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.
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.
So I guess I wasn’t that impressed with the first session in the aria competition; too much loud, technically correct, but dull singing. Things were much better in the evening though. First up was Russian mezzo Alexandra Yangel. She was very personable and fun to watch but a bit wayward vocally. Nobles seigneurs, Salut! from Les Huguenots was dramatic and lyrical in places but her upper register gets quite squally. This was even more noticeable in the aria from La Cenerentola that followed. I liked the passion and the vocal acting ability in her Smanie, implacabili though.
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.
The Canadian Children’s Opera Company have announced their 50th anniversary season. The big news is that the main production will be a new piece by Alice Ping Yee Ho and Marjorie Chan (the team behind The Lesson of Da Ji). The new piece is called The Monkiest King and is based on the legendary (and comic book) character the Monkey King. Like the earlier work it will fuse western opera and traditional Chinese music techniques and instruments. It will play at the Lyric Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts May 25-27 2018.
There is also going to be a celebratory concert hosted by Ben Heppner on October 26 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre. Besides performances by the current CCOC there will be appearances from Richard Margison, Krisztina Szabó, Simone Osborne and Andrew Haji and a choir of CCOC alumni.
I really wanted to like David Warrack’s new piece Abraham that premiered last night at the Metropolitan United Church. It’s described as an oratorio and tells the story of the patriarch Abraham and uses that as a jumping off point for arguing for the breaking down of barriers between Jews, Christians and Muslims based on their shared heritage(*). Given recent events in Canada and elsewhere that’s obviously a worthy goal and the whole thing was in aid of the Metropolitan United Church Syrian Refugee Fund; reason enough, in itself, to go.
A recording featuring Deb Voigt and Natalie Dessay, both high on my list of singers I’d like to party with, obviously has to be seen. They feature in a 2003 recording of Ariadne auf Naxos from the Met. It’s a Moshinsky production, directed for this run by Laurie Feldman. It’s pretty traditional in most respects though there are some interesting touches in the second act. We are squarely in the house of the richest man in Vienna c. 1750. No Konzept here. In fact, the first act is traditional too in that the acting is broad, going on coarse grained. Dessay brings a touch of distinction, managing to effectively portray the more vulnerable side of Zerbinetta. Voigt too is very fine, and very much with the overall mood, as a completely over the top stroppy diva. She’s definitely playing for laughs. Susanne Mentzner’s Composer and Wolgang Brendel’s Music Master are both quite competent but suffer a bit from the pantomime acting the director appears to want.