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SCRUTINY | Canadian Soprano Tracy Cantin Makes An Unexpected COC Debut As Anna Bolena

By Joseph So on May 9, 2018

(Photo courtesy of Tracy Cantin)
With Sondra Radvanovsky taking ill, understudy Tracy Cantin steps up to meet the challenge of the COC’s Anna Bolena. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Cantin)

Tracy Cantin; Keri Alkema; Bruce Sledge; Christian Van Horn; Allyson McHardy; Thomas Goerz; Jonathan Johnson. Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus; Corrado Rovaris, conductor. 7:30 p.m. Four Seasons Centre, May 8, 2018.

Can lightning strike twice?  When it comes to soprano Tracy Cantin and Anna Bolena, the answer is a definitive ‘yes.’

On April 25, three days before opening night, Canada soprano Tracy Cantin, the “cover” artist for the title role, deputized brilliantly for an indisposed Sondra Radvanovsky. Now, less than two weeks later, Cantin was called upon last evening to jump in yet again. This time the stakes were much higher — it was no longer the final dress rehearsal but an actual performance.  When I got wind in the afternoon about the cast change, the opportunity to hear this up-and-coming artist was too good to pass up.  A media ticket was quickly arranged. By 11:00 p.m., amidst the tumultuous applause, I remember thinking to myself that I was happy to be there.

A native of Prince Edward Island, Tracy Cantin studied at UWO and McGill before furthering her training at the Ryan Opera Centre in Chicago. With a primarily Stateside career, she didn’t make her Canadian debut until last year as Chrysothemis in an Edmonton Opera’s Elektra.  I remember reading glowing reviews about her debut at the time, and now I know why. Cantin has an exceptionally fine lyric soprano of beauty, volume, and flexibility, and she uses it with discerning taste, sensitivity and musicality. The timbre is sweet, and tone beautifully focused, evenly produced throughout its range, backed by a solid technique. Perhaps a truer high pianissimo would be lovely, but given her firm technique, it’ll come.

Combine that with a youthful, attractive stage presence and the requisite dramatic acuity, one can understand why she is a singer to watch.  Even at the young age of 32, Cantin is already tackling heavy repertoire the likes of the aforementioned Chrysothemis, plus Leonore in Fidelio and Anna Bolena. Usually, these roles are taken by lirico-spinto, and in the case of the Beethoven, by dramatic sopranos, while Cantin to my ears is a very large-voice lyric. If I was a bit skeptical at first, her performance last evening convinced me that she is fine in these roles.

Cantin certainly has the volume to fill the 2,100 seat Four Seasons Centre. Even at triple forte, her tone is never harsh. Her Act 2 confrontation scene with Giovanna Seymour, here sung by the excellent American soprano Keri Alkema – a noted Anna Bolena herself – was dynamite.  Interestingly, the two ladies look so much alike that they could be sisters!  The acid test for Anna is her extended Mad Scene, a huge sing, with plenty of high notes and a kaleidoscope of tone colours. Cantin was splendid, holding the stage well, singing with beauty of tone and acting with dramatic intensity. I can only imagine with time and more experience, her characterization will grow. But even at this early stage, it is an estimable achievement.

Given that I have already written a full review, I will be brief. Directed by Stephen Lawless and with a Globe-Theatre-inspired set by the late Benoit Dugardyn, this Anna Bolena production is rather middle-of-the-road and non-controversial.  As far as I am concerned, this is the way it should be!

Bel canto operas are all about singing, and to my eyes and ears, that should be the focus.  One doesn’t go to the opera for its historical authenticity — for that, you read a textbook! Neither is dramatic verisimilitude the top priority, to be honest. This production is a perfect example, with gorgeous singing from everyone, with not a weak link.

Impressive was the Percy of American tenor Bruce Sledge, singing with clarion tone and great top notes. American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn was an impressive Enrico VIII, a bit stentorian, but then Henry is a one-dimensional character. I have no statistics to back me up, but Van Horn will likely go down in history as the thinnest and best-looking Enrico. Without Sondra, the ethereal high pianissimos were supplied by the seconda donna of Keri Alkema, who repeated her wonderful Giovanna of opening night. As Smeton, Allyson McHardy’s low mezzo sounded terrific in her Act One aria. Thomas Goerz, an underrated Canadian character bass-baritone, was a perfect Rochefort. Corrado Rovaris conducted idiomatically, although one wished for a bit more subtlety. The COC chorus, particularly the women, was wonderful in the scene with Anna.  I consider this season-ending Bolena the highlight of the 2017-18 COC season. Five additional performances to May 26.

Joseph So
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