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.
Nathan Keoughan, Bass-baritone
Nathan Keoughan's hoping his past experience auditioning for the Ensemble Studio will hold him in good stead when he returns for this year's competition.
His credits include Luka in The Bear, Angelotti in Tosca and Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte (Highlands Opera Studio/HOS); Pankrol in Milk Bar (Mount Allison Opera Studio); Colline in La Bohème (Cowtown Opera and HOS); the Mayor in Dr. Miracle and the Lackey in Ariadne auf Naxos (NEC); Roy Gardner in Anne & Gilbert (Harbourfront Theatre); and Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera by Request). You’ll also be able to see him this season as Dr. Dulcamara in Elixir of Love with Cowtown Opera.
Here’s what you might remember about Nathan from last year’s competition:
(To view last year's blog post, click here.)
Born and raised in Charlottetown, P.E.I., Nathan completed his bachelor of music at the University of Prince Edward Island and still finds it hard to pry himself away. But he’s managed to do so long enough to attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he completed a master’s degree in Vocal Performance in 2012.
Before moving to Boston, Nathan says that his opera career “was not the original plan.” An accomplished theatre actor, Nathan portrayed Roy Gardner in Anne & Gilbert for three consecutive summers, and also played Edwin Simpson in Nine Lives, a musical about the life of L.M. Montgomery, for the Charlottetown Festival.
It was theatre that gave him a taste for performance, but opera that captured his imagination. “As my training continued at UPEI through the years, my amazing teachers, Stephen and Sung Ha Shin Bouey, introduced me into the world of opera, and with the help of YouTube I was soon a huge fanatic,” Nathan says. “What really draws me to opera is the culmination of such a focused singing technique while having the most dramatic of intentions and, on top of that, keeping up with the rich orchestral music underneath you.”
So how did Nathan feel when he was asked to return for the Ensemble Studio Competition?
“Every year I’ve come back I feel the pressure has increased,” Nathan says. “I know if I haven’t improved upon what they heard last year there would be no hope of me getting into the finals. So when I got the phone call, I was surprised they’d accept me for my third year but also relieved that I haven’t gotten any worse!”
One advantage of being the only returning competitor this year is that having performed with the COC Orchestra before on the mainstage gives him a chance to shake off his nerves. “This year I hope to spend less time being petrified and more time enjoying the fact that I get to perform in such an incredible house with such wonderful musicians in the pit.”
Whatever the outcome of this year’s competition, Nathan is going to enjoy every moment. “Our time at the COC goes by so fast, especially our time on stage. This year I look forward to taking it all in and enjoying the process as well as the performances. It’s not an everyday thing that I get to work and perform with such high calibre musicians, conductors, coaches and teachers. I don’t want to take any of it for granted. Singing with an orchestra like this feels as though you are floating on a cloud. It’s quite a rush.”
You can follow Nathan on Twitter to learn more about him.
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.
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Aaron Sheppard, tenor
Born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, tenor Aaron Sheppard was always surrounded by music. But until he was 17, a career in opera wasn’t even on his radar. Instead, he preferred folk music and musical theatre, but knew he wanted to pursue music at university. “Seeing as there’s no folk music degree, opera was the degree of choice!”
Aaron went on to study opera at McGill University in Montreal, where he received a bachelor of music. He is currently a member of the Atelier lyrique, Opéra de Montréal’s young artists training program.
Since discovering opera, Aaron already has several roles to his credit, including Hadji in Lakmé, Pong in Turandot, First Philistine in Samson et Dalila, Kronprinz in Silent Night and Joe’s Brother in Dead Man Walking (Opéra de Montréal); Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and Bonario in Volpone (Opera McGill); Pedrillo in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte (Salzburg Festival Young Singers Project); Ferrando in Così fan tutte (Jeunesses Musicales du Canada ); the title role in Albert Herring and Prince in Rusalka (Opera NUOVA); and Brooklyn Boy in Lillian Alling (Banff Centre). He is also a recent winner of the Western Canada Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Beyond opera, Aaron is quite the techie. “If I wasn't pursuing a degree in opera I would probably be working in international business, and trying to come up with the next big tech innovation.” He is the co-founder, along with some friends from Newfoundland, of the upcoming iOS/Android application Bendr, which aims to give every user an unforgettable and safe nightlife experience. His other hobbies include fly fishing, and "pretty much every sport."
But opera remains Aaron’s passion. The role he would most love to tackle? Well, it probably hasn’t been created yet. “I'd love to do something new and be the first to sing it,” he says. The Social Network: The Opera, anyone?
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.
Posted by Kristin McKinnon / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink
Raised in Stratford, Ont., performing is in Eliza Johnson’s blood. The daughter of brass musicians who played in all of the Stratford Festival musicals, she was “quite literally raised at the theatre” and she credits being surrounded by such world-class performances as some of her most formative dramatic training.
From a young age, Eliza was also heavily involved in the arts, taking piano lessons and dancing competitively. She also performed in community theatre productions and sang in the chorus of various musicals at the Huron Country Playhouse.
Eliza also expresses her artistic side through visual art. In elementary school, she designed costumes for Shakespeare productions in the hobby fair and even considered a career as an artist in high school, before deciding to focus on opera.
“It was during my time with the Saint Mary’s Children’s Choir that I found my voice, discovered the joy of musical collaboration, and truly fell in love with singing,” says Eliza. She began private lessons and competed as a soloist in the Kiwanis Music Festival. By the age of 10, she realized that she wanted to be an opera singer.
She moved to Toronto to earn her bachelor of music in voice performance and a master of music in opera from the University of Toronto (UofT), 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. Recently, she appeared as Pamina in The Magic Flute (Opera Lyra’s Opera Studio) and Soeur Valentine in Dialogues des Carmélites (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis/OTSL). In 2014, Eliza was also part of the COC Chorus for the company’s productions of Così fan tutte and A Masked Ball.
After Centre Stage, you’ll be able to see Eliza at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as Berta in The Barber of Seville. And if she had it her way, you'd someday see Eliza singing her dream role: Violetta in La Traviata. “It would be pretty darn cool,” Eliza admits. “To me, she is the quintessential diva.”
In addition to opera, Eliza is interested in arts education and outreach programs for children from underprivileged communities. “I would love to work to some capacity developing programs that nurture budding creativity in a variety of artistic mediums,” she says.
When she’s not singing, she enjoys live music and theatre, visiting galleries and museums, yoga, cycling, picnics and boardgames. One of the more unusual hobbies she's pick up recently is fermentation and pickling. "Yes, I am a bit of a Flower Child."
As Eliza’s operatic career takes off, she knows she’s lucky to have such a strong support base. “I was very privileged to have been born into a household that was so artistically nurturing,” she says. “I am so grateful to my many teachers and mentors who have helped me along the way, and especially to my parents for always supporting me.”
To learn more about Eliza, follow her on Twitter!
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001