This week: two lunchtime treats in the RBA (l-r) Soprano Claire de Sévigné and baritone Huw Montague Rendall, 2018, photo: Kevin Lloyd

This week: two lunchtime treats in the RBA

Jenna Simeonov

It was a good week for vocal recitals at the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

For a day as loaded as Valentine’s Day, it was a breath of fresh air to hear the love-themed recital by Claire de Sévigné, who is currently wowing audiences as Blonde in the COC’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

With pianist Rachel Andrist, de Sévigné offered no surface-level survey of songs about love - of which there are many, no doubt. Instead, she curated a five-set program that tells a thoughtful, individualistic story of love: the passion, the bond, the pain, the memory, and the truth.

The program started with everything that’s exaggerated, rose-coloured, and even naïve about love, in picks like Fauré’s Chanson d’amour (Love song) and Wolf’s hilariously sexy Was im Netze? Schau einmal! (What’s in the net? Just look!). De Sévigné found a touching arc through declarations of monogamy, moments of disillusionment and hurt, and finally coming out on the other side, presumably made wiser for the journey. Her final song, Frank Bridge’s exhilarating Love went a-riding, gave the impression that this lover had survived it all, with a smile still on her face.

De Sévigné’s voice made the same journey; she started from a young place with an almost timid sound, that finally bloomed (and perhaps wilted, appropriately). Her instrument has always had a bell-like ring to it, and lately she has proven that she is a layered artist, both in sound and in the thought she gives to her onstage work.

Punctuating her program were readings by Huw Montague Rendall, who proved a very cute surprise when he joined de Sévigné for an encore duet, Britten’s setting of that great Auden text, “Tell Me the Truth About Love”.

Soprano Claire de Sévigné, 2018, photo: Kevin Lloyd.

Thursday, the current members of the COC Ensemble Studio presented a meaty program of Russian song. The recital was a bit of a look-ahead to the COC’s upcoming season, which starts with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (September 30 to November 3). More interestingly, the Russian repertoire seemed to draw out of the Ensemble voices something settled and mature.

Artists of the COC Ensemble Studio, 2018, photo: Catherine Willshire.

There were juicy favourites on the program, like Onegin’s ponderous aria (sung by Bruno Roy) and the delicious “Serenade” from Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death (Samuel Chan). Striking were the lesser known picks, like Stravinsky’s fragile Two Poems by Kostantin Balmont (Danika Lorèn) and Georgy Sviridov’s The Virgin in the City (Samuel Chan).

(l-r) Pianist Stéphane Mayer and baritone Bruno Roy, 2018, photo: Catherine Willshire.

Like a good dish of comfort food, there was plenty of Rachmaninoff on this concert. They’re certainly not obscure or hard to find, and for good reason. Sergei’s scores offer a much-needed chance for the pianists to show off, and there was something special about these songs that brought out in the singers a rich, luxuriating sound. Noteworthy were the performances by Simone McIntosh - whose sound keeps transforming, and it’s very, very exciting to hear - and Lauren Eberwein - who keeps packing a punch in her newfound soprano Fach.

(l-r) Pianist Stéphane Mayer and soprano Lauren Eberwein, 2018, photo: Catherine Willshire.

For details and a full line-up of the Free Concert Series, click here.



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