The buzz around the Ensemble competition is steadily growing, which is a good development (I would definitely watch a Reality TV show focusing on the two weeks of prep leading up to the competition, as pitched by Trish Crawford in the Star article today).
We heard the ten singers, the awards have been given, but here’s my alternative tally for the night.
The Chutzpah Award
A young singer not playing it safe and being brave enough to take risks in the high-stakes competition like this one deserves an extra award. First place for bravery is split between two sopranos tonight, Aviva Fortunata and Lara Secord-Haid. Fortunata sang and acted the treacherously mountain-valley-mountain-valley “Ernani involami” with strength and integrity (her second aria was psychologically complicated Donna Anna’s “Or sai chi l’onore”, so not a smaller feat). Legato is not always there when called, but f*ck legato (for a moment). These are two difficult pieces, not meant to be pleasing. Secord-Haid sang “Regnava nel silenzio” from Lucia as her aria of choice, and even dared to embellish in some sections. (Her second aria was the fast and playful “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Romeo & Juliette.)
The Super-Special Award for the One Singer Who Dared to Include a Baroque Aria, Then Pulled All the Coloratura Stops In It
Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner sang an aria from Rinaldo, and how.
The Award for Subtlety
Mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan. She chose Stephano’s aria “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle” from R&J (unusual amount of Gounod tonight, NB) and was asked to sing “Torna di Tito a lato” from La clemenza. Neither a particularly exciting aria, but she made Gounod sound very eventful, and delivered the Mozart with serenity and simplicity. Honorable mentions in this category: baritone Clarence Frazer for his “Pierrot Tanzlied” from Die tote Stadt.
Frazer is also here, for solid German and Italian. He is joined in this category by the tenor Michael Marino who sang and pronounced “Questa o quella” from Rigoletto pretty dandily. He also gets a special mention as the only singer who ended up performing an aria somewhat close to contemporary music (a piece from The Rake’s Progress, for which he acted well, too).
Plenty of Ham
A few people. The winner of the evening, Gordon Bintner, not excluded.
The mezzo I somehow let slip through without being particularly impressed by
Charlotte Burrage, who received the official third place award. The first aria she sang was the rather dull number from The Tales of Hoffmann, which probably made me tune out for the second one, which ended up impressing the jury the most, the Komponist aria from Strauss’ Ariadne. It didn’t twig with me. Maybe because at that point I kept thinking that either the acoustics is unflattering for everybody there or everybody’s top is really strained.
The most unsurprising win
Andrew Haji, whom I’ve heard in an Aldebourgh Connections recital this year, where he was the highlight. He has the Italian tenor type voice, and considerable stage charisma. Bigger physique than even Pavarotti, but knows how to use it and never overacts. Consistency of tone, good legato… a thoroughly solid tenor.
The biggest surprise (and a positive one, too)
Somehow it happened that there were no sopranos among the winners this year. The hegemonic star voice remained unrewarded for a change. Makes me happy to see the sopranos be the moral winners — as opposed to the actual winners — of a singing competition for once.
The official winners of the second annual COC Ensemble competition this year are:
Third place award – Charlotte Burrage, mezzo
Second place award – Andrew Haji, tenor
First place award + The People’s Choice award – Gordon Bintner, baritone