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).
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).
The seven finalists for the COC’s Centre Stage have been announced. Centre Stage is a singing competition and gals that serves as a sort of final audition for the following year’s Ensemble Studio, a contest for cash prizes and a beano for the rich. This year it’s being held on November 3rd when, unfortunately, I shall be overseas. So, no report here. The finalists are baritone Samuel Chan (Calgary); soprano Maria Lacey (St. John’s, N.L.); soprano Myriam Leblanc (Saint-Lazare, Que.); soprano Andrea Lett (Prince Albert, Sask.); mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh(Vancouver); soprano Andrea Núñez (Markham, Ont.); and baritone Geoffrey Schellenberg (Vancouver).
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Peter-Anthony Togni’s Responsio is sub-titled “A contemporary response to Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame” and that is exactly what it is. It weaves sections of Machaut’s 14th century mass with sections designated “Response one”, “response two” etc. which are a kind of commentary on Machaut’s music. What’s really interesting though is the way Togni arranges the source material. It’s scored for soprano, mezzo, two tenors and bass clarinet. The use of high voices seems to emphasise the originality of Machaud’s music, which must have sounded pretty radical to its original audience, and facilitates him somewhat twisting and shaping the vocal line to bring out some fairly weird rhythms and harmonies. So unmediaeval did some of these textures sound that I went off in search of the source material. There’s no doubt that Togni has arranged to bring out the strangeness but it is very much there in Machaut’s original score. Then alongside the vocals there is the bass clarinet which, part scored, part improvised provides a rather compelling, even disturbing commentary in a more obviously contemporary vein. The Gloria and the Hosanna sections in particular juxtapose the vocals, already making the familiar words of the mass seem strange, with an insinuating clarinet line in ways that are almost physically jarring. It is a piece of great originality; beautiful, thought provoking and even weird, and quite fascinating.
Hidden away up an alleyway behind the COC’s ioffice and rehearsal complex is a very beautiful garden. I say hidden because I lived less than 200m away for 10 years before I discovered it. Last night it made a rather magical setting for Against the Grain Theatre’s new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. The piece is set in a gloomy castle and surrounding forest in Brittany. The high, ivy covered walls and ironwork of the performance space, enhanced by Camelia Koo’s fractured flagstones forming patterns on the grass, evoked the essentially sunless world of Maeterlinck’s poem. Costuming in the style of the period’s composition meshed nicely with the aesthetic of the roughly contemporary space.
The opening weekend of April is almost absurdly rich in opera going opportunities and I’ve already previewed it here. There are updates on the Tapestry/Volcano show Revolutions. This is going to be highly experimental and aims to “test the boundaries of how opera is presented in the 21st century.” by exploring the relationship between physical and musical expression. Marie- Josée Chartier (contemporary dance), stage director Michael Mori, will work with four athletic young opera singers, Neema Bickersteth, Andrea Ludwig, Adrian Kramer and Andrew Love. Unfortunately it’s one night only and I shall be at the opening of Peter Sellars’ production of Handel’s Hercules at the COC. Eric Owens, Alice Coote, Richard Croft, David Daniels and Lucy Crowe are singing and Harry Bicket is in the pit. If that’s not incentive enough the COC is offering a 25% discount if you buy tickets to any two of the three spring operas (the other two are Roberto Devereux and Don Quichotte). Continue reading
The lovely Miriam Khalil and Acadian pianist Julien LeBlanc will bring their recital Airs Chantés to Toronto for one performance at Gallery 345 on Oct. 24, 2013. The program comprises French and Spanish art songs of the Impressionistic and 20th-century period. The first half of the recital will include excerpts from Ravel’s Shéhérazade, Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées and will conclude with Poulenc’s well-known song cycle Airs Chantés. The second half is rounded out by three French melodies by Massenet, Ravel and Delibes in a Spanish style, Jesus Guridi’s uncommonly performed Seis Canciones Castellanas and three songs from Obrador’s Canciones Classicás españolas. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. with doors opening at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available at http://www.miriamkhalil.com and at the door.