Last evening saw the first post-plague edition of the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards competed for by the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio. Six of Ensemble’s seven singers competed with Vladimir Soloviev and Brian Cho providing piano accompaniment. It wasn’t the most thrilling Quilico Awards ever. The judges; Perryn Leech, Carolyn Sproule and Steven Philcox probably had a pretty easy time of it. So herewith how it came out.
In another nod to normality the COC’s free concert series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre kicked off with the traditional concert with the members of the Ensemble Studio. It was reasonably well attended, which is good news. But unlike previous years one didn’t need to be there an hour early to get a seat. Which is not so good news. I’m really curious to see when and if we start to get back to pre-plague audiences.
For me in previous years, this concert has been about taking stock; an opportunity to reflect on which members of the ES have progressed and how. Yesterday was much harder as I’ve seen little of any of them (live at least) for two and a half years. Some things though stood out. Midori Marsh, who kicked off the show with “Caro nome” has matured quite a lot. She’s always had a terrific voice but here she showed as a much more polished and poised performer. Alex Hetherington is also something of a known quality with her excellent 2021 Norcop Prize recital one of the better streamed events of the pandemic. She gets bonus points for singing “Lord, to Thee Each Night” from Handel’s Theodora. It’s a highly charged and technically awkward piece that demonstrated her technique and artistic sensibility nicely. Continue reading →
Ian Cusson and Colleen Murphy’s Fantasma opened at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre last night. It’s billed as an opera for younger audiences though I think there were more composers than kids in the theatre last night! It’s a ghost story. Two fifteen year old girls and their mother are visiting an old fashioned carnival which is struggling financially. There’s a “ghost” who is employed to scare patrons and generate social media coverage. Then the girls find a real, rather sad, little ghost and things happen. Or maybe they don’t. And the opera ends. Or maybe it doesn’t. It’s surprisingly complex for a 45 minute piece for kids and raises issues about what we see and what we think we see; why adults do and don’t believe kids and so on. When the (virtual) curtain came down rather abruptly I didn’t think I’d be thinking so much about it the next morning. But I am.
Vladimir Soloviev as Dante and Vartan Gabrielian as Tino
Yes, a real live concert at Koerner Hall; the first of 2022. Owing to the current restrictions it was quite a short concert with no interval (although the time it took the stage crew to set up for the second half there could have been!). The first piece was the premier of Goodyear’s Piano Quintet. It’s a very complex piece riffing off Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Stewart describes it better than I ever could:
“My piano quintet was commissioned by the Penderecki String Quartet (who played it with Stewart last night – JG) and the Canada Council for the Arts. It was composed in 2020 and pays homage to the spirit of Beethoven. The first movement is a passacaglia on the almost atonal eleven-note sequence from the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The second movement is a Ländler, fused with gestures of rhythm and blues and calypso. The third movement is a fast toccata, sampling themes of Beethoven similarly to a hip-hop track. The last movement starts as a lament and ends with a glimmer of hope, the inspiration directly taken from the challenges of the pandemic and the need for Beethoven’s spirit during these tumultuous times.”
It’s a highly virtuosic piece requiring a lot of extended technique from the players and it’s pretty demanding on the listener. I would need to listen to it a couple more times to really “get” it.
In Winter is the latest digital offering from the COC and is available free until June. Described by the COC as a concert that “explores and celebrates winter” it’s more a Eurocentric potpourri of seasonal fare with a decidedly Christmas twist. It’s a cut above “Christmas’ Greatest Hits” though a John Rutter arrangement of Deck the Halls and I’ll be Home for Christmas are in that vein and even the exuberance and lovely voice of Midori Marsh can’t make more of The Twelve Days of Christmas than is there to be had.
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 contestants with Alexander Neef and Johannes Debus
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).
Richard Strauss’ Die Liebe der Danae is one of his least performed operas so it’s not very familiar to most opera goers. I wrote about its performance history and provided a plot summary in my review of a 2011 recording at the Deutsche Oper, which is the only video recording besides the 2016 Salzburg one which forms the subject of this post.