The Brothers Grimm hits 500

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!

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The review – COC Studio Ensemble in concert

(front row, l-r): Ambur Braid and Cameron McPhail; (second row, l-r): Jenna Douglas, Claire de Sévigné and Mireille Asselin; (third row, l-r): Neil Craighead, Owen McCausland and Sasha Djihanian; (fourth row, l-r): Rihab Chaieb and Timothy Cheung. Photo: Chris Hutcheson

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.

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COC Ensemble Studio – Works by female composers

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.

Nature or nurture?

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.

Another lunchtime concert

Another excellent lunchtime concert at the Four Seasons Centre. This time it was more of the Ensemble Studio with an all Mozart programme. It was consistently very good indeed.

First up Ileana Montalbetti sang the virtuoso concert aria Bella mia famma, addio!. Ileana has an amazingly powerful voice for a young singer and as I was sitting about ten feet away from her I practically got blown away. Lovely work! I really look forward to seeing how her voice matures.

Next Jacqueline Woodley sang two movements from the Exsultate, Jubilate. She is a very winning singer with an infectious enthusiasm and a great sense of comic timing that was better displayed in Batti, batti, o bel Masetto and especially in the duet La ci darem la mano which she sang with Neil Craighead. The duet was very funny indeed. I wonder if I’m the only person who thinks Jacqueline looks a bit like a young Miranda Richardson.

Besides the duet with Jacqueline, Neil sang Madamina, il catalogo e questo, again with very nice comic touches as well as power and beauty of tone. He grows on me. He closed out the concert with a rarity, Per questa bella mano which is a virtuoso concert aria for bass-baritone with an equally virtuosic bass obbligato, provided on this occasion by Alan Molitz.

Before Neil closed things out we also heard the slightly terrifying Ambur Braid sing Non mir dir and the fiendish concert aria Vorrei spiegarvi, o dio. Ambur is definitely at her best in the batshit insane soprano repertoire. She’s agile and accurate and nails the high notes and difficult runs. I wish I liked the colour of her voice better. If she could also pull off a real richness or sweetness of tone she’d be set for superstardom. As it is I find her tone colour a bit harsh and metallic though still very impressive.

Anne Larlee was at the piano and excellent as always.

For added operatic squee bonus points I got to meet Simone Osborne who previously I’ve engaged with a little on Twitter but never met. She is lovely and I’m so glad that her career is starting to take off.