Danika Lorèn, sop., Samantha Pickett, sop., Lauren Eberwein, sop., Simone McIntosh, mezzo., Megan Quick, mezzo, Samuel Chan, bar., Bruno Roy, bar., Rachael Kerr, piano, Stéphane Mayer, piano. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre. 12 p.m., September 26, 2017.
One of the joys of being an opera lover in Toronto is the opportunity to hear up-and-coming singers on the verge of significant careers, and a good place to hear them is at the annual Meet the Young Artists noon hour concert, held every September at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre. It’s part of the wonderful Free Concert Series, an extremely popular event that invariably draws a capacity audience.
Yesterday’s event was no exception. Attendees started lining up nearly an hour ahead to ensure a place. Extra seats were arranged for the patrons, donors and special guests. This year’s Ensemble is rather unusual in that there’s not a tenor in sight! These things go in cycles, as the past few seasons, we had as many as three tenors at one point! But what we do have this time around are nine young artists (seven singers and two pianists), all prodigiously talented, with solid training and uncommon musicality, here to receive some fine-tuning before venturing out to forge a career.
The typical format is for each artist to give a brief introduction before the performance. Soprano Danika Lorèn, now in her second year, kicked off the proceedings with Susanna’s “Deh vieni non tardar.” Possessing an exceptionally beautiful lyric soprano, Lorèn gave truly lovely rendition of the aria, even throwing in extra (surprise!) ornamentation near the end. Stéphane Mayer was ever the supportive pianist. Then it was Ensemble “newbie” Samuel Chan in “Questo amor, vergogna mia” from Puccini’s rarely performed Edgar, with Rachael Kerr at the piano. His warm lyric baritone with a rather pronounced vibrato was heard to advantage in this piece, and he handled the relatively high tessitura of this aria with ease.
Second year soprano Samantha Pickett followed with Medora’s aria “Non so le tetre immagini” from Verdi’s Il Corsaro. This is an extremely challenging cantilena for even the most seasoned Verdian, requiring rock solid intonation, seamless legato, uncommon flexibility, and long, long breath-line. Pickett has a comparatively rare voice—dark-hued spinto sopranos don’t grow on trees! She has the right timbre for this very difficult piece, showing real promise, just occasionally sounding a bit tentative, and unsteady in the long lines and in the single trill. But it was a valiant effort.
If Pickett has an uncommon voice, Megan Quick’s is even rarer—a low mezzo that to my ears is a contralto, not unlike the young Maureen Forrester. I enjoyed Quick’s Das Lied von der Erde two years ago. Here she sang Dalila’s showpiece “Mon Coeur” from Samson et Dalila. One is struck by the opulence and richness of her voice, with its impressive volume. As is typical of these voices, it’s not so easy to control. She sang the aria beautifully, the occasional flatness at the top and unfocused pitch notwithstanding.
She was followed by yet another surprise—mezzo Lauren Eberwein now having moved up to that of soprano. Hers was always a high mezzo, ideal in the zwischenfach roles like Octavian, Komponist and Vitellia, even Donna Elvira. Now with retraining, her timbre to my ears is that of a true soprano. Her “Ach ich fühls” from Die Zauberflöte is well done, although I would have liked a bit more chiaroscuro and a more developed mezza voce in this reflective, sad aria.
Then it was lyric baritone Bruno Roy’s turn, in a sublime moment in Pelleas et Melisande–Pelleas’ monologue in the Tower Scene. I confess I missed the translucent orchestral colours, but Mayer played it beautifully. Roy’s firm, warm high baritone is suited to Pelleas, and he handled very well the extremely high tessitura — a “baritenor” role if there ever is one! The final singer was BC mezzo Simone McIntosh in Rosina’s “Una voce poco fa.” This piece requires a charismatic singer with lots of personality as well as voice, and McIntosh has both. She aimed for theatricality, and was well matched by Kerr’s dramatic playing on the piano. Together they gave a vivid rendition of this showstopper.
There you have it, the 2017-18 edition of the COC Ensemble Studio. They were warmly applauded by the full house, and I’m sure everyone is looking forward to hearing them in the course of this season.