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.
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!
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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Mezzo-soprano Michelle Siemens caught the performing bug early. When she was just four years old, she took part in a youth musical theatre program and “no one has been able to drag me off [the stage] since!”
Born in Calgary, her family moved around quite a bit; first to Oakville, Ont., then Saskatoon, Sask., before settling in Victoria, B.C., where Michelle spent her teen years. It was in Victoria that Michelle met her first operatic mentor, baritone and teacher Bernard Turgeon. That’s when she realized that opera was definitely in her future.
Michelle completed her bachelor of music at the University of Toronto (UofT) and is currently completing her master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. Her recent roles include Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and La Suora Infermiera in Suor Angelica (Opera on the Avalon); Dido in Dido and Aeneas (Yorkshire Opera Workshop); Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, Ocypete in The Harpies and A Woman in Riders to the Sea (Halifax Summer Opera Workshop). She has also trained at the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute, the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy (COSI) and NUOVA Opera Intensive. As a chorus member, Michelle has appeared in productions with UofT and COSI.
Of all the roles in the mezzo repertoire, Michelle’s long had her sights set on singing Carmen. Her parents even gave her the opera’s score for Christmas when she was 16. However, “Delilah and Azucena are in close competition for second place on my role wish list.”
When she’s not singing opera, Michelle loves experimenting with baking and cooking. “My fellow singers can count on me to come to rehearsal with a new batch of cookies for them to try.” She also loves exploring whatever city she is living in, trying new things and going on weekend adventures. “And, like any city girl, I spend far too much time shopping.”
You can learn more about Michelle on her website!
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 Finalists / comments (0) / permalink
by Wayne Gooding
This season, the staging of opera takes the focus in our series of Opera Talks under the banner: First Nights, Faux Traditions and Fresh Starts - An introduction to Director’s Theatre in opera through three dysfunctional families. Opera Canada editor Wayne Gooding examines three of our season’s productions, paying special attention to the specific visions of the directors who will bring them to our stage.
Here’s what Wayne has to say about Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni which will premiere at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on January 24, 2015.
This production is perfect to launch a discussion of Director’s Theatre since Tcherniakov’s imprint is all over it. The music is Mozart’s, the words are Da Ponte’s, but everything else is the brainchild of this production’s creative team. Quite apart from the now-familiar trope of updating the action to modern times (for example, Robert Carsen’s Falstaff), the scenography is totally changed so that the action all unfolds in the dining room of the Commendatore’s house; the time frame is considerably extended from 24 hours to a couple of months; the original dramatic layout is recast with the addition of many new scenes; and, perhaps most importantly, the characters are reconstituted in new relationships to turn the piece, literally, into a family drama.
This is a wholesale deconstruction that forces us to leave what we think we know and love about this venerable icon of opera history at the theatre door, and look with totally fresh eyes at the characters and their motivations even as we hear the familiar music and words.
I think Tcherniakov and his collaborators have done a brilliant job of transforming a Baroque classic into a contemporary comedy of sexual mores and manners. One of the things I particularly like in this production, which is shot through with irony and contradictions, is that the putative womanizing hero loses his libido while the other characters around him are driven by theirs. Talk about role reversals, since usually the characters are all defined by their passive reactions to the more active Don (well, except for Ottavio, who is more defined by his reactions to Anna). It doesn’t all work, to be sure, and there are some elements that seem gratuitously out of sync (Don Ottavio’s physical approach to Masetto, for example), but the production overall makes a very strong case that there’s considerably more substance embedded in Don Giovanni than Da Ponte’s wry depiction of late 18th-century social life and Mozart’s charming music.
This is certainly a disorienting production in many ways because it works very hard to break away from the familiar, but the payoff is a much more vivid, and even visceral, engagement with the original drama. Far from showing what’s wrong with Director’s Theatre, I would present it as a prime example of why opera needs strong creative teams.
Join us on November 19 for an in-depth preview of what promises to be one of the theatrical highlights of the COC’s 14-15 season.
Production images (top-bottom):
Canadian Opera Company/Teatro Real Madrid (TRM)/Festival d’Aix-en-Provence/Bolshoi Theatre co-production of Don Giovanni, 2013, TRM. Photo: Javier del Real.
Ainhoa Arteta as Donna Elvira, Mojca Erdmann as Zerlina, and Russell Braun as Don Giovanni in the Canadian Opera Company/Teatro Real Madrid (TRM)/Festival d’Aix-en-Provence/Bolshoi Theatre co-production of Don Giovanni, 2013, TRM. Photo: Javier del Real.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001