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 →
Last night, as part of the Ashkenaz Festival, we got to see Henekh Kon’s Bas-Sheve. It’s the only known pre Holocaust Yiddish opera and there’s quite a saga involved in it getting to a staging. The work dates to 1924, when it premiered in Warsaw then disappeared. In 2017 Dr. Diana Matut unearthed an incomplete piano score version which was completed and orchestrated by librettist Michael Wex and composer Joshua Horowitz to create an hour long piece that premiered in August 2019 as part of the Yiddish Summer Weimar festival.
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
Usually by December I’ve had a pretty good chance to see the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Not this year of course. So it was good to see at least a few of them in a stream of a short concert recorded at the Aga Khan Museum.
So last night was this year’s iteration of the COC’s glitzy competition with cash and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake. It’s a bit of a weird thing to write about because the public, and this year the media, only see a fraction of what the judges are judging. We saw each singer do one aria. There had been a closed round earlier in the day to which, unlike in previous years, the media were not invited. Then there’s what the judges have seen in rehearsal, reputation etc. All in all what happens on the night influences the outcome about as much as at an Olympic figure skating event. So, in many ways it’s surprising that my picks were as close to the judges as they were.
The contestants for this years Centre Stage; the competition for places in the COC’s Ensemble Studio have been announced. They are bass-baritone Joel Allison (Ottawa); tenor Matthew Dalen (Grande Prairie, Alta.); mezzo-soprano Simona Genga(Woodbridge, Ont.); soprano Natalie Image (Tsawwassen, B.C.); soprano Chelsea Rus (Abbotsford, B.C.); soprano Anna-Sophie Neher (Gatineau, Que.); and baritone Jonah Spungin (Ottawa). I’ve seen a fair bit of Allison, Rus, Dalen and Genga and I am absolutely not surprised at all that they are competing. They are all very promising young singers. I’m looking forward to hearing the others.
This year the judging panel includes regulars Alexander Neef, Roberto Mauro, Liz Upchurch, Wendy Nielsen and Nina Draganić but this year they will be joined by the extraordinary Mary Morrison, whose talent spotting credits include one Barbara Hannigan. Centre Stage is at the Four Seasons Centre on November 1st with the reception at 5.30pm and the competition starting at 6.30pm.