather a similar story. He has a fine, operatic voice and gave the songs a rather operatic treatment. It was good singing but not in the idiom one is accustomed to hearing this music sung in.