Wilson shines in the COC's digital fall openerReview
The Canadian Opera Company has officially launched its 2021-22 season, which is set to be a mix of digital and in-person offerings. The fall kicked off in style, with a concert of arias and orchestral highlights from opera’s big-guns: Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, and friends. The headlining artists: beloved Canadian baritone Russell Braun, and star American soprano Tamara Wilson, backed by COC Music Director Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra.
If you can stand the bittersweet, sweeping camera shots of the oh-so-empty Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, this first proper digital item from the COC is something to be proud of. The COC Orchestra sounds wonderful, and it’s a treat to see the familiar body language of maestro Debus, masked as he is. The sound is excellent, and the concert has a visual balance of large-scale and intimate - bravo to director Taylor Long for that.
I could have done without the script given to General Director Perryn Leech, whom we’re all still getting to know. I get the idea behind it: greet the viewers, set up the concert, and offer conflict-free commentary between numbers. It certainly felt a bit hokey at times, but I sense that the COC has a better grasp on their core audience (and perhaps their age) than I do.
Russell Braun is a no-brainer for a concert like this. Toronto audiences love when he comes round the COC, and for this event, I loved that he made some ballsy choices in repertoire. His Verdi pick, Conte de Luna’s first aria from Il trovatore, isn’t my favourite, but I did have a fun moment of nostalgia, from when I last heard him sing it in the COC’s 2012 production. I was totally curious about his “Scintille diamant”, the famed aria sung by Dapertutto, one of the four villains in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. Braun is great in French, and I ended up loving this aria for him; currently very eager to hear it again, but in the same room.
It feels all too obvious, but I had the most fun basking in Braun’s sound as he gave us Korngold’s very gorgeous, certainly-overdone-by-many-baritones, “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen” from Die tote Stadt. The aria is so damn beautiful, and Debus pulled some lovely, waltzing touches out of the COC Orchestra.
Always thoughtful, never cerebral - it’s a rare find in a singer.
But really, from where I was sitting, the night belonged to Wilson. Arias from Tannhäuser, Nabucco, Tosca, Il trovatore, and Tristan und Isolde - she shone in all of them. She gave a hearty hello with her “Dich, teure Halle”, and came back a few numbers later to sing an absolutely unreal “Anch’io dischiuso”, Abigaille’s first aria from Nabucco. High C’s that keep getting better, two-octave leaps without a sweat - Wilson’s Verdi is utterly kick-ass, textbook from start to finish.
I figured that would be my highlight, but then Wilson gave us Leonora’s first act aria from Il trovatore, nestled right next to Isolde’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. I’ve always been impressed with her Italian singing; I heard her in the COC’s recent productions of Turandot and Otello, and was a solid fan.
But I also think Wilson may be my new favourite interpreter of Wagner. Her Isolde did things to me, made me stop and zone in. Wilson always impresses me in her attention to detail; it’s very clear that in the practice room, she has given attention to each note she sings. Yet when it’s time to leave the practice room and put on a show, she also has that knack for getting out of her head, and delivering her meticulous work like a real human being. Always thoughtful, never cerebral - it’s a rare find in a singer.
I highly suggest you take the hour, and watch this concert. The COC has generously made it free to stream, for those who have signed up for the Free Digital Membership. Go hear Braun in something new, be wowed by Wilson’s Wagner, and remember how great that opera house really is.