Palpito dell’universo

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I might as well come out: La Traviata is—together with Don Carlos—the best thing Verdi ever did. Even though it’s an opera in which the Fallen Woman is tortured, accepts greatest self-sacrifice, and dies so that we the audience, and her torturers on stage, can realize that her moral behaviour is superior to those of the more widely accepted bourgeois pater familias’. Even so. Taken line by line, the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave has poetry, truth-telling and intelligence to burn, and that’s 160 years later. Acts 1 and 3 especially are doing well, the middle act likelier to show its age and melodramatic roots. The “E strano…Sempre libera” in Act 1, in which Violetta probes, rejects, embraces love in turns is a mini-act in itself, every line meaningful, and equally of our time as of Verdi’s. Every line, too, married to music just about perfectly. There are some cadenzas that singers who don’t give it their all can leave appearing illogical but that in the hands of great singers make perfect emotional rollercoaster sense.

In her house debut, Ekaterina Siurina was a fine and correct Violetta, if not entirely commanding or emotionally shattering. I had the impression she was somewhat reserved, keeping quite a bit of herself to herself. The production could not have helped: Arin Arbus’s reduced-traditionalist approach alas did not reduce the volume of the hoop skirts nor the elaborateness of the wigs and the headwear. In “E strano”, Siurina needs to go through the slew of conflicting emotions and criss-cross the stage while wearing a big wig chignon and a tiara, an unnatural constraint to her head in a scene of emotional directness calling for naturalism. She is—and so are we—luckier in the final act where she wears a nightgown and is much freer in her movement and much more expressive. Conductor Marco Guidarini with the COC Orchestra struck a perfect tempo for “Addio del passato”, drawn out, but not too drawn out; melancholy, while still serene; acquiescent, with a tragic tinge of hopefulness.  Considering the opera as a whole, Siurina’s voice had the odd moment of unevenness and disappearance under the orchestra, but was reliable and pretty overall. Joyce El-Khoury is sharing the role and it’ll certainly be worthwhile going again to see what she makes of Violetta.

Act 2 in many ways belongs to the two male protagonists, the tenor and his baritone father, excepting the brief “Amami, Alfredo” farewell by Violetta. Germont the Father visits the two love-doves in their country house, and skilfully blackmails Violetta while seeming to appeal to her compassion. She decides to comply and leave Alfredo upon his request, so Alfredo’s younger sister, “an angel”, could marry her suitor, reportedly reluctant to have anything to do with the family in which the son lives in sin with a former courtesan. As is his wont, Quinn Kelsey was excellent as Giorgio Germont, making the case for the old patriarch by showing his soft spots—Verdi is to blame here, as he gives him some fairly lyrical music amidst the predominantly solemn and menacing colours.

Tenors are the most clueless characters of any nineteenth-century opera, and Alfredo is not only slow on the uptake but bloodless, too—or let’s say, underwritten. There isn’t much to him, but the voice can save the character, and Charles Castronovo does exactly that with his ample and generous tenor, beautiful of tone, consistent, burnished in timbre. Both male protagonists sounded a size bigger than the leading soprano, but they are also not the ones singing practically non-stop for two hours, and don’t have to pace themselves.

Sets (Ricardo Hernandez) and costumes (Cait O’Connor) do the job, and rather well and inoffensively. There is some witty macabre bull puppetry at the party at Flora’s, and some gender-switching in the chorus-led story of the matador. The revelry in Act 1 and Act 2 has subtle accents of Tim Burton around the edges, but the protagonists remain traditionally clad. The final act set is particularly effective, as it lays bare the depth of Violetta’s solitude and her diminished means.

It’s a good production to take an opera novice to, faithful to the letter of the libretto, and probably the crowd-pleaser of the season. Unlike the Rossinis and Bellinis of yesterseasons, however, this crowd-pleaser has Verdi and Piave at the top of their game, and Arin Arbus’s production that, if not exactly adventurous, never for a moment gets tedious or lazy. We should count our blessings wherever we can.

15-16-01-MC-D-1052Photos, both by Michael Cooper, show Charles Castronovo and Ekaterina Siurina. La Traviata continues until November 6: tickets, dates and alternating casts here.

Verdi Requiem at the TSO with Wagner, Barton, Lopardo and Owens

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Wagner, Barton, Davis, Lopardo and Owens with the TSO in Verdi’s Requiem. Photo by Malcolm Cook

Verdi’s Requiem is a huge spectacle: an opera in search of a staging—and preferably by Cirque de Soleil.

Those who like their Mass for the Dead showy and grand will think of Verdi’s Req as the default Req. There is an in-built mise-en-scène to the work. The dramatic Dies Irae (the Judgment Day) unleashes its force at the beginning of the Sequence, but then reappears half hour later between Confutatis and Lacrymosa, and then later, in the concluding Libera me. It is used as a melodic ‘hit’, and to add dramatic accents. Tuba mirum has brass on and off stage, which create a theatrical space in the music with a sort of call-and-response. The Recordare, usually one of the softest movements in any Requiem, with the dying narrator begging Jesus (the one who sits to the right of the Father, not the earth-roaming, merciful one) not to judge her too harshly, is here of course soft too but also a virtuoso soprano-mezzo exercise reminiscent of Norma and Adalgisa. The Libera me at the end is a mini-scena, given to the soprano who soars and amazes—more ostentation than supplication, more aria than a prayer.

There *are* some contemplative movements too, not all is over-excitement–Hostias, or the tenor’s Ingemisco and the bass’s Confutatis, and the very opening which begins with a pianissimo chorus particularly stand out. But this Requiem won’t get you thinking about death, put it that way. There are too many resplendent things in it that entertain and comfort. If to study philosophy is to learn to die (Cicero via Montaigne), to listen to a Requiem is also something of the sort—a reminder, a reckoning. Not so with Verdi’s Requiem.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra was its usual competent self on Thursday night, under the baton of its very very very frequent guest conductor and former music director Andrew Davis. TSO is good at honouring its history—in fact, I wish it was less good at that, and have more guest conductor debuts. There seem to be a number of conductors who appear in just about every season brochure. Maybe skip your all-time favourites sometimes, dear TSO? What’s with the MSO’s seasons getting more and more unpredictable and diverse, how come they are beating us at that? Mariss Jansons’ one Canadian stop next year will be the MSO, par example.

On the good news front, the four soloists of the Requiem are all making their TSO debut with this concert. And they were uniformly good. I will begin by singling out the lyric tenor who among the three big-voiced soloists more than held his own. Frank Lopardo’s appealing timbre and evenly beautiful tone impressed in the Ingemisco solo, and all the trios and quartets, particularly in Hostias, arguably the contemplative peak of the entire musical score. As he’s no stranger to Toronto—he already sang at the COC—let’s hope we hear him again on concert stage.

The bass goes solo twice and Eric Owens struck the right tone with his interpretation: the considerable power of his voice in check, an almost humble, understated approach, without any overly dramatic flourishes. In contrast, the soprano is often asked to soar above the entire orchestra and the soloists and Amber Wagner gave a performance full of joy and zeal, never neglecting the technical precision. The score asks of the soprano some atypical jumps into the lower register, but Wagner handled them well.

Jamie Barton is such a distinctive voice and such a big personality, it’s almost too bad that we didn’t get to see her in a piece that gives the mezzo more to do. Still, her presence was notable. She particularly shone in the Lux aeterna (shared with the tenor and the bass) and the duos/vocal dances with the soprano—Recordare and Agnus Dei.

This was a fine performance by the Symphony and the TMC of a work that is likely to make you think of anything but the dead and the finitude.

As Achim Freyer well knows. Here’s the trailer for his (circus-y!) staging of Verdi’s Requiem at the Deutsche Oper.

COC announces the 15/16 season

COC announces the 15/16 season

One doesn’t usually return from season announcements cheerful like a loonie, but there you go: I am cheerful. The seasons are usually planned according to the customary Neef Balance: some bold stuff on one side, some stuff for the conservabores* (term I’m borrowing off Michelle E) on the other, ratio at about 50-50. Tonight, though, the interesting and the bold tipped ever so slightly. A harbinger?

So: the good stuff:

A new work, composer Barbara Feldman Monk‘s Pyramus and Thisbe (2010, but never performed) to be paired up with Monteverdi’s rarely staged shorts Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Lamento di Arianna, in a brand new (is it ever) production by Christopher Alden. The P&T libretto is engaging with Rilke, Faulkner, St John of the Cross, according to this page. I can’t wait to see how Alden interweaves the three elements.

Claus Guth’s Nozze sounds good. It’s a rental from Salzburg, apparently a dark and non-comedic take on the piece. This review and this review both emphasize its intimist, non-political, psycho-sexual-drama approach. Picture me intrigued. Available on DVD, so I’ll probably get hold of it beforehand.

Neef also announced from the stage a series of new commissions for the next few years. In 2016, they’ll be taking James Rolfe + Anna Chatterton’s Donna to Banff for workshopping; Harry Somers’ Louis Riel will get a new production in 2017 (the old made-for-TV one is available on DVD and still fairly watchable), 2018 is the time for Rufus Wainwright’s opera on the Emperor Hadrian and his, er, favourite, and by 2020 Ana Sokolovic will have composed an opera on Michel Marc Bouchard’s libretto to be based on his play Christina, La Reine-Garçon. The strong representation of women in these productions is highly commendable, starting from Barbara Monk next year, or even starting from Kaija Saariaho a couple of seasons back.

And speaking of women, there is will be one stage director of female persuasion next year: Arin Arbus. Her CV sounds intriguing–she’s sometimes described as an off-Broadway luminary and an innovative Shakespearean. She’s also done theatre in correctional facilities. Her Traviata looks fairly traditional and pretty, though.

Which already introduced us to:

The mixed blessings stuff:

The Divo/a Vehicle this time isn’t as conservaborish as last year’s Don Quichotte: Rossini’s Maometto II with and for Luca Pisaroni will be directed by David Alden. It’s a Santa Fe production. I dunno. Rossini doesn’t lift any of my skirts, but it’s David Alden, and apparently Pisaroni is a rare coloratura basso, so… we’ll see. Also in that production, mezzo Elizabeth DeShong, who is always good news.

Siegfried. My least favourite bit of the Ring. BUT. It’s François Girard so there’s bound to be something of interest there. Also, Christopher Purves house-debuts as Alberich. Oh and, hello Maria Radner, the Erda of the production.

A Carmen revival. Title role to be sung by Anita Rachvelshvili and Clementine Margaine. An old production, which looks like this, but some money will be put into reinventing it. Knowing Joel Ivany of the AtG, who is given the task, good things may happen.

Some final bits of the good stuff:

– FINALLY. Two of the three new Ensemble Studio members are not Caucasian: tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon. HEAR ME OUT NOW. These Young Singers programs across North America tend to be awfully white, and not only that, the women increasingly tend to be of a certain (thin) body type. Would be nice to begin to buck the trend and kinda rock? The cherriest of the cherries on the cake tonight, soprano Aviva Fortunata (aka Ensemble Studio’s Adele) sang a gorgeously somber Rossini aria while sounding like Marilyn Horne. Plus, there was Andrew Haji.

– The opera house was full for the event. It’s an invitation-only (subscribers, donors, the media, singers’ families eccetera) but due to the number of people and the mix, it felt like an almost open to the public event. Ideally, you’d want to have the unticketed open-door ‘outreach’ and education events and concerts inside the R. Fraser Elliott too, not only on the uncomfortable steps of the Richard Bradshaw. That’s the hope, anyway. Opera is an opportunity for a community, a society, to gather round, and take a good look at itself. (Totally agree with Gérard Mortier on this one.) A public forum, in many ways. There was a hint of that in the air last night. Don’t know how long this feeling will last, but it’s nice to experience it.

What makes a chorus tick

What makes a chorus tick

Just this Friday I completed a near-3000-word article about the Canadian Opera Company Chorus that will come out in the Spring issue of Opera Canada. For it, I interviewed eight singers, one stage director and Sandra Horst, the COC chorus master. It was a hugely interesting assignment. The article follows the making of the season from the perspective of the chorus:

– the chorus master receives the program two years in advance

– runs the annual audition six months in advance of the start of the season, selects the singers

– singers working on their scores in advance of the rehearsals

– choral rehearsals with the chorus master only

– rehearsals with the director and the conductor

– music direction continues after the performances start (the chorus gets 15-min notes from the chorus master before every performance)

– how the choristers work with various stage directors; what productions stand out for them

– the choristers’ other life (some have full-time jobs in unrelated professions, others teach privately or within the school system, freelance as instrumentalists, or are working towards building a solo career).

The article will soon go through the copy-editing stage, so I can’t share more at this point, but I sure plan to once we’re close to publication. And I can’t wait to see what the design wizards of Opera Canada will do with the spread for this one.

Meanwhile, my thanks go to: bass Ken Baker, baritone (and violinist) Michael Sproule, tenor James Leatch, mezzos Lilian Kilianski, Erica Iris Huang and Karen Olinyk, sopranos Ingrid Martin and Alexandra Lennox-Pomeroy, director Samantha Seymour and natch the chorus master Sandra Horst. The singers are currently working on the three (to them completely new) scores, Hercules, Roberto Devereux and Don Quixote, all to be sung this spring.

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Un ballo in maschera by Wieler-Morabito at the COC

Un ballo in maschera by Wieler-Morabito at the COC

Un ballo in maschera (Giuseppe Verdi-Antonio Somma, 1859). A Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, revival director Samantha Seymour. Conductor Stephen Lord. Seen at the Canadian Opera Company on February 5. My intro to Il Ballo HERE.

MaskedBall-COC1The setting is American of indeterminate age, closer to the Civil Rights era American South than perhaps today’s South. Riccardo (Dimitri Pittas) is a progressive and popular but philandering governor or President who is, unlike the libretto Riccardo, married—to a lady aware of his peccadilloes but willing to turn the blind eye. (This is a silent role, costumed in Jacky O-like ensembles with gloves and hats.)

We are in a wedding/dance hall on the ground floor of a hotel. One look at the first crowd scene, and there is an obvious racial divide between the guests and the serving staff. We are in the middle of what could be a political party retreat—the hotel has been booked for a few days and the operators, the handlers, the staff will all work and play in the same building. The wives are there too, but women make fewer outings. The tutti chorus scenes are the occasions for expressing American nationalism, so for the martial  “O figlio d’Inghilterra” everybody is solemnly putting their hands to their hearts as they would for the Star-Spangled Banner. The final scene of the opera also unfolds as the national coming together in a joint destiny.

Oscar is the only woman among the inner circle, and according to the program notes, she is a performance artist hired by the free-thinking politician to inspire, stir up, and tell the truth during their decision-making sessions. I would not have known this without the notes, but the girl called Oscar (Simone Osborne, in the best role I’ve seen her in) could easily work here as a mysterious jester figure who just happens to join the suits at some of the key moments to mock or propel action. It’s a really well thought-out role—Oscar runs around (entire stage is her playground), toys with the microphone, wears the Bjork swan dress at the ball, mocks the dramatic scenes as they’re happening, and does macabre pranks. (The first shot heard in the production is Oscar’s doing. It is a glitter gun shot-cum-champagne cork explosion, at the end of Act 1, making fun of everybody’s protectiveness around the politician, and of his own fear of assassination. Needless to say, we’ll hear another, proper shot in the final act.)

Ulrica (Elena Manistina) is likely the member of the staff, since one of her layers of clothing is the light blue staff uniform, over which she’s thrown a knitted sweater. I couldn’t figure out what the object levitating while she’s telling fortune is, but it looks much like one of those public washroom keys that have enormous key chains. She might as well be washroom cleaning staff, or one of those old ladies who collect coins at the toilette entrances. For her prophesy scene, the female chorus wearing staff uniforms settles down to listen. It’s the end of the work day.

The big do around Ulrica’s expulsion that Riccardo prevents could be either the firing from the hotel, or deportation due to her immigration status. Either would make sense.

Riccardo and Amelia have their big private courting scene in the empty hall after everybody else has gone to bed. (Except his wife, who after walking in on them, discreetly leaves unnoticed.) The two hanged figures incongruously dangling from the ceiling—the lovers are, after all, supposed to be meeting near the gallows—could be a wink-and-nudge in the direction of the letter of the libretto, or, and I prefer this interpretation, an illustration that we’re still in an era of the acceptance of the death penalty.

The scene of the masked ball is equally well executed, with most of the people ending in a sleepy drunken stupor, and Oscar lying down over the laps of the equally inebriated conspirators seated front stage. Renato seems to be the only one left sober.

Musically, no fault was to be found in the Stephen Lord-conducted Verdi that night. I was in row N (about eight or nine rows from the pit) and the orchestra never overpowered. The volume stayed under control, and Lord kept the pit finely attuned to the sometimes rather intimate and other times properly rowdy goings-on on stage. Bryan Epperson Alastair Eng‘s cello provided a sweetly dark accompaniment to Amelia’s remarkable “Morro, ma prima in grazia”. Adrianne Pieczonka’s Amelia equally shone in her other solo number, “Ma dell’arido stelo divulsa” (English horn obbligato from the pit by Lesley Young). There were some show-stopping highass pianissimi out of silent pauses that were sheer magic.

Pittas sang Riccardo well, although he is and looked much too young for the role of a charismatic middle-age Lothario. Roland Wood’s baritone is brightly coloured and supple, but his Renato was more in a comic than sinister mode. I somewhat missed the drama of the vengeful husband with Wood’s Renato as a genial John Goodman sort.

Osborne’s bouncy Oscar added necessary spice of ironic & fabulous & sometimes even camp to the proceedings.

Remaining performances: 8, 11, 14, 16, 20, 22 February.

Photos by Michael Cooper / COC

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Interview: Samantha Seymour, revival director of Wieler-Morabito’s Un Ballo in Maschera

Samantha Seymour 2012-bwA British ex-pat in Munich, Samantha Seymour was well-set on an engineering career when she first caught the opera fever. It came to her fairly late in life, and thanks to an opera-loving friend who shared the tickets to the Bayerische Staatsoper. A Xerxes with Ann Murray particularly stands out as an early favourite. Many operas later, Seymour found herself downsized and out of a job in an industry of seemingly stable employment and steady career paths. She used the opportunity to turn to what she loved even more than maths and sciences: opera directing. A return to school followed, and a period of retraining. At one of the workshops she met the directors Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, and it all started from there.

You were also the associate and revival director on another project by W & M, and that is the Rusalka in Salzburg. Do they usually rely on you for the revivals, how does this collaboration work?

We all think it’s best to have someone who knows the production from the beginning rather than getting someone who’s seen the video. And the Ballo was actually the first production I worked on with the two of them in Berlin, so I have a lot of happy memories of our time there.

Is there anything left for the associate director to decide when she’s working on the revival?

That’s the great thing about Jossi and Sergio—they give me and the artists a lot of flexibility. Which is great: artists aren’t marionettes and you don’t get them to do exactly the same thing that their predecessors in the role did. It’s my job to bring in their personality and their creativity and allow them to adapt the role in the spirit of the staging to their own personality. If they invent something that’s really nice, we keep that in. That’s great for me too because I get to make the artistic decisions with them.

Every singer already comes with an idea of the character because they learn the role and think about the words they are saying and the situation they’re in, what the character’s progression is. If there are any issues with the staging, the cast would discuss their take on the character. All that can be very useful. And I learned from Jossi and Sergio’s way of working with the singers, and then adapt that to working with the revival cast.

Do singers come with a notion of what the production is like? This one is not your typical Ballo; did singers watch a recording of it or some excerpts beforehand?

I don’t think they’ve seen the DVD this time. Sometimes they do, sometimes we say it would be good if the cast could get a DVD before they come to rehearsals, they can look at it if they want to; sometimes in a revival we work from the DVD; but here with didn’t work with the DVD at all. So it’s all – walk and talk. Sometimes it can be quite difficult [if you see the role on DVD and it looks very different from your own idea] and your reaction is Oh my god, seeing it from the outside. But with this production I found mostly when you actually walk and talk them through what they’re living and why, then it actually does make sense by the time you get through to the end.

I had a really lovely singer in Rusalka when we did it in Geneva and he was very upset by how his character in that staging. (He is Czech and the work is Czech and he grew up with the work…) He kind of freaked. For about five minutes. Then he came back, “Right, we have a job to do.” And he had hundreds of questions and by the time we got through them all, he was fine.

What is the idea behind this production? Set in 50s-60s? It looks American.

It is sort of American – it’s the Boston version, not the Swedish version of Ballo. It’s about finding the time period that is conservative enough and prejudiced enough to fit what’s happening in the opera. Riccardo is not JFK and not Bill Clinton and not Obama but he could be all of them.

If you put it in present time, it maybe too glib; you need a certain distance. For Verdi since this opera got moved its location so many times, that obviously wasn’t the most important thing, where it was set. More important was to find a setting that will show that this was social and political mechanism at work in this situation. So we have a synthetic America that looks like the 60s America but has some elements which aren’t necessarily congruent with the Sixties. (The “Bjork dress” that Oscar has in the third act, for example, which is here instantly recognizable). So it’s a composite time and place; picking up on what Verdi himself said, to copy the truth is good, but to invent the truth is better. We play with that a little bit. You’ll see with this young cast that we have, the dance style is slightly less traditional than it has been. They all got their moves and they’re showing them.

How is it to direct the chorus in a chorus-heavy opera?

Chorus staging is usually the most strenuous because you have loads of people running around – you need, like, five pairs of eyes to watch them all. But the stage management in the Anglo-American system really helps a lot. To have stage managers who know what they’re doing… and help coordinate the entrances, that’s a big help.

There’s a difference between the Continent and the rest in this regard?

The European system is slightly different. Stage managers here have many more duties and more responsibilities from the Inspizient in Europe. Part of the Assistant Director’s work in Europe is part of the Stage Manager’s work here. And obviously they look after health and safety and those kinds of things… When I first worked in Covent Garden and had proper stage management, I loved it.

Ballo1There are many crowd scenes in this opera, I take it.

Yeah, we have a lot, particularly with the gentlemen’s chorus; I know most of the men’s names but not all the ladies’ names. The ladies are in two of the scenes and the gentlemen in a lot of the scenes, and I spend a lot more time with them. I actually mixed up two of the guys and they swapped their name tags on the next rehearsal as a test, but I managed to remember! “You haven’t fooled me with your name tags! I know I need you and not him.”

And you probably know who’s baritone, who’s tenor…

To be honest: I don’t.

Then you probably don’t have to know.

We discussed it with the chorus master about who is being cast in which parts. They have the conspirators who are bass roles, and she divided up the chorus, and then we just said, this is how we’re gonna position them, is that fine, do you have the acoustic, do you want them more mixed, more grouped, she said No, mixed is good, and that’s how it went.

We put them in position, let them sing, check with the Maestro if it’s fine with him. It’s important to make sure that music is happy as well. And check at the beginning, because it’s much easier to change something at the beginning than is once you got on stage when you’re further down the line.

So the blocking… is it also called blocking when you’re directing the chorus?

Yeah, things you have to sort out, that everyone is in the right place at the right time, and that the principals aren’t obscured by the chorus and that kind of stuff. You have some blocking, you set it up, but then you let it run. I really encourage them to be inventive and to go with their instinct. There’s the scene with Riccardo where Ulrica is reading his palm and we got them set up in a semi-circle of chairs. If they feel like standing up and moving in to see what’s going on, then I’m encouraging them to go with that instinct. It makes it much more lively; they’re engaged with what’s going on and the audience is engaged with what’s going on. If they’re on the edge of their seats watching the palm being read, then the audience will be too. Or we have the scene when Riccardo says to all the gentlemen, Right, we’re gonna go to Ulrica, we’re gonna dress up. And they have this amazing energy—like, football game kind of energy—where they’re getting undressed and getting changed and disguised as sailors, and they really get into that. Throwing the sweaters like they’re footballs and that kind of thing.

I see, there’s a lot of room for them to invent their own characters.

Yeah. That’s what we want to see. There are some productions where you would want to have chorus as a uniform mass, you don’t want individuals – I don’t know, if you want to show a dictatorship or something, and you want them all to look the same and act the same, and there’d be an artistic reason for that. But here we want a group of individuals. Who maybe have a common purpose or common background but all do their own thing within the staging.

Does it ever get too lively for you, does it ever get anarchic?

Not yet! Up to now, it’s more encouraging them to actually experiment. It’s much easier to have too much and remove bits than is to want more from them and to not be getting it.

Where are you usually, do you watch from the distance, or are you among the singers?

Both. Particularly the first few times we did the scene because we have a huge set. When we’re doing the ball scene, for example, they’re in couples and dancing and then falling asleep and going down to the floor and making out. So in order to see all that properly, I would take a tour right through and check what people are doing – for the first couple of times. Then I’d pull back a bit and watch from out front but obviously in the rehearsal room it’s quite close. Now we’re on stage, I’ll be further away and getting the big picture.

The pit will be between you and the stage now?

Yes. I could go up if I wanted to, but I feel I have to be further away now – don’t know if it’s in the tenth row exactly, the desk – and pull back. And maybe also watch for the sight lines.

I have to ask you about women and the positions of artistic responsibility in the opera world. Conducting is obviously very closed to women, but I have the impression that stage direction is somewhat more open. Comparatively.

That is my impression as well. There are an increasing number of female directors, certainly in German-speaking Europe, which is the area I know. An increasing number who are becoming prominent. But still there are a lot more men doing the job. And there are more women assistants than directors, put it that way.

That was my next question. The assistant tier has probably more women.

Yeah, my impression is that there are a lot of assistant directors who are female. And I guess some of them don’t want to become directors. And some of them do.

Is that the way for a woman to become a director? By being the assistant first? I mean, I know there is no typical career, but maybe we can find some regularities.

I guess that’s what a lot of people do. Even those who studied directing, basically their first jobs are usually assistant or associate directors, there are very few who get the chance to do their own staging early on in their career. And some people—men too!—stay as associate directors and are more or less frustrated by it. Depending on what their goals are.

Maybe working on revivals gives more freedom than working together with the directors on a new production would?

Yeah… I tend to hold back although with Jossi and Sergio maybe now I would say more because of having revived several of their productions and maybe make more of a contribution. Some directors don’t want it. But with them—I sometimes find myself up on stage if one of the artists is not available for whatever reason and I would go up there. I “played” most of the cast of this production at some point in Berlin. My first one was Silvano, the drunken veteran marine. The first chorus rehearsal we had in Berlin—and I hadn’t acted since school, and hardly in school—I was asked, Oh can you go and give us your Silvano. (WHAT!?) But I went and did it and they really liked it. Basically every time after that when a role needed to be subbed, I was there. When we were doing scenes that require the chorus but the chorus wasn’t there yet, only the principals, I was asked to play the chorus. So there are several things that I introduced that way, and they’d go “We’re buying that!” and they would give it as a direction to the principal or to the chorus members later in the rehearsals.

They’re very open to suggestions. Like, jokey stuff too… I remember at one of the ORCAs for this production with the original cast, Piotr Beczala was singing Riccardo, and when he came into the ball, he just had a little dance with his first lady, just as a joke, and they said, “That’s it! We’re keeping it.”

Ballo2Can you tell me a bit about your other collaborations?

I’ve done workshops with young singers during their training programs with Peter Konwitschny and with Martin Kušej. But not a full-blown production with them yet. There are loads of people out there that it would be great  to work with, to see how they do things, people like Claus Guth, or Christof Loy. May come, we’ll see.

Stefan Herheim?

Yeah, I got to not work with him because I’m working on the revival of this.

That would have been Les vêpres in London?

I would have been in London, but I was in Berlin doing this.

Do you have to have an agent, as an associate director?

I don’t have one, no.

Do directors have to have an agent, even?

I think it’s a personal choice. Some people do, some people don’t. I guess it depends how tight your schedule is getting. If you’re booking 3, 4 years in advance, you need somebody to manage that.

What’s next for you, after this Ballo?

I get to have a holiday! And this summer I’ll be back with Jossi and Sergio in Stuttgart doing Tristan und Isolde. It’s a new production; we already had some pre-rehearsals in November, which was really great. Both our principals said that it was lovely for them, to have time to rehearse and think about things without the pressure of having to sing. The principal singers are Erin Caves, young American tenor and Chistiane Iven, member of the Stuttgart ensemble, who did Kundry and Ariadne. They’re both great, at singing and acting both. Erin was playing about with his Tristan doing jazz hands etc. He can move. We spent a lot of time reading the text and talking about what the text means and how to interpret it. I always like doing the spoken theatre rehearsal, so we can discus the text.

Is that how the three of you usually begin working on a new opera?

Not usually, but in the case of Tristan, we did. Especially with the second act duet, and Christiane was very keen, and kept asking, “So what does this actually mean!” Even as a German speaker, it’s really quite abstruse.

And they’re talking non-stop, the characters.

I saw a production by Claus Guth once which was the first time I actually realized that in the first act they tell the story of Isolde looking after Tristan when he was sick three times. Which they played out every single time. They told it, and they got two people to play Tristan and Isolde for each occasion.

He dramatized the monologues, essentially?

Yeah. Which is interesting, because when you listen, you don’t necessarily realize they’re telling the same scene over and over again. Then they tell it again in second act.

So it’s good to have time to read and discuss the text, and we did. It’s difficult especially because, as everyone says, “nothing happens” in this opera. This inner journey that they go through, it’s important to find a way to put that into a staging.

We do have a ship. We have a proper ship.  That’s all I can say.

This will be in Stuttgart in summer?

In July, yes.

I take it you speak fluent German.

Yes.

Other opera languages probably too?

French and Italian, yeah. I’m learning Russian. Having had this experience in Czech with Rusalka, where I had no knowledge of the language, I thought, okay, if I have to do a production in Russian, I have to at least be able to read it and pronounce it.

But you are not learning it in Cyrillic letters?

I am, actually.

Impressive!

I started learning it just to read and pronounce, but I got into it, got interested in the language. But it’s not like I can speak it or anything.

Allow me a snarky observation: there are many opera directors who don’t speak any language other than their own.

I just love the languages. But German I would know, since I lived there for twenty years.

So that explains your German accent! On top of the British one.

I lived there for too long, and just seem to keep the German accent. When I was in London, I did a lot of the rehearsals still in German, and when I spoke in English people weren’t sure where I was from. I got asked if I was from the north of England a lot. Here in Toronto, I haven’t spoken any German. We’re all speaking English.

Un Ballo in Maschera opens at the Canadian Opera Company on February 2nd at 2PM. More info.

Photos by Ruth Walz show two scenes from the Berlin Staatsoper Un Ballo in Maschera, 2008.

News flash

News flash

Aida by Py— Bloor Cinema is starting to screen opera. The Met in HD is no longer the only game in town. The independent cinema house, owned by the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival, will be showing the Paris Opera’s recent Aida (directed by Olivier Py, Philippe Jordan conducting) on Saturday January 18th at 1:30PM. For the very affordable tickets and more info go here. The new Paris production saw a great deal of controversy, and was one of the few which got boos even during the dress rehearsal. (Which prompted France Musique to dig out this video of a similar occasion, when Gérard Mortier had to interrupt a dress rehearsal for Warlikowski’s Parsifal and ask the booers to be civilized or leave.) No fundamentalist is more rabid than the Aida fundamentalist, and the Parisian ones were out in full force for the duration of the run. To say that it’ll be an intriguing production would be an understatement. I was eager to go, but realized I had tickets for the Cosi fan tutte at the COC later that day, and two operas back-t0-back would not be something my ripe old age could handle. I hope some of you see it and tell me all about it.

I asked Robin Smith, the Cinema Programmer at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, if this was a one-off or if they plan to continue to screen operas. “Yes, we do have plans to do Operas regularly at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Currently we are trying to feature at least 1 new opera to present our audience each month,” was his reply. He was able to share that we would see productions from both the ROH and the Paris Opera, but promised to have more specifics for me by mid-next week. Stay tuned.

–A new and intriguing transladaptation. Several departments of York University are collaborating on this updated version of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, to be directed by Gwen Dobie and conducted by Stephanie Martin.  Blurb: “In a Toronto prison in 2014, inmates crack open this satirical tale of corruption, social inequality — and a very messy love triangle.” Runs January 29-Feb 1, with the Jan 28 preview. More on the idea, and how to get the tickets here.

–Mezzo Stephanie Blythe is giving two voice Master Classes at UoT (Jan 21 and 23) and will perform “An Evening of English Songs” with pianist Steven Philcox and student artists (Jan 24). All of this is free, and takes place at UoT’s Walter Hall. More info here. Soprano Tracy Dahl is also giving a Master Class, baritone Thomas Allen is giving a talk, and British composer Gabriel Prokofiev is doing various things during his residence at UoT (look here for a handy calendar of UoT events this month).

–Hippolyte et Aricie in concert on February 2, something I can’t miss. The always outstanding Alyson McHardy will be Phedre, Kevin Mallon will conduct his period band the Aradia Ensemble, and the other credits look very appealing too.

Photo: The Paris Opera Aida, 2013

The Opera Questionnaire: Cecily Carver

The Opera Questionnaire: Cecily Carver

If there is one person who we can blame the most for the fact that I started this blog back in 2010 (David Miller was Mayor… YNS was just taking over the Philly… screamers were screaming over Tim Albery’s Aida…), it’s Cecily. I discovered her own blog All Time Coloratura while desperately looking for Toronto-area opera blogs and found out the COC had scooped her as a digital publicist that very month (Cecily has since returned to IT and feminist gaming). I emailed her about the logistics of starting an opera blog, telling her that I had no idea how to run the thing, that there were so many wonderful opera blogs already, that I didn’t know if I’d add anything, and if I’d get the tone right, eccetera, and she said “But you must start it, it’ll be great! Never you mind the details, you’ll figure them out soon enough. Just get going.” So I followed her advice. We can blame her for what ensued.

We’ve met and talked and kaffee-klatsched a number of times since, and it’s always been a pleasure. This latest edition of The Opera Questionnaire will give you a hint of how brilliant and lovely she is.

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Cecily CarverThe work (or the scene) that is most likely to make a teen intrigued?

As someone who became an opera addict during my teenhood, it seems to me that opera is very well-suited for teenagers already – with its romanticism and big emotions. My adolescence wasn’t particularly painful or traumatic, but I was a very inward-focused, anxious, and emotional teenager. I was half in love with most of my friends but also desperately shy.

I lived in a drab city with drab weather, I didn’t drive, and since my high school was far from my home, I spent a lot of time riding the bus. Most of my music-listening was done while riding a bus through the city streets in winter. Opera fit me like a glove back then, because I was hungry for beauty and romance. I wanted beautiful clothes and beautiful surroundings, and wanted to be beautiful myself. Opera sounded beautiful, it looked beautiful on stage, and it took all my feelings and dressed them up and painted them in bright colours. And because none of my friends listened to opera, it made me feel like I was a special person for liking it.

A lot of what I liked were things I’d be a little ashamed to admit to now in serious company, like Rachmaninov, Puccini, and operetta. But those things were absolutely perfect for a shy teenager full of feelings to listen to on long bus rides through the snow. Tales of Hoffmann was a favourite. I also really liked Mahler (Still do. When I read the TSO’s brochure every year my first thought is usually: When is the Mahler).

The trouble with trying to “intrigue a teen” in opera is that it’s usually presented in such a pandering way. “Mozart was like a rock star in his day,” or “Rigoletto is all about sex and violence, just like those movies you like,” etc. Teenagers tend to be resistant to loving things that adults try to foist on them, especially if it’s wearing “high culture” clothing. And, opera is such a strange and stylized beast that trying to present it as connected to mainstream pop culture in any way is doomed to failure. A lot of ad campaigns for opera make me cringe, for this reason.

I don’t know if I’d have loved opera as much if it didn’t feel like something I found on my own, something that belonged to me.

I did make opera mixtapes for my friends. I would still make opera mixtapes for my friends if they asked me. To actually answer your question, I remember one selection that usually went over well was the trio from Der Rosenkavalier.

The opera (or the scene) with which to intrigue a pop-music-savvy adult?

With my own friends who are not Opera People, I’ve had the most success with John Adams and other composers who are (mostly) tonal without being old-fashioned.

And a film buff?

The “culturally elite” adults – the kind who go to art-house films and art galleries and keep up with literature, but who have never set foot in an opera house – I think they’re most likely to be intrigued by something subversive, ironic, or political. Anything by Kurt Weill is perfect, I think, as is the aforementioned John Adams, or maybe something like Anna Nicole. Usually I can convince someone to go to the cleavage-and-sequins traditional productions of romantic-era rep, and usually they have a good time, but they tend to approach it like a tourist, rather than someone engaging with a living art.

The best argument to use with opera traditionalists who argue that productions should be done the one “faithful” way and no other way?

I try never to have those conversations, because I usually end up boiling with rage. When part of my job involved sometimes encountering angry traditionalists, I never argued, just let them talk and asked questions. It amazes me how some of them can be still so angry about a production they saw years ago. I always want to say, “It must have made a very profound impression on you, for you to still be talking about it three years later.”

If you want to be tactful and persuasive, I think the best approach is to ask them more questions about how they think it “should” look. When pressed, they usually don’t want to return to the days of painted backdrops, suitcase arias, or park-and-bark staging. Often they have fond memories of a particular production they saw decades ago, which itself would have been different from what came before, and they can be brought around to the idea that production styles have always changed.

Often they’ll say things like, “I’m not opposed to updated productions, as long as they’re done well.” That’s usually a cop-out, and usually means “nothing that might be uncomfortable or confusing,” which is why Toronto critics are always patting themselves on the back for loving the Robert Carsen productions that come through town. But at least it’s not totally reactionary.

On the other hand, if you want to be snarky, the idea of “the composer’s intent” is ripe for ribbing. Any serious Regie warrior should be able to pluck numerous examples of composers who “intended” to make a quick buck, or placate a famous diva, or capitalize on a short-lived trend. They were also constantly re-jigging their “eternal, timeless” masterpieces for different audiences and changing tastes.

Have you ever been moved to tears at the opera?

Oh, all the time. Most recently during Tristan und Isolde, which was a semi-embarrassing cry-fest for me. Tristan also marks the only time I’ve cried during a director’s concept discussion, and I know I wasn’t alone in that one.

Have you ever nearly dozed off at the opera?

Never dozed off as far as I can remember, but some operas I find dreadfully boring. I will never understand the appeal of Simon Boccanegra, Capriccio, or La clemenza di Tito.

What kind of behaviour by the fellow audience members do you easily tolerate and what kind inevitably distracts?

I’m pretty tolerant of coughing these days, especially after having attended the COC’s spring run while sick and miserable myself, but any kind of whispering annoys me to no end. Also, I’m a small person and often the person sitting in front of me blocks my view of half the stage. Usually they can’t be faulted – tall people love opera too – but if they lean forward in their seat it blocks the stage out entirely and I gnash my teeth in frustration.

Name three performances about which you always say to your friends, “You had to be there…!”

TristanI really do feel like the recent Tristan was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. And the COC’s 2010 Aida looms large in my mind for many reasons, and has informed so much of how I think about opera that I love to talk about it with people who have seen it. I saw Against the Grain Theatre’s Turn of the Screw in all four performances (full disclosure: AtG is run by my close friends and I am a member of its admin team) and it really achieved a level of intimacy and involvement that is much more difficult to accomplish in a bigger, traditional venue. The most memorable operatic experience of my life might be when I saw Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung (originally a COC production) in Edmonton in 2006. I hope they revive it soon.

Your choice of arias or segments that illustrate how well opera understands love and desire.

R. Strauss is it for me here, especially the end of Rosenkavalier. Opera (and probably most art forms, when I think about it) are reluctant to deal with love that is not assumed to be permanent, that ends for reasons other than all-caps BETRAYAL or MISFORTUNE or DEATH, that when an opera deals in a mature way with the fading of love, and the ways it can be transitory and changing, it is so much more interesting and sophisticated.

If you’ll permit me to quote myself, I also wrote this a while ago about Carmen, which despite the ways in which it’s gotten tired-out from overplaying I think is just a dynamite piece of music theatre:

“The love-from-first-sight-until-death-yours-forever-most-beautiful-woman-in-the-world-I’ll-kill-myself-if-I-can’t-be-with-you attitude that characterizes a lot of the operatic repertoire – Verdi, I’m looking at you – can seem naive and one-dimensional to an audience accustomed to more complex relationships. Carmen, however, gives us a “love story” where passions ebb and flow; where lovers are alternately kind, cruel, and manipulative; where sex is a concrete and foreground presence rather than a subtext; where love comes into conflict with career and family and it isn’t immediately obvious that love should come first. I was struck for the first time by a moment in the last act where Carmen tells Escamillo that she loves him more than she’s ever loved any other man. It’s possible she tells that to all the men, of course. But that the librettist didn’t even bother to pretend that Don Jose was Carmen’s grand amour, that her most passionate romance might be with a supporting character, struck me as key to what makes Carmen so different from other operas.”

Your choice of segments or arias that show that in effect opera is as political as art gets.

All operas (like all narratives) are political in some way, because they all communicate something about how the creators think the world should be. What makes for a good monarch, a good woman, a good parent? And what are the ills that, more often than not, cause things to go horribly wrong? And, of course, we live in a time of interesting productions that interrogate these messages, whatever they are.

It’s interesting to think about the ways that historical operas bend the stories of their subjects. Like Donizetti’s Tudor operas. The history they’re based on is already jam-packed with confrontation, betrayal and death, so why did the operas wind up with wildly different plots? Why, in Roberto Devereux, do we have Queen Elizabeth I going mad and dying of grief after wrongfully causing the death of her lover?

Wagner is also really interesting for this. Scholars argue a lot about what he’s trying to tell us about the world, especially in the Ring Cycle. We know that a lot of it is racist and unsavoury. At the same time, “burn the whole thing down” is certainly part of the message, and it’s a woman who does it.

The Met in HD – overall good or overall bad?

I myself don’t like it (and almost never go), but whether it’s “good” for opera is an open question. I think it’s a mixed bag, like most things.

It’s certainly made opera more accessible to people who for whatever reason can’t get into an opera house. I’m always a little tickled when I see ads for the Met playing before whatever mainstream popcorn movie I’m seeing at the Cineplex. Whether it’s “introducing opera to a new audience” is definitely debatable. From what people tell me, and from what audience statistics are showing, the audiences aren’t any younger and less white than for live opera – quite the opposite, in fact.

Also, a lot of opera companies are now competing with The Met for their audiences. I know that many people in smaller communities who used to make trips to their nearest opera company are now opting to stay put and go to the Cinecasts instead. I can’t blame them – it’s cheaper and more convenient, after all – but I think this is a real shame.

The idea of the Met as the gold standard in opera, the Best in the World, also mildly irritates me. I’ve seen a fair amount of live opera at the Met, but when I think of the most memorable opera experiences of my life, they’ve mostly been elsewhere. The Met gets away with a lot of mediocrity.

I worry that the opera world in North America will concentrate into a few massive companies doing HD broadcasts on one end, and community theatre on the other end, with all the mid-tier companies wiped out. Not that I have anything against the big players, or against community theatre, but a healthy opera ecosystem should have a number of companies of different sizes. It’s a bit like the concern about “big box” retailers gobbling up everything around them. I remember the outcry in the 90’s about giant bookstore chains destroying the independents. Now those big chains aren’t faring so well themselves.

A composer that never ceases to amaze?

I’m an R. Strauss girl all the way. I try not to think too hard about it.

A work that keeps revealing new and new layers of meaning and pleasure each time?

Figaro and Don Giovanni do this for me. I always hear something new.

Imagine I’m an opera house or a funder. Pitch to me some new opera commissions.

I would be tickled by an opera that mimics the structure of reality television, while turning up the frightening maw of glitzy emptiness to the maximum. Big personalities, meaningless contrived conflict, consumption, glamour, camp – what could be more operatic? Let’s put Angela Gheorghiu in it.

I’d also love to see more opera as cinema – written to be filmed, Umbrellas of Cherbourg-style. That’s largely unexplored territory.

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dmg_toronto_logo_200_altCecily Carver, an opera-lover since her teens, was the Canadian Opera Company’s social media co-ordinator (and later, digital marketing manager) from 2010 to early 2013. She is also the community outreach advisor for Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre and the author of the now-dormant opera blog All Time Coloratura. Her non-operatic career involves building software and running the video game community organization Dames Making Games. You can learn more about Cecily’s work at http://cecilycarver.com.

 

‘Tis the season for new things

‘Tis the season for new things

The COC, as we all know by now, announced its new season this week.

Among the highlights is certainly the Berlin Staatsoper rental, Jossi Wieler & Sergio Morabito’s Un Ballo in Maschera, set in American South at the time of the Civil Rights movement. Pieczonka will debut the role of Amelia, and Marie-Nicole Lemieux Ulrica. Here’s a good bootleg clip from the 2009 production in Berlin.

A spanking new Cosi fan tutte by Atom Egoyan should be interesting. The last thing he directed for theatre was the Cruel and Tender at Canadian Stage, which I absolutely loved. (His recent films… not so much. But stage is stage: a different language etc.)

The COC co-prod with the LOC, Hercules by Sellars with Harry Bicket in the pit, looks good. I will remind the mezzosexuals among you that this production will return Alice Coote to town. She will, of course, sing Dejanira.

Sondra Radvanovsky will be Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux in the Dallas Opera rental, with the dark-hued mezzo Allyson McHardy in the role of Sara.

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The Royal Conservatory also revealed details of its 13/14 Koerner Hall season last week. Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante make the Koerner Hall debut in February next year, however with a non-vocal Vivaldi program. In December this year, Natalie Dessay joins Michel Legrand and Les Violons du Roy in a (it looks like it) a non-classical program of Legrand’s and other songs. Still part of the current season, Meow Meow, a mad political cabaret mixen* from Britain, will perform here in February. Bizarrely, there are still no program notes available on the Koerner Hall website, but I believe she will do the Little Match Girl performance. Have a listen to her talk about her re-think of the HC Andersen classic over on Women’s Hour.

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Among ATMA Classique January releases, the wind band called Les Jacobins. Completely new to me, the ensemble “originated with the desire to explore the rich but little-known repertoire associated with the French Revolution.” Sympa, oué? Consisting chiefly of transcriptions of opera overtures by Méhul, the recording also includes the actual war songs  for the Revolutionary French armies (one presumes, while they were being led by Napoleon to spread the Liberté-Fraternité-Egalité truc across Europe). Those who have a perverse sense of pairing will make this CD a companion piece to any future seeing of Poulenc’s Carmelites. You can have a taste of it here.

* “Mixen” is a combination of a vixen and a mynx. Now you know.

The COC Ensemble Competition, Year Two

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.

Best diction

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