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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | COC Ensemble Studio Sneak-Peek Wins Us Over

By Joseph So on September 26, 2018

(l. to r.) Simone McIntosh, Simona Genga, Samuel Chan, Lauren Margison, Anna-Sophie Neher, Lauren Eberwein, Joel Allison (Photo: Chris Hutcheson)
(l. to r.) Simone McIntosh, Simona Genga, Samuel Chan, Lauren Margison, Anna-Sophie Neher, Lauren Eberwein, Joel Allison (Photo: Chris Hutcheson)

Now in its 12th season, the free COC Noon Hour Vocal Series offers opera fans a sneak peek of the annual Ensemble Studio roster, performing in the informal setting of the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The artists this year are sopranos Lauren Eberwein, Lauren Margison and Anna-Sophie Neher, mezzos Simona Genga and Simone McIntosh, baritone Samuel Chan, bass-baritone Joel Allison, as well as pianists Rachael Kerr and Stéphane Mayer.

Four of them (Margison, Neher, Genga and Allison) are new; McIntosh, Kerr and Chan are in their second year, while Eberwein and Mayer are in their third. All hugely talented, with solid training, abundant musicality, as well as the desire and ability to communicate their art to an audience. They are here for that last little bit of seasoning, honing their craft in a young artist program before venturing out to forge their respective careers.

I was fortunate to have heard the four new members in the COC President’s Council season opener a couple of weeks ago. Their beautiful voices certainly whet my appetite for more. At this noon-hour recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, we got the full roster of seven singers and two pianists. They introduced themselves to the audience before performing.

Kicking off the proceedings was mezzo Simona Genga in “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s Xerxes, one of the best-known arias in Baroque opera. Hers is a low mezzo of good volume and lovely timbre, and she sang this stately aria with rich, gleaming tone, good legato and long breath line. She chose not to trill in this aria, which I suppose is optional. A fine start to the recital.

Lyric baritone Samuel Chan followed with “Kogda bïzhizn domashnim,” Onegin’s Act One aria in Eugene Onegin. Chan’s voice has developed very nicely during his tenure as an Ensemble member, gaining in richness and solidity.  He sings this aria with nice tone and fine, well articulated Russian diction, according to a friend who speaks the language.

Next up was soprano Lauren Margison, whom I heard some years ago in a RBA noon hour concert — as a pop and folk singer.  (Many will know that her father, tenor Richard Margison, started out as a folksinger.) The soprano sang Mimi’s Act Three aria, “Donde lieta usci” with lovely tone, if just a little short on Italianate portamento, and a high piano, essential in this aria.

Another new Ensemble member, lyric-coloratura soprano Anna-Sophie Neher, offered Adele’s “En proie a la tristesse” from Rossini’ Le comte Ory, singing with bright, vibrant tone and excellent flexibility. Mezzo-turned soprano Lauren Eberwein followed with “Signor ascolta,” Liu’s Act One aria from Turandot. She sang with rich tone throughout her range, albeit with a slightly changed timbre at the top, with a somewhat covered quality. That said, kudos to her for a pianissimo B-flat that concludes the aria.

U of T graduate bass-baritone Joel Allison contributed a dramatically vivid and well sung “Se vuoi ballare,” Figaro’s aria from Le nozze di Figaro, his rich, virile sound a real pleasure. The recital concluded with mezzo Simone McIntosh as a scintillating Angelina in “Non piu mesta” from Rossini’s La cenerentola. She displayed a mezzo of fine agility and lovely tone, plus an engaging stage persona. It’s in this aria that the audience got the surprise of the recital – the other six singers formed an excellent chorus in the second half of the aria!

Throughout the hour-long recital, pianists Rachael Kerr and Stéphane Mayer couldn’t have been more supportive, always attentive to the needs of each singer while holding everything together. In vocal recitals, audience members tend to focus on the voices and neglect the good work of the collaborative pianists.  But if the singers sound good, part of the credit should go to the pianists, as it’s their job to make the singers look good, and invariably they succeed!  A most enjoyable concert and an auspicious start to the new season.

Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
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Ludwig Van Toronto

CRITIC'S PICKS | 9 Concerts You Should Absolutely See This Week (Sept. 24 – 30)

By Joseph So on September 24, 2018

Classical music and opera events happening in and around Toronto for the week of September 24 – 30.
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WHO'S WHO | Mooredale Concerts Celebrates 30 Years

By Member on September 26, 2018

For 29 years, a legion of music lovers of all ages has passed through the doors of Mooredale Concerts. In gratitude, they are presenting a pre-eminent 30th season, which is fresh, bold, and deep.
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INTERVIEW | Gordon Bintner Wants Onegin To Be One Of His Signature Roles

By Joseph So on October 6, 2018

Canadian Bass-Baritone Gordon Bintner chats about his return to Toronto to sing the title role in The Canadian Opera Company's production of Eugene Onegin, and the process which informs his artistic practice.
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