A week in the Amphitheatre Samantha Pickett singing in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo: Kevin Lloyd.

A week in the Amphitheatre

Jenna Simeonov

This week, the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre featured up a selection of voice recitals that seemed to have a theme of “unusual music”.

On May 9, mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy and pianist Rachel Andrist performed a programme of songs entitled “Women on the Edge”. Instead of some immediate picks like Strauss’ Ophelia-Lieder, or maybe Libby Larsen’s Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII, McHardy chosen Schumann’s Poèmes de Marie, reine des Écossais, Op. 135, Zemlinksy’s 6 Songs after Poems by Maeterlinck, Op. 13, and songs by Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

Women on the edge, indeed. Schumann’s song cycle tells the heart-wrenching story of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots in fragmented snapshots; in muted, understated settings, Stuart sings of her country, her son, and her life in prison. Zemlinsky’s settings of Maeterlinck poems are depressing at face value, but they have that storytelling quality - complete with the rule of three - that makes you lean in and listen. McHardy and Andrist closed the heavy programme with some well-timed humour, in Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love? and Gershwin’s The Lorelei (which feels like a first-person version of Hall & Oates’ “Maneater”).

Allyson McHardy (right) and Rachel Andrist performing in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo by Karen E. Reeves.

The next day, three members of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio gave an all-English concert entitled Transformations, with well-chosen sets of songs for each of their varied voices. With pianist Stéphane Mayer, tenor Aaron Sheppard gave us Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation, Op. 14, songs which often have a way of keeping listeners at arm’s length. Sheppard’s easy, almost American delivery of the poetry by Thomas Hardy made for an almost matter-of-fact performance; it was a nice foil to the murky texts, to see simplicity in action.

Aaron Sheppard performing in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo by Kevin Lloyd.

Soprano Samantha Pickett sang selections of Barber’s Hermit Songs, with the help of Hyejin Kwon’s lovely touch t the piano. Pickett’s earthy, human delivery was appealing and honest, and Kwon brought out the satisfying ring in Barber’s piano writing.

Megan Quick (right) and Hyejin Kwon performing in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo by Kevin Lloyd.

It was Megan Quick’s performance of Robert Fleming’s The Confession Stone (The Songs of Mary) that left the deepest impression. She sang five songs from the Canadian set written for Maureen Forrester, and showed off an enormous, rich mezzo that seemed to shake the intimate Amphitheatre. Her performance was subtle and thoughtful, yet centred in the voice; she had us thinking of a young Jamie Barton, and we’re excited to hear her on the big stage.

Next week is an exciting one in the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre. On May 17, the COC Ensemble Studio performs the world premiere of Ana Sokolović’s Dawn Always Begins in the Bones; on May 18, tenor Charles Sy marks his graduation from the Ensemble Studio with Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin with pianist Hyejin Kwon. Click here for more concert info for May, and be sure to show up nice and early to find a first-come, first-served seat.

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