Parlando: The COC Blog


#TBT: From Participant to Performer


The Canadian Opera Company’s Education and Outreach team has had the honour and pleasure of collaborating and connecting with thousands of young people through its opera programs for students, children, youth, and their families. There is no greater moment of pride than hearing about the positive impact a COC program had on a former participant. 

A few weeks ago the COC Education team received a heartwarming update from a parent of a former participant of the COC’s After School Opera Program (ASOP) that her son Nassir had landed the lead role in his school’s upcoming production of High School Musical. Today we take a look back at how Nassir’s experience in the After School Opera Program helped him make the leap from a COC rehearsal room to the school stage. 

Nassir’s mother, Miriam, signed him up for the After School Opera Program back in 2010: “I signed Nassir up for the program because I wanted him to occupy his time doing something fun. I also thought it would help him with public speaking.” Little did Miriam know that her attempt to help Nassir gain confidence speaking in public would ultimately spark his interest in the performing arts. “I realized I had an interest in the performing arts after my first performance at the After School Opera Program,” says Nassir. “I had such a good time putting on that specific performance.” The opera was called Otherworldly (appropriately titled for its Halloween theme) and was written specifically for children by lead artist and composer, Dean Burry. Nassir excelled in character creation and acting, incorporating different voices, postures, gestures, and movements that suited his ghostly character. Musically, he never shied away from singing when asked to take on small solos or be a part of the chorus.

He credits his positive experience to Dean: “Dean made it very memorable by his whole approach towards our learning. He was extremely positive and supportive, even when we messed up.” With Dean’s encouragement and guidance, Nassir was able to explore his artistic abilities through a variety of characters including a Bumble Bee in The Bee Opera, a Royal Guard in The Tragedy of Icarus, a clown doctor in Clownin’ Around, and a young soldier in A Bucket Brigade, which was inspired by the war of 1812. 

The biggest surprise would come in 2012, after Nassir graduated from the After School Opera Program, when he applied, auditioned, and was accepted into St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School’s Centre for the Arts, Media and Technologies arts program. “ASOP [After School Opera Program] impacted me by adding to my personality. I was always an outgoing person, but ASOP has made me more social and charismatic. I’m more confident speaking in large groups of people and enjoy performing for class assignments rather than reading from a PowerPoint.”

Thanks to the support of his teachers Ms. Cossaro, Mr. Mayne, Mr. Sousa and Ms. Gaudette, Nassir’s enjoyment and appreciation of the arts lives on. In 2014, Nassir landed the supporting role of Roger in the school’s performance of Grease and tomorrow he has his big role debut in St. Patrick Secondary School’s production of High School Musical. Dean and the Education staff at the COC couldn’t be prouder. And Nassir’s mom? “I’m most looking forward to seeing Nassir hold his own in his first lead role. He can sometimes doubt himself. I want to see him put on the best performance ever! And let this experience teach him that if he works hard, he can accomplish just about anything!”

The COC wishes Nassir and his fellow classmates and teachers a successful run of High School Musical!

The COC’s After School Opera Program operates out of five community centres in Toronto. Registration for the spring term opens on March 7. Find more information on the arts program at St. Patrick Secondary School at the Toronto Catholic District School Board here.  

Photo Credits (top down): Nassir (left) as a Guard in the After School Opera Program production of The Tragedy of Icarus. Photo: COC, 2011; Nassir at school; Nassir (centre) as a Young Soldier in the After School Opera Program production of The Bucket Brigade. Photo: Mark Harris, 2012.

Program Sponsor:

Program Supporters:
The McLean Foundation 
The Lloyd Carr-Harris Foundation
The Chawkers Foundation


Posted by Katherine Semcesen / in Education / comments (0) / permalink


Inside the Wardrobe: Semele


Take a close-up look behind the scenes and into the wardrobe with the costumes from our production of Semeledesigned by internationally renowned fashion and costume designer Han Feng. Catch Semele in New York City when the COC presents it at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) from March 4-10, 2015! 

Han Feng's designs combine elements of Baroque European tailoring with the patterned silks, colours and flowing fabrics of traditional Chinese theatre. Click on the arrows on the sides of the photos (they appear when you hover the cursor over them) to see various photos of the costumes, styled by COC Costume Supervisor Sandra Corazza.



This jacket, worn by Jupiter for mere minutes in the production, is one of the most grand pieces among the costumes; one befitting the ruler of the gods! The rich gold in both the jacket and wings imply the grandeur and rank of the god. Despite this, he quickly removes it when he enters onstage in Act II to meet his lover Semele, taking on a human form in plain breeches and an open white shirt in order to appear in front of her. Another reason for the hasty removal may be the fact that the jacket and wings are quite heavy, making it very difficult to wear! 



Ambur Braid as Semele and Christopher Enns as Jupiter in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio performance of Semele, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper.

Jane Archibald as Semele (foreground) and William Burden as Jupiter (background) in the Canadian Opera Company production of Semele, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper.



One of the brightest garments in the opera is Semele's wedding robe, which she wears with a pink dress in Act I during the preparations for her wedding to Athamas. The large, bright red pattern shows the role of colour in Chinese wedding ceremonies, where red is considered a lucky colour signifying love, prosperity and happiness.



Mireille Asselin as Semele and Philippe Sly as Cadmus (background) in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio performance of Semele, 2012.  Photo: Michael Cooper.



Semele, the woman whom Jupiter falls in love with, has several costumes throughout the opera. This silk dress is paired with a large pink robe in a heavier silk fabric, but is quickly removed during Act II when Jupiter arrives to romance her. The backless look of the dress also imitates the pink silk dress Semele wears in Act III, while the cut of this one, with its wrap effect and flutter sleeves, implies that it is being worn in a more casual, relaxed setting, like a nightgown or undergarment.



Jane Archibald as Semele and William Burden as Jupiter in the Canadian Opera Company production of Semele, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper.



Juno, Jupiter's wife, appears in several outfits throughout the opera. Her main costume however is comprised of a black silk corset, full skirt, and purple velvet bolero jacket, all suggesting her royal stature and rank as a goddess and Jupiter's wife. The coiled and piled nature of her pearl necklace also mimics the wig paired with the costume, which features a beehive hairstyle formed from braids.



Rihab Chaieb as Juno in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio performance of Semele, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper.

The COC presents Semele at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from March 4-10, 2015. For more information or to buy tickets, visit the BAM website here.

Costume photo credits: Costumes from the Canadian Opera Company production of Semele, 2015. Director and set designer Zhang Huan, costume designer Han Feng. Costume styling: Sandra Corazza. Photos: Kiersten Hay.

All production photographs: Michael Cooper.

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Semele / comments (0) / permalink


Free Concert Series Highlights for March

Vesuvius Ensemble

There is so much variety in the Free Concert Series this month. Test your opera chops in a special March Break interactive concert, or experience an Indonesian-inspired gamelan like you've never heard before. There's something for every age to enjoy!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015
12 — 1 p.m.
Gamelan Plus
Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan

The Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan is the only ensemble of its kind in Canada and has delighted and challenged audiences worldwide for over 30 years. Performing traditional and cutting-edge new music on an assortment of bronze and wooden instruments, collectively known as a gamelan, the eight-member group breathes new life into the centuries-old tradition of the Indonesian archipelago. For this performance, they are joined by guest soprano (and COC Ensemble Studio grad) Claire de Sévigné for a program featuring works by John Siddall, Nic Gotham and Allen Cole.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015
5:30 — 6:30 p.m.
Chansons Refusées
Alex Samaras and Bobby Hsu present A Sondheim Project

Alex Samaras is quickly becoming one of the leading vocalists on the Canadian jazz and new music scene. Along with Bobby Hsu and a trio of kindred musical spirits, he explores the forgotten songs of Broadway with an emphasis on the music of Stephen Sondheim and other legendary theatre songwriters, bridging the worlds of musical theatre and modern jazz in a unique and compelling new way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015
12 — 1 p.m.
Humber Latin Jazz Ensemble

Spice up your March Break with Humber College’s Latin Jazz Ensemble’s unique blend of Afro-Cuban and jazz sounds guaranteed to get your salsa on. Percussive, melodic, zesty and always inspired, Humber College’s Latin Jazz Ensemble, led by Grammy and Juno Award-winner Hilario Durán, is a performance not to be missed.

Thursday, March 19, 2015
12 — 1 p.m.
Opera Interactive
Humber Latin Jazz Ensemble

You can bring the whole family to our always-popular, interactive March Break concert! Join opera comedienne Kyra Millan, collaborative pianist Tina Faye and COC Ensemble Studio baritone Iain MacNeil in a lively interactive concert featuring favourite operatic arias and sing-along choruses. Audience members of all ages can listen to, learn about and try their hand at the fascinating art of opera!

Artists of the COC Orchestra

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
12 — 1 p.m.
Where the Light Gets In
Jaffa Road

Award-winning Toronto-based world music group Jaffa Road creates a unique sonic landscape that draws organically from the worlds of Jewish, Arabic and Indian music, modern jazz, electronica, rock, pop and dub. With on-stage chemistry as electrifying as it is intense, the group presents highlights from their Juno-nominated album, Where the Light Gets In, as well as a sneak peek of new material from an upcoming release.

Let us know what you're most looking forward to in the comments or on our Facebook page!


Photo Credits (top to bottom): Vesuvius Ensemble, 2011. Photo: Karen E. Reeves; Kyra Millan leads audience members in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo: Karen E. Reeves

Posted by Kristin McKinnon / in Free Concert Series / comments (0) / permalink

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



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