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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles


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COC Season Ends with Spectacular Concert

By Joseph So April 29, 2001

The Art of Orchestra and Voice: New Stars
George Weston Recital Hall, April 27, 2001
Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano; James Westman, baritone
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra
Richard Bradshaw, conductor

The Canadian Opera Company saved its best for last, in the final installment of a series of concerts at the George Weston Recital Hall on Friday. It was virtually sold-out, and for good reason. It featured two of the genuine "new stars" on the operatic scene: the dazzling soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and the equally talented baritone James Westman.

Isabel Bayrakdarian
The minute they walked out onstage, it was clear that we were in for a special evening. Bayrakdarian kicked off the program with a resplendent Piangero from Giulio Cesare, showing off her rich supple voice and exceptional agility in the coloratura passages. This was a preview of her assuming the role of Cleopatra for the COC a year from now. Westman followed with Ya vas lyublyu from Queen of Spades. Toronto audiences don't get to hear Westman much these days, so it was great to have him back. Despite feeling a bit under the weather, the voice was in wonderful shape, with a particularly impressive top. Newly slimmed down – "I just changed my diet and exercised a bit" – Westman never looked better on stage.

A highlight of the first half was the newly reconstructed aria for Susanna, Giunse il momento alfine...Non tartar amato bene from Le Nozze di Figaro. It was good of conductor Richard Bradshaw to publicly thank Peter Sandor, a long time patron of opera in Canada. It was Sandor who commissioned composer Derek Holman to complete this aria based on musical fragments by Mozart, and the work had its world premiere last November at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Both men were in the audience and graciously acknowledged the warm applause.

The first half ended with Ford's aria from Falstaff, sung with great drama and finesse by Westman. Too bad Bradshaw got carried away and allowed the orchestra to drown out the singer in forte climaxes.

James Westman
Second half began with another taste of the future, the aria Entre l'amour... Quand j'aurais votre age from Benvenuto Cellini. Rumour has it that Bayrakdarian learned this fiendishly difficult piece on short notice and at the request of none other than James Levine, who will be at the helm when Bayrakdarian makes her Met debut next season. Not to be outdone, Westman countered with Pieta, respetto, amore from Macbeth, sung with supreme legato and once again, terrific high notes.

The formal conclusion to the concert ended with a duet, Dunque io son, from Il barbiere di Siviglia. This is a role Bayrakdarian sings frequently, having just stepped in at short notice for an indisposed Vesselina Kasarova, the scheduled Rosina at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Here both soloists camped it up to the delight of the audience, who was not about to let them go without an encore. They were rewarded with not one but three. Not known as a Wagner singer, and despite less than perfect diction, Westman nevertheless acquitted himself admirably in O du, mein holden Abendstern from Tannhauser. Bayrakdarian's version of Song to the Moon from Rusalka was every bit as lovely as the one sung by Renee Fleming in her Toronto recital, and according to my Czech companion, Bayrakdarian's pronunciation was perfect.

Freed from the confines of the acoustic disaster of Hummingbird Centre, the COC orchestra played beautifully if albeit too emphatically in places, especially in the overture from La gazza ladra.

The evening drew to a glorious close with the Susana-Figaro duet from Le Nozze di Figaro. If there ever was a more enchanting pair of young lovers, I have not seen it. Let's hope that as these two "new stars" continue to reach for greater heights, they will not forget their Toronto – and Canadian – roots.

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