Nov 28, 2012. Heliconian Hall, Toronto, ON — John Holland is an opera singer, Southern Ontario based, University of Western Ontario trained, and now pursuing a graduate degree in musicology. At 37 years old, he’s waited quite some time to give his recital debut, but a good sized crowd showed up in chilly mid week Toronto to hear it.
Holland has sung opera and oratorio all over the province and operatic gems were included in his eclectic and very entertaining program. At first, the recital looked liked a hodgepodge of calling cards and party pieces, but Holland built his programme very effectively.
He began the show with a song by Charles Ives, ‘Memories A, Very Pleasant, B, Rather Sad’ from the back of the intimate hall. Ives figured in both halves of the recital and showed why he is so highly regarded among musicians. A unique musical language from the American insurance millionaire/composer.
Holland included props (wine bottles and goblet) for two brilliant drinking songs, ‘Unüberwindlich’ by Brahms and the very intense ‘Zur Warnung’ by the intense Hugo Wolf. Both composers knew a little about drinking, I’ve read. These were performances of passion by Holland who took great care with the texts.
Passion was an emotion that continued throughout the recital. Whether singing three wonderful songs by Dvorak, arias by Wagner, Donizetti and the amazing ‘Catalogue Aria’ from Don Giovanni, Holland’s love of the music and devotion to the text was much in evidence.
Technically, Holland has a journey to fulfill. Pitch accuracy in all tessituras is problematic, leaning heavily on the flat side of the notes. Sustained notes at power caused significant problems, especially at the ends of phrases where the pitch would rise rather than the note fade away or cut off in tune with the same timbre. These intonation problems must be addressed if Holland is to continue to grow as an artist.
Holland waited many years ‘till he felt ready for his Toronto recital debut. The solo recital is a much different, and in many ways more difficult animal than singing in front of an orchestra or on the operatic stage. A platform, the piano (reliably accompanied here by Bill Shookhoff) and your voice. Intimate. And doing intimate well is tough. Holland has a wonderful stage presence and engages the audience. If he can solve his intonation difficulties, he has a rich artistic future ahead.