Poetic Echoes: A Britten Celebration

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.

Photo: Karen Reeves

Photo: Karen Reeves

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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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Sérénade Française

John Terauds may have proclaimed the death of the art song recital in Toronto, and he may even have a point about recitals with high ticket prices, but the line up outside the Four Seasons Centre yesterday for a recital of French chansons rather suggests that the taste for the form has not gone away.  The admirably chosen programme of songs, mainly by Poulenc with some Ravel and Milhaud thrown in, was performed by members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio.

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Upcoming events

sellarsThere a couple or three things coming up in Toronto that might be of interest to readers.

On Sunday 27th January at 2pm Russell Braun and Rihab Chaieb are giving a recital of German songs in the Glenn Gould Studio.  Tickets are $60 but only $25 for under 25s.

The following evening Peter Sellars is giving a talk on his production of Tristan und Isolde at the Toronto Reference Library.  This one is free but ticketed.  Tickets are available from the TPL website.

And in free RBA noon concert news, on 24th January Sasha Djihanian and Cameron McPhail with pianists Timothy Cheung and Jenna Douglas are offering up Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées and Schumann’s Dichterliebe.

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


virginiaIt’s pretty Grimm in Toronto these days.  Friday will see the 500th performance of Dean Burry’s 1999 opera for children The Brothers Grimm.  Now, 500 performances for any recent opera is pretty remarkable.  500 performances for a Canadian work is extraordinary.  Anyway, in the lead up to Friday there are a number of events scheduled including a concert yesterday lunchtime in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre with a Grimm theme.

Eric Domville introduced the music.  He gave us a disquisition on the Grimm brothers, philology, the Great German Dictionary, folk tales and the oral tradition, his childhood, Romanticism as a reaction to Enlightenment, the plot of several folk tales in their English, French and German incarnations and a potted summary of the cultural, political and religious state of Germany in the mid 19th century.  It was perhaps just a teeny bit more than one resally needed to explain three arias from Hansel and Gretel and one from Königskinder.  Continue reading

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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