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.
Liz Upchurch has now been head of the COC Ensemble Studio for twenty years. To put that in perspective, Alain Coulombe was an Ensemble Studio member back then. So Liz has deeply influenced a whole generation of Canadian singers and it was fitting that there should be a concert in her honour in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s named for the man who brought her to the COC and it’s been the venue for countless concerts by the Mama Bear’s cubs.
This was baritone Sam Chan and pianist Stéphane Mayer’s farewell to the Ensemble Studio. It was an all Schubert program; Poetisches Tagebuch (Schulze), the Impromptu in G flat and the Goethe Lieder. It was a very classy performance by any standards. There was no need here to make allowances for “young artists”. One would have been happy to pay Koerner Hall prices to hear a recital of this quality.
Off I went to the Four Seasons Centre to see Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer perform some Schubert. Sadly Sam was indisposed so what we got was a hastily, but very well, constructed program featuring some of the other singers in the Ensemble Studio.
Things kicked off with the increasingly impressive Anne-Sophie Neher in an accomplished rendering of Mozart’s “show off” piece Exsultate jubilate, in which she showed very decent control in the rather fiendish runs. She was back later with “The Presentation of the Rose” from Der Rosenkavalier which sounded suitably Straussian and sufficiently girlish at the same time. Nicely done. She made a third appearance with one of Adèles’s arias from Le comte Ory. This didn’t quite do it for me but it was fun to hear Stéphane playing around with the very Rossiniesque accompaniment.
No big surprises in the announcement of new members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It’s the three prize winners from last year’s Centre Stage; tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian and mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote. Also joining is pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway. Cairns and Groote are UoT grads and are well known to many Toronto opera goers through their appearances in UoT productions and elsewhere. Gabrielian is a Toronto native but studied at the Curtis so is not so well known. It will be interesting to get to know him.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA, the first I’ve been to in a while, featured the five members of the Orchestra Academy; violinists Joella Pinto and Gloria Yip, violist Carolyn Farnand and cellists Erin Patterson and Alison Rich, with Joel Allison and Samuel Chan and Rachael Kerr on keyboards. It was an interesting concert in many ways. We don’t get to see the young instrumentalists much nor do we often see Ensemble members sing with a chamber ensemble. It was also interesting to hear the contrast between Joel’s dark toned bass-baritone, often singing in a very low tessitura, with Sam’s much brighter, lighter baritone which sometimes was well up in tenor territory.
Centre Stage is the COC’s annual gala/competition with cash prizes and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake. Last night eight young singers competed. The format was one aria before the reception; for judges and invited guests, and one after; for all the punters. So here, in the order they sang in the first half are my thoughts.