Baritone’s voice lauded as warm, lithe and virile

VCM Presents: Phillip Addis, baritone, with Emily Hamper, piano

When/where: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Alix Goolden Hall (907 Pandora Ave.)

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Tickets: Adults $20, seniors and students $15. Call 250-386-5311; online at ticketrocket.org/addis; in person at Ticket Rocket (2-1609 Blanshard St.) and the Victoria Conservatory of Music (900 Johnson St.)

Canadian baritone Phillip Addis performed with Pacific Opera Victoria in 2006 and 2007, and is in town again to play Sid in POV’s production of Benjamin Britten’s 1947 comedy Albert Herring, which opens Feb. 7 — part of a month-long Britten festival honouring the centenary of the composer’s birth.

But Addis’s appearance Saturday in the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s VCM Presents series will be his first solo recital here — a welcome opportunity to enjoy this much-lauded singer in more intimate surroundings.

Accompanied by his regular recital partner (and wife), pianist and vocal coach Emily Hamper, Addis will perform a wide-ranging program of songs, most of them old favourites of his, including complete cycles by Ravel, Vaughan Williams and Fauré.

Born in Port Colborne, Ont., Addis, 35, earned a bachelor’s degree in music at Queen’s University, where he enrolled as a tuba player until a chance voice lesson convinced him to pursue singing seriously (he had previously had only some youthful experience as a chorister). In 2002, he completed the two-year opera program at the University of Toronto (where he met Hamper, who was one of his coaches); subsequently, he apprenticed for three years with l’Opéra de Montréal’s Atelier Lyrique, and won several competition prizes.

Addis’s career has blossomed impressively in his decade or so as a professional soloist. He has worked with opera companies in many major cities in North America and Europe. This fall, for instance, he will make debuts with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto in La Bohème, and Los Angeles Opera in The Magic Flute — while also maintaining a busy international schedule of orchestra, oratorio and recital appearances. Addis and Hamper, who have a young son, live in Stratford, Ont., but, as Addis says, “Access to an airport is all I need.”

Addis’s high lyric baritone has been admired for its range, power and fervour, and has been variously described as ringing, focused, virile, creamy, warm and lithe. Addis has also been highly praised for his musical interpretations and for his acting and commanding stage presence. What one reviewer described as “movie-star looks and charisma” haven’t hurt, either.

Addis’s voice seems well suited to Italian and French repertoire, and he has sung a good deal of opera in both languages. French music has held special appeal for him since his teens. In recent years, he has won particular acclaim in two Debussy operas, Pelléas et Mélisande (in Paris and London) and The Fall of the House of Usher (in New York). But Addis says he strives to be stylistically versatile. He has sung Handel and Mozart with historical-performance specialists, but has also tackled Tchaikovsky and Wagner and Strauss, as well as modern operas — Adamo, Damase, Floyd, Martinu, Saariaho, Walton, even P.D.Q. Bach.

In April, he will sing Algernon in the première of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest, in Nancy, France, and he will perform more contemporary roles next season.

Britten’s music, which Addis first sang as a boy chorister, has an important place in his repertoire; he made his POV debut in The Rape of Lucretia, in fact, and last year appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Rome. (He also played the roguish, pleasure-loving Sid in Albert Herring once before, incidentally, at the University of Toronto.) In the summer of 2001, moreover, he studied in the Britten-Pears Young Artist Program in Aldeburgh, England.

Addis’s repertoire will be especially Britten-heavy during this centenary year; Saturday's concert, for instance, will close with three of Britten’s folk song arrangements. This fall, he will sing the Songs and Proverbs of William Blake and some of Britten’s Purcell realizations in various solo recitals. And, on the composer’s birthday (Nov. 22), he will participate in a performance of the War Requiem in Los Angeles. He is also in talks to perform, in various cities, the one-act “church parables” Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace and The Prodigal Son.

Addis finds Britten’s music flattering for the voice — “often beautiful, sometimes hilarious or cheeky, always with real character to the lines, a lot of fun but also very satisfying.” He admires Britten’s gift for setting English texts, too, and for conveying musically the often profound messages behind those texts: “There is something clear and true and honest that I love in his music.”

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