It's a lot of hype for one night, and only part of it is open to the public. The competitors sing one closed round before the crowd files in for the second, and after the competition is done, the singers are whisked away for a gala dinner with their colleagues - and most notably, the evening's donors.
The Journey Home is inspired by the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, and features traditional picks (Schubert, Vaughan Williams), as well as popular and art songs by composers who were killed in the war.
"He spins a beautiful melody," says mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, who joins the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir on this programme of Steffani's music. The composer's style, "for me, it falls between Cavalli and Handel."
The term diva has been somewhat hijacked in 21st-century North America; "Mostly now, it means bad behaviour," Fleming admits. Still, the character of Roxane has qualities that are charmingly familiar to those in the opera industry. Her ease in high-profile social situations, her ability to articulate what she does and does not want, her general fearlessness - these are the qualities of people like Sondra Radvanovsky, Anna Netrebko, and of course, Fleming.
Such longevity puts it among the upper echelon of Canadian opera companies in Canada - a feat more impressive when we consider that Atelier performs exclusively 17th- and 18th-century baroque opera. It's almost impossible to resist saying it: "If it ain't baroque, don't fix it."
Art song - a broad classical music term to describe a piece written for solo singer and accompaniment, usually by a piano - can feel equal parts vague and exclusive. A song by Schubert and a song by Bernstein are both considered art songs, despite enormous differences in style; conversely, art song carries with it some special qualities, like the conversational relationship between the voice and piano.
Even for me, I was quite errant in my guesses for the winners of this year's Concours musical international de Montréal.
I suppose that's what happened as the CMIM Aria finalists were announced. I made a few private predictions of my own, and I was largely on the same page as the jury. But I was dismayed to see two singers left out of the final round, perhaps for swinging too far one way or the other.
With the anticipation of a good cliffhanger, I'll head back to Maison symphonique tomorrow night for the remaining six semifinalists. Make sure you watch live via CMIM's webcast, starting at 7:30pm ET. And if you missed Monday's Semifinal I, catch up below:
Whatever its form, this annual event is meant to show off what these artists do best. It's clear that the Ensemble Studio features seven excellent young voices and two industrious pianists. With that said, An Evening With the Ensemble Studio seemed to show that what these young artists do best is prosper under the oddest of onstage circumstances.