“Caro nome” (Rigoletto) Midori Marsh, sop., Vlad Soloviev, piano / “Per me giunto” (Don Carlo) Jonah Spungin, bar., Vlad Soloviev, piano/ “Lord, to Thee Each Night” (Theodora) Alex Hetherington, mezzo., Brian Cho, piano/ “Il lacerate spirito (Simon Boccanegra) Alex Halliday, bass bar., Vlad Soloviev, piano / “Hence, Iris, Hence Away” (Semele) Queen Hezumuryango, mezzo., Brian Cho, piano / “Donde lieta usci” (La boheme) Charlotte Siegel, sop., Vlad Soloviev, piano / “Je veux vivre” (Romeo et Juliette) Ariane Cossette, sop., Brian Cho, piano. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre, Sept. 20, 2022.
After a long hiatus of two years due to the pandemic, the Free Concert Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre is once again a reality. It kicked off September 20 with a program featuring the 2022-23 COC Ensemble Studio.
This year, the lineup consists of three sopranos, two mezzos, one baritone, one bass-baritone, and two collaborative pianists. Of the singers, four (Marsh, Spungin, Halliday, and Siegel) are returning members, while the remaining three (Hetherington, Hezumuryango, and Cossette) are new. This concert is a great way for the COC audiences to hear these talented artists and potential stars of tomorrow. It was heartening to see a very good turnout this afternoon. While it was marginally less jam-packed than previous years, it was every bit as enthusiastic and appreciative.
Each singer began with a brief introduction and a few words about the aria. I can honestly say that all the singers possess fresh, attractive voices, solid technique and engaging stage presence, and none of them were fazed by having to speak to the audience. Among the women, I was most impressed with Midori Marsh, whose “Caro nome” showed off her purity of sound, focused tone and excellent sense of pitch, all requisites for Gilda. Equally impressive was soprano Ariane Cossette, a voice new to me. Her “Juliette’s Waltz” combined gorgeous tone with fine musicality, albeit her trill is a work in progress.
Another voice new to me was mezzo Queen Hezumuryango, who has a huge voice of rich timbre, yet with enough agility to tackle the fast passages in the Handel aria. With the guidance sure to come her way in the Ensemble, I predict a good future for this singer.
Among the men, I am familiar with the voice of baritone Jonah Spungin, whom I heard as King David in the Yiddish opera Bas-Sheve just a couple of weeks ago. Here, his “Per me giunto,” Rodrigo’s aria from Don Carlo, showed off his warm tone and heartfelt expression. Alex Halliday acquitted himself honourably in Fiesco’s aria, “Il lacerate spirito.” It’s a tough piece for a bass-baritone, as it’s really bass territory here. Halliday did well, a few less than firm notes in the lowest reaches notwithstanding.
I mustn’t forget the excellent work of the two pianists, Vlad Soloviev and Brian Cho. Both offered rock-solid support to the singer, taking expansive, even leisurely, tempi in all the pieces, and allowing the singers to shine. The audience showed its appreciation by rewarding the artists with sustained applause.
I look forward to hearing them many times this season. The next COC Ensemble Studio noon hour concert is a tribute to Stephen Sondheim on November 16. Not to be missed.
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