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.
Charles Sy, Tenor
Born in Toronto, but was raised on the lake shore in Mississauga, Charles Sy discovered opera later in life. He didn’t come from a musical family but, being somewhat shy, was able to express himself freely through performance. “One of my proudest moments was when I was given the big solo in 'O little town of Bethlehem' in the annual Christmas pageant”, he says.
From there, Charles became involved with musical theatre. “I loved the deep emotional commitment one had to make with a work while developing a character,” he says. “I became obsessed with being on the stage and felt most at home while I was performing.”
Charles soon learned that his voice suited opera and he began studying opera at the University of Toronto. “My world changed when I entered the world of operatic singing,” he says. “It had everything I loved about developing a new character on stage in musical theatre, but came at it from such a real, raw and visceral angle. There was something extremely powerful about seeing a single person tell a story over an entire orchestra, with their musical nuances and without a microphone. I was fascinated by this Olympic form of singing and knew then and there that is this was what I wanted to do with my life.”
His UofT Opera credits include Mr. Owen in Postcard from Morocco, Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore, Mayor Upfold in Albert Herring, Alamão in Pedro Malazarte, and covering the title role in Rob Ford: The Opera. Additional credits include Remendado in Carmen (Opera by Request); Lechmere in Owen Wingrave (Banff Centre); Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni (Opera NUOVA); Paolo in The Wings of a Dove (The COSI Connection); and Basilio and Curzio in Le nozze di Figaro (Toronto Summer Opera Workshop). In 2015, he will sing the role of Adolfo in La Rondine with Opera Theatre of St. Louis. One day, he dreams of singing Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore, a role he feels has always eluded him.
He recently had a bit of experience performing at the Four Seasons Centre, when he performed with UofT Opera in the COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre this October.
Here he is, fourth from left, taking on the arduous role of the Forest of Arden.
And in the slightly more romantic role of Romeo in “Ô nuit divine” from Gounot’s Roméo et Juliette.
If Charles wasn’t an opera singer, his childhood dream was to become a doctor. Inspired by his mother’s health struggles, he set out to become a cardiologist. “When it came down to which major I would focus on in university, I had two very deep passions to decide between,” he admits. "At the end of the day, I decided that if I went on to study music, science could still be a part of my life as an interest and hobby." Charles’ fascination with science merged well with his passion for opera when he had the opportunity to write a paper about the physics of opera singing. “My T.A. was pretty impressed.”
Along with opera and science, Charles is a “rather enthusiastic beginner knitter.” He taught himself to knit by watching Youtube videos. “The very first thing I ever made was an eight-foot-long scarf with a combination of garter stitching and cable knitting, which I gave as a present to my roommate.”
So if any of Charles’ fellow competitors needs to keep their vocal cords warm, they know who to ask for help!
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 COCCentrestage.ca. 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.
Photo credits (second and third from top): Artists of UofT Opera, photo: Yasmine Budirahaju
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DIMITRI KATOTAKIS, BARITONE
As a toddler growing up in Toronto, Dimitri Katotakis would stand in his diapers ‘conducting’ Beethoven symphonies in front of a speaker system. “My parents always knew I had the performing bug,” he says. So it was only natural for him to attend Etobicoke School for the Arts, where he performed in several musicals and eventually discovered opera.
“I found opera to be extremely captivating the first time I saw a show and I have never looked back,” says Dimitri. “I loved how the music of opera can make a story feel both hugely intimate and grand at the same time. Performing in or seeing a well-realized opera is like getting a powerful shot of artistic life.”
Dimitri’s studies led him to McGill University where he’s currently pursuing his master’s degree. Recent roles at McGill include Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lorenzo in Capuleti e i Montecchi. He earned his bachelor of music in vocal performance from the University of Toronto where he sang the roles of Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, and M. Lacouf and Le Fils in Les Mamelles de Tiresias. Other credits include Escamillo and Le Dancaïre in Carmen, and Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos (Opera NUOVA); Le Podestat in Le Docteur Miracle (Stu&Jess Productions); Masetto in Don Giovanni (Centre for Opera Studies in Italy); Curio in Giulio Cesare (Aradia Ensemble); and in the Chorus of Der Entführung aus dem Serail and Le nozze di Figaro (Opera Atelier).
There are a few roles that Dimitri dreams of singing in the future. “I am particularly fond of the slippery ambiguity of Don Giovanni; the dark, horrible beauty of Tarquinius; the gorgeous passion of Silvio; [and] the charming glee of Rossini’s Figaro.”
If he wasn’t an opera singer, Dimitri would still be putting his artistic talents to good use. “I’d love to be performing or creating in some other way,” he says. “I love the theatre, dance and poetry way too much to discount them.” But Dimitri acknowledges his scientific side as well. “I find the inherent ‘tinkering’ and order of chemistry really quite fun.”
In addition to opera, staying active is very important to Dimitri. “I find few things as comforting as pushing myself while at the gym or running,” he says. “I also enjoy fencing, tennis, and my nose is usually buried in one book or another.” He’s also a big board game fan, which is one way for him to stay connected with friends and family.
Wherever Dimitri’s operatic career takes him, he knows that his “big supportive family” and mentors have his back. “I had very supportive and caring music instructors and they nurtured in me a deep love for communicating through music from an early age,” he says. “It’s really comforting to be able to spend my time working on trying to get closer to such a powerful art.”
Zoe Band, Mezzo-soprano
Mezzo-soprano Zoe Band’s life revolves around music. “My hobby, joy, job, and passion is music. When I’m not listening to it, I’m working to make money to pay for lessons,” she says. “When I have time to myself, I practice!”
Born and raised in Toronto, Zoe got her start singing in choir and playing classical guitar. Her guitar teacher’s wife was a singing teacher and “from there it began.”
Zoe studied music at the Peabody Conservatory, earning her bachelor and master of music in voice performance. Her roles with Peabody Opera included Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Miss Benson in Lakmé, Ferdinand in Ariel’s Tempest, Betty Parris in The Crucible, Anna in The Trio and Zinnie in Dora. She has also appeared as Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia (HexaCollective); Hansel in Hansel and Gretel (Toronto Summer Opera and Little Patuxtent Opera); and Patricia Hutton in Camelot Requiem (The Figaro Project).
One day, she hopes to add Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro to her repertoire, and she’d especially love to sing the title role Handel’s Ariodante. “What a role!”
If she wasn’t pursuing an opera career, you might find Zoe working in psychology or using her dramatic talents in other ways. “I love entertaining. If I couldn’t sing, I would hope to act.”
So what is it about opera that Zoe finds so compelling?
“For me, opera is a bridge between the real and romanticized world. It can be challenging and intellectual, and yet calming and spiritual, expressing the full range of human emotions,” she says. “When I’m performing, I feel a freedom to fully express who I am.”
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001