Ensemble Studio Competition 2019

The Ensemble Studio Competition again last night.  Seven singers were competing with Ben Heppner’s jokes for cash prizes, champagne and, possibly, a place in the COC Ensemble Studio.  There’s one thing I think is vital to understand about the Ensemble Studio Competition.  The judges have been working with the singers for a week.  The audience gets to hear them sing one aria.  It’s easy to see why there isn’t always concurrence between the hall and the judging table.  (That’s my excuse anyway).

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The contestants with Alexander Neef and Johannes Debus

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Centre Stage line up

The Canadian Opera Company’s ninth annual Ensemble Studio Competition is being held on October 30, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The 2019  finalists are: sopranos Kirsten LeBlanc (Moncton, NB), Midori Marsh (Cleveland, Ohio), and Charlotte Siegel (Toronto, ON); mezzo-soprano Sarah Bissonnette (Boucherville, QC); tenor Marcel d’Entremont (Merigomish, NS); bass-baritone Alex Halliday (St. John’s, NL); and bass Brenden Friesen (Langham, SK).

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Blitzkrieg Cabaret

What better way to celebrate Kurt Weill’s birthday than listening to his songs, cabaret style, with a beer or three.  Well that’s what we did on Saturday as Blitzkrieg Cabaret opened a new run of Saturday afternoon shows at the Dakota Tavern.

We got three singers; Danie Friesen, Hilary June Hart, Jackson Welchner supported by Nick Donovan (drums), Colin Frotten (piano), and Andrew Downing (bass) with Hilary also chipping in on the accordion on occasion.  While Danie is a classically trained singer, Hilary and Jackson sound more comfortable in a jazzier idiom.  That, plus the make up of the band meant that the show tended to the “Sinatraesque” version of Weill rather than, say, the grittiness of Pabst’s Dreigroschenoper movie.  This was reflected in both choice of translation and performing style.  I think this works for some of Weill’s stuff but it doesn’t work for me so well with the Brecht lyrics.  I’ll go for Marx over McCarthy anytime!  Other people may feel differently.

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Don Giovanni at UoT Opera

The Opera Division’s fall production this year is Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Marilyn Gronsdal.  Let’s start with the production.  The sets are all paper and boxes with a few props and the costuming is 1940s.  The aesthetic is film noir.  There are trilbies and Don Ottavio is packing a piece in a shoulder holster.  It set, for me and my companion at least, an expectation that this would be a “film noir production” but although there were nods in that direction; Leporello as the comic sidekick, statuette of the Commendatore as the murder weapon for example, the idea wasn’t really developed at all.  Instead we got a very straightforward narrative with the a few twists.  Gronsdal included a chorus of silent women who comment on the action (didn’t she do this in Saskatoon as well?) and Don Giovanni isn’t dragged down to Hell.

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Golden Age of Opera

Such was the title of yesterday’s performance by the UoT Opera ‘s performance in the RBA.  Now personally I don’t subscribe to the notion of the 19th century (ugh!) as a “golden age” of anything but yesterday suggested that the UoT program, if not quite in golden age territory is going through a bit of a purple patch.  This was, I think, the best student performance overall that I have heard in the last two or three years.

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UoT Opera season opener

As has become the norm, UoT Opera opened their concert season with a free “preview” of their spring show in the RBA at noon today.  It was a series of Mozart scenes which were given semi-staged today but will, in the fullness of time, form a staged and costumed performance.  It’s always an interesting event because it’s so early in the academic year.  It’s the first chance to try and talent spot and see how things develop over the rest of the cycle.  As such, it’s often a bit rough but today really wasn’t.  It was a surprisingly high quality across the board effort which augurs well.  That said, it was all ensembles and nobody was asked to pull out vocal fireworks so maybe not the sternest test imaginable which makes star picking that bit trickier.

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