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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

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CBC OnStage Tenth Anniversary Concert

By Joseph So May 3, 2004

Measha Brüggergosman, Karina Gauvin, Frédérique Vézina, sopranos Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto; Richard Margison, tenor; Russell Braun, baritone; Robert Pomakov, bass.
Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus, Ann Cooper-Gay, conductor
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Richard Bradshaw, conductor
Barbara Frum Atrium, Canadian Broadcasting Centre, Toronto
December 21st 2003

It is hard to believe, but OnStage, one of the best classical music radio programs around, is ten years old. What better way to celebrate this occasion than to gather together seven great Canadian voices in an afternoon of arias and songs in celebration of the Yuletide season? The cancellation of soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, who was in the middle of a run of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini at the Metropolitan Opera, was a great loss, but the audience was consoled by the addition of her replacement, Quebec soprano Frédérique Vézina, a rising star who has become something of a local favourite. The concert was moved from the 350-seat Glenn Gould Studio to the larger Barbara Frum Atrium, allowing added space for the audience, the orchestra and the children’s chorus. It was a pity that the Atrium was not large enough to accommodate all who wished to attend — I knew several people who were desperate for tickets to the long sold-out concert.

With Bayrakdarian's absence, there was some rearranging of the program. The major beneficiary of this change was soprano Karina Gauvin, who took over Bayrakdarian’s ‘Alleluia’ from Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate. Together with her originally assigned ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’ from Handel’s Samson, the ‘Evening Prayer’ from Hansel & Gretel, and Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’, Gauvin had the most music to sing. She did everything superbly, though obviously pacing herself to make sure something was left for a performance of Messiah a few hours later in Roy Thomson Hall. Gounod’s ‘Répentir’, originally assigned to Bayrakdarian, was taken over by Vézina, whose dark-hued, warm, and slightly piquant timbre is ideal for this piece. She was aided by an impeccable cello introduction by Brian Epperson. The audience thought so too, as Vézina was the only performer rewarded with a second bow. In terms of pure virtuosic vocalism, top prize went to soprano Measha Brüggergosman, whose voice is a true force of nature. Her singing in Massenet’s ‘Reve infini! Divine extase’ was one continuous lyrical outpouring that reminded one of the young Jessye Norman. Marie-Nicole Lemieux made the best of her brief moments to shine in Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria,’ showing off her seamless legato. Her smooth-as-silk contralto also blended perfectly with Gauvin in the duet from Hansel & Gretel.

The men were fine if marginally less impressive. The warm, ingratiating baritone of Russell Braun shone in a traditional Christmas carol, ‘O du froehliche’ and the incredibly familiar ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’ sung in German. He was followed by bass Robert Pomakov, who showed great flexibility in an aria from Christmas Oratorio. The high-flying Canadian tenor entertained the crowd with Frank’s ‘Panis Angelicus’, and a stentorian ‘O Holy Night’ (in French and English) which closed the formal part of the program. Then all the soloists returned to the stage to sing a delightful new arrangement of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ by Canadian composer Derek Holman. I would be remiss to omit mention of the fine work of the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus under the direction of Ann Cooper-Gay, and of course, Richard Bradshaw and the COC orchestra who offered splendid support to the singers. Finally, and definitely not least, Brüggergosman had the distinction of being the only artist given a solo encore — ‘Sweet Little Jesus’ sung a capella. It was a magical moment to be remembered. The concert was broadcast live as part of the European Broadcast Special and repeated a day later on CBC. Let’s hope this was the start of an annual tradition.

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