The Canadian Opera Company’s ninth annual Ensemble Studio Competition is being held on October 30, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The 2019 finalists are: sopranos Kirsten LeBlanc (Moncton, NB), Midori Marsh (Cleveland, Ohio), and Charlotte Siegel (Toronto, ON); mezzo-soprano Sarah Bissonnette (Boucherville, QC); tenor Marcel d’Entremont (Merigomish, NS); bass-baritone Alex Halliday (St. John’s, NL); and bass Brenden Friesen (Langham, SK).
I can’t believe an October preview post already. But here it is. So what’s on? Against the Grain’s Opera Pub kicks off again on the 5th at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. It’s the usual 9pm start but come really early if you want a table. The 10th to the 12th sees Amplified Opera’s series of three shows at the Ernest Balmer Studio. The 11th is the first Toronto date for Against the Grain’s La Bohème tour. That’s 7.30pm at the Tranzac. Other dates and other city information here. The 12th is opening night for Dvořák’s Rusalka at the COC. Full details on dates, cast, tickets etc here. On the 19th UoT’s Early Music programme are doing Handel’s Acis and Galatea at the Heliconian Club at 2pm.
Centre Stage is the COC’s annual gala/competition with cash prizes and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake. Last night eight young singers competed. The format was one aria before the reception; for judges and invited guests, and one after; for all the punters. So here, in the order they sang in the first half are my thoughts.
Ensemble Studio Competition finalists, Centre Stage 2018. Photo: Michael Cooper
So last night was this year’s iteration of the COC’s glitzy competition with cash and places in the Ensemble Studio at stake. It’s a bit of a weird thing to write about because the public, and this year the media, only see a fraction of what the judges are judging. We saw each singer do one aria. There had been a closed round earlier in the day to which, unlike in previous years, the media were not invited. Then there’s what the judges have seen in rehearsal, reputation etc. All in all what happens on the night influences the outcome about as much as at an Olympic figure skating event. So, in many ways it’s surprising that my picks were as close to the judges as they were.
The contestants for this years Centre Stage; the competition for places in the COC’s Ensemble Studio have been announced. They are bass-baritone Joel Allison (Ottawa); tenor Matthew Dalen (Grande Prairie, Alta.); mezzo-soprano Simona Genga(Woodbridge, Ont.); soprano Natalie Image (Tsawwassen, B.C.); soprano Chelsea Rus (Abbotsford, B.C.); soprano Anna-Sophie Neher (Gatineau, Que.); and baritone Jonah Spungin (Ottawa). I’ve seen a fair bit of Allison, Rus, Dalen and Genga and I am absolutely not surprised at all that they are competing. They are all very promising young singers. I’m looking forward to hearing the others.
This year the judging panel includes regulars Alexander Neef, Roberto Mauro, Liz Upchurch, Wendy Nielsen and Nina Draganić but this year they will be joined by the extraordinary Mary Morrison, whose talent spotting credits include one Barbara Hannigan. Centre Stage is at the Four Seasons Centre on November 1st with the reception at 5.30pm and the competition starting at 6.30pm.
I’m out of town for the first week of November or so so this week’s preview will actually cover two weeks. Lots of endings coming up with the last OA Dido and Aeneas this afternoon and the COC’s fall season closing with Ariodante on Thursday and Norma on Friday. There’s also Centre Stage on Wednesday. I shall be curious to see what people think.
On to next weekend and there are a couple of items of interest. Saturday at 7.30pm and Sunday at 3pm at Grace Church on the Hill Bicycle Opera Project are collaborating with Pax Christi Chorale in performances of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Here’s the blurb:
In this unique presentation of a classic oratorio, Bicycle Opera’s singers will shed formal concert format in favour of a dramatic exploration of Elijah, while staying true to our intimate and accessible style.
Soloists are Geoff Sirett, Chris Enns, Marjorie Maltais and Larissa Koniuk.
The seven finalists for the COC’s Centre Stage have been announced. Centre Stage is a singing competition and gals that serves as a sort of final audition for the following year’s Ensemble Studio, a contest for cash prizes and a beano for the rich. This year it’s being held on November 3rd when, unfortunately, I shall be overseas. So, no report here. The finalists are baritone Samuel Chan (Calgary); soprano Maria Lacey (St. John’s, N.L.); soprano Myriam Leblanc (Saint-Lazare, Que.); soprano Andrea Lett (Prince Albert, Sask.); mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh(Vancouver); soprano Andrea Núñez (Markham, Ont.); and baritone Geoffrey Schellenberg (Vancouver).
Last year’s contestants with the Lieutenant Governor
Last night saw the second annual Centre Stage at the COC. It’s described as the “Ensemble Studio competition gala”, which is pretty much what it has become. It’s a dressy occasion and busier this year than last. Bussing in the claque from the University of Toronto upped both the noise level and the “beautiful young people” content. The competition itself is fairly conventional in that all the singers get to sing two arias of their choice. What’s a little different is that the accompaniment is the full COC Orchestra and as well as the jury prizes there’s an audience choice award facilitated by some neat electronics. Then of course there’s always the issue of a place in next year’s Ensemble Studio.
Ensemble Studio Competition finalists and winners with Centre Stage host Ben Heppner