By Jennifer Pugsley, Media Relations Manager
The COC’s free noon-hour Les Adieux concert last week on May 23 was a bittersweet farewell to this season’s graduating artists of the Ensemble Studio Program: sopranos Mireille Asselin and Ambur Braid, mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, bass-baritone Neil Craighead, tenor Christopher Enns and intern coaches, pianists Timothy Cheung and Jenna Douglas. We’re sad to see them go, but at the same time it’s going to be very exciting to watch what happens next in their careers as their stars continue to rise. Here’s a little primer of what the immediate future holds for these exceptional young artists.
With the exception of a bit of downtime at a loved one’s family farm in September 2013 and catching a few spare moments with family in her hometown of Ottawa, soprano Mireille Asselin is living out of a suitcase next year. Mireille performs at the Boston Early Music Festival in June singing the roles of Flore in La Couronne de Fleurs and Proserpine in La descente d'Orphée aux enfers in a double-bill presentation of Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s operas. Immediately following, she joins Wolf Trap Opera Company to start rehearsals as Nannetta in their production of Falstaff this August. Then it’s off to London to compete in the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition at the end of August, followed by a bit of a time off before performing with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra in November and heading to the Metropolitan Opera to cover the role of Adele in Die Fledermaus, which opens in the New Year. Come next spring, Mireille is back with the Boston Early Music Festival for a North American tour of the Charpentier double-bill before making a return to Toronto to sing Princesse Andromède in Opera Atelier’s production of Persée. The whirlwind year wraps up with Mireille joining Opera Atelier on the tour of Persée to the Royal Opera House of Versailles in France in May 2014.
The May 23 concert wasn’t the last chance to see soprano Ambur Braid perform before a Toronto audience this season. On June 1, 2013, she performs in the preview concert to launch the exciting new vocal series Recitals at Rosedale created by pianists Rachel Andrist and John Greer. Ambur is then off to Europe in July for the 2013 Stella Maris Singing Competition which takes place annually on board the EUROPA cruise ship, and this year travels from Hamburg to Spitsbergen, Norway, and back against an Arctic backdrop. Following the competition, Ambur wraps up her summer at the Highlands Opera Studio summer program, performing in its production of La Traviata. She’s then back in front of Toronto audiences as Konstanze for Opera Atelier’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio from October 26 – November 2, 2013 before giving a recital in her hometown of Terrace, B.C. in December. Come March 2014, she’ll make her role debut as Violetta in the Arizona Opera production of La Traviata. She’ll also be hard at work behind the scenes at the COC in spring 2014, covering the role of Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux
Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb is making San Francisco her home this summer where she joins San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Merola Opera Program. While there she sings Cherubino in the Merola Opera production of The Marriage of Figaro. She then bids adieu to the United States to head off to Germany for the final rounds of the Neue Stimmen International Singing Competition in October 2013, as well as to spend some time in Europe for auditions. Some of her other performance plans are in the works but have yet to be publically announced so remain hush-hush for now. Toronto audiences can look forward to seeing Rihab on the COC mainstage in spring 2014 as Garcias in Don Quichotte, while at the same time covering the role of Dulcinée.
Rihab Chaieb has company in San Francisco this summer because graduating Ensemble Studio intern coach and pianist Timothy Cheung also joins San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program, as an apprentice coach. So far confirmed for the 2013/2014 season, Tim will be returning to the COC in the fall as the music director of The Brothers Grimm school tour production, helping to introduce thousands of young people across Ontario to the performing arts and opera. He’s also joining the company’s spring 2014 production of Hercules as a member of the music staff, having previously served as a rehearsal pianist for recent COC productions of Die Fledermaus, La clemenza di Tito and Salome, among others from last season.
Fresh off winning first prize at the 2013 Christina and Louis Quilico Awards (of which Rihab Chaieb was a co-recipient), bass-baritone Neil Craighead is now spending the summer getting ready for a very important role, that of dad! He and wife Melanie welcome a new addition to their family in fall 2013. His hometown of Calgary can look forward to a special recital Neil will be giving in late June, however, featuring the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams and other opera selections. He’ll also be back at the COC in October 2013 as a member of the company’s school tour production of the Canadian opera The Brothers Grimm.
Ensemble Studio intern coach and pianist Jenna Douglas is travelling for work and pleasure this summer. She first goes to Opera on the Avalon in St. John's, NL to join the music staff on its productions of The Magic Flute and La Traviata. She’s then back at the COC as a guest artist educator in the company’s Summer Youth Intensive program before taking some much-needed vacation time and going to Amsterdam. Jenna then travels to Haliburton, ON, to work on the Britten showcase, taking place at the Highlands Opera Studio summer opera program, before finally rejoining the COC as part of the music staff in the company’s fall production of Peter Grimes.
Tenor Christopher Enns is getting ready to enjoy a little down time this summer. In addition to some private vocal study, Chris is looking forward to some travelling through the United States, as well as getting back to his home in Manitoba, spending a few months on the farm and helping with the fall harvest for the first time in years! Many of the details of what’s next for Chris in the 2013/2014 season are still being finalized. What is confirmed, though, is that Chris sings the title role in Persée in spring 2014 for Opera Atelier, in Toronto and in France when the production tours to the Royal Opera House of Versailles.
Photo Credits: (top) Liz Upchurch, Timothy Cheung, Jenna Douglas, Mireille Asselin, Ambur Braid, Rihab Chiaeb, Neil Craighead and Christopher Enns on Thursday May 23, 2013 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo: Karen Reeves (middle) Mireille Asselin as Adele in the COC’s production of Die Fledermaus, 2012; (middle) Ambur Braid as Vitellia in the Ensemble Studio Performance of the COC’s production of La clemenza di Tito, 2013; (middle) Rihab Chaieb as Juno in the COC's Ensemble Studio performance of Semele, 2012; (middle) Timothy Cheung in performance at the COC free concert, Vive l’amour!, on February 14, 2013, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. Photo: Karen Reeves; (middle) Neil Craighead as Publio and Rihab Chaieb as Sesto in the Ensemble Studio Performance of the COC’s production of La clemenza di Tito, 2013; (middle) Jenna Douglas in performance at the COC free concert, Of Love and Longing: Songs of Richard Strauss, on February 21, 2013, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. Photo: Karen Reeves; (bottom) Christopher Enns as Jupiter in the COC’s Ensemble Studio performance of Semele, 2012. Photos by Michael Cooper unless otherwise indicated.
Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Ensemble Studio / comments (0) / permalink
The After School Opera Program (ASOP) is a core outreach initiative of the Canadian Opera Company’s education and outreach activities. ASOP is an exciting community arts program that involves children between the ages of 7 and 12 in the creation and presentation of opera! Under the guidance of award-winning Canadian composer Dean Burry, choreographer, director, and conductor, Markus Howard, and other guest artists, participants learn all about the different elements that make up opera – music, drama, theatre and design – during the 10-week session. Along the way, they create and rehearse their own mini-production, and perform it before an audience of friends and family at the end of the program. Currently the program runs out of five community centres in Toronto, Etobicoke, North York, and in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of East Scarborough.
ASOP celebrates its 15th anniversary this year with a special celebration in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on June 13, 2013. Each week until then we’ll take special look back to some of the participants, artists, program partners, and volunteers who have made the program such a huge success over the years!
“ASOP taught me the importance of being a good role model and how much of a difference it can make to young people."
This week we kick off with Anand Bery who first began participating in ASOP as a child performing Dean Burry's The Splitting of the Clan during the 2001/2002 season. (He's third from the left in the photo below!) After “graduating” the program as a participant, Anand returned as a volunteer and a few years later was hired as a program assistant and took on more leadership and mentorship. His experience as a participant in the program made him a great role model for the budding young opera performers in ASOP.
As a program assistant, Anand supported several productions by Dean Burry. An opera that Anand felt an especially deep and personal connection to was Dean Burry's The Serpent's Love (2008) based on an North Indian folktale.
“It was a story I could relate to culturally, given my background. It dealt with complex themes like loss and despair, but only on a level the kids could understand, which is a testament to Dean Burry's skill as an artistic-educator. The broader message was one of hope, support, and tolerance of other cultures, which is what I think the ASOP is all about.”
But perhaps the most rewarding experience for Anand was seeing the positive influence he could have upon the children. On many occasions he saw shy and quiet children come to the program only to find their voice, exude confidence and discover hidden talents that were revealed through the ASOP!
“ASOP taught me the importance of being a good role model and how much of a difference it can make to young people. The program helped me develop leadership, teamwork and compassion in very different ways both as a child participant and an assistant.”
Anand is now in his third year of post-secondary studies in neuroscience and continues to have a keen appreciation for both opera and theatre which he credits to the ASOP. “The arts are a universal expression of emotion—and they can be appreciated by everyone, not just those with talent or formal training. The After School Opera Program did a great job of introducing me to the arts, as it continues to do for young people from many communities across the city, many of whom would probably not have the opportunity otherwise.”
Photo credits: The After School Opera Program, 2012. Photo: COC. Anand Bery (centre) participates in the 2000/2001 After School Opera Program’s production of The Splitting of the Clan. Photo: COC; Anand Bery in 2013.
Posted by Meighan Szigeti / in Education / comments (1) / permalink
With the 2012/2013 season coming to a close, we're also bidding "adieux" to our graduating members of the COC's Ensemble Studio. Today, Les Adieux will be their final concert as Ensemble members at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre, but we are looking forward to following their blossoming careers!
We asked some of our graduates what their favourite moments were, and what they'll remember most about the COC.
"When I try to think of one defining memory of my time at the COC, I come up instead with a slideshow of moments: seeing Russell Braun in rehearsal for Iphigénie en Tauride last season running sideways on the walls of the set, aided by the strong arms of a dozen dancers; my first day in the school tour van at 7 a.m.; the efficiency of the dressers who helped me during the Ensemble show of Semele, as I quick changed into a harness... and then subsequently singing a Handel aria soaring above a centuries-old Chinese temple.
Gratefully, the list goes on and on. Thank you to everyone who made my time here so very memorable indeed."
"It is an almost impossible task to pinpoint only ONE memorable moment during my time in the Ensemble Studio. But there is one moment that keeps on happening, and that is being onstage of the Canadian Opera Company, staring at the hall and its imposing beauty.
The view of the hall from the stage's perspective had a strong impact on me the first time I stepped on this stage, but it keeps on happening, more powerfully each time. I would catch myself staring at the structure of the hall, the stairs, the seats, the dimming lights, the beautiful pastel nude shade of its walls. And suddenly a feeling of happiness would arise in me."
"One of my favourite moments happened just before I was to play the Salome piano dress rehearsal. I was warming up in the pit at the Four Seasons Centre, and I looked up in the house, and thought to myself, 'I can't believe I am practicing here, in the hall at the Four Seasons Centre.'
I've had a wonderful time at the Canadian Opera Company, working with fantastic colleagues, wonderful artists, and all the behind-the-scenes folks who never get a mention. It takes hundreds of people to put on a single show, and I'm grateful to have been, and will continue to be, a part of it."
"It's hard to pick just one moment from four years of amazing experiences. Some favourites were: being in the water as the Japanese envoy in the The Nightingale and Other Fables, covering a week of staging rehearsal alongside Larry Brownlee in La Cenerentola, and, more recently, winning the Louis Quilico award."
"Picking a memorable moment in 3 years of nonstop action is no simple task. It ends up being some of the little things that stand out. The first time they slipped that bright blue coat on me for Tamino and I realized they had built the whole costume just for my one show was a pretty cool moment.
There have been incredible shows, and countless inspiring performances. But at the end of the day what I'll remember the most is being able to connect to some of the truly amazing artists that come through the company. It's an amazing business to be in, and this had been an amazing place to do it. I am very grateful for my time here."
Photos: All photos by Michael Cooper unless otherwise indicated: Image for Mireille Asselin: Mireille Asselin as Semele in the Ensemble Studio performance of the COC’s production of Semele, 2012. Image for Ambur Braid: Ambur Braid as Adele in the COC’s production of Die Fledermaus, 2012.; Image for Neil Craighead: Neil Craighead performing in the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre, 2010. (photo: Chris Hutcheson); Image for Rihab Chaieb: Neil Craighead as Publio and Rihab Chaieb as Sesto in the Ensemble Studio Performance of the COC’s production of La clemenza di Tito, 2013; Image for Christopher Enns: Christopher Enns as Tamino in the Ensemble Studio performance of the COC’s production of The Magic Flute, 2011.
Posted by Meighan Szigeti / in Ensemble Studio / comments (0) / permalink
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001