La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

COC Ensemble & OdeM Atelier Lyrique showcase New Talent

All Photos: Chris Hutcheson < >
# 1: Group bow (l. to r.) Philip Kalmanovitch, Jenna Douglas, Timothy Cheung, Philippe Sly, Aidan Ferguson, Jacqueline Woodley, Isaiah Bell, Emma Parkinson, Ileana Montalbetti, Mireille Asselin
# 2: Isaiah Bell and Philippe Sly in The Rake's Progress
# 3: Emma Parkinson, Philippe Sly and Ileana Montalbetti in Cosi fan tutte
# 4: Mireille Asselin and Aidan Ferguson in Presentation of the Rose, Der Rosenkavalier

Collaborations: COC Ensemble & OdeM Atelier Lyrique showcase New Talent

by Joseph So

Feb. 7 2012, 12 p.m. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre

Largo al factotum / Philip Kalmanovitch, bar.
Come ti piace, imponi / Ileana Montalbetti, sop., Emma Parkinson mezzo
Unis des la plus tendre enfance /Isaiah Bell, ten.
Va! Laisse couler mes larmes / Aidan Ferguson, mezzo
La ci darem la mano / Jacqueline Woodley, sop., Philip Kalmanovitch, bar.
Parto, parto / Emma Parkinson, mezzo
My Tale Shall be Told / Isaiah Bell, ten., Philippe Sly, b-bar.
Soave sia il vento / Ileana Montalbetti, sop., Emma Parkinson, mezzo, Philippe Sly, b-bar.
Composer's Aria / Aidan Ferguson, mezzo
Mein Sehnen, mein Wahnen / Philip Kalmanowitch, bar.
Presentation of the Rose / Mireille Asselin, sop., Aidan Ferguson, mezzo
Si, ritrovarla io giuro / Isaiah Bell, ten.
Barcarolle / Jacqueline Woodley, sop., Aidan Ferguson, mezzo

Jenna Douglas and Timothy Cheung, piano

Today's Collaborations at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre was the third time the Atelier Lyrique of Opera de Montreal and the COC Ensemble Studio have come together for a joint recital at the opera house. To Toronto voice fans, these concerts represent a nice opportunity to hear the up and coming voices, especially the visitors from OdeM. Today, eight singers plus two pianists showed their collective talent to a packed house. Some are more ready for prime time than others whose voices are more works in progress. To be sure, all of them possess youthful, fresh voices, abundant musicality, ingratiating stage presence and the desire and ability to communicate through music, all important ingredients for a future career. They were accompanied by two Ensemble pianists, Jenna Douglas and Timothy Cheung - regrettably their names were left out of the program. Other than a few errant tempi and notes here and there, the two young collaborative pianists acquitted themselves well. Midway during the concert, the Atelier lyrique singers individually went up to the podium for a brief introduction before their solos, all delivered with grace, poise and good humour.

It's amazing how much can be packed into a one-hour concert! The audience heard a mix of solo arias, duets, and trios, all well known pieces. I enjoyed all the singers, but if I were to single out one soloist, it would have to be mezzo Emma Parkinson, who possesses an outstanding voice. It's hall-filling, supple, rich, dark-tinged, with a golden sheen backed by an excellent technique. With her slim figure and long legs, she would make an ideal Sesto, Nicklausse, Siebel, Cherubino, and maybe even Octavian a few years down the road. Her "Parto, parto" was a tour de force. Among other highlights, I very much enjoyed the Presentation of the Rose with Quebec soprano (now COC Ensemble member) Mireille Asselin. A lovely Sophie, Asselin sang with crystalline tone and a firm high C. Her excellent Octavian was Aidan Ferguson, who also impressed as the Komponist in "Sein wir wieder gut" which she sang with just the right combination of ecstasy and ardour. Also of note was her Nicklausse in the Barcarolle from Hoffmann. The Giulietta was Jacqueline Woodley, whose light soprano isn't what one would normally think of as Giulietta, but she did well, her voice blending nicely with Ferguson's. Saskatchewan native Ileana Montalbetti is familiar to Toronto audiences, as this represents her unprecedented fourth year in the Ensemble. Her's is a budding dramatic soprano with plenty of volume and a steely edge, ideal as Elettra and Vitellia, roles that she has sung at the COC. On this occasion, she teamed up with Emma Parkinson for a duet in Tito, and with Parkinson and Philippe Sly in the famous trio "Soave sia il veno" from Cosi fan tutte.

Among the men, I was intrigued by BC tenor Isaiah Bell, who sang two solos and a duet. His is a light, sweet sound, with very good agility and a well supported upper range, making him ideal in Rossini. He sang Ramiro's aria from La cenerentola - a fiendishly difficult piece not for the faint of heart. He sang fearlessly and quite well, with all the money notes, only a hint of unevenness of tone in his passaggio notwithstanding. His duet with Philippe Sly in The Rake's Progress may not be the most catchy music for a recital program, but these two singers made it work. Baritone Philip Kalmanovitch, who opened the proceedings with an exuberant Largo al factotum, a piece that suits his irrepressible personality. He was also good in the very familiar "La ci darem la mano" with Jacqueline Woodley as a soubrette Zerlina. His Pierrot's aria "Mein sehnen, mein Wahnen" from Die tote Stadt is more a work in progress as it requires a steadier tone and firmer legato. There was no encore, but the singers were all well cheered by the appreciative audience, who can look forward to next year's Collaborations.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 6 - 12)

Russell Braun (Jaufre Rudel) and Krisztina Szabo (The Pilgrim) in Kaija Saariaho's Love From Afar (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The Canadian Opera Company winter opera season is in full swing, with Tosca and Love From Afar alternating at the Four Seasons Centre. Both have been well received by audience and critics alike. I caught the second performance of the Saariaho opera on Saturday. I admit to some preconceived notions about this piece, having seen it ten years ago at the Santa Fe Opera. Back then, it had fabulous singing from a great cast (Gerald Finley, Dawn Upshaw, Monica Groop) but the production itself was static and aesthetically icy, affecting my enjoyment of the music. This time around, I was bracing myself for a boring afternoon. Boy, was I ever wrong! This production, originally from ENO and Antwerp, is one of the most visually dazzling and creative shows I've seen in memory. Kudos to stage director Daniele Finzi Pasca. The video projections in Part 2 (Acts 4 & 5) are stunning. This production is on the level of the fabulous Robert Lepage Nightingale two seasons ago - in fact, I can think of stylistic similarities. The singers at the COC are equally fine, with Russell Braun an intense and moving Jaufre Rudel, and Erin Wall floating the most heavenly pianissimos as Clemence. COC Music Director Johannes Debus is at his very best in contemporary music and the orchestra played divinely. Three performances, on Wed. Feb. 8, Fri. Feb. 10, and Sunday (matinee) Feb. 10. Meanwhile, I went back to Tosca for a second go, with the alternate cast. The excellent tenor Brandon Jovanovich is the other Cavaradossi. Have heard his wonderful Pinkerton in Santa Fe and just last June his Siegmund in San Francisco. I have to say I prefer his Cavaradossi over the Uruguayan Carlo Ventre. Julie Makerov is less dramatic than Adrianne Pieczonka but still a very fine Tosca. You can catch the Puccini on Feb. 7, 9, and 11. Also don't forget to check out the joint recital of the COC Ensemble Studio and the OdeM Atelier Lyrique. This will be the third year of Collaborations, showcasing young artists from the two opera companies. Do show up early for a seat. Details at Here is a link to the program

Worth catching is the innovative programming at Tafelmusik this week - House of Dreams, a multimedia presentation of music and the visual arts. Conceived and scripted by Alison Mackay, this show combines the music of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Marais against a backdrop of the projected images of Vermeer, Canaletto and Watteau. Blair Williams is the narrator and Marshall Pynkoski of Opera Atelier is the director. Performances Feb. 6 to 12 at the Trinity - St. Paul Centre.

Toronto Summer Musical Festival is presenting a benefit event, aptly called Toronto Summer Music In Winter, on Feb. 8 7:30 p.m., at Walter Hall, in the Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto. The newly formed New Orford String Quartet will perform Beethoven's last String Quartet, Op. 135, and Shauna Rolston then joins the group for Schubert's String Quintet Op. 163 for two cellos. There will be a post-performance champagne reception with the artists. More information and tickets at

Following its recent presentation of Lohengrin, Opera by Request is back with another major work in the operatic canon, Beethoven's Fidelio. No, there won't be an orchestra in this performance, but the music remains sublime. Soloists include soprano Dolores Catherine Trart (Leonore), Lenard Whiting (Florestan), Jennifer Rasor (Marzelline), Anthony Faure (Jacquino), Frank de Jong (Rocco) and Michael Robert-Broder (Pizarro), under the direction of William Shookhoff. Friday, Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m. at the College St. United Church, 452 College Street in downtown Toronto.

Finally, I know this is not exclusively a Toronto event as the Met in HD is worldwide in reach, but the final installment of the Wagner's Ring Cycle, Goetterdammerung, is going to be shown at select Cineplex cinemas this Saturday Feb. 11 at noon. It is going to be a looooong one, so be prepared with food and drink! The show will end shortly before 6 p.m. The Robert Lepage Ring has received mixed reviews from audience and the press, so find out for yourself! Deborah Voigt is Brunnhilde and Jay Hunter Morris is Siegfried. Fabio Luisi is replacing an ailing James Levine at the podium. I do believe all tickets have been sold in the more popular venues such as Sheppard Grande, Silver City and Scotiabank downtown, but do check with the theatres for returns, or if they are opening up an extra cinemas.