The Christina and Louis Quilico Awards are a singing competition for members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. This year’s edition took place early yesterday evening in the RBA. Only five members of the Ensemble Studio were competing. Megan Quick and Sam Pickett were not for reasons that I don’t think were announced and Aaron Sheppard was sick. So it was a pretty brief affair. The format as usual was that each contestant offered three arias and got to sing the one of their choice with the judges choosing which of the other two they should sing.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA was dedicated to the late Stuart Hamilton, founding director of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Current members, mezzo Emily D’Angelo and baritone Bruno Roy, each gave us two sets of French songs accompanied respectively by Hyejin Kwon and Stéphane Mayer. Ms. D’Angelo gave us Débussy’s Chansons de Bilitis and the curiously Débussy like Trois Mélodies by Messiaen. Both sets are quite meditative and impressionistic and Ms. D’Angelo’s very beautiful voice suited them well. There’s more there than beauty of tone. She’s showing some interesting, very mezzoish, colours in the voice now and there’s clearly plenty of power in reserve as she showed on a couple of occasions. It’s so easy to forget how young she is when a performance is this accomplished. Ms. Kwon was a sympathetic accompanist.
And so to the boys who gave us Poulenc’s La fraîcheur et le feu and Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. The Poulenc piece rather races along with the piano part, impressively played by Mayer, often much more interesting than the vocal line. Roy was at his best in the more hectic passages where his diction and command of French were at a premium. When the music became more expansive he didn’t quite seem able to expand with it; the voice lacking bloom in both upper and lower registers and with no real sense of some underlying power. This was more of a handicap in the Don Quichotte songs. Roy managed some decent physical and vocal acting, especially in the drinking song, but there just wasn’t enough heft to put in the swagger required in these pieces.
Prior to the performances, the COC’s Janet Stubbs made a short speech in memory of Stuart which managed, in a very brief span, to convey both the impact he had on the Canadian and wider opera scene and a sense of his more endearing eccentricities.
Tomorrow (Sunday) is a busy day. There’s a matinée of Götterdämmerung at the COC with a few tickets still available. UoT Opera is doing their annual student composer piece. This year it’s called Prima Zombie and it’s based on the premise that a cabal of disgruntled music critics, disenchanted with the current state of opera, unearth and electrify the corpse of the celebrated 19th century diva Nellie Melba. Mayhem ensues. This one is in the MacMillan Theatre at 2.30 pm and it’s free.
The tenth season at the Four Seasons Centre opened with the, by now traditional, lunchtime concert by the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Six of the eight singers and one of the two pianists are new recruits which is unusual and more of a chance to level set than see how anyone has developed.
The final concert of the year involving members of the Ensemble Studio took place yesterday in the RBA. First up were Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon with Britten’s Les Illuminations. This is a formidable challenge for both singer and pianist and we were treated to a performance of real intensity and maturity. Charles seemed to be sufficiently in technical command of the material to let himself go a bit and have some fun with the more ironic bits of Rimbaud’s rather extraordinary text. His French diction was more than good enough for this, even in the places where the notes pretty much fall over themselves. There were some very pretty sounds where needed and real intensity, particularly in Parade. Hyejin was excellent too. The piano part is no mere support in this piece. It’s challenging and demands real partnership with the singer. All in all, it was a performance that made one forget that these two have only been in the program for a year.
Lunchtime saw the annual concert featuring visiting members of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. It turned into something of a Donizettifest. First up was soprano Cécile Muhire with Adina’s aria Prendi, per me sei libero. This was quite competently sung though she seemed very nervous. The nerves seemed to vanish though when she was joined by her Nemorino, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, for the duet when he tries the elixir. One of the things that has always struck me about the Ensemble Studio is how quickly it teaches singers to have stage presence. J-P was a very funny, rather drunk, Nemorino and his swagger seemed to rub off on Cécile who looked much more at home in this number.
Ensemble Studio tenors, like saints’ noses, only seem to come in multipacks these days. There are four of them until the end of the season and today they were all on show in the RBA. It was clearly a popular move as the good folks were lined up outside almost to Richmond Street before the doors opened and they didn’t all get in. Maybe it was the beards. Are bearded tenors the new black? The program was fairly predictable. Andrew Haji , Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Aaron Sheppard each gave us a well known and popular aria, with two from Charles Sy, before we got to the inevitable arrangements for four voices of three Neapolitan songs and, of course, the encores.