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.
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.
Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured four members of the Ensemble Studio. Megan Quick and Stéphane Mayer gave us Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen followed by Sam Pickett and Rachel Kerr with Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. The first set was interesting in that I was so engrossed by Stéphane’s playing that at times I almost drifted away from the singing. He really is a bit remarkable. Few collaborative pianists have that effect. Megan continues to develop as a singer. She has a big, dark mezzo that’s actually so operatic I’m not sure it’s heard to best advantage in lieder with piano accompaniment. Still, she’s developing interpretive skills and her German diction has improved out of all recognition in the past eighteen months. It’s now very good. She took the first song, Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit, really slowly but had the control to pull it off and there was some real lyricism in Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz.
Coming up this next week. Tomorrow Toronto Operetta Theatre are performing Calixa Lavallée’s The Widow. He’s the dude who wrote the music for O Canada! so no idea what to expect. It’s at the Jane Mallett Theatre at 3pm. Monday at 7pm at the Zoomerplex is the IRCPA Singing Stars of Tomorrow concert. My interview with Brett Polegato about it is here. And this is the link for ticket purchase.
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!
Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA featured three current members of the COC Ensemble Studio. First up was tenor Aaron Sheppard making his adieux with Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation; a setting of texts by Thomas Hardy. It’s an interesting cycle; quite spare with, despite its lack of density, an intricate piano part that reveals some interesting chromaticism. The vocal line calls for great delicacy and control with occasionally injections of power. We got all that in a very fine performance by Aaron, and by Stéphane Mayer at the piano. It was probably the best performance I’ve heard from Aaron. He’s always had a rather beautiful, but perhaps too delicate voice. Here the control, phrasing and emphasis was all there but so was some oomph when needed. His performance was very true to the texts which have that same quality that Houseman exudes; Merry England with Death just peeking in from around the corner when one least expects it. Good stuff.
Yes it is and here’s what’s coming up. Sadly Natalie Dessay’s Koerner gig tonight has been cancelled. Get well soon and please come back! Tomorrow at 8pm the TSO has a concert with Carla Huhtanen featuring Morawetz’ Carnival Overture, Boulez’ Le soleil des eaux and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherezade. On Sunday Lyndsay Promane has a recital at 3pm at Islington United Church with works by Dowland, Faure, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Strauss. Admission is by donation
Next week there are a bunch of free concerts in the RBA at noon. On Tuesday it’s Alysson McHardy and Rachel Andrist with a program of Schumann and Zemlinsky. Wednesday sees Aaron Sheppard and Stéphane Mayer perform Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation. They will also be joined by Sam Pickett and Megan Quick. Finally, on Thursday Lauren Eberwein, who is sounding really good recently, and members of the COC Orchestra will perform two J.S. Bach cantatas; Ich habe genug and Vergnügte Ruh.
Last night saw the Ensemble Studio’s big main stage performance. Rather than perform one of the COC’s current productions (hard to imagine how they could cast one from the current line up) we got scenes from three operas; two of them from the COC’s current season. They were performed with the orchestra on stage in front of the backdrop to the opening scene from the current Die Zauberflöte and in concert dress rather than costume (more or less, there were some nods to the roles in question) and with some blocking as far as limiting movement to the front of the stage permitted.
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.