La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 21 April 2011

COC Ensemble Artists Shine in Quilico Competition

Top: Contestants and Liz Upchurch, director of the COC Ensemble Studio
Second from Top: Judging Panel (l. to r. Alexander Neef, John Hess, David Speers)
Third from Top: Christina Petrowska-Quilico and Alan Walker
Bottom: Three Winners (l. to r. Adrian Kramer, Ileana Montalbetti, Chris Enns)

Christina and Louis Quilico Awards
featuring artists of the COC Ensemble Studio

by Joseph K. So

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
Toronto, ON

Liz Upchurch, piano

Ambur Braid, soprano
"O zittre nicht" - Die Zauberfloete
"What is he thinking of...who is there to love me?" - A Hand of Bridge

Neil Craighead, bass-baritone
"Se vuol ballare" - Le nozze di Figaro
"Arise, Ye Subterranean Winds" - The Tempest

Wallis Giunta, mezzo-soprano
"Parto, parto" - La clemenza di Tito
"Nobles seigneurs, salut!" - Les Huguenots

Christopher Enns, tenor
"Kuda, kuda" - Eugene Onegin
"Here I Stand" - The Rake's Progress

Jacqueline Woodley, soprano
"Scoglio d'immota fronte" - Scipione
"S'altro che lacrime" - La clemenza di Tito

Ileana Montalbetti, soprano
"Come in quest'ora bruna" - Simon Boccanegra
"Einsam in truben Tagen" - Lohengrin

Michael Uloth, bass
"O Isis und Osiris" - Die Zauberfloete
"I'm a Lonely Man, Susannah" - Susannah

Simone Osborne, soprano
"Och, jaky zal...Ten lasky sen" - The Bartered Bride
"Ach, ich fuhl's" - Die Zauberfloete

Adrian Kramer, baritone
"Mein Sehnen, mein Wahnen" - Die tote Stadt
Sid's Monologue - Albert Herring

Rihab Chaieb, mezzo-soprano
"Svegliatevi nel core" - Giulio Cesare
"Must the winter come so soon?" - Vanessa

Founded in 2000 by noted pianist/pedagogue Christina Petrowska Quilico in honour of her late husband and renowned Canadian baritone Louis Quilico, the Christina and Louis Quilico Fund has been offering financial awards in support of promising young Canadian singers in their pursuit of a professional career. This year for the first time, the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards, as it is now called, took place at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre, hosted by the Ontario Arts Foundation. The event was in the form of a vocal competition adjudicated by a panel made up of Alexander Neef of the COC, David Speers of Opera Hamilton, and John Hess of the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre.

Unlike the typical competitions out there that are open to qualified singers, the format of the 2011 Quilico competition is unusual in that it is only open to COC Ensemble Studio artists. If I may allow myself a bit of speculation, it could not have been easy for COC's General Director Alexander Neef to sit in the judge's chair. As head of the COC, these young singers are his charges, his figurative "children." How does one love one child more than the other? That said, it is the reality of the opera world that artists are constantly being compared, and they compete for roles, contracts, and recognition by impresarios and the public. So it is only part of a singer's training to engage in friendly competition, to develop the strength and self confidence in one's own abilities, and at the same time the grace to recognize and appreciate excellence in their midst. I came away from the event feeling impressed by the wealth of talent among our young singers, the very artists who will ensure a bright future for opera.

Soprano Ambur Braid kicked off the proceedings with the vocal fireworks from Queen of the Night's "O zittre nicht." A dramatic coloratura, Braid sang with big, rich tone, remarkable accuracy in her fioritura and secure high notes, including the single F near the end. Her second piece was an aria in English from Samuel Barber's rarely performed short opera, A Hand of Bridge. Braid showed off her full middle register, a rarity among coloraturas. Right in the middle of her aria, a series of loud, blood-curdling screams could be heard coming from somewhere in the opera house, outbursts that occurred periodically over what seemed like an eternity, in reality probably only a couple of minutes at most. Braid deserves full credit for keeping her composure, and the presence of mind to quip at the end of her aria - "That's how I feel exactly!" cracking up the audience in the process. Fortunately for the rest of the competition, the drama was where it should be - confined to the stage!

Next up was bass-baritone Neil Craighead who offered a mellifluous if dramatically restrained Figaro's cavatina "Se vuol ballare" from Nozze, followed by an aria from Purcell's Tempest, a very good piece for his voice. He sang it with fine English diction and good agility. Mezzo Wallis Giunta, who will be joining the Lindemann Young Artists Program at the Met, contributed Sesto's showstopping "Parto, parto" and "Nobles seigneurs, salut!" from Les Huguenots. The Mozart is a tour de force, which Giunta sang with her trademark gleaming tone. Good tenors are always in short supply, and Christopher Enns is indeed a tenor with great material. He sang Lensky's aria with feeling and plangent tone. His Tom Rakewell was equally impressive. After just one year, his upper register and mezza voce have gained solidity. With continuing work, he has the potential for a big career. The first half concluded with soprano Jacqueline Woodley singing two arias. Her first piece, the very difficult coloratura aria from Handel's Scipione showed off her fresh, warm tone even if the fioritura wasn't quite note perfect. Her Servilia's aria from La clemenza di Tito impressed with nice high pianissimos.

The second half opened with soprano Ileana Montalbetti. While it would be premature to call her a dramatic soprano, the rich, penetrating, somewhat steely tone and ample volume is ideal in certain Italian spinto roles and the jugendliche dramatisch roles in Wagner and Strauss. Montalbetti offered beautifully poised singing in "Einsam in truben Tagen" and "Come in quest'ora bruna", the occasional flatness in the passaggio in Amelia's aria notwithstanding. Bass Michael Uloth does not have a basso profundo type of voice, and he sang Sarastro's "O Isis und Osiris" with youthful and even timbre; the Olin Blitch's aria from Susannah, while a little monochromatic, was movingly sung. The fast-rising soprano Simone Osborne sang Marenka's aria with warm tone and dramatic intensity. The second piece, "Ach, ich fuhl's" was also lovely - she undoubtedly benefited from having sung several performances of Pamina recently on the COC mainstage. Adrian Kramer has a warm and flexible lyric baritone which he used to advantage in Fritz's aria from Die tote Stadt - it was a very beautiful piece of singing. His second aria, Sid's "Tickling a trout, poaching a hare" from Albert Herring - replacing the previously announced "Largo al factotum" - showed off his comedic acuity and his ingratiating stage persona. The competition ended with mezzo Rihab Chaieb, who sang a heart-felt "Must the winter come so soon?", Erika's aria from Vanessa and well suited to her lyric mezzo voice.

After a brief pause for the judges to deliberate, it was announced that baritone Adrian Kramer was awarded First Prize ($5000), soprano Ileana Montalbetti Second Prize of $3000 and tenor Christopher Enns Third Prize ($2000). Given the high quality of the performances, one wished for more than three awards. It may sound trite, but truly there were no losers. All ten singers are enormously gifted artists and with further training and development, they will be voices to be reckoned with in the future.



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