Soprano Lara Secord-Haid opened the proceedings of both the private and public sessions. She has an attractive stage presence to go with her nice voice, but perhaps it was nerves given she was the first one up, her Blondchen’s aria from Enthfuhrung suffered from wandering pitch and shaky support in the lowest notes, despite bright, attractive tone. Her second piece, Oscar’s perky “Saper vorreste” from Ballo, went much better, and her vivacious personality shown through. Mezzo Francesca Corrado was next up with Isabella’s aria from L’Italiana in Algeri. Corrado has a low mezzo of impressive size and quality. On this occasion, her “Cruda sorte” was a bit heavy, with some awkward fioritura not helped by her pronounced vibrato, and a bit short on sparkle in the acting department. Her second piece, the Card Scene from Act 3 Carmen, which is all serious business, was well done, complete with a fiery chest voice. Hers is a low mezzo bordering on contralto, and the tone is suited to Italian opera – I can imagine in maturity she would make a fine Azucena, Ulrica, and Principessa di Bouillon.
Jean-Michel Richer was one of two tenors in the competition. He has good stage presence, and possesses a beautiful lyric sound. He sang “Questa o quella” with very nice tone and dramatic flair. It’s too bad the piece lasts barely two minutes – in my mind, it would be better to choose something a bit more substantial! His second aria, Ottavio’s “Il mio tesoro” really tests the mettle of the Mozart tenor. He sang it with musicality and ingratiating tone, even with added appoggiaturas. However, his singing was a little short of accuracy in the many coloratura runs. The potential of this singer is obvious, and with further study, he will be a very fine tenor. Mezzo Rachel Wood sang Dorabella’s aria from Cosi. Hers is a high mezzo of attractive tone with plenty of thrust, and she sang it well save for a few moments of pitch issues. Her second piece, Octavian’s “Wie du warst” was very lovely, a piece well suited to her high mezzo.
PEI bass-baritone Nathan Keoughan contributed Colline’s “Vecchia Zimarra” with attractive, firm tone, although once again such a short piece doesn’t really show off the voice sufficiently in competition. His second piece, “Non piu andrai” was more substantial and he sang it very well. Soprano Karine Boucher sang Marietta’s Lied from Die Tote Stadt as her first selection. I recall hearing her sing this very piece when she was here in the joint COC Ensemble/OdeM Atelier lyrique noon hour recital some months ago. Hers is a rich, full lyric voice of quality and volume, the kind of voice that is always in short supply. Her Korngold was lovely, with her rich tone just perfect in this music, although one would have liked a more developed high piano that is absolutely essential in this piece. Her Piangero from Giulio Cesare was a curious choice. Her opulent soprano with its rich timbre is stylistically not really a Baroque voice. Her performance, while beautiful, suffered from some flatness at the top and the line was not as pure as could be. Still, as I had noted before in my review of the previous concert, Boucher has an impressive instrument and she has the stately look of a mature artist on stage. She would be a fine Contessa in Nozze, for example.
Tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure possesses a beautiful tenore di grazia which he uses elegantly and musically. His “Vainement” from Le roi d’Ys was gorgeous, arguably the best singing in the private session. His “Quanto e bella” from L’Elisir was also lovely, but he suffered from two small blemishes in the last line of the aria, which just goes to show how treacherous singing really is! But overall, his performance was impressive. Mezzo Emma Char has a high mezzo of fresh, focused tone and lovely stage presence. She sang two “trouser arias” – “Voi che sapete” and “Parto, parto.” She would make a very believable Cherubino and Sesto in my opinion. She sang the first aria very well, and her second aria could have better accuracy in the coloratura runs, but overall it was a very enjoyable performance. The last competitor of both sessions was Brockville bass-baritone Iain MacNeil. With his strapping presence and flowing hair, he bears a strong resemblance to former COC Ensemble bass-baritone Philippe Sly. He sang both Guglielmo’s aria and Figaro’s aria with firm and masculine tone, and he acted well – a very promising singer.
The jury panel then left their seats to deliberate in private, while host Rufus Wainwright entertained the audience with his endearing if slightly quirky style. He even sang three numbers, including an aria from his opera, Prima Donna, which I saw at Luminato three years ago. After about 20 minutes or so, COC General Director Alexander Neef returned to announce the results. Third Prize of $1500 went to bass-baritone Iain MacNeil; Second Prize of $3000 went to tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, and Quebec soprano Karine Boucher was named the winner of $5000 First Prize as well as the Audience Prize. All three were deserving winners, although I must say I wished there were more prizes as some of the others were worthy of being in the winners’ circle as well. But of course, the ultimate prize is a career, which all these singers are capable of. It depends on lots of hard work, determination, and a certain degree of luck. I wish all of them well.