Mark DuBois - World Renowned Lyric Tenor
The Sound of Music in York

By Sybille Forster-Rentmeister
Echo Germanica

Within 5 weeks Opera York delivered two different concerts. In the beginning of October the so-called Opera for Seniors, with or without a delicious Italian lunch, was sold out, as we have become accustomed to. Many attending stated that they would appreciate coming out more often for such a venue. Not only is it considered a diversion and good for body, mind and soul, it actually causes intense pleasure for most. The older crowd is vastly familiar with the melodies and arias of opera and operetta. This music is a walk down memory lane for them. And while some can no longer attend a full evenings performance, the midday outing is perfect for them.

On October 3rd the eager crowd was treated to another of Opera York’s purposes, that of promoting young Canadian talent in the field. Besides the Artistic Director and his ever-present muse Gisèle Fredette we were treated to four young talents of considerable calibre.

Of course Mark DuBois opened the concert with a rousing aria, not letting us forget for a minute that he is the tenor that can sing beautiful circles around many, has a bigger hanky by far then some of the more notorious tenors of the world, and that he always shows up and sings, even with a cold. He never lets down his audience. Even when he was under the knife for an operation after the accident around Christmas last year, the show did go on. He had replaced himself in the program and ran the show from his bed. This multi-talented consummate musician is ideally suited to take some young talent by the hand and guide them through the pitfalls of an early career. He has seen it all and done it all. He has weathered the storms and remained humble in the glory. His numerous friends will attest to that.

On another night a month later, on November 2nd, again in the Famee Furlane Fruili Hall in Woodbridge, he again showcased some of the same young talent as well as what is described as veteran performers like Gisèle Fredette, Kinga Mitrowska, Corinne Lynch and Roy Schatz.

The young talent introduced was a stunningly powerful Jessica Muirhead with a unique "back-breathing" technique that makes it appear as though she is not breathing at all, as she later explained. At the lunch concert as well as the evening one she makes the audience think of other singers of days gone by. I responded to the warm but clear rounded edge in her voice the same way I did and do with Callas. Her soprano voice lends itself to all the dramatic roles and we are looking forward to her further development.

Ilona Karan is a young and charming effervescent soprano of Russian descent, very petite with quite a big voice. She too performed in both concerts. Her technique is well developed. Her performances are skillful and well acted. She knows how to create an effect at the right time. I liked her best when she came across a bit less studied, as in her last piece about wanting to be a Prima Donna. This aria suited her playful temperment especially well.

Bruno Cormier’s warm baritone resounded in the hall at lunch. He was very comfortable with his performance and with the crowd. Unfortunately he could not return for the other concert and was replaced by baritone Matthew Zadow, which turned out to be a wonderful surprise. This young and handsome baritone learned several duets in a couple of days just for this concert! He performed solo, with one of the ladies and also with Mark DuBois, and he just shined. It was very clear that he is extremely versatile and a very giving performer, which does bode well for him.

Lisa Di Maria an exotic looking soprano with an amazing voice, very mellow and clear. Her pianissimos are poetry in sound. She fitted well into the theme of Starlight Serenade.

The lunch concert also featured a Woodbridge native, Anne Morrone. She too is like a rare exotic songbird, yet brings a bit more drama to the stage, and leans more towards opera than operetta or musical.

During the lunch concert there were 8 performers in all, and during the evening concert we counted 11, which included the two wonderful accompanists, Danny McErlain And Mila Filatova. The evening concert was so rich, so varied and because the artists are so giving, perhaps a tad too long. But no one would have wanted to have missed any of the fine performances of any of the artists.

As far as the more seasoned performers are concerned, one delight was followed by another. Gisèle Fredette’s legendary versatility, her warm and rich mezzo soprano, her ability to deliver even a pant-role with extraordinary panache, her tasteful appearance, the wardrobe, just everything about her spells success and a very well deserved one.

Kinga Mitrowska decided to exercise her amazing ability of finding even the highest note with a total sureness, no wavering, no sneaking up to it. She hits it right on, crystal clear and without vibrato. The microphone even in a hall not exactly perfectly build for the fine performance arts is not her friend. She does not need any help at all for her mighty voice. It is quite apparent that she has played a lot of big European houses, where big voices are perhaps more familiar than here. It was a real pleasure to hear her again and see her elegant appearance on the stage.

And then there was Roy Schatz, a veteran Gilbert and Sullivan performer who had the audience in stitches with his patter-songs and choreographed antics. Great entertainment!

Also a fine G&S performer, but much, much more, was Corinne Lynch. She proved to be a lyrical powerhouse, singing just about any imaginable style possible that night. But the most riveting performance was a duet between her and Mark DuBois from Phantom of the Opera.

One wonders why these two did not play the leads in the popular musical together. It was the most convincing performance of the Phantom I have seen. It went straight under the skin. Mr. DuBois was the most Svengali-like figure of the many versions I have seen.

Which brings me back to the man that has forwarded music in this country like few others. He is not called a Canadian treasure without good reason. Mark DuBois’ commitment to music and the education and entertainment of future and current audiences is legendary. He deserves many more accolades than I can provide in this space.

Artists are by nature much more generous than, let’s say, moneylenders or butchers. But Mark DuBois is even a cut above most artists I know. Perhaps that is why performers come when he asks them, from all over the world to work with him.

The Starlight Serenade ended with all performers singing, "Climb Every Mountain" and all 11 performers taking a few bows to thundering applause.

Opera York has very quickly come into the public eye because of the commitment of the opera’s board and the many volunteers that gladly support the organizations fine purpose.

And the audience keeps asking for more performances. Perhaps Woodbridge will make its dream of a real performance/entertainment centre come true and Opera York can be at home there, and establish a lasting presence in our communities.

We are looking forward to future programming and especially to the production of the Merry Widow next spring.

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