Tapestry’s SOS Sketch Opera Singers does for the staid old world of opera what I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue did for the quiz show. Five of Toronto’s finest artistes, in the guise of the cross-over group; Krossøver, are, in the immortal words of Humphrey Lyttleton, “given silly things to do”.
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.
No big surprises in the announcement of new members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It’s the three prize winners from last year’s Centre Stage; tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian and mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote. Also joining is pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway. Cairns and Groote are UoT grads and are well known to many Toronto opera goers through their appearances in UoT productions and elsewhere. Gabrielian is a Toronto native but studied at the Curtis so is not so well known. It will be interesting to get to know him.
New COC Ensemble Studio members (l – r): tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian, mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote, pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway
For the last few years the COC has had a fairly glitzy evening at which the next season is announced and there are interviews, a few performances etc. This year, for whatever reason, the two elements were divorced. The season was announced in a press release win January with no fanfare; not even a press conference. The glitzy bit happened last night with a cocktail reception and a stage event hosted by Brent Bambury.
The full Ensemble Studio was on display yesterday for an all Russian lunchtime concert. First up was Megan Quick with a couple of Rachmaninov songs. Megan’s timbre is very dark and it seems to be a natural fit for those Russian vowels. She was followed by Bruno Roy with a couple of Tchaikovsky numbers. He’s come on a lot in his time in the Studio. There’s some heft to the voice now and some quite impressive top notes. Good stuff.
Today’s lunchtime recital in the RBA was really quite exceptional. Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer offered up a really well chosen program and executed it extremely well. Grieg’s Sechs Lieder is a lovely and varied setting of six German texts. Poulenc’s Banalités sets texts by Apollinaire in a way that reflects their essential weirdness. Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder are as good examples as one can get of how the Second Vienna School, despite its scary reputation, is really all about lush and approachable and the closing set of Frank Bridge songs showed that he was a heck of a lot more than Britten’s composition teacher.
After the madness of November, December is much quieter. Messiahs aside there are only a handful of events of note. On Saturday at 7.30pm at Runnymede United Church the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir have a concert of seasonal music which includes Kim André Arnesen’s Magnificat with Adanya Dunn as soloist. On Tuesday 5th the noon recital in the RBA features Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer. The program hasn’t been published yet but I’m told it includes the Berg Seven Early Songs and a number of songs by Frank Bridge. On Thursday evening at 9pm it’s Opera Pub Night at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The theme is Messiah Pariah. You have been warned. The operatic event of the month is Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound. This uses a mash-up of Handel’s music to explore issues related to the current worldwide refugee crisis. It plays December 14th, 15th and 16th at the COC’s Jackman Studio. As of now, it’s sold out except for the final 9pm performance on the 16th. Toronto Consort have a Spanish themed Christmas show Navidad, featuring motets by Victoria and Guerrero plus villancicos and dances from Latin America. This one is on December 8th and 9th at 8pm and 10th at 3.30pm. Trinity St. Paul’s of course. Also this weekend, more performances of Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts (see last post).
Yesterday’s RBA concert was titled Celebrating the Invictus Games. Now the Invictus Games is a sporting competition for athletes disabled on military service. It has royal patronage and has clearly become part of the official pageantry of celebrating all things military, as witnessed by the presence of the Lieutenant Governors of Ontario and Alberta at yesterday’s concert. For me it raises all kinds of questions about why we put the military on a pedestal and how we do it and that is very tied up with the choice of rep at a concert like yesterdays. I’ll come back to that at the end of this piece, after reviewing what we actually heard.
Yesterday at noon we had the traditional season opening performance by the COC Ensemble Studio in the RBA; the Meet the Young Artists concert. There were two new singers and a new pianist joining six members returning from last year. First up was Danika Lorèn with Deh vieni non tardar. I think I’ve run out of new things to say about Danika. It’s all there; a very easy upper register, interesting colours and a growing degree of artistic assurance. I just want to see her on the big stage. Stéphane Mayer was at the piano with his usual sympathetic elegance. He really is rather good!
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).
Last year’s contestants with the Lieutenant Governor