La Scena Musicale

Friday, 26 September 2014

COC Ensemble Unveils New Artists for 2014-15

Meet the Young Artists (COC Ensemble Studio 2014-15)

Iain MacNeil (bass-baritone) “Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo” (Mozart / Così fan tutte)
Charlotte Burrage (mezzo)  “All’afflitto è dolce il pianto” (Donizetti / Roberto Devereux)
Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (tenor) “Vainement, ma bien-aimée” (Lalo / Le Roi d'Ys)
Karine Boucher (soprano) “O mio babbino caro” (Puccini / Gianni Schicchi)
Clarence Frazer (baritone) “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen (Korngold / Die tote Stadt)
Andrew Haji (tenor) “Questa o quella ” (Verdi / Rigoletto)

Jennifer Szeto, piano
Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre
September 23rd 2014

(l. to r.) Jennifer Szeto, Andrew Haji, Karine Boucher, Charlotte Burrage, Clarence Frazer, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Iain MacNeil (Photo: Karen Reeves)

September is an eagerly anticipated month by Toronto opera lovers. Not only does it mean a new Canadian Opera Company season, it also signals a new crop of young artists joining the COC Ensemble Studio. There are three new members this year - soprano Karine Boucher, tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, and baritone Iain MacNeil. Also new to the Ensemble is pianist Jennifer Szeto. Today's concert was supposed to showcase all the Ensemble artists, but illness struck and sadly soprano Aviva Fortunata, tenor Owen McCausland and bass-baritone Gordon Bintner were unable to sing. But do not despair, as there will be plenty of opportunities to hear them in the next few months. The three new members were winners of last year's inaugural "Centre Stage" - 2013 Ensemble Studio Competition. Today's concert was the first public performance of the three young singers at the COC, not counting the invitation-only President's Council Season Opener two weeks ago.

Given the absence of three singers, the truncated program was shorter than usual. It started with Brockville bass-baritone Iain MacNeil singing Guglielmo's aria from Cosi fan tutte. Possessing an ingratiating stage presence and a solid, well-schooled instrument with an attractive timbre even throughout its range, MacNeil sang the Cosi aria with nice tone and an easy top. Woodstock-native mezzo Charlotte Burrage, a second year Ensemble member, gave us Sara's aria from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux.   Burrage has a lovely lyric mezzo with a rich timbre as well as a fairly pronounced but not obtrusive vibrato, which she had under good control in the soft, arching cantilena lines of this beautiful aria. Quebec soprano Karine Boucher was next, with Lauretta's "O mio babbino caro."  Hers is a really gorgeous lyric soprano, with a shimmering quality that is special. Last year I heard her sing a lovely Marietta's Lied from Die tote Stadt. To be honest, I wish she had chosen something more challenging - and longer - than the 2 minute "O mio babbino caro" which is really meant for a soubrette, but the audience loved it.  Let's hope she will sing something meatier in the next concert.

The voice of tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure is good example of what the Italians call a tenore di grazia, a warm, appealing, soft-grained voice of compact size, capable of lovely mezza voce.  I can see him as a very credible Nemorino and Fenton. The Le Roi d'Ys aria is ideally suited to his instrument, and Fortier-Lazure used his sweet head voice liberally to great effect. A resident of Mississauga, baritone Clarence Frazer is in his second year with the Ensemble. He chose Fritz's aria, "Mein sehnen, mein wahnen" from Die tote Stadt.  This gorgeous aria is practically a party piece for a lyric baritone, and Frazer sang it well, a few tentative moments in pitch and intonation aside. Top vocal honours of the recital went to the last singer, tenor Andrew Haji.  Now in his second year in the Ensemble, Haji has a really terrific lyric tenor, ideal in Mozart and in the lighter Italian repertoire. He showed what he could do in Italian operas by singing a wonderful "Una furtiva lagrima" which propelled him to the Grand Prize at Holland's Hertogenbosch International Vocal Competition earlier this month. Today, he sang the Duke's aria "Questa o quella" from Rigoletto, with truly lovely tone, a slight crack at the high note at the end notwithstanding. With that voice, I predict great things for Haji.

There you have it, the 2014-15 edition of the COC Ensemble.  All have beautiful voices, solid training, musicality and the desire to communicate their artistry. I look forward to hearing these fine singers over the course of the season.


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