Parlando: The COC Blog


Meet the 2014 Ensemble Studio Competition Finalists: Michelle Siemens

On November 25, 2014, seven finalists will take to the mainstage of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts for the Ensemble Studio Competition, the feature event of Centre Stage gala. The event will be hosted by world-renowned Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, and the singers will be accompanied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. To watch the competition and see Canada's rising opera stars, visit our Centre Stage website and buy your tickets today! Over the next two weeks, follow along on Parlando as we introduce you to each of our finalists.

Michelle Siemens, Mezzo-soprano

Mezzo-soprano Michelle Siemens caught the performing bug early. When she was just four years old, she took part in a youth musical theatre program and “no one has been able to drag me off [the stage] since!”

Born in Calgary, her family moved around quite a bit; first to Oakville, Ont., then Saskatoon, Sask., before settling in Victoria, B.C., where Michelle spent her teen years. It was in Victoria that Michelle met her first operatic mentor, baritone and teacher Bernard Turgeon. That’s when she realized that opera was definitely in her future.

Michelle completed her bachelor of music at the University of Toronto (UofT) and is currently completing her master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. Her recent roles include Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and La Suora Infermiera in Suor Angelica (Opera on the Avalon); Dido in Dido and Aeneas (Yorkshire Opera Workshop); Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, Ocypete in The Harpies and A Woman in Riders to the Sea (Halifax Summer Opera Workshop). She has also trained at the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute, the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy (COSI) and NUOVA Opera Intensive. As a chorus member, Michelle has appeared in productions with UofT and COSI.

Of all the roles in the mezzo repertoire, Michelle’s long had her sights set on singing Carmen. Her parents even gave her the opera’s score for Christmas when she was 16. However, “Delilah and Azucena are in close competition for second place on my role wish list.”

When she’s not singing opera, Michelle loves experimenting with baking and cooking. “My fellow singers can count on me to come to rehearsal with a new batch of cookies for them to try.” She also loves exploring whatever city she is living in, trying new things and going on weekend adventures. “And, like any city girl, I spend far too much time shopping.”

You can learn more about Michelle on her website!

The Ensemble Studio Competition is Tuesday, November 25, 2014. Tickets to the Ensemble Studio Competition and Centre Stage cocktail celebration are $100. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit  You can buy tickets here, call COC Ticket Services at 416-363-8231 or go to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). You can also chat about the event with us on Twitter using #COCCentrestage.

Posted by Kristin McKinnon / in Centre Stage Finalists / comments (0) / permalink


Opera Talks Preview: Don Giovanni

by Wayne Gooding 

This season, the staging of opera takes the focus in our series of Opera Talks under the banner: First Nights, Faux Traditions and Fresh Starts - An introduction to Director’s Theatre in opera through three dysfunctional families. Opera Canada editor Wayne Gooding examines three of our season’s productions, paying special attention to the specific visions of the directors who will bring them to our stage.

Here’s what Wayne has to say about Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni which will premiere at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on January 24, 2015.

This production is perfect to launch a discussion of Director’s Theatre since Tcherniakov’s imprint is all over it. The music is Mozart’s, the words are Da Ponte’s, but everything else is the brainchild of this production’s creative team. Quite apart from the now-familiar trope of updating the action to modern times (for example, Robert Carsen’s Falstaff), the scenography is totally changed so that the action all unfolds in the dining room of the Commendatore’s house; the time frame is considerably extended from 24 hours to a couple of months; the original dramatic layout is recast with the addition of many new scenes; and, perhaps most importantly, the characters are reconstituted in new relationships to turn the piece, literally, into a family drama.

This is a wholesale deconstruction that forces us to leave what we think we know and love about this venerable icon of opera history at the theatre door, and look with totally fresh eyes at the characters and their motivations even as we hear the familiar music and words.


I think Tcherniakov and his collaborators have done a brilliant job of transforming a Baroque classic into a contemporary comedy of sexual mores and manners. One of the things I particularly like in this production, which is shot through with irony and contradictions, is that the putative womanizing hero loses his libido while the other characters around him are driven by theirs. Talk about role reversals, since usually the characters are all defined by their passive reactions to the more active Don (well, except for Ottavio, who is more defined by his reactions to Anna). It doesn’t all work, to be sure, and there are some elements that seem gratuitously out of sync (Don Ottavio’s physical approach to Masetto, for example), but the production overall makes a very strong case that there’s considerably more substance embedded in Don Giovanni than Da Ponte’s wry depiction of late 18th-century social life and Mozart’s charming music.

This is certainly a disorienting production in many ways because it works very hard to break away from the familiar, but the payoff is a much more vivid, and even visceral, engagement with the original drama. Far from showing what’s wrong with Director’s Theatre, I would present it as a prime example of why opera needs strong creative teams.

Join us on November 19 for an in-depth preview of what promises to be one of the theatrical highlights of the COC’s 14-15 season. 

Opera Talks: Don Giovanni

Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 7 p.m., North York Central Library
For more information, visit:

Production images (top-bottom): 
Canadian Opera Company/Teatro Real Madrid (TRM)/Festival d’Aix-en-Provence/Bolshoi Theatre co-production of Don Giovanni, 2013, TRM. Photo: Javier del Real. 
Ainhoa Arteta as Donna Elvira, Mojca Erdmann as Zerlina, and Russell Braun as Don Giovanni in the Canadian Opera Company/Teatro Real Madrid (TRM)/Festival d’Aix-en-Provence/Bolshoi Theatre co-production of Don Giovanni, 2013, TRM. Photo: Javier del Real.

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink


Centre Stage


On November 25, 2014, the Canadian Opera Company presents its annual fundraising gala event, Centre Stage: an evening dedicated to the discovery and celebration of young opera talent with an exhilarating competitive showcase of singers. Seven vocal finalists, chosen following preliminary auditions in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and New York City for the COC Ensemble Studio – Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals –  will be competing for cash prizes ranging from $1500 to $5000. 

Hosting the highly anticipated evening is Canadian Ben Heppner. A graduate of the Ensemble Studio, Heppner is recognized internationally as one of the finest dramatic tenors in the world and one of this country’s distinguished operatic talents. Also anticipated is a surprise musical guest, who will be revealed only at the event itself!

The young singers featured in the 2014 vocal competition are: mezzo-soprano Zoe Band (Toronto); soprano Eliza Johnson (Stratford, Ont.); baritone Dimitri Katotakis (Toronto); baritone Nathan Keoughan (Charlottetown); tenor Aaron Sheppard (St. John’s, N.L.); mezzo-soprano Michelle Siemens (Calgary); and tenor Charles Sy (Toronto). 

Each singer will perform two arias before the audience and a panel of judges, with accompaniment supplied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus.  First, second and third prizes, of $5,000, $3,000 and $1,500, are awarded, in addition to an Audience Choice Award, selected by audience vote, of $1,500. Select finalists are also invited to join the COC’s 2015/2016 Ensemble Studio, to be announced at a later date.

“Through Centre Stage, the Canadian Opera Company is able to offer a special preview of the future of opera in Canada. The young artists we invite to participate in Centre Stage are some of the best and most promising operatic voices from across the country,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “We see exceptional talent over the course of our annual auditions for the Ensemble Studio and wanted to find a way to share these young artists with a wider audience, which is why we created a public competition component to the process a few years ago. Now, Centre Stage is one of the most anticipated events in the COC season.”

The vocal competition was first launched in 2011 in order to showcase the opera talent the COC had scouted from across the country and to create a public platform for celebrating the future of opera in Canada. In 2013 the competition finalists were showcased as never before when they performed with an orchestra led by a world-renowned conductor from the mainstage of the COC’s opera house.

“It’s the excitement of hearing up-and-coming voices vying for prize money and glory that makes competitions irresistible – to me, at least!” said Joseph So, an opera journalist, in his review of the 2012 competition for La Scena Musicale. “Aspiring singers [get] to strut their stuff... Some of them have that extra, intangible something called star power, musicality, charisma, whatever. It’s that elusive quality that makes a singer an artist, and someone with the promise of a significant career. Competitions such as this one are designed to find that singer.”

Centre Stage takes place on November 25, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. in R. Fraser Elliott Hall at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen St. W.). Centre Stage Competition tickets are $100 and include a pre-competition cocktail celebration. Specially priced $35 tickets are also available for patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 through Opera Under 30 sponsored by TD Bank Group. Centre Stage Gala tickets, encompassing the competitive vocal showcase and an exclusive black-tie dinner, are $1,500, with a limited number available for purchase.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit, call COC Ticket Services at 416-363-8231 or visit the Four Seasons Centre Box Office (145 Queen St. W.).

Ensemble Studio Competition finalists and winners with Centre Stage host Rufus Wainwright, 2013. Photo Credited to Michael Cooper

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink

Previous << 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40  >> Next 

Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



Subscribe to our blogs and the COC e-mail newsletter.
Contact Kiersten
Got a question? Want to share a link? Submit a comment!