In review: An Evening with the Ensemble StudioReview
Thursday night as Toronto just finished setting a record high temperature, it turns out this super early sunshine wasn’t the only thing burning up the 6ix.
A fairly packed Four Seasons Centre welcomed me to a glass of red wine and some charcuterie before taking my seat for one of the most thrilling concerts I’ve heard in a while. I’m a sucker for some good coloratura and melisma - like, a REAL sucker for it - so the programme the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio had prepared was right up my alley (#coloraturanightincanada).
With the incredible COC Orchestra on stage surrounded by the set of their current production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the night opened with the overture and first five scenes of Mozart’s La finta giardiniera, then the stunning Norma/Adalgisa duet scene from Norma. After intermission they closed out the night with the final string of scenes from Handel’s Ariodante.
Mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo proves once again why she’s winning competitions left, right, and centre. Even though we only saw her in the second “act” as Ariodante, she did not hold back on delivering the goods. Her coloratura was flawless and her vocal range incredible. I felt she may have been constrained dramatically due to the semi-staged concert format, which I know from experience can be tough when you’re portraying such intense emotion for so long. The voice though, never stopped. Not once. It was thrilling and now I find myself really excited to see her do the full role.
Danika Lorèn sang the Marchioness/Sandrina in the Mozart and Ginevra in the Handel. A coloratura of surpassing beauty, she handled the drama of the night with the most skill in this format. When she sang, I forgot I wasn’t attending a full production. While her sassy Sandrina was beautifully sung and quite funny, it was her Ginevra that allowed us to really hear the sparkle she’s been gifted with (and by gifted I mean worked incredibly hard for years to cultivate) to really be appreciated in full. She and D’Angelo were a match made in heaven.
Soprano Samantha Pickett brought to the stage a Norma that was regal and human all at the same time. Her large and remarkably agile soprano effortlessly sailed through the hall in all parts of her range. Pickett’s tone gets more and more focused and beautiful every time I hear her. Her relationship with Adalgisa was portrayed in all its complexity without the exposition of the rest of the opera, which can be hard to carry off. Samantha made it look easy.
As Adalgisa, mezzo-soprano Megan Quick was a revelation to me. A bright, full, steely mezzo she evenly matched Pickett’s size note for note throughout the entire virtuosic range needed to sing this role. When the two ladies sang together it was heaven. Equal parts twinkle, honey, and fire I could have listened to them all night. When Ms. Quick and Ms. Pickett sang together, not only did you hear the beauty of their voices marry, but you could feel a palpable joy they had both in making music and making music with each other - a combination that brought the show to a stop and beckoned a mid-show encore curtain call. I’ll tell you this, I won’t be missing many of Ms. Quick’s future Toronto engagements.
Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Mireille Asselin sang the fiesty Serpetta and was hysterical in the Mozart, but it was her Dalinda that brought me to a standstill. Another soprano with incredible agility and range, her tone - though slightly more delicate - was perfectly suited to Handel and you could see her expertise in spades. Her duet with Lurcanio was beautiful and her aria full of fire and zest.
Lauren Eberwein spent the night in pants, as mezzos are wont to do. Her “short-lived” Polinesso was excellent, but it was her Ramiro in La finta giardiniera that let her shine. Again, so much coloratura! I was in heaven! I liked how settled she felt in pants roles. While it was really beautifully sung, the beauty of the female voice was never at odds with male characterization.
While it was a night for the ladies of the Ensemble Studio to show off (AND THEY DID) the “uomini” were not to be discounted.
Singing Roberto/Nardo in La finta giardiniera and the King of Scotland in Ariodante, baritone Bruno Roy sang with a smooth, mellifluous baritone that put a huge smile on my face. As the King of Scotland he cut a commanding figure, but I was really impressed with his “Nardo” in the Mozart. His patter skills are on point - I’m looking forward to seeing him shine in some more buffo roles.
Singing Odoardo in Ariodante and Don Anchise in La finta giardiniera, tenor Charles Sy brought out his trademark beautiful singing. A clear, clean line and shimmering tone throughout his range coupled with grace and skill on the stage were a perfect pairing for a Mozartian noble.
Tenor Aaron Sheppard sang Lurcanio in Ariodante and I think this is some of the best sining I’ve heard from him. He has a natural ease of production that’s perfect for Handelian tenor. His voice married perfectly with Asselin’s Dalinda and was their duet was a high point in beauty of the entire night.
As always, the COC Orchestra under Johannes Debus were in finest form - as they always are. Featuring Ensemble Studio intern coaches Stéphane Mayer (Mozart) and Hyejin Kwon (Handel) on harpsichord, the scores were crisp and clean and featured a nuanced balance between singers and orchestra. I have to give a shout out to their ability to highlight the dramatic intent of every piece. Mr. Debus is a dab hand at making the orchestra a character in the show in its own right.
Although I do miss the Ensemble Studio performances of the mainstage operas - and considering the Studio members are regularly featured in the mainstage shows this season, I feel this was a great way to display the virtuosity of these young singers. With all the sets and technical issues of presenting a fully-staged production removed, we were able to revel in the beauty and skill of the next generation of Canadian operatic superstars.
I can’t wait to be one of those people who say “I knew them when…”