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.


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

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Don’t take that baritone with me!


Probably not

To the Four Season’s Centre last night to check out one of the COC’s adult education events.  This time it was about the baritone voice in all its aspects and featured Liz Upchurch at the piano and, mostly, doing the talking with Ensemble Studio members Sam Chan and Bruno Roy plus ES graduate Neil Craighead back in Toronto to sing Ceprano (not soprano) in Rigoletto doing some singing.

Besides the singing, of which more later, I think there were two takeaways from the evening though it was not actually divided up that way.  One, fascinating, dealt with the development of the voice and the sheer number of years it takes for bigger voices to more or less grow up.  Also, how do you develop and stretch the voice while staying vocally healthy.  Neil is 34 and his voice is really just beginning to get where one can see it going, which is likely big to very big.  Sam and Bruno, much younger, are still going through the process of figuring out what Fach (see below) they really are.  This seems to happen to everyone except maybe genuine basses, high sopranos and the really obvious tenors.  It was pretty cool for instance to heat Bruno sing a tenor aria though not, of course, something like Pour mon âme.

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Uncle John

Against the Grain Theatre opened their new show last night on the worst day of the winter so far.  Over 15cm of snow fell and the TTC was in utter chaos.  It’s becoming a habit.  Last year’s Messiah opened in weather almost as bad.  Uncle John is the latest modern, Toronto based, adaptation of the Mozart/da Ponte trilogy.  It follows on from last season’s smash hit Figaro’s Wedding and was created and produced with support from the COC and the Banff Centre.  It will be followed by A Little Too Cosy next season.  The formula is basically the same.  It;s ataged in a non traditional spave; in this case a rock concert venue on Queen West.  The libretto is in English and differs in detail from da Ponte while respecting the basic spirit of the original.  It’s also very Toronto and a little bit Toronto opera scene insiderish.  Much of the recitative is replaced by spoken dialogue.  There’s no chorus and accompaniment to the singers is provided by piano and string quartet.  It’s a musical solution I like.  It adds enough weight and colour that one hardly misses the full orchestra while being, of course, much more affordable.  It all works really well and if you can you should see it.  I’m putting my more detailed thoughts under the cut because they contain lots of spoilers which you may not want to read if you are going.

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The one we’ve all been waiting for

unclejohnSo Toronto’s hottest indie opera company, Against the Grain Theatre, has finally announced a 14/15 season.  Not entirely unexpectedly they are bringing #UncleJohn; a transladaptation (©Lydia Perovic) of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to Toronto after it’s successful appearance in Banff this summer.  With a new English libretto by Joel Ivany, #UncleJohn will be staged at The Black Box Theatre at 1087 Queen St. West’s vintage rock venue, The Great Hall. .

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On to Toronto

tcherniakovThe Tcherniakov Don Giovanni that I just finished watching on Blu-ray is a Canadian Opera Company co-production so, sooner or later, it should end up in Toronto.  That will be interesting.  There’s a very conservative streak in the Toronto audience and, especially, among the critics for the major newspapers.  These are people who are disturbed by Robert Carsen and go apopleptic over Chris Alden.  It will be most interesting to see what the reaction is to something like Tcherniakov’s interpretation, even though it’s not that radical by European standards.

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Quilico Awards 2013

Last night, for the second time (the first was in 2011) the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio competed for the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards; a prize competition created by Christina in memory of her husband, baritone Louis.  It was the usual competition format; the singers offer three arias, they sing one and then the judges choose which of the remaining two they will sing.  It being the Ensemble Studio on show the standard was extremely high.  Nine singers and eighteen arias is too much to report in detail so I’ll concentrate on the winners.


Alan Walker of the Ontario Arts Foundation, Christina Quilico and the Ensemble Studio

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Sic Semper Tyrannis

12-13-E-04-MC-D-0071 Last night saw the COC Ensemble Studio’s annual main stage performance.  This year it was Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito in a Christopher Alden production.  It’s a somewhat quirky production that I haven’t fully digested yet and may need to wait until after seeing the main cast on the 22nd to come to a more considered view.  My initial reaction is that it has a lot of interesting ideas, maybe one or two misguided ones and that the whole thing, while interesting, isn’t completely coherent.  That said, Alden productions often seem more coherent second time around.  And whatever I might think of the production, it didn’t distract from some very fine performances.

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First of the year

Cameron McPhail - Photo by Chris Hutchson- Jan 8 2013Yesterday saw the first free lunchtime concert of 2013 at the Four Seasons Centre.  Five singers from the COC’s Ensemble Studio gave us a programme of works by Mozart and Salieri, mostly comparative rarities.  I enjoy hearing the singers of the Ensemble Studio because it’s not just a chance to hear some good singing but also to see how voices are developing and make some guesses about whether one is seeing a future star.

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New additions to the COC Ensemble Studio

The COC today announced six new singers will join the Ensemble Studio for the 2013/14 season.  If you read my review of the Ensemble Studio competition in November you’ll not be surprised.  The three prize winners; bass-baritone Gordon Bintner, tenor Andrew Haji and mezzo Charlotte Burrage are among the six as is my pick, dramatic soprano Aviva Fortunata.  The remaining two are baritone Clarence Frazer and mezzo Danielle MacMillan who were also quite impressive in the competition.

The Ensemble Studio is losing Mireille Asselin, Neil Craighead, Rihab Chaieb, Chris Enns and Ambur Braid as well as both pianists; Timothy Cheung and Jenna Douglas, at the end of this season though all of them can be seen in some capacity in La Clemenza di Tito next month.  Rihab is also appearing in Dialogues of the Carmelites in the spring.  There’s no word on new non-singing talent for Ensemble.  I’m going to be really interested to see what’s next for these guys.  We’ve had some good times together.

Full COC Press Release