As I drove downtown this morning, one track seemed very apt for an evening featuring the Canadian Opera Company’s second annual studio competition.
Michael Slattery’s CD of Dowland songs –reimagined to explore his alleged Irish connection—concludes with a melancholy song known as “His Golden Locks”. Of course those golden locks have turned silver. See which way my thoughts are headed?
The last haunting lines of Slattery’s version could just as easily be a cautionary reminder to singers exulting in their triumph in a singing competition:
Beauty, strength, youth are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love are roots and ever green.
Ah yes, our time is brief.
So too for the period with the COC Ensemble Studio. While the years spent with the Ensemble are not to be mistaken for a complete career – though for some singers that’s sadly not far off— I am still mindful of the brevity of youth, of voice and of fame. Already –in seeing the singers who are the current Ensemble stars—one wonders where they’ll go, what they’ll undertake, and how much of a career will ensue.
I’m old enough to remember an education system built around competition, so busy identifying excellence that egos got crushed in the process. I wish we could all take the time to discover and recognize everyone’s unique gifts. The occasion tonight pitted ten voices against one another, each quite wonderful in some respect or other.
I was thinking of something I heard on American Idol, where a singer was warned that her risk, in undertaking a famous tune, was that she invited a comparison. And so I second-guessed the repertoire choices. Some singers were way out there in their repertoire, while others hewed closer to the tried and true. Some singers showed –or offered to show—extraordinary virtuosity, some chose a much safer programme.
The competition was both for prizes and part of the selection process for the Ensemble Studio. I wasn’t sure whether the current cohort was a factor or not: that is, in the availability or shortage of particular voice-types. Whether or not the winners were at least partially chosen to fill a need in the ensemble, it’s difficult comparing apples and oranges. We heard ten singers. I was quite thrilled with the choice of winner –bass-baritone Gordon Bintner—but would have accepted quite a few other voices as winners. In fact I was delighted by the quality of the musicianship & drama on display.
Second place went to tenor Andrew Haji, while third place went to mezzo-soprano Charlotte Burrage.
I will be very interested to see how these singers might fit into the Ensemble and the upcoming seasons of operas from the COC.