York University singers enjoy success at home and abroad – Part 2

Alumni of York’s classical vocal music program are in the spotlight again this spring, garnering a plethora of awards and rave reviews. This is the second part of a two-part story highlighting recent successes. Part one ran in YFile on Tuesday, May 24.  

York alumna Leigh-Anne Martin (BFA ‘09) continues to build her reputation as a talented mezzo-soprano with her performance last month as guest soloist in Verdi’s Requiem with Ensemble Sinfonia de Montréal under the baton of Louis Lavigueur at Montreal’s Church of St. John the Baptist. In his enthusiastic review, La Presse music critic Claude Gingras singled out Martin for her “beautiful voice, beautiful vocal control and beautiful expression” (belle voix, belle tenue vocale, belle expression).

Leigh-Anne MartinLeft: Leigh-Anne Martin

Later this year, Martin will reunite with Lavigueur and the soprano soloist in that performance, Chantale Nurse, for a concert tour in China. The conductor and the two Canadian soloists will appear with a symphony orchestra in nine Chinese cities during a two-week tour over Christmas.

Martin’s appearance with Ensemble Sinfonia arose from her participation as a laureate of the Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques program, which brings together a select group of Canada’s most promising opera singers for auditions and competitions around the world. Last year, the program sent her to Vienna to represent Canada in the Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition, one of the world’s largest vocal competitions for emerging young artists. She was also awarded the Prix Lyrique Haricléa Darclée-Michel Buruiana bursary to travel to Europe, and received invitations for engagements in The Netherlands and Italy as well as Vancouver.

Martin, who was recently acknowledged as the Emerging Artist of the Year 2010 in her hometown of Barrie, is currently advancing her studies at the Glenn Gould Professional School at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory, where she sang lead roles this season in Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny and Maurice Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole. Other recent performance credits include the role of Joad in Handel’s oratorio Athalia with Robert Cooper and the Orpheus Choir, and soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with Toronto’s Pax Christi Chorale.

This summer will find Martin at the legendary Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, helmed by James Levine, music director of the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony Orchestra. As a fellow in the Opera and Vocal Studies program, Martin will have the opportunity to work with world-renowned artists such as opera director Mark Morris and singers Dawn Upshaw and Stephanie Blythe. Other upcoming engagements include a seven-week tour of Eastern Canada in the title role of Bizet’s opera Carmen with Jeunesses Musicales.

Martin is quick to share the credit for her success with her teacher, Professor Catherine Robbin, who heads York’s classical vocal performance program.

“My greatest influence and support at York was Catherine [Robbin],” said Martin. “She is so incredibly dedicated to her students, and she stuck by me even when I thought I didn’t want to sing anymore. She’s a great mentor and we continue to remain good friends.”

Another recent graduate who’s making her mark on the concert scene is soprano Vanessa Lanch (BFA ‘07). Lanch, who studied at York with Norma Burrowes, went on to graduate with distinction from the master’s program in vocal performance at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, UK. She is also an alumna of the Britten-Pears Young Artist program in Aldeburgh, England, and a laureate graduate of the Flanders Opera Studio in Ghent, Belgium.

Vanessa LanchRight: Vanessa Lanch

Lanch’s performance credits include Handel’s Messiah with the Stratford Symphony Orchestra and the role of Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi and the governess in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, both for Opera by Request in Toronto.

Lanch was accepted to compete this spring in one of the world’s most foremost vocal competitions, the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Brussels, and won third place in the challenging Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition, which ran April 29 to May 1 in Brandon, Manitoba. The E-Gré, as it’s known, alternates voice, piano and strings in successive years and champions the performance of contemporary Canadian compositions, with the semifinalists required to perform a brand new commission. The commissioned work this year was by Montreal composer Michael Oesterle.

Lanch’s former classmate, lyric coloratura soprano Vania Chan (BFA ‘08), who took the prize for best performance of the commissioned piece in the previous running of the Eckhardt-Gramatté voice competition, was a semifinalist this year. Chan holds a master’s in classical voice from the Manhattan School of Music and is currently based in New York City, where she recently appeared as Nanette in New York Opera Forum’s concert production of Verdi’s Falstaff and as Gretel in Opera Manhattan Repertory’s production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. The singer, who graced the cover of YorkU magazine’s April 2009 issue as part of York’s 50th anniversary celebrations, returns to New York Opera Forum this fall to sing the title role in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor .

Vania ChanLeft: Vania Chan

“My colleagues and I are so proud of the achievements of these young singers,” said Robbin. “I’m certain they are a great inspiration to students currently in our program.”

Along with Robbin and Burrowes, a distinguished roster of voice teachers lend their expertise to the professional training of York’s young classical singers, including Stephanie Bogle, Michael Donovan, Janet Obermeyer and Karen Rymal.