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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

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An evening of Lieder and Opera with Egils Silins

By Joseph So March 15, 2007

Egils Silins, bass-baritone
Maris Skuja, piano
Glenn Gould Studio,Toronto
Sunday February 18, 2007

In town for Mefistopheles in the COC production of Gounod’s Faust, Latvian bass-baritone Egils Silins took a break from playing the devil by entertaining an attentive and enthusiastic audience in an evening of lieder and operatic chestnuts at the Glenn Gould Studio. The concert was sponsored by the Toronto Latvian Concert Association, and its members turned out en mass for this fundraising event. Accompanying the singer was pianist and frequent collaborator Maris Skuja.

A graduate of the Latvian Academy of Music, Silins made his operatic debut in 1988 and has since established an international career, singing leading roles at Vienna, La Scala, Glyndebourne, Berlin, Chicago, Hamburg, and the Metropolitan Opera. His pleasing bass-baritone is particularly strong on top, with a relatively weak lower register. Mefistopheles is not an ideal role for him, and his press notices in Toronto reflected that. This concert allowed Toronto audiences a second chance to hear this fine singer in a more diverse repertoire.

He opened the program with a group of four well known Schubert songs, which he basically used as warm-up pieces. As a result, he sounded tentative and without much musical and dramatic impact. Fortunately, it was quickly followed by an extensive selection of classical songs by four Latvian composers – Emils Darzins, Alfreds Kalnins, Taalivaldis Kenins, and Bruno Skulte. The texts of these songs tend to be laments of unrequited love (Darzins’ “Sapju spites”), ruminations on parting and death (Kalnins’ “Rudens zieds”), or displays of patriotism (Skulte’s “Sapnu zeme”). Much more at home in this repertoire, Silins sang with assurance and expressive strength, albeit in a rather generalized, slightly monochromatic fashion. He was particularly animated for Kenins’ “Miestins”, which for some reason was not fully translated in the program.

The second half was made up entirely of opera arias by Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti, Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, and Gounod, all well known pieces that Silins has sung at varying points in his career. “La calunnia” from Barbiere suited his voice, and he interpreted it well. Selections from Lucia and Nozze confirmed earlier impressions that his instrument is big on top, albeit rather stentorian in delivery, and weak at the bottom. As a result, the Count’s aria went beautifully, but the low notes in “Delle staanze ove Lucia” simply didn’t sound. There was also the issue of pacing. His “Di provenza il mar” was beautifully if a little heavily sung until near the end, when fatigue set in. The top notes became strained from that point on and Silins had to curtail the high notes in the Toreador Song and the Mefistopheles aria. Still, he gamely offered as encores a Schubert song and the aria from Attila. Maris Skuja’s playing was perfectly competent if in a somewhat anonymous fashion, but he offered sympathetic support to the soloist at all times. The next concert from TLCA will be on Sunday, April 15th, 2 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio, when Latvian soprano Aira Rurane makes her North American debut.

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