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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | An Operatic “Art of the Song” COC Debut for Soprano Marjorie Owens

By Joseph So on October 6, 2019

Marjorie Owens and Michael Shannon
Marjorie Owens and Michael Shannon (Photo: Ian McIntosh)

Marjorie Owens, soprano; Michael Shannon, piano; Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre, 12 p.m., October 2, 2019.

To the avid Toronto opera fan, a wonderful way to spend a lunch hour is to attend a free concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre. It’s a great venue to hear local talent and visiting artists. Just this week alone, there were two COC debuts.  On Tuesday, the audience was treated to the gleaming voice of Colombian American soprano Vanessa Vasquez, in town to sing Liu in Turandot.

The next day, it was the “Principessa” herself, in the person of American dramatic soprano Marjorie Owens, who is the alternate Turandot. I recall being impressed by her Daphne at the Semperoper Dresden, during the Strauss-Festwochen four years ago. A rising jugendlich-dramatischer sopran, Owens possesses a powerful voice, ideal in Wagner and Strauss. She also excels in the Italian repertoire and has already sung Aida and Norma in major houses. Now she’s adding Turandot to her vocal arsenal.

As luck would have it, her noon hour recital, though billed as “The Art of Song,” was opera-centric, including arias from Tannhauser, Der fliegende Hollander, and Ariadne auf Naxos. Don’t get me wrong — I love Lieder and art songs, but there’s nothing quite like a recital with all the operatic “big guns” sung by a big voice like hers.

She started with “Dich teure Halle,” Elisabeth’s greeting from Tannhauser, a perfect choice for the occasion given this was her debut at the Four Seasons Centre. It was delivered with powerful, rich tone and a lively vibrato, perhaps a touch pronounced and on the fast side.  Her tone is even from top to bottom, and she sang an impressive fortissimo high B at the end. Sitting in the third row, my ears were ringing!

Marjorie Owens
Marjorie Owens (Photo: Ian McIntosh

The recital continued with “Frühling” and “September,” the first two of the Vier letzte Lieder by Richard Strauss. Besides being truly gorgeous songs, these are technically difficult test pieces for the soprano. Owens sang with lovely tone, unhurried tempo, made possible by her long breath line, vital in these songs.  The same can be said about Senta’s Ballad from Der fliegende Hollander, which she sang with lovely mezza voce.

It was followed by two “true” songs, by Duparc – the well known “Lamento” and “Au pays ou se fait la guerre,” both delivered with nice legato and attention to textual nuance. It demonstrated the Owens dramatic soprano is not all about power – her soft singing is equally lovely. The last two pieces were two of the most beautiful Strauss ever composed. Owens’ timbre is ideal as Ariadne. “Es gibt ein Reich” is composed to show off the middle register, and Owens sung it affectingly and with a generous tone. The last piece is the glorious song “Cäcilie,” a love song Strauss presented to his bride Pauline. Owens expressed the heart-felt qualities of the text beautifully.

Her pianist, Michael Shannon, was at one time in the Ensemble Studio. He’s now an estimable pianist-coach at the COC. The piano reduction in the Strauss and Wagner pieces are very difficult, really giving the pianist a huge workout. Shannon did very well, without any hint of a hand injury he suffered some time ago.  All in all, a very satisfying recital, and it whets my appetite for more.

I look forward to hearing Owens as Turandot. Her two performances are on October 23 and 25. Not to be missed.

#LUDWIGVAN

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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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