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.
Yesterday 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.
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.
Dean Burry’s opera for children The Brothers Grimm had its 500th performance last night at the shiny new Ada Slaight Hall at the Daniels Spectrum in the revitalised Regent’s Park neighbourhood. It’s a work that premiered in 2001 and has been a staple of the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour ever since. It’s played an important role in developing young Canadian singers as performers as evidenced by the fact that the original cast brothers were Joseph Kaiser and David Pomeroy. 500 performances!
So, as promised here are my thoughts on yesterday’s Ensemble Studio recital at the Four Seasons Centre. It’s always interesting to see the Ensemble Studio together; to see how returning members have developed since last heard and to hear the newcomers. This is what we got.
Soprano Claire de Sévigné gave us “Chacun le sait” from La fille du régiment. It’s a good piece for a young singer and shee sang it with spirit and enthusiasm and acted with gusto. Perfectly idiomatic French too of course. She has a lovely voice and is clearly one to watch.
It feels good to be back listening to live music after a bit of a drought. Today I was at a lunchtime recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre given by members of the Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble. It was very good indeed. I want to start with the undoubted highlight; Jacqueline Woodley‘s performance of Judith Weir’s piece for unaccompanied soprano, King Harald’s Saga. It’s a complex, fascinating and very difficult piece requiring the singer to switch between voices and to pull off a range of singing styles. Woodley was awesome. I’ve heard her now in quite a few contemporary pieces, though perhaps none as hard as this, and she has always impressed.
Almost as impressive was Ileana Montalbetti’s performance of Libby Larsen’s Donal Oge. It’s a work that requires considerable power from the singer and Ileana, unsurprisingly delivered. She’s got a big voice and she knows how to use it. Neil Craighead gave us two songs by Cecile Chaminade. He sounds a good deal more powerful than last time I heard him. He has a lovely tone and now the power too. He hasn’t quite got the knack of throttling it back yet but that will come I expect. We also got some fiendishly difficult Alma Mahler songs which clearly taxed tenor Chris Enns. They would have taxed anyone I think. Mireille Asselin gave a pleasing unaccompanied performance of a piece from Hildegard von Bingen and the programme was rounded out by two duets by Fanny Hensel sung by Asselin and Craighead and Montalbetti and Enns.
The pianists were the excellent Jenna Douglas and the even more impressive Timothy Cheung. All in all, this was as good a concert as I have heard in the COC’s free lunchtime series.
The Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio; its young artists training programme, has an exchange with the equivalent in Montreal. This week the Montrealers are in town and there was a lunch time concert featuring four singers from each programme. Being a big fan of the Ensemble Studio I went along to see how the products of the two programmes compared. I don’t know whether the Toronto programme is harder to get into or provides a more rigorous experience or, likely, both, but in terms of musicianship, stage presence and generally readiness to meet the world, the Toronto singers outclassed the Montrealers. I don’t want to write negatively about young singers who are working really hard so I’m only going to talk positives. The best of the Montrealers was soprano Chantale Nurse. She has a dramatic voice with a pronounced vibrato that was heard to good effect in a Massenet aria; “Il est doux, il est bon” from Herodiade and she was fine in the Mozart ensemble pieces. If her voice continues to develop and gain power she could do very well. I just can’t see the other three progressing to major professional careers. Of the Toronto based perfomers, one of the stand outs, unsurprisingly, was mezzo Wallis Giunta, who is heading for the Met next season. She will likely be a great success in mezzo trouser roles and today did very well with some of Dorabella’s music from Cosi as well as as Annio in La Clemenza di Tito. The other star was Adrian Kramer who continues to develop as a baritone with a leaning to comedy. He’s making a name for himself as Sid in Albert Herring in various locations and the excerpt he sang today shows why; excellent comic timing and presence coupled to a voice that is getting bigger. I’ve heard him sing Papageno from Ring 5 at the Four Seasons Centre so I know the power is there! Locals Neil Craighead and Jacqueline Woodley did fine in more Mozart excerpts and it rather sums things up to say that Jacqueline, as Zerlina, rather outsung her Montreal Don Giovanni.