Luna, the opera-gala component of the Luminato Festival, took on a bit more lustre yesterday, as the event's producers rushed to find a place on the bill for Canadian soprano Marianne Fiset, who claimed the grand prize last week at Montreal's Concours Musical International de Montréal.
Fiset, a 28-year-old from Quebec City, swept the field in Montreal, collecting four other special prizes (including audience choice) with her performances of music by Puccini, Dvorak, Mozart and Poulenc. She took home $49,000, from a total of $100,000 in prizes.
"We're extremely excited," said Wende Cartwright, the Toronto arts administrator who with CBC producer Neil Crory produced the Luna gala, which takes place at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday. "She's an incredible young talent."
Luna features a virtually all-Canadian bill of singers, including sopranos Adrianne Pieczonka, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Sondra Radvanovsky; tenor Richard Margison; and baritone Russell Braun. It took a year to put the show together, which counts as a rush job in the opera world, where schedules fill up years in advance. Cartwright moved with the nimbleness of a rock promoter to snag Fiset, who until last week was known mainly as a member of the Atelier lyrique of l'Opéra de Montréal. A deal was struck yesterday, and Fiset will arrive in Toronto for the start of rehearsals today.
"She's going to do two pieces," Cartwright said. "We're still working it out." Odds are that Fiset will sing an aria from Puccini's La bohème, as well as the Song of the Moon from Dvorak's opera Rusalka.
Cartwright and Crory also produced the Millennium Opera Gala of 2000, which featured a still little-known soprano named Measha Brueggergosman, in one of her first big performances. Two years later, Brueggergosman won $45,000 at Montreal's first Concours International de Musique (then called Concours International de Montréal des Jeunesses Musicales).
Luna takes off from the recognition that Canada's eminence as an exporter of great voices means that some of those voices are seldom heard at home, and almost never together. The truth of that observation seemed glaringly obvious last fall during the Canadian Opera Company's performances of Wagner's Ring, which did not feature Ben Heppner, a great Heldentenor who happens to live in Scarborough. Heppner had just released an album of excerpts from the Ring on Deutsche Grammophon , though he wasn't yet performing any roles from Wagner's tetralogy when the COC was shopping for a cast three years earlier.
Luna's other performers include tenor Joseph Kaiser, bass Robert Pomakov, bass-baritone Robert Gleadow and baritone Peter Barrett, who took sixth prize and $3,000 at the Montreal competition.
The remaining winners on the Concours' list were American tenor Steven Ebel (second prize and $15,000), Russian soprano Evgenia Grekova (third, $7,500), Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne (fourth prize, $5,000 and most promising finalist award, $1,500), Leticia Brewer (fifth, $4,000) and German soprano Susanne Ellen Kirchesch, who took the $5,000 award for the best performance of an imposed piece by Canadian composer Julien Bilodeau.