La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Stars of Tomorrow Compete in Third Annual COC Ensemble Studio Competition

Centre Stage: 3rd Annual COC Ensemble Studio Competition selects Stars of Tomorrow

- Joseph So

*Asterisk denotes arias sung in earlier private session 4:30 - 5:30 pm.

Lara Secord-Haid, soprano   
Durch Zartlichkeit - Blondchen's aria from Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail*
Saper correste - Un ballo in maschera

Francesca Corrado, mezzo
Cruda sorte - L'Italiana in Algeri*
Card Aria - Carmen

Jean-Michel Richer, tenor
Questa o quella - Rigoletto*
Il mio tesoro - Don Giovanni

Rachel Wood, mezzo
Smanie implacabili - Cosi*
Wie du warst - Der Rosenkavalier

Nathan Keoughan, bass-baritone
Vecchia zimarra - Boheme*
Non piu andrai - Le nozze di Figaro

Karine Boucher, soprano
Marietta's Lied - Die Tote Stadt*
Piangero - Giulio Cesare

Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, tenor
Vainement ma bien aimee - Le roi d'Ys*
Quanto e bella - L'Elisir d'amore

Emma Char, mezzo
Voi che sapete - Le nozze di Figaro*
Parto, parto - La clemenza di Tito

Iain MacNeil. bass-baritone
Guglielmo's aria - Cosi*
Apriet un po/ quegli'occhi - La nozze di Figaro

COC Orchestra / Johannes Debus, conductor
Rufus Wainwright, host

Fraser Elliot Hall, Four Seasons Centre / 6:30 - 8:30 pm, November 26th 2013 

Soprano Karine Boucher (Photo: Michael Cooper)

One of the pleasures of attending the Canadian Opera Company's performances is the opportunity to discover the singers of the future, through its venerable 30-year old Canadian Ensemble Studio program. Created by the late COC General Director Lotfi Mansouri, the Ensemble Studio is the best known of all young opera singers' training programs in Canada. It has nurtured the development of many a Canadian artist over the last three decades, among them the world renowned heldentenor Ben Heppner, who was a member way back in the early years of the Ensemble Studio. 

Tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Given the degree of interest in the program from the opera public in recent years, the COC has established a competition to attract talented candidates, to raise the public profile of the Ensemble Studio, and to raise funds to support this worthwhile initiative. This competition began modestly two years ago, as an event that took place in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, with piano accompaniment. The competition this year has "graduated" into the Fraser Elliott Hall (the main auditorium) itself, with full orchestra under the baton of Johannes Debus.  Re-branded Centre Stage, it is now a "gala fund-raiser" with the opportunity of a post-competition dinner on the stage of the opera house for a tariff of $1500.  For those who just want to attend the competition, the tickets are priced at $100 which includes a pre-competition reception in the lobby.      

Bass-baritone Iain MacNeil (Photo: Michael Cooper)

The nine Canadian finalists were chosen through a series of auditions in Canada and the U.S. They were in town for a week of coaching and preparation. A few of them, such as soprano Karine Boucher and Jean-Michel Richer, had previously appeared at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in a noon hour joint recital between the COC Ensemble and the OdeM Atelier lyrique.  But the majority of voices were new to Toronto area audiences. At a "private audition" that took place earlier in the day, each finalist sang one selection of their own choice. Then at the public section of the competition, each sang an additional aria chosen by the COC jury panel (General Director Alexander Neef, Artistic Administrator Roberto Mauro, Music Administrator Sandra Gavinchuk, Head of the Ensemble Studio Liz Upchurch, and COC Ensemble Alumna/Canadian soprano Wendy Nielsen).  I had the good fortune of being invited to the earlier private session, which allowed me to get a better idea of the voices.  

Host Rufus Wainwright (Photo: Michael Cooper)

As competitions go, this one is relatively short, with two arias from each candidate, and only one is performed in front of the public.  Compare this to the Montreal International Music Competition (Voice) which involves a semi-finals round and a more diverse repertoire of song/lieder, oratorio, as well as opera arias, not to mention the requirement that each candidate must sing an "imposed piece" by a Canadian composer, commissioned for the occasion. The COC competition focuses only on a singer's ability to sing opera, which is only one facet of the art of a classical singer. After the competition ended last evening, I came away with the feeling that the public part of the program was really too short and lacked sufficient content.  I understand the need to have the event wrapped up early enough for the patrons to have an on-stage dinner, but surely a solution could (and should) be found?  

Host Rufus Wainwright congratulates nine Competition finalists (l. to r. Lara Secord-Haid, Francesca Corrado, Rachel Wood, Karine Boucher, Emma Char, Jean-Michel Richer, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Nathan Keoughan, Iain McNeill) Photo: Michael Cooper 

Soprano Lara Secord-Haid opened the proceedings of both the private and public sessions. She has an attractive stage presence to go with her nice voice, but perhaps it was nerves given she was the first one up, her Blondchen's aria from Enthfuhrung suffered from wandering pitch and shaky support in the lowest notes, despite bright, attractive tone.  Her second piece, Oscar's perky "Saper vorreste" from Ballo, went much better, and her vivacious personality shown through.  Mezzo Francesca Corrado was next up with Isabella's aria from L'Italiana in Algeri.  Corrado has a low mezzo of impressive size and quality. On this occasion, her "Cruda sorte" was a bit heavy, with some awkward fioritura not helped by her pronounced vibrato, and a bit short on sparkle in the acting department. Her second piece, the Card Scene from Act 3 Carmen, which is all serious business, was well done, complete with a fiery chest voice. Hers is a low mezzo bordering on contralto, and the tone is suited to Italian opera - I can imagine in maturity she would make a fine Azucena, Ulrica, and Principessa di Bouillon.
Mezzo Emma Char (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Jean-Michel Richer was one of two tenors in the competition. He has good stage presence, and possesses a beautiful lyric sound. He sang "Questa o quella" with very nice tone and dramatic flair. It's too bad the piece lasts barely two minutes - in my mind, it would be better to choose something a bit more substantial!  His second aria, Ottavio's "Il mio tesoro" really tests the mettle of the Mozart tenor. He sang it with musicality and ingratiating tone, even with added appoggiaturas. However, his singing was a little short of accuracy in the many coloratura runs.  The potential of this singer is obvious, and with further study, he will be a very fine tenor.  Mezzo Rachel Wood sang Dorabella's aria from Cosi.  Hers is a high mezzo of attractive tone with plenty of thrust, and she sang it well save for a few moments of pitch issues. Her second piece, Octavian's "Wie du warst" was very lovely, a piece well suited to her high mezzo.
Tenor Jean-Michel Richer (Photo: Michael Cooper)

PEI bass-baritone Nathan Keoughan contributed Colline's "Vecchia Zimarra" with attractive, firm tone, although once again such a short piece doesn't really show off the voice sufficiently in competition. His second piece, "Non piu andrai" was more substantial and he sang it very well.  Soprano Karine Boucher sang Marietta's Lied from Die Tote Stadt as her first selection. I recall hearing her sing this very piece when she was here in the joint COC Ensemble/OdeM Atelier lyrique noon hour recital some months ago. Hers is a rich, full lyric voice of quality and volume, the kind of voice that is always in short supply. Her Korngold was lovely, with her rich tone just perfect in this music, although one would have liked a more developed high piano that is absolutely essential in this piece.  Her Piangero from Giulio Cesare was a curious choice. Her opulent soprano with its rich timbre is stylistically not really a Baroque voice. Her performance, while beautiful, suffered from some flatness at the top and the line was not as pure as could be. Still, as I had noted before in my review of the previous concert, Boucher has an impressive instrument and she has the stately look of a mature artist on stage. She would be a fine Contessa in Nozze, for example.

Tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure possesses a beautiful tenore di grazia which he uses elegantly and musically. His "Vainement" from Le roi d'Ys was gorgeous, arguably the best singing in the private session.  His "Quanto e bella" from L'Elisir was also lovely, but he suffered from two small blemishes in the last line of the aria, which just goes to show how treacherous singing really is! But overall, his performance was impressive. Mezzo Emma Char has a high mezzo of fresh, focused tone and lovely stage presence.  She sang two "trouser arias" - "Voi che sapete" and "Parto, parto." She would make a very believable Cherubino and Sesto in my opinion.   She sang the first aria very well, and her second aria could have better accuracy in the coloratura runs, but overall it was a very enjoyable performance.  The last competitor of both sessions was Brockville bass-baritone Iain MacNeil.  With his strapping presence and flowing hair, he bears a strong resemblance to former COC Ensemble bass-baritone Philippe Sly. He sang both Guglielmo's aria and Figaro's aria with firm and masculine tone, and he acted well - a very promising singer.

The jury panel then left their seats to deliberate in private, while host Rufus Wainwright entertained the audience with his endearing if slightly quirky style. He even sang three numbers, including an aria from his opera, Prima Donna, which I saw at Luminato three years ago.  After about 20 minutes or so, COC General Director Alexander Neef returned to announce the results. Third Prize of $1500 went to bass-baritone Iain MacNeil; Second Prize of $3000 went to tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, and Quebec soprano Karine Boucher was named the winner of $5000 First Prize as well as the Audience Prize.  All three were deserving winners, although I must say I wished there were more prizes as some of the others were worthy of being in the winners' circle as well.  But of course, the ultimate prize is a career, which all these singers are capable of.  It depends on lots of hard work, determination, and a certain degree of luck.  I wish all of them well.

Winners Circle (bass-baritone Iain MacNeil, soprano Karine Boucher, tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure) Photo: Michael Cooper

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Monday, 25 November 2013

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 25 - Dec. 1)

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 25 - Dec. 1)

- Joseph So

Pinchas Zukerman (Photo: Paul Labelle)

The National Arts Centre Orchestra, under its artistic directorship of Pinchas Zukerman, is making one of it frequent visits to Toronto on Saturday Nov. 30 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. It was announced not too long ago that Zukerman will be leaving his position in 2015, so this is a good opportunity to catch him before he departs. He is playing the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3, and conducting the Shostakovich Symphony No. 10

British conductor Edward Gardner, currently conducting Der Rosenkavalier at the Met a performance of which I saw last Friday, is guesting with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No. 1 on Wednesday at 8 pm and Thursday at 2 pm. Also on the program is trumpeter Alison Balsom playing Hummel's Trumpet Concerto.  Rounding out the program is the Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.  Gardner is the conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as well as the English National Opera.

Trumpeter Alison Balsom

One of the pleasures of attending performances of the Canadian Opera Company is the opportunity to hear young Canadian artists, the "singers of tomorrow" and to follow their development.  On Tuesday, opera fans will get to participate (as audience members, that is!) in Centre Stage - the COC Ensemble Studio Competition. The name is a little confusing - the current ensemble members are not in the competition, but aspiring young artists from outside are competing for a place in next year's Ensemble Studio. It should be said that in the past, there had been competitions where the incumbent Ensemble members did participate, but as I understand from this point on, only outside singers will be competing.  Unlike previous competitions that were with piano accompaniment and took place at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, this time it will be in the opera house and with full orchestra conducted by Johannes Debus. This is also a fund-raising effort by the COC, so ticket prices reflect that. The MC is Canadian singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. Candidates in the competition are sopranos Karine Boucher and Lara Secord-Haid, mezzos Emma Chair, Francesca Carrado and Rachel Wood, tenors Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Jean-Michel Richer, and bass-baritone Nathan Keoughan and Iain MacNeil. Tickets are still available, so do check the COC website at

University of Toronto Faculty of Music Opera Division is presenting its annual production, this time it's Donizetti's comic Don Pasquale, sung by voice students. Sandra Horst conducts and Michael Albano is the stage director. An interesting twist is that it's set in Toronto's Little Italy! Nov. 28, 29, 30 at 7:30 pm and Dec. 1 at 2:30 pm, all performances at the McMillan Theatre, Edward Johnson Building on the campus of the University of Toronto.

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)

One of the newest initiatives in classical voice is the new series, Recitals at Rosedale. It is the brainchild of collaborative pianist Rachel Andrist and composer John Greer. I went to their season preview last spring and it was very enjoyable. On Dec. 1 at 2:30 pm at the Rosedale Presbyterian Church, this group is presenting Opera della Chiesa, with selections from Theodora, Manon, and Amahl and the Night Visitors.  Soloists include soprano Laura Albino, mezzo Laura Tucker, tenor Adam Luther, baritone Anthony Cleverton and bass-baritone Neil Craighead plus voice students from the University of Toronto. For details, go to

Toronto's premiere chamber music presenter, Music Toronto, is presenting Canadian pianist Eve Egoyan in a recital of works by contemporary composers James Tenney, Piers Hellawell, Linda C Smith and Michael Finnissy.  Performance on Nov. 26 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre.

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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 25 novembre au 7 décembre

par Renée Banville

Festival Bach Montréal - 23 novembre au 7 décembre
L’interprétation annuelle des Variations Goldberg est une tradition au FBM. C’est le pianiste français Alexandre Tharaud qui les interprétera cette année. Concerts précédés d’une causerie avec le réputé musicologue Gilles Cantagrel, spécialiste mondial de l’œuvre de JSB. Salle Bourgie, vendredi 29 et samedi 30 novembre.
Le Choeur St-Laurent et l’Ensemble Caprice présentent l’Oratorio de Noël, parties 1, 2, 3 et 4 ; avec Stéphanie Manias, soprano, Laura Pudwell, alto, Michiel Schrey, ténor et Geoffrey Sirett, basse, sous la direction de Christopher Jackson. Église Saint-Léon de Westmount, dimanche 1er décembre, 15h.
Le guitariste suédois Göran Söllscher, l’un des virtuoses incontestés de la guitare dans le monde, propose un parcours musical diversifié : Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Helmich Roman, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, Arvo Pärt. Également au programme, des chansons folkloriques suédoises. Tana Schulich Hall, jeudi 5 décembre.
Le Chœur et l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal dirigés par Kent Nagano concluent le FBM 2013 avec la magistrale Messe en si de J.-S. Bach. Solistes : Sibylla Rubens, soprano, Ann Hallenberg, mezzo-soprano, Julian Prégardien, ténor et Markus Werba, basse. Maison symphonique, vendredi 6 et samedi 7 décembre. Sauf avis contraire, les concerts sont à 19 h 30. 

La Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal
Au XVIIIe siècle, le Tout-Londres se pressait dans les jardins de la ville pour y écouter de la musique présentée dans d’élégants kiosques. La Compagnie Baroque, dirigée du clavecin par Susan Toman, recrée cette ambiance en proposant un choix d’airs et de danses conçus pour le théâtre et tirés d’ouvrages célèbres de Purcell, de Haendel et d’autres compositeurs londoniens. La soprano Ellen Wieser et le flûtiste Vincent Lauzer se joindront à l’ensemble. Église Jean XXIII, 21 novembre, 10 h 30 / Maison de la culture Frontenac, 25 novembre, 20 h.

Un concert de l’OM pour les jeunes
Destinée aux familles et aux écoles, la série pour les Jeunes mélomanes en devenir de l’Orchestre Métropolitain est dirigée cette année par le maestro Nézet-Séguin. Le jeune pianiste Daniel Clarke Bouchard, âgé de 13 ans, interprétera le Concerto pour piano no 2 de Chostakovitch. Le compositeur en résidence Éric Champagne leur offre une création au titre amusant: Le Jeune Blondinet et son tigre philosophe. Le comédien Daniel Brière fera la narration de Pierre et le loup de Prokofiev. Le concert se terminera avec Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra de Britten. Maison symphonique, 27 novembre, 19 h 30 

Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur – dans la foulée des réjouissances
Depuis ses débuts asiatiques et la parution d’un premier album solo en 2008, le pianiste Mathieu Gaudet est salué pour la passion et l’intelligence de son discours musical. Au programme, des oeuvres de Mozart, Brahms, Schumann et Schubert. 28 novembre, 20 h.

Au Ladies’ Morning Musical Club
Détenteur du premier prix au Concours international de chant de Grimsby en Angleterre, ainsi qu’au Concours international J.S. Bach à Leipzig, le ténor Christoph Genz fera ses débuts au LMMC le 10 novembre à 15 h 30. Le concert suivant nous fera entendre l’American String Quartet en formation sextuor, avec l’altiste Roberto Diaz et le violoncelliste Andrés Diaz dans les sextuors de Brahms. 1er décembre, 15 h 30.

JMC – hommage à Maureen Forrester
En hommage à la grande contralto canadienne, les Jeunesses Musicales du Canada présentent Chansons d’amour et de la vie, avec une étoile montante de la scène lyrique actuelle. Originaire de Vancouver, la jeune soprano Simone Osborne est déjà chaleureusement encensée par la critique en plus d’avoir reçu de nombreux prix prestigieux. Un début électrisant! Un programme musical tout en romantisme avec le célèbre cycle de Robert Schumann, L’Amour et la vie d’une femme, et quelques-unes des plus belles mélodies de Richard Strauss, de Reynaldo Hahn et de Vincenzo Bellini. Au piano : Anne Larlee. Dans la série La musique sur un plateau, Maison des JMC, 4 décembre à 18 h. Apéro offert dès 17 h 15.

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This Week in Montreal: November 25 to December 7

By Renée Banville / Translation Emilie White

Montreal Bach Festival – November 23 to December 7
The annual performance of the Goldberg Variations has become a tradition for the MBF. This year, French pianist Alexandre Tharaud will perform them. Renowned musicologist Gilles Cantagrel, a world specialist of JSB, will present a talk before concerts. Salle Bourgie, Friday November 29 and Saturday November 30.
The St. Lawrence Choir and the Ensemble Caprice will present Bach’s Christmas Oratoria, parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. With Stéphanie Manias, soprano, Laura Pudwell, alto, Michiel Schrey, tenor and Geoffrey Sirett, bass, and Christopher Jackson as conductor. Church of Saint-Léon-de-Westmount, Sunday December 1, 3 pm.
Swedish guitarist Göran Söllscher, one of the greatest virtuosi of the world, offers a diversified musical journey: Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Helmich Roman, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, and Arvo Pärt. Swedish folksongs will also be part of the program. Tana Schulich Hall, Thursday December 5.
The OSM Chorus and the OSM under the direction of Kent Nagano will conclude the 2013 edition of the MBF with J. S. Bach’s majestic Mass in B. Soloists include Sibylla Rubens, soprano, Ann Hallenberg, mezzo-soprano, Julian Prégardien, tenor and Markus Werba, bass. Maison symphonique, Friday 6 and Saturday December 7. Unless otherwise noted, the concerts begin at 7:30 pm.

Baroque Mont-Royal
During the 18th Century, all of London would visit the city’s gardens to listen to music in elegant kiosks. The Compagnie Baroque, directed from the harpsichord by Susan Toman, recreates this atmosphere by proposing renowned works for theatre by Purcell, Handel and other London composers. Soprano Ellen Wieser and flutist Vincent Lauzer will join the ensemble. Church Jean XXIII, November 21, 10:30 and Maison de la culture Frontenac, November 25, 20 h.

An OM Concert Just For Kids
Developed for families and schools, the Youth Spirit series of the Music Lovers of the Future program will be conducted this year by maestro Nézet-Séguin. 13 year-old pianist Daniel Clarke Bouchard will perform Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no 2. In-residence composer Éric Champagne will offer his comic strip-inspired creation, Le jeune blondinet et son tigre philosophe (“The young blond boy and his philosopher tiger”). Comedian Daniel Brière will narrate Peter and the Wolf. The concert will end with Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Théâtre Outremont, November 27, 7:30 pm. 

Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur – In the Heart of the Celebration
For its second concert as ensemble in residence at the Chapelle, Transmission presents an American road trip: works by Reich, Ives, Adams, Lang, Carter and Feldman. November 22, 8pm.
Since his Asian debut and the release of his first solo album in 2008, pianist Mathieu Gaudet has become renowned for the passion and intelligence of his musical language. Works by Mozart, Brahms, Schumann and Schubert make up the programme. November 28, 8pm.

Ladies’ Morning Musical Club
First prize winner of the Grimsby International Singers Competition in England and of the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig, tenor Christoph Genz will premiere at the LMMC on November 10 at 3:30. The concert will feature the American String Quartet in a sextet with violist Roberto Diaz and cellist Andrés Diaz for Brahms’ sextets. December 1, 3:30.

JMC – Homage To Maureen Forrester
In homage to the legendary Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester, Jeunesses Musicales of Canada presents Songs of Life and Love. This is an electrifying debut for soprano Simone Osborne, who is originally from Vancouver and has garnered critical acclaim as well as receiving numerous prestigious prizes. A romantic musical program with the celebrated cycle A Woman’s Love and Life by Robert Schumann, plus some of the best-loved melodies by Richard Strauss, Reynaldo Hahn and Vincenzo Bellini. Anne Larlee is at the piano. Presented as part of the series La Musique sur un plateau, Maison des JMC, December 4, 6:00. Cocktail at 5:15. 

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