Parlando: The COC Blog


Meet the new members of the Orchestra Academy!

The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra Academy welcomes five student musicians to its annual three-week intensive training program. 

Led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus, and developed in collaboration with The Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, the COC Orchestra Academy offers its student musicians professional insight and experience in their pursuit of a career in an opera orchestra.

The five student players who join the Academy this year were selected from a pool of 12 musicians who auditioned in October 2015 for Debus, COC Orchestra Academy Director Nina Draganic and members of the COC Orchestra: GGS cellist Drew Comstock, GGS violinist Hua-Chu Huang, GGS violinist Yada Lee, GGS bassist Doug Ohashi and UofT violist Meagan Turner.

As part of the Academy experience, students are featured in multiple public performances. This year those appearances include playing with the COC Orchestra at the company’s 2016/2017 season launch event on January 13 and a recital in the COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on January 21, performing Fauré’s La bonne chanson with COC Ensemble Studio tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and Mendelssohn’s Octet with their COC Orchestra mentors. Academy students also join the COC Orchestra in the pit of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on January 23 for opening night of the COC’s winter production of Wagner’s Siegfried, playing one of the most complex and stirring scores in the operatic canon.

New to the 2016 Orchestra Academy program are additional public performances with the COC Orchestra and opera singers from the COC, and masterclasses and private sessions with opera singers, production personnel and visiting music staff. 

“It’s wonderful to see how we’ve grown the COC Orchestra Academy since it began in 2014. Every year we build it up just a little more, moving from strength to strength,” says COC Music Director Johannes Debus. “This year we’ve added the season launch event to the program and we’ve been fortunate enough to have interest from great artists like Christine Goerke and Russell Braun on how they can get involved with the Orchestra Academy. These experiences, at such an early point in these musicians’ careers, are the opportunities of a lifetime.”

Watch Johannes talk about the Orchestra Academy in the video below!

The COC Orchestra Academy is an extra-curricular program that launched in January 2014 as a pilot program with the intention of growing the initiative to include more students and members of the COC Orchestra. There is no official credit attached to the students’ participation. Members of the COC Orchestra participate in the COC Orchestra Academy voluntarily. 

2016 COC Orchestra Academy Members

Cellist Drew Comstock began cello lessons at the age of four. He completed his undergraduate studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Yeesun Kim, and recently finished his Master of Music at McGill University where he worked with Brian Manker. He has performed in masterclasses for Ralph Kirshbaum, Phillipe Muller, Laurence Lesser, and Raphael Pidoux. As a chamber musician, he has worked with members of the Takács, Alban Berg, and Miró string quartets. He has also performed with Boston’s critically acclaimed Discovery Ensemble, the North Carolina Symphony, and the McGill Chamber Orchestra. Comstock is currently pursuing an artist diploma at The Glenn Gould School under Desmond Hoebig and Andrés Díaz.

Violinist Hua-Chu Huang was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada in 2007. Since starting the violin at age nine, he has won numerous prizes from national competitions in Taiwan, the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra Concerto competition, and recently placed silver in the 2015 Canadian Music Competition. Huang has performed as a featured soloist in the Dalhousie Concerto Night as well as with the Chebucto Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia. He studied with Philippe Djokic at Dalhousie University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in violin performance. Huang is currently pursuing an artist diploma under Paul Kantor and Barry Shiffman at The Glenn Gould School.

Violinist Yada Lee has won numerous competitions and awards. She has performed concerti with Mannes Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall, New York, as well as with orchestras in Thailand and around the world. She has been a member of Verbier Festival Orchestra and Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and has served as concertmaster and principal for both Oberlin and Mannes orchestras. Lee holds a master’s degree from Mannes School of Music and a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She is currently at The Glenn Gould School, studying with Paul Kantor, Barry Shiffman, Laurie Smukler and David Bowlin.

Bassist Doug Ohashi is currently completing the final year of his artist diploma at The Glenn Gould School, studying with Jeffrey Beecher, principal bassist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Ohashi aspires to perform in a professional orchestra and has participated in several training programs to serve that goal, including the National Youth Orchestra of Canada and Orford Academy. He is a recipient of the James Craig Opera Orchestra Award.

Praised for her imagination and musical instinct, Toronto-based violist Meagan Turner recently completed her undergraduate studies as a scholarship student at the University of Toronto. Turner has held principal positions with numerous orchestras and performed in masterclasses for renowned artists including Henning Kraggerud, Atar Arad, and the Brentano and Belcea quartets. In addition to her studies at U of T, Turner has studied chamber music with the St. Lawrence, Cecilia, and New Orford quartets and will continue her orchestral training at the New York String Orchestra Seminar this December. Turner is currently pursuing an advanced certificate in performance at UofT, in the studio of Eric Nowlin.


The COC Orchestra Academy is an initiative of the COC Orchestra with the agreement of the Toronto Musicians' Association.

Photo credit: (l-r) cellist Drew Comstock, violinist Hua-Chu Huang, violinist Yada Lee, bassist Doug Ohashi and violist Meagan Turner



Posted by Meighan Szigeti / in Orchestra Academy / comments (0) / permalink


Coda: Ekaterina Siurina & Charles Castronovo


It's clear that Violetta and Alfredo are very much in love in our current production of La Traviata, but did you know that for singers Ekaterina Siurina and Charles Castronovo this love extends beyond the stage? We caught up with the married duo to find out more about the pair behind the performance. Check out our Q&A with them below, and don't miss seeing La Traviata before it's gone on November 6, 2015!

Coda with Ekaterina Siurina and Charles Castronovo


 Ekaterina Siurina  Charles Castronovo

If I’d never become a singer, I would have been...

A documentary film maker

An architect, historian, and/or poet

Favourite TV show

The Borgias


Favourite movie

Napoleon Dynamite

There are so many, but my top three are The Godfather Part II, Rocky and Braveheart

Favourite Toronto spot

The Island

So far, the Distillery

Favourite meal of the day


Breakfast and late night snack

Favourite snack

Either very dark chocolate or Old Amsterdam gouda

Kids cereal

I never leave the house without

Coming back a couple times because I forgot something

Looking presentable ;-)

Besides singing, I also

Make pottery

Play in rock bands and read lots of history

My favourite thing about my spouse is

He is very generous, sweet-hearted and a super handsome man!

Her passion for family and her cheekbones

My favourite duet

Roméo et Juliette's duet (Gounod)

At the moment, the love duet between Carlo and Elisabetta in Verdi's Don Carlo

My drink of choice is

Water. And excellent wine

Espresso macchiato or bourbon, good bourbon

When I have a day off, I

Spend it with the kids

Relax and work out, yoga, family time!

I am secretly an expert in

Being Russian which includes, but not limited to: sarcasm, negativity, worrying, complaining and passion! ;-) Haha!

Classic rock

My carry-on essentials are

Baby supplies and my opera score

Headphones and a score

On my piano, you’ll find

Opera scores, Nutcracker piano for kids, postcards and an empty cup of tea from previous coaching

The French version of Don Carlos, Mefistofele by Boito and Lucia

Favourite song

All jazz standards

"Roses and Cigarettes" by Ray LaMontagne

Favourite power couple in an opera

Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge

Favourite power couple in real life

Pitt and Jolie

Song that’s been stuck in my head lately

Baby lullabies

Favourite quote

Words are silver, silence is gold (my grandma always said this, I wish I could follow it better!)

My normal pre-show routine is

Sleep, eat, warm up, hot tea, stay quiet, and then sing!

Sleep in, breakfast, work out, relax, a light dinner three hours before the curtain, listen to some some light rock and roll in my dressing room while putting makeup on. Warm up. Sing.

The quality I most admire in a friend is

Supportive and understanding

No judgement, and acceptance of the real me

If I were attending a masquerade ball, I would go dressed as

The Czarina Katerina :-)

A Roman general, Greek god or a superhero. :-)

After La Traviata at the COC, I

Fly home to LA, unpack and repack for concerts in Russia. Then getting ready for big trip to Australia with the whole family! Very excited!

Concerts in Moscow, Republic of Georgia and then Berlin

My dream vacation would be

Staying on my own small island with my family for two weeks!

With family in the Steppes of Nepal or somewhere in the East. Would like to stay in a yurt for a few days

To learn more about La Traviata and to buy tickets, click here.

Charles Castronovo as Alfredo and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta in the COC’s production of La Traviata, 2015. Photo: Michael Cooper.


Posted by Kiersten Hay / in La Traviata / comments (0) / permalink


Centre Stage 2015: Eliza Johnson

Out of a pool of 120 aspiring opera singers from across the country, eight were selected to compete at Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition on November 3, 2015, our annual celebration of the next generation of opera stars selected from nationwide auditions for the COC Ensemble Studio—Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. The competition features the young singers vying for cash prizes ranging in value from $1,500 to $5,000. We interviewed our eight young finalists to learn more—check out all of the interviews, linked by name as they become available, here (or here if on a mobile device). 

Stratford, Ontario native and soprano Eliza Johnson studied at the University of Toronto, where her roles included Governess in The Turn of the Screw, Adina in L’elisir d’amore, Despina in Così fan tutte, Rob Ford’s Mother in Rob Ford: The Opera and Lucy in The Telephone. Additional credits include Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro (Highlands Opera Studio); Berta in The Barber of Seville and Soeur Valentine in Dialogues des Carmélites (Opera Theatre of St. Louis); Pamina in The Magic Flute (Opera Lyra’s Opera Studio); and concert appearances with the University of Toronto and Stratford symphony orchestras, and Stratford Summer Music. Recently, Ms. Johnson won First Prize in the Brian Law Opera Competition with the National Capital Opera Society and was a finalist for the Ryan Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. 

Three Things about Eliza Johnson

If you weren’t pursuing a career in opera, what would you be doing instead?        

Is this a trick question? I am literally obsessed with opera and honestly can’t imagine myself doing anything else. If my passion for anything else were equal to or greater than my passion for opera, I definitely would not have chosen this career or invested so much in it!
That said, if I had all the luxury of living multiple lives, I think I would pursue a career as a painter. When I was younger, it was a constant toss-up between art and music. I still work when I can, but paints and canvases are not very compact for a travelling opera singer; gowns and shoes take up a lot of space! I’d love to see what would happen if I devoted myself fully to painting, but for now that’s a question that will remain unanswered!   

2. What are your hobbies, interests, other projects, outside of opera?
What are your hobbies, interests, other projects, outside of opera?

I love to paint and love to cook. I love reading and feeding myself artistically from a variety of mediums.  I love to travel and learn about other cultures and communities. I love to bike and move my body! I love my friends: musicians and non-musicians (whose perspectives and ideas can be very refreshing!). 

Do you have a dream role?  What is it?

There are so many! The repertoire is so vast and each piece is so unique. In a way, any role that is a good vocal fit is a "dream role" since any opportunity to sing is exciting and rich. 

If I have to choose, I think my absolute favorite opera of all time (for now) is Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. I had the opportunity to sing the role of Governess when I was studying at the University of Toronto and the experience has yet to be topped. I would love to perform this role again!

I’m also very interested in working with living composers and developing new works. I hope I am able to experience more of this process throughout my career.

Learn more about Eliza at or follow her on Twitter at @ElizaJohnsonSop or on Instagram at @elizajanejohnson

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.).

To buy competition tickets, click here.
To buy Under 30 competition tickets sponsored by TD, click here.
For more information about the the Centre Stage Dinner event and how to purchase tickets, please contact the PC Office at 416-363-5801

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Centre Stage / comments (1) / permalink

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



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