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 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.
As previously revealed the line up for last night’s Centre Stage; the COC’s gala competition cum Ensemble Studio final audition featured four mezzos, two sopranos and two baritones. Not a tenor to be had. As was the case two years ago the competition was split into two parts; a late afternoon session for an invited audience and an early evening public session separated by a cocktail reception. Each singer presented one aria in each session. Accompaniment was provided by the COC Orchestra with music director Johannes Debus.
So we now know who will be singing at Centre Stage, the COC’s gala competition for aspiring young singers with both cash prizes and places in the Ensemble Studio up for grabs. There are, I think, only two that I’m at all familiar with; soprano Eliza Johnson who was a finalist last year and baritone Zachary Read who was a rather good Sid in UoT Opera’s Albert Herring a couple of years ago. The other six are mezzo-sopranos Emily D’Angelo, Lauren Eberwein, Marjorie Maltais and Pascale Spinney, soprano Samantha Pickett and baritone Bruno Roy. Wow! Four mezzos so the mezzo mafia will likely be ecstatic. No tenors but with four already in the Ensemble Studio that’s probably a good thing. Centre Stage is on November 3rd at 5.30pm at the Four Seasons Centre with a cocktails (well wine mostly) and rather good snacks before the competition itself. Tickets are $100 from the COC box office or coc.ca.