Last night, at the Ernest Balmer Studio, we got to see somewhat more developed versions of the works presented earlier in the week in the RBA but this time in staged format. I’m not sure my opinions changed much as a result though I think I’m even more convinced that here we have five pieces of substance that deserve to be seen in fully realised form. So, some brief thoughts on each. Note that, except for Book of Faces we only saw extracts from pieces that are still WIP. Continue reading
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA was a sneak preview of the material for a longer workshop/performance in the Ernest Balmer Studio on Saturday night. The five works involved and the background are covered in this post.
We got excerpts from all five works with Jennifer Szeto at the piano and various combinations of Suzanne Rigden, Kristin Hoff and Lindsay Connolly singing. There were also brief introductions to each piece from the creative teams. What struck me most was how different the pieces were but how they seemed to reflect regional differences in musical expectations across Canada. For example, the two works from Quebec both used extended/prepared piano with a bunch of extended vocal techniques in Margareta Jeric’s Suites d’une ville morte. Laurence Jobidon’s L’hiver attend beaucoup de moi was perhaps more conventionally lyrical but it wasn’t a sound world one hears much in Toronto (at least in opera).
Last time I spoke to Opera 5’s Aria Umezawa she was about to head off to San Francisco to join SFO’s Merola program. Now she’s been named as an Adler Fellow for 2017; the first stage director since 2002 to be named to the program. She’ll be joined by pianist/coach Jennifer Szeto, also of this parish, and another Canadian; Vancouver soprano Sarah Cambridge. I have greatly enjoyed Aria’s work with Opera 5 and hope that this is a step on the road to a major career as an opera director. The full story on this year’s Adlers is here.
The final concert of the year involving members of the Ensemble Studio took place yesterday in the RBA. First up were Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon with Britten’s Les Illuminations. This is a formidable challenge for both singer and pianist and we were treated to a performance of real intensity and maturity. Charles seemed to be sufficiently in technical command of the material to let himself go a bit and have some fun with the more ironic bits of Rimbaud’s rather extraordinary text. His French diction was more than good enough for this, even in the places where the notes pretty much fall over themselves. There were some very pretty sounds where needed and real intensity, particularly in Parade. Hyejin was excellent too. The piano part is no mere support in this piece. It’s challenging and demands real partnership with the singer. All in all, it was a performance that made one forget that these two have only been in the program for a year.
Lunchtime saw the annual concert featuring visiting members of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. It turned into something of a Donizettifest. First up was soprano Cécile Muhire with Adina’s aria Prendi, per me sei libero. This was quite competently sung though she seemed very nervous. The nerves seemed to vanish though when she was joined by her Nemorino, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, for the duet when he tries the elixir. One of the things that has always struck me about the Ensemble Studio is how quickly it teaches singers to have stage presence. J-P was a very funny, rather drunk, Nemorino and his swagger seemed to rub off on Cécile who looked much more at home in this number.
Ensemble Studio tenors, like saints’ noses, only seem to come in multipacks these days. There are four of them until the end of the season and today they were all on show in the RBA. It was clearly a popular move as the good folks were lined up outside almost to Richmond Street before the doors opened and they didn’t all get in. Maybe it was the beards. Are bearded tenors the new black? The program was fairly predictable. Andrew Haji , Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Aaron Sheppard each gave us a well known and popular aria, with two from Charles Sy, before we got to the inevitable arrangements for four voices of three Neapolitan songs and, of course, the encores.
Once a season the young artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio get to perform one of the company’s productions on the main stage of the Four Seasons Centre. Last night it was the Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro. I’ve said enough about the production already here and here so let’s cut to the chase.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured two members of the Ensemble Studio. Andrew Haji, standing in for an indisposed Charles Sy, and Jennifer Szeto performed Liszt’s Tre Sonetti di Petrarca. These songs were unfamiliar to me and came as a pleasant surprise. They are very Italianate and very operatic and have a pretty involved piano part (unsurprisingly). Haji displayed his uncanny ability to find exactly the right idiom for the music and sang with beauty and expression as well as nailing the three high D flats. Szeto was a most accomplished accompanist. Great dress too! New Yorkers can catch these two in the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration at Carnegie Hall on Saturday where they will perform the same music.
Yesterday saw the first free concert of the season in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It was a chance to see the 2015/16 Ensemble Studio; two new singers, one new pianist and six singers and a pianist from last year. The format was one aria per singer with few surprises. We also got to hear the core quartet casting for the Ensemble Studio performance of Le Nozze di Figaro later in the season. No surprises there either; Il Conte – Gordon Bintner, Iain MacNeil – Figaro, La Contessa – Aviva Fortunata, Susanna – Karine Boucher. That leaves four tenors for the other roles…
The on/off saga of the Ensemble Studio’s promised Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared came to an apparent conclusion yesterday. It had been postponed at least once and even this morning the COC website is advertising a complete performance with two soloists and a small chorus.
It didn’t happen. What we got was a recital by Owen McAusland singing some excerpts from the Janáček plus Vaughan William’s The House of Life and Britten’s Les Illuminations. It was his last performance as a member of the Ensemble Studio during which time, among many other things, he sang several main stage performances as Tito covering for a sick Michael Schade.