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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

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COC Altamira Harbourfront Concert

By Joseph So / September 14, 2005

Late August means the start of school and the end of the lazy, hazy days of summer - and what a summer this has been weather-wise! Fortunately, opera fans can console themselves with the imminent start of the opera season. A harbinger of the autumn vocal goodies to come is the annual COC summer concerts at the Molson Bandshell at Harbourfront in downtown Toronto, under the auspices of Altamira Investment Services, now in its 11th year. These outdoor concerts, together with similar programs by the Toronto Symphony and the National Ballet of Canada, are welcome relief to the cultural desert that is Toronto in the summer. Let's just hope that some day soon we will have a full fledge classical music festival. In the meantime, these COC concerts are a good opportunity to check out the guest artists in town for the fall season, as well as the new members of COC Ensemble Studio.

I attended the first of the three evenings, starring several guest artists new to Toronto - Hungarian soprano Georgina Lukács, Russian mezzo Larissa Kostiuk, Hungarain tenor Attila Kiss, and Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot. Kiss kicked off the proceedings with a stentorian 'E lucevan le stelle', the voice suitably heroic if a touch heavy sounding. He also concluded the evening with the show-stopping 'Nessun dorma'. Pony-tailed Brazilian Paulo Szot followed with the champagne aria from Don Giovanni and the Toreador Song, exuding sex appeal even if a little short on champagne lightness and vocal velvet. Turkish bass Burak Bilgili has become something of a local favorite, and he makes a welcome return to the company as Banquo in Macbeth. He sang 'Le veau d'or' from Faust with imposing tone that belies his slight physique - hopefully we will get to hear his Mephistofeles in the future. The first half ended with 'Pace, Pace' by soprano Georgina Lukács. She has an exciting voice which she uses with abandon. It is obviously better suited to Lady Macbeth than the Forza Leonora - her 'Pace, pace' lacks the necessary tonal purity and pitch accuracy. Verismo is obviously more her style, as she redeemed herself with a vocally and dramatically effective 'Suicidio'. Russian mezzo Larissa Kostiuk made a big impression with glamorous stage presence and rich gleaming tone, without a hint of Slavic wobble, in Lubasha's aria from The Tsar's Bride. For unknown reasons it was sung a capella. (My guess is that the orchestra didn't have the music and/or had not rehearsed the piece)

The concert was complemented by a bevy of Canadian talent, drawn from the 2005-6 edition of the COC Ensemble Studio. Soprano Joni Henson offered a robust 'Tacea la notte' - if she can refrain from pushing her undeniably ample and exciting upper register, she shows that she can be ready for prime time. Soprano Jessica Muirhead treated the audience to a luminous 'Song to the Moon' - she is a voice to watch. Returning members Michčle Bogdanowicz and Peter Barrett made a lively couple in 'Dunque io son' from Il barbiere di Siviglia, though Barrett's beuatiful and sturdy baritone is not ideal in Figaro's florid music. An unexpected highlight was the duet from West Side Story, featuring a lovely Maria in Miriam Khalil, partnered by Victor Micallef, who is vocally suited to this repertoire. The whole ensemble joined forces in the Act 2 Quintet from Carmen and 'Bruderlein, schwesterlein' from Die Fledermaus. The ever-jovial COC director Richard Bradshaw was more subdued than usual, paying solemn tribute to the victims of the tragedy in New Orleans that was unfolding at the time. You will get a chance to hear many of these artists in the upcoming productions of Macbeth (Sept. 22 - Oct. 5) and Carmen (Sept. 29 - Oct. 23), all performances at the Hummingbird Centre.

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