Parlando: The COC Blog


High School Reunion for ENSEMBLE STUDIO Tenor Charles Sy

Some of us can't wait to leave our high school memories behind us, but that certainly wasn't the case for Ensemble Studio tenor Charles Sy when he reunited with his alma mater, Cawthra Park Secondary School, this March Break in a special performance in the COC's Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

Before Charles embarked on his career as a professional opera singer, he was a member of Cawthra Park Chamber Choir. "Cawthra Park was when the classical music seed was inserted into my brain and my love for the genre grew exponentially while I was there," says Charles. The acclaimed choir (just one of 12 music ensembles at Cawthra Park, which is home to one of the Peel District School Board’s Regional Arts Programs), led by conductor Bob Anderson, performed in the Free Concert Series on March 17.

Charles was eager to reunite with his former choir for a program that spanned a variety of vocal styles. "It was very nostalgic for me," says Charles. "This choir was such an important part of my life as a young singer. It taught me so much about musicality and working together with others to create collaborative art."

In addition to taking on the solos in pieces such as the crowd-pleasing "Nessun Dorma," Charles joined the choir on the risers for an energetic encore of "I'm a Train" - he even remembered all the choreography from his school days! He displayed his signature enthusiasm, which Bob remembers from Charles' time in the choir. "He always worked hard but I don't think he considered it 'work.' He was always interested in new experiences and opportunities."

Can you spot Charles? He's on the end of the last row in the photo above. Just like old times! 

Now, Charles is giving back to the school that set him on his career path. "Hearing Charles helps [students] to see what the next level is," says Bob. "With time and work, someone like them can go further in their art." Grade 12 student, Kai Leung, is a composer, conductor and performer with dreams of writing for Broadway. "We were really looking forward to this performance," says Kai. "Seeing a Cawthra grad go on to be so successful is really inspiring." In addition to performing with the chamber choir, Charles went back to Cawthra Park the following week for an exclusive recital for the school's music majors.

Kai Leung introducing the choir he formed, The Boys in B, an ensemble made up of mostly non-vocal majors from the school.

About 15 per cent of Cawthra Park students go on to have careers in the arts, whether it's performing or in administration - some even work in the COC admin office or are members of the COC Chorus! Perhaps in a few years we'll see another Cawthra Park alum performing on the Four Seasons Centre stage and they'll remember the moment they sang with Charles in their own choir days.


Don't miss Charles in the COC's production of Maometto II, running from April 29 - May 14, where he sings the role of Condulmiero alongside superstar bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni.

Photos: Lara Hintelmann

Posted by COC Staff / in Ensemble Studio / comments (0) / permalink


Opera Access for New Canadians



We are proud to announce the creation of Opera Access for New Canadians, a community outreach and engagement initiative to make the COC’s BMO Financial Group Student Dress Rehearsals and select performances accessible to new Canadian citizens and newcomers to Canada, including immigrants and refugees. The first phase of Opera Access for New Canadians begins this spring with the COC joining the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s Cultural Access Pass (CAP) program, which offers new Canadian citizens one year of complimentary admission to more than 1,200 cultural attractions across the country.

“We are proud of providing a cultural space in this country where people are free to gather, create art and express opinions—freedoms not granted in many places around the world,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “The Opera Access program is a celebration of that freedom and a way for us at the COC to welcome new Canadians to our community and introduce them to our art form.”

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, founder of the ICC, says “this new partnership with the COC provides a unique behind-the-scenes look into Canada’s premiere opera company. We are delighted.” Charlie Foran, CEO of the ICC, explains, “Our Cultural Access Pass has now grown to the point where we can offer CAP members experiences in the performing arts, as well as in cultural institutions and federal and provincial parks.”

The ICC will work with the COC to allocate and distribute dress rehearsal tickets to its CAP membership. A maximum of 40 free tickets will be set aside to every COC dress rehearsal as part of the opera company’s enrollment in the ICC’s CAP program. In addition to attending a dress rehearsal, participants will sit-in on one of the COC’s BMO Financial Group Pre-Performance Opera Chats and receive an informal tour of the COC’s opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The first COC productions to be accessed through the opera company’s involvement in CAP will be Carmen and Maometto II, in performance at the Four Seasons Centre in April and May 2016.

New citizens who have received their Canadian citizenship within the past year can register for a Cultural Access Pass. The pass is valid for one year from the date of obtaining citizenship. For more information and eligibility requirements, visit, e-mail or call 1-888-359-6998.

The creation of Opera Access for New Canadians is the formal implementation of a COC initiative first mentioned by COC General Director Alexander Neef from the stage of the Four Seasons Centre (mobile version here) on opening night of the company’s presentation of The Marriage of Figaro in February 2016. The COC subsequently hosted small groups of Syrian and Ethiopian refugees at performances of The Marriage of Figaro, facilitated by the ICC, Lifeline Syria and The Ripple Refugee Project. As Opera Access for New Canadians develops, additional partnerships will be announced that allow for increased accessibility to opera dress rehearsals and select performances for newcomers to Canada, including immigrants and refugees. 

About the Institute for Canadian Citizenship

The ICC was founded in 2006 by the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul to welcome new Canadian citizens and foster active citizenship for all Canadians. For more information, visit

Photo credit: Lucia Graca

Posted by COC Staff / in Opera Access / comments (0) / permalink




It’s been a while since we’ve reported on the honeybees that live on the roof of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been as busy—really, really busy.

All that hard work has paid off and it’s official: COC bees produce the best honey!

Fred Davis, beekeeper to the hundreds of thousands of bees who live on our roof, entered this season’s harvest into the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair amber honey competition this year. The honey took first prize, with a score of 96 points out of a possible 100!

Congratulations to Fred, his volunteer assistant Vivien, and the many, many COC honeybees who worked their fuzzy behinds off all year.

Here’s the story in Fred’s words:

The bees at the COC produce a beautiful amber honey. So my enthusiastic and very eager beekeeping volunteer, Vivien (a real "newbee") encouraged me to enter the honey into the competition and I decided to enter this year's harvest in the amber category. (Other colour categories are white, golden and dark).

We learned that the Royal Winter Fair's judges scored each honey category based on 10 criteria; originally I thought the judges based the winner on flavour alone. I was reluctant at first to submit the honey because I expected that all of the entrants would be old hands at the competition circuit and have their own secret way to filter and present their honey. I truly thought that I would receive an "atta boy" e-mail from the judges. It was quite stressful trying to make the honey as clear as possible, as I am very reluctant to take anything away from the raw honey. 

But, in the end, the most gratifying part of this experience for me was knowing that natural, unprocessed honey from downtown Toronto was the best according to the judges at the Royal Winter Fair, and how lucky I am to have a partner in the COC and the Four Seasons Centre where the honeybees can flourish! 

The bees have been all wrapped up and fed for the winter, and are having a well-deserved rest.  I have been peeking in on them from time to time and dream of opening up a healthy hive this spring. 

P.S. My winning secret was to simply pass the honey once through a sieve and then once through cheesecloth. Very high tech!  

Thanks Fred! You can read previous posts on our honeybees by clicking on the “FSCPA Honeybees” tag in the right-hand column. You can also purchase honey made by the COC honeybees at the main bar at the Four Seasons Centre during performances of the COC and the National Ballet of Canada.

Photos courtesy of Fred Davis

Posted by COC Staff / in FSCPA Honeybees / 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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