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COC competition now a gala event

I. MacNeil, K. Boucher & J-P. Fortier-Lazure (© Michael Cooper)

The Canadian Opera Company has given a major boost to the profile of its Ensemble Studio by making the singers’ competition final a gala called Centre Stage. For the past two seasons the competition, with piano accompaniment, was held in the Four Seasons Centre’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre before and audience of 200 or so. This year it is in the main R. Fraser Elliott auditorium with the COC Orchestra led by Music Director Johannes Debus. Adding glitter was the master of ceremonies, Rufus Wainwright.

Here is a report on the 2012 competition.)

Nine singers appeared out of the 155 who were auditioned - here in Toronot plus Montreal, Vancouver and New York. We heard two sopranos, three mezzos, two tenors, and two bass-baritones in arias by Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Bizet, Lalo, Puccini, Richard Strauss, and Korngold. It turned out that appearing at centre stage (the gala was aptly named), supported by the COC Orchestra under Johannes Debus, appeared to be the natural and right place for every one of the performers. In addition to being well-schooled, they all demonstrated the hoped-for theatrical instincts.

Top prize winner was Karine Boucher, originally from Quebec City and now a member of l'Opéra de Montréal's atelier lyrique. She first performed an astonishingly mature “Glück das mir verblieb” from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt then, by jury request, “E pur così in un giorno...Piangerò la sorte mia” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Ms Boucher also won the Audience Choice award (the seats were equipped with electronic response pads so we could vote and have the results tabulated instantly.)

Second prize went to Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, born in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, and now studying at the University of Montreal. He impressed with his attractive tenore di grazia in “Vainement ma bien aimée” from Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys, then “Quanto è bella” from L’elisir d’amore. Third prize went to bass-baritone Iain MacNeil, born in Brockville, Ontario, and now studying at the University of Toronto. He gave us two fully-characterized Mozart arias, “Rivolgete a lui io sguardo” from Così fan tutte and “Aprite un po’ quegli’occhi” from Le nozze di Figaro.

While the jury deliberated, Mr. Wainwright performed three numbers: Arthur Schwartz’s “That’s Entertainment” (with the COC Orchestra providing what must be the most deluxe accompaniment that song has ever received), the aria “Feux d’artifices” from his opera Prima Donna, and his song “Oh What a World”.

What with all the wonderful singing, plus the reception between the two parts of the competition followed by an on-stage dinner, this gala seems to have been a major success. Expect a repeat next November.

Michael Johnson



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