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Toronto – The young artists of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio take on the lead roles in their own performance of George Frideric Handel’s Semele on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.  This special performance is a valuable and exciting step in developing the next generation of Canadian opera stars as they take to the mainstage in this “scenically stunning” (New York Times) production by famed Chinese visual and performance artist Zhang Huan.  All tickets are accessibly priced at only $22 or $55.

Under the direction of the same artistic team as the mainstage cast, including conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini, director and set designer Zhang Huan and costume designer Han Feng, the artists of the Ensemble Studio perform Semele with the full COC Orchestra and Chorus.  


Zhang’s Semele draws on parallels between Greco-Roman mythology and Chinese legends, as well as Buddhist concepts of karma and reincarnation, to create a true interaction of Eastern and Western cultures.  The production’s centerpiece is a 450-year-old Ming Dynasty ancestral temple salvaged by Zhang from a small town in China, and used to tell this operatic tale of a love affair between the god Jupiter and the mortal princess Semele.


The title role of the flighty, narcissistic and naïve Semele is shared by two rising young sopranos: Mireille Asselin and Ambur Braid.  Commanding the stage as Jupiter is tenor Christopher Enns, and mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb brings her vivacity and passion to the roles of Jupiter’s jealous wife, Juno, and Semele’s sister, Ino.  Cast as Juno’s messenger, Iris, is soprano Jacqueline Woodley.  Bass-baritone Philippe Sly demonstrates his dramatic and musical versatility in the roles of Cadmus, Semele’s father, and Somnus, the god of sleep.  Rounding out the cast is guest artist Ryan Belongie, who sings Semele’s jilted suitor, Athamas.


In addition to the special Ensemble Studio cast production of Semele on May 23, there are eight performances of the Semele mainstage production May 9 – 26, 2012 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.  Semele is a co-production of Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels and KT Wong Foundation.  Semele is sung in English with English SURTITLES™.


About the Ensemble Studio Artists of Semele

Mireille Asselin, a graduate of the prestigious Yale University Opera Program, made her Carnegie Hall performance debut in 2011 with Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, and returned there in January 2012 for her solo recital debut.  Ambur Braid dazzled critics on and off the stage as Amore in the COC’s 2011 Orfeo ed Euridice, the Queen of the Night in the 2011 Ensemble Studio performance of The Magic Flute, and in performance with rockers Austra and Broken Social Scene at recent COC Operanation festivities.  Toronto audiences will see Asselin and Braid back on the mainstage when they share the role of Adele in the COC’s new production of Die Fledermaus next season. 


Christopher Enns, praised for his “crystalline voice” by Opera Canada, appears with the COC this spring as Nathanaël in The Tales of Hoffmann.  Enns also takes on the role of Alfred in Die Fledermaus in fall 2012. 


NOW Magazine called Tunisian-born Rihab Chaieb “dramatically and vocally adept” for her performance as Tisbe in 2010’s La Cenerentola.  Jacqueline Woodley sang in the 2011 world premiere of Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba-Wedding with Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, and is touring Europe and Western Canada with the production in 2012/2013.  Bass-baritone Philippe Sly is a winner of the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and recently caught the attention of critics with his performance as Hermann in the COC’s spring production of The Tales of Hoffmann.


About the Ensemble Studio

The COC Ensemble Studio is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals and provides advanced instruction, hands-on experience, and career development opportunities. The members of the Ensemble Studio are the COC’s resident artists and are important ambassadors for the company.  Since its inception in 1980, over 150 young professional Canadian singers, opera coaches, stage directors and conductors have acquired their first major professional operatic experience through the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.  Former members include Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Wendy Nielsen, David Pomeroy, Joseph Kaiser, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó.


Members of the Ensemble Studio receive a blend of advanced study and practical experience through an individually-tailored, multi-year program, involving understudying and performing mainstage roles, intensive vocal coaching, language and acting studies, and career skills development, as well as participation in masterclasses with internationally-renowned opera professionals. 



Single tickets for the Ensemble Studio performance of Semele are $22 or $55 (includes applicable taxes).  Tickets are available online at, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office, located at 145 Queen St. W., Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Standing Room

Sixty $12 Standing Room tickets are available at 11 a.m. the morning of each performance, in person only at the
Four Seasons Centre Box Office.  Limit of two tickets per person.  Subject to availability.


Opera Under 30

Patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 may purchase $22 Opera Under 30 tickets as of March 31, 2012 at
10 a.m., online at or in person at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office.  Opera Under 30 is presented by
TD Bank Group. 


Rush Seats

   Rush seats, starting at $22 and subject to availability, go on sale at 11 a.m. on the morning of each performance at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office.


This Ensemble Studio performance of Semele has been generous underwritten in part by Wendy J. Thompson and the late Samuel A. Rea.


Production Sponsor: RBC


Ensemble Studio Performance Sponsor: ARIAS – Canadian Opera Student Development Fund


Presenting Sponsor of SURTITLES™:  Sun Life Financial


Official Automotive Sponsor of the COC at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts: 

Jaguar Land Rover Canada


Spring Season Supported by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund


Broadcast Partner:  CBC Radio 2


Official Media Sponsors:  CTV and The Globe and Mail


Digital Marketing Sponsor:  Delvinia

The COC Ensemble Studio is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals and provides advanced instruction, hands-on experience, and career development opportunities. The Ensemble Studio is generously supported by the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage, ARIAS (formerly The Canadian Opera Volunteer Committee), In loving memory of Mr. George R. Bishop, from his family & friends, Marcia Lewis Brown, The John A. Cook Young Artist Development Fund, In honour of Earlaine Collins, In honour of Ninalee Craig, Estate of Horst Dantz and Don Quick, Catherine Fauquier, David and Ann Fund, Ethel Harris, The Audrey S. Hellyer Charitable Foundation, Peter & Hélène Hunt, Patrick & Barbara Keenan, The Hal Jackman Fund at the Ontario Arts Foundation, Jo Lander, Ruby Mercer Fund, George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation, Roger D. Moore Ensemble Studio Endowment Fund, Sue Mortimer, RBC Foundation, Katalin Schäfer, In honour of Colleen Sexsmith, The Slaight Family, the Stratton Trust, William & Phyllis Waters, and an anonymous donor.


BMO Financial Group Pre-Performance Opera Chats

Free to ticket holders, the COC offers 20-minute introductions to the opera and its themes in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts 45 minutes prior to every performance.

Interactive Features on COC Radio

Through COC Radio, visitors to can find, in one place, a variety of audio and digital features available for streaming, all aimed at exploring an opera and its background as well as the artists appearing with the COC.  Among the resources on Semele, visitors will find a podcast series sponsored by Decca: The Opera Label.  Hosted by the COC’s Gianna Wichelow and Gianmarco Segato, the podcasts explore the opera and its background, and feature interviews with singers and members of the creative team. 


About the Canadian Opera Company

Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the five largest in North America.  The COC enjoys a loyal audience support-base and one of the highest attendance and subscription rates in North America.  The COC celebrates its 62nd anniversary during the 2011/2012 season.  Under its leadership team of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC is increasingly capturing the opera world’s attention.  The COC maintains its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation by creating new productions within its diverse repertoire, collaborating with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracting the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists.  The COC performs in its own opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world.  Designed by Diamond and Schmitt Architects, the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006, and is also the performance venue for The National Ballet of Canada.  For more information on the COC, visit its award-winning website,

For more information or to request production photographs, please contact:

Maria Lioutaia, Publicist, tel: 416-306-2363, e-mail:


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