In review: Opéra de Montréal's Atelier Lyrique joins the COC Ensemble Studio Artists of l'Opéra de Montréal's Atelier lyrique & the COC Ensemble Studio. Photo by Karen Reeves.

In review: Opéra de Montréal's Atelier Lyrique joins the COC Ensemble Studio

Jenna Simeonov

Each year the COC Ensemble and the Atelier lyrique de L’Opéra de Montréal send several of their respective artists on a week-long exchange. The artists travel to Toronto or to Montréal to work with teachers, coaches and dramaturges at the opposite company, and give local concerts highlighting the visiting singers and pianists. So like previous years, my curiosity was piqued as I arrived at the concert.

The four visiting singers from OdeM each sang two arias and a duet or trio with a member of the COC Ensemble. (Excluding, unfortunately, Florie’s duet with Gordon Bintner, who did not sing due to illness.) Soprano Florie Valiquette began with a clear, appealing “S’altro che lagrime,” from La clemenza di Tito. Her singing was very pretty, although it sounded a bit safe. When she returned to sing “En proie à la tristesse” from Rossini’s Le comte d’Ory, I heard what she could really do. Her coloratura was agile and still beautiful, moving from florid passages into a fierce run to the end, wisely pacing that classic Rossini aria-recipe. I heard Florie in last year’s Ensemble/Atelier concert in the RBA, and she really impressed me with the difference in her sound today. She had clear ring throughout her range, indicating a mature approach to singing coloratura.

Mezzo-soprano Emma Char was boyish and spontaneous with her “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle.” She showed off an easy top and a convincing character. I was so sold on her Stefano that I wasn’t sure how she’d pull off her second aria, Barber’s “Must the winter come so soon.” But I really liked her in this.  I was surprised by how she filled the aria’s roomy legato and maintained a captivating stillness; I was left wondering if she had more of that lush singing to offer in moments of her first aria.

We then heard Rachèle Tremblay, a native of Chambord, QC. Her first aria was the ever-famous “When I am laid in Earth,” from Dido and Aeneas. I have to admit, seeing it in the program made me prematurely (and unfairly) bored. But I thought Rachèle did her best singing in this aria, and she gave a rich warmth in her low register. She held on to her phrases to the very end, keeping us captive throughout this aria that has a history of maintaining a glacial pace. She returned later to present Strauss’ “Sein wir wieder gut,” my favourite holler-fest from the mezzo repertoire. This was a new piece for Rachèle, and I thought she demonstrated that Strauss will be on her professional plate in the future. She a powerful mezzo sound that will take her far, and although her top register had a tendency to go a bit wild, Rachèle has an instrument that will enjoy this kind of repertoire sooner rather than later. In the last of the away-team’s appearances, baritone Cairan Ryan broke the tension with an impressive “Largo al factotum.” Whenever a pianist breaks into those first few bars of Rossini, and there’s no singer yet in sight, I can safely prepare myself for an unorthodox entrance. And lo, from the heights of the fourth ring, Cairan solfegged his way down the Amphitheatre’s glass stairs and landed in the curve of the piano, just in time for his first line. This aria always feels like a party piece, but it’s a technical beast for the singer, and Cairan had it within his control. He sang with a bright, honest sound that gave him lots of opportunity for humour; his ease of the famous tongue-twisting text was commendable, and he left himself enough juice for all the high notes too.

Cairan returned later in the concert to sing the famously beautiful “Mein Sehen, mein Wähnen” from Korngold’s _Die tote Stadt. _For me, this aria’s beauty is a no-brainer. And given a baritone has the range and control required, all that’s alluring about the aria is in the score. Cairan set his performance apart with his use of the German text. I heard new phrasing, and I certainly heard Cairan’s love of the words he sang. I have a feeling he’ll find a home in much of the contemporary English opera coming out of North America.

Bookending the program were duets and trios which included members of the COC Ensemble Studio. Rachèle Tremblay and Aviva Fortunata opened with “Come ti piace, imponi” from La clemenza di Tito. Both singers were at home in their roles, and it was a good preview of what we may hear from them in the near future.

Ensemble members Aviva Fortunata and Claire de Sévigné joined mezzo Emma Char in a performance of the jaw-droppingly beautiful trio from _Der Rosenkavalier,_ ”Hab mir’s gelobt.” This is another piece that basically writes itself, and this performance was beautiful. Claire is a perfect fit for Strauss’ soprano roles, and I’m excited to hear her do more in the future. Aviva suited the role of the Marschallin, and pretty soon the hesitancy that may have been there today will be gone. Emma got slightly lost in the balance, but that’s pretty standard for this trio. Their blend was lovely, and it was a treat to hear this gem in the middle of the day.

Cairan Ryan was joined by Ensemble member Andrew Haji for a performance of “Au fond du temple saint,” Bizet’s famous duet from Les pêcheurs de perles. This was a highlight for me; I realized I hadn’t heard Andrew sing in French, and I loved his singing in this duet. Both singers have a clear sound, and the blend was lovely.

Familiarly, the singers all returned to the stage for a tutti rendition of the “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour” from Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. I know from personal experience that this is a common way to end these exchange concerts; I was torn between some nostalgia and wondering if the group could have finished with something a little flashier.

Pianist Michael Shannon of the COC Ensemble played impressively throughout the concert. It’s particularly hard for a pianist to play a program of excerpts. It means lots of hats to put on, and lots of different ways to play, and Michael showed he had no fear of binders full of arias. Atelier pianist Jennifer Szeto was seated beside Michael playing the role of page-turning; I couldn’t help wondering why she wasn’t involved in the concert. Then again, she’ll be joining the COC Ensemble next season, so she’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the Amphitheatre.

If there’s anything to notice when comparing the artists in the COC Ensemble to those in the Atelier, it’s the size of voice. I had a feeling that the singers from Montréal had more voice in them, and seemed to be singing on the safe side. When they were joined by Ensemble artists, this difference was particularly noticeable. Without knowing the artists better, I don’t have any conclusions to make about this. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the concert, and it was a nice peek at what’s happening with young opera singers elsewhere in the country.

Were you at the concert. What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!

For more information on the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, click [here](

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