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.
It’s that time of year again at UoT when the respective winners of the Norcop song prize and the Williams Koldofsdky prize for accompanying collaborate in a lunchtime recital. This year’s winners were mezzo Simona Genga and pianist Jialiang Zhu who gave us a program of songs by Schoenberg, Freedman, Berlioz and Santoliquido. The Vier Lieder Op. 2 of Schoenberg are extremely lyrical though with a rather complex and involved piano part. They played to the strengths of both musicians. Taken at fairly slow tempi they allowed Simona to show off the beauty and ease of her voice all through the registers combined with terrific breath control and spot on German diction while Jialiang had something fairly virtuosic to display her skills.
There are some pretty silly opera plots. Donizetti’s Emilia di Liverpool comes to mind but the Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing probably tops even the thundering torrents of the Mersey as it descends from the Cheshire Alps for silliness. Basically one John P. Wintergreen is a candidate for POTUS. His campaign gimmick is that he will marry whoever wins a beauty contest, held naturally enough, in Noo Joysy. Unfortunately(?) he falls in love with the homelier corn muffin maven Mary Turner and marries her instead. He duly gets elected but diplomatic complications with the French follow when it is revealed that the pageant winner; Diana Devereaux of Louisiana is the “illegitimate daughter of the illegitimate son of the illegitimate nephew of Napoleon”. Impeachment proceedings follow but, of course, there’s a happy ending. Along the way almost every US institution and region gets gently pilloried and the jokes are even funnier because what might have seemed risque in 1930 seems “business as usual” now, as when three White House interns sing about how the Presidential Mansion is the safest place in America for a young girl…
Not much sign of spring as we move into the second half of the month but there are some things musical to enjoy while we await the return of the sun. On March 18th at 2pm in Mazzoleni Hall there is You’re Welcome Rossini with the glamorous duo of Allyson McHardy and, the not seen often enough in Toronto, Lucia Cesaroni. This one is officially sold out but there may be rushes. Ten bucks says they do the Cat duet. Continue reading →
The COC has announced four additions to the COC Ensemble Studio for 2018/19. I don’t think there any surprises. The three prize winners from last season’s Centre Stage are joined by Lauren Margison, daughter of Richard and currently with the Atelier Lyrique in Montreal. Just for fun I researched how long the four had been on the OR radar. The most recent is Montreal based soprano Anna-Sophie Neher who was unknown to me until Centre Stage. Next would be mezzo Simona Genga; UoT graduate and top prize winner at Centre Stage. She first appeared in these pages in a review of a UoT concert in 2016. Bass-baritone Joel Allison has been on the watch list for a while. He first showed up in a review of a Talisker Players concert in March 2015 and I’ve followed him closely ever since, including his Norcop Prize winner recital. But by far the longest history goes to soprano Lauren Margison who I first wrote about as a 19 year old singing with her dad in the RBA in 2011! I wonder whether that record, seven years from first appearing in OR to joining the Ensemble Studio, will ever be broken. For the record, graduating this summer are Samantha Pickett, Megan Quick, Bruno Roy and Toronto’s favourite naked soprano Danika Lorèn.
So last night was this year’s iteration of the COC’s glitzy competition with cash and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake. It’s a bit of a weird thing to write about because the public, and this year the media, only see a fraction of what the judges are judging. We saw each singer do one aria. There had been a closed round earlier in the day to which, unlike in previous years, the media were not invited. Then there’s what the judges have seen in rehearsal, reputation etc. All in all what happens on the night influences the outcome about as much as at an Olympic figure skating event. So, in many ways it’s surprising that my picks were as close to the judges as they were.
The contestants for this years Centre Stage; the competition for places in the COC’s Ensemble Studio have been announced. They are bass-baritone Joel Allison (Ottawa); tenor Matthew Dalen (Grande Prairie, Alta.); mezzo-soprano Simona Genga(Woodbridge, Ont.); soprano Natalie Image (Tsawwassen, B.C.); soprano Chelsea Rus (Abbotsford, B.C.); soprano Anna-Sophie Neher (Gatineau, Que.); and baritone Jonah Spungin (Ottawa). I’ve seen a fair bit of Allison, Rus, Dalen and Genga and I am absolutely not surprised at all that they are competing. They are all very promising young singers. I’m looking forward to hearing the others.
This year the judging panel includes regulars Alexander Neef, Roberto Mauro, Liz Upchurch, Wendy Nielsen and Nina Draganić but this year they will be joined by the extraordinary Mary Morrison, whose talent spotting credits include one Barbara Hannigan. Centre Stage is at the Four Seasons Centre on November 1st with the reception at 5.30pm and the competition starting at 6.30pm.