COC’s Free Concert Series offers a world of music ~ Arpita Ghosal



Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

Artists of the COC Orchestra performing in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (photo by Karen E. Reeves)

Artists of the COC Orchestra perform in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre; photo by Karen E. Reeves

Every year, the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre is a microcosm of the performing-arts world. Literally. And this year, the Canadian Opera Company (COC), which has offered the Free Concert Series (FCS) since 2006, estimates that 15,000 people will experience the 6 series at the Amphitheatre –  Vocal, Chamber Music, Piano Virtuoso, Jazz, World Music, and Dance –  for free.

The FCS has always been a space to foster creativity and cultivate a new generation of talent. It has also become a community concert hub where music schools, dance companies and other arts organizations affiliated with the COC work together to co-present concerts. In this tradition, the 16/17 season features 2 world premieres performed by young artists. The Glenn Gould School’s New Music Ensemble returns to the series with a new work by Canadian composer Saman Shahi and members of the COC Ensemble Studio. Also returning are Toronto indie opera company Against the Grain Theatre, artists of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s New Creations Festival, and Toronto Summer Music Festival.

Mezzo-soprano Emily d'angelo (photo courtesy of the COC)

Mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo (photo courtesy of the COC)

The FCS allows the COC to showcase “tomorrow’s brightest stars, alongside internationally acclaimed artists in a broad range of performances.” This season, one of those bright stars is Italian-Canadian  Emily D’Angelo. The multi-award-winning mezzo-soprano joins the COC Ensemble Studio in a performance of their favourite arias and art songs for the series launch concert, an event that has now become an annual tradition. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to perform in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre Free Concert Series!” she enthuses.

Ms D’Angelo recently graduated from U of T’s vocal performance program, and her star is already rising. Her slew of awards and honours include the Jim and Charlotte Norcop Prize in Song, and the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition Finals. She also won the coveted First Prize and Audience Choice Award at the COC’s 2015 Ensemble Studio Competition. And if these were not already honours enough, she finds herself on CBC’s annual list of Canada’s Hot 30 Classical Musicians Under 30!

So obviously . . . she can sing. And there will be multiple opportunities to hear her sing this season –  both at the FCS and on the stage at the Four Seasons Centre. This winter, she looks forward to making her North American operatic debut with the COC as Second Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, directed by Ashlee Corcoran. “I am already having an incredible experience as an understudy in the production of Ariodante. Ariodante is a phenomenal role, and to be understudying Alice Coote, a truly extraordinary artist, has been surreal.”

Emily D'Angelo performs with Rashaan Allwood at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, 2015; photo by Karen E. Reeves

Emily D’Angelo performs with Rashaan Allwood at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre; photo by Karen E. Reeves

She also reminds that the COC Ensemble Studio will present 10 performances within the Free Concert Series throughout the year. These include the biennial Christina and Louis Quilico Awards, which returns this season. In this special evening presentation, artists of the Ensemble Studio will compete for cash prizes before a panel of judges. In the spring, they will also perform a new song cycle commissioned by the Canadian Art Song Project called Dawn Always Begins in the Bones. This composition by Canadian Ana Sokolović is based on texts from across Canada which celebrate our country and the richness of its artistic traditions. “The COC is home to world-class performers and musicians, and being involved in their productions is an amazing opportunity to learn from these great artists,” avers Ms D’Angelo. “I’m looking forward to singing French mélodies with pianist Hyejin Kwon on February 9th.”  In this concert, Mélodies of the Heart, she and baritone Bruno Roy will sing French mélodies. Ms D’Angelo will present Olivier Messiaen’s 3-song cycle for voice and piano Trois Mélodies and Claude Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, while baritone Bruno Roy will explore the intersection of music, art and literature in Maurice Ravel’s song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée and Francis Poulenc’s “La fraîcheur et le feu.”

So . . . if the COC presents these concerts and COC artists perform in them, they must be intended for narrow, specialized audiences with discerning tastes, right?  Actually . . . no!  The quality is what you’d expect of a COC-produced concert. And as noted above, the performances are all in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, which is itself architecturally and acoustically magnificent. But the series aims for a wide appeal to a range of audiences. For instance, there are programs specifically for young people and families. During March Break, the concert being presented has been selected expressly with families in mind. Called “Opera Interactive,” it marks the always-anticipated return of Kyra Millan and Christina Faye, along with artists from the COC Ensemble Studio, to lead a participatory program of favourite arias and sing-along choruses.

Myriad 3 perform in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (photo by Chris Hutcheson)

Myriad 3 perform in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre; photo by Chris Hutcheson

But how is it possible to produce and present such a spectrum of concerts completely free of charge? A key part of former COC General Director Richard Bradshaw’s original vision was that, no matter what, these concerts should always be free. So it’s COC’s priority to make these performances as accessible as possible so that anyone who wants to attend, can. This makes the Free Concert Series the ideal way to discover something new, without breaking the bank!  In fact, many people who attend these performances go into the concert knowing next to nothing about the art form they’re about to engage with . . . and come out having newly discovered something really special.

What makes the Free Concert Series such a gem of the Toronto arts scene is that each of the 6 series is unique. No matter the season, there is always something audiences can see here that they can’t see elsewhere. And the space itself – situated right on the corner of Queen and University – provides a unique and ‘alive’ intimacy that isn’t easy to find elsewhere. In Ms D’Angelo’s words, “It is a wonderful experience to sing for such a music-loving audience in that beautiful space . . . It is always very special when main stage artists perform in recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre – to see these world-class singers in an intimate recital setting is a rare and exciting opportunity!”

No matter your taste in music or your prior experience as a concertgoer, special opportunities await you to experience something brand new in the 16/17 Free Concert Series. Since there’s literally something for everyone – and there’s no charge to attend – don’t you owe it to yourself to find out what’s here for you?

Nancy Walker and Kirk MacDonald perform in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (photo by Karen Reeves)

Nancy Walker and Kirk MacDonald perform in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre; photo by Karen E. Reeves

News You Can Use

What: COC’s Free Concert Series

When: September 27, 2016-June 1, 2017

Who: Audiences of all ages

Where: Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Season’s Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON


© 2016 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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