In review: Ekaterina Gubanova & Rachel Andrist in recital
In the first of three voice recitals in a row this week at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, I heard mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova in recital with pianist Rachel Andrist. Rachel is a staple of the COC's music staff, working most recently on the COC's production of Bluebeard's Castle. Speaking of which, Ekaterina is between performances of Bluebeard right now, singing Judith for the final time in Toronto this Saturday night.
Since Ekaterina was completely stunning in Bluebeard, I was eager to hear her up close, in the well-lit Amphitheatre. The women treated us to two sets of Russian songs; Three Songs by Tchaikovsky preceded Modest Mussorgsky's amazing Songs and Dances of Death.
The Tchaikovsky were heavy (as plenty of Russian repertoire is), and Ekaterina showed off a beautifully consistent mezzo sound from top to bottom. I was impressed by her impossibly smooth transition into her chest register, which was full-bodied and clear. She really sold me on the third song, "Wasn't I a blad of grass in the field?" The story of a young woman, forced into an arranged marriage with an older man, was really touching; I was excited to see that Ekaterina is a lovely actress, and can tell a story without frills.
The Mussorgsky songs were what I was most excited to hear, especially since I hadn't heard them sung by a woman. The poems are eerie, each one a conversation between Death and one of his victims. Each of the four songs are dense, complete stories, set to various dances (I love the almost gross juxtaposition of this). Ekaterina had voices and postures reserved for when she was speaking as Death, altered slightly with each victim; she (Death) sang the sad lullaby to a baby and her mother completely differently than the Death who visited fallen soldiers on the battlefield. I loved how much creepy fun Ekaterina had during the Trepak, and she boasted a cannon of a sound in the final song. She had a completely charming look of "whoa, those songs are heavy" after she finished, echoing the sentiments of the audience.
Ekaterina and Rachel returned for an operatic encore, from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride. Almost entirely a cappella, with no translations, I was able to zero in on her really stunning sound. I love when singers can assure you that they're great at what they do, even without the transformative sets and lighting that help tell the story of Bluebeard's Castle.
If you haven't yet heard Ekaterina Gubanova in Bluebeard's Castle, you have one more chance. Follow the links below for details and tickets.
Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung at the Canadian Opera Company
A bride unlocks the rooms of her mysterious husband’s castle. A woman, lost in the woods, descends into madness. Robert Lepage’s ground-breaking production established the COC universally as a visionary and compelling company.