Toronto – Soprano Karine Boucher from Quebec City took home first prize and the Audience Choice Award at the Canadian Opera Company’s third annual Ensemble Studio Competition on November 26, 2013, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The competition is the feature event of the COC’s inaugural Ensemble Studio Competition Gala, Centre Stage, an evening dedicated to the discovery and celebration of the next generation of opera stars. Boucher was selected from nine finalists to receive the $5,000 first prize award. Tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure from Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, won the second prize of $3,000, and bass-baritone Iain MacNeil from Brockville, Ontario, was awarded the third prize of $1,500. In addition, Boucher took home the Audience Choice Award worth $1,500.
Centre Stage host Rufus Wainwright also treated the audience to a surprise musical performance as part of the evening’s festivities, accompanied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. As the judges deliberated the winners of the competitive vocal showcase, the Grammy-nominated and multi-Juno Award winner, whose own singular sound has transcended the worlds of rock, opera, theatre, dance and film, delighted Centre Stage patrons with “That’s Entertainment” by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz,"Les Feux d’Artifices” from Wainwright’s opera Prima Donna, and “Oh, What a World” from his third album Want One.
“I’m proud to say that last night’s first-ever Centre Stage was a great success. It generated vital support for the COC’s Ensemble Studio and was a wonderful showcase of the incredible musical talent we have in this country. It was an amazing night – from the gifted young singers who competed, accompanied by the musical artistry of Johannes and our acclaimed orchestra, to the generosity of our extraordinary host, Rufus Wainwright, who surprised our audience with a performance,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “I applaud all the young artists we heard in the competition. They performed with great passion and commitment, and the quality of the emerging talent we heard made us all very enthusiastic about the future of opera in Canada.”
The nine finalists from across the country were selected from 155 singers heard in preliminary auditions in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and New York. They were generously outfitted by Hudson’s Bay Queen Street Store for their onstage role at Centre Stage, as part of an initiative to help prepare the artists for their professional opera careers.
On November 26, the adjudication panel heard each finalist perform two arias accompanied by the COC Orchestra conducted by Debus: the first was before a private audience of select COC patrons and the second was before the larger Centre Stage audience of 800 patrons. The adjudication panel was comprised of COC General Director Alexander Neef, COC Artistic Administrator Roberto Mauro, COC Music Administrator Sandra Gavinchuk, Head of the COC Ensemble Studio Liz Upchurch, and Canadian soprano, singing teacher and COC Ensemble Studio alumna Wendy Nielsen
In addition to competing for the four cash prizes, the finalists are also hoping to secure a highly coveted position in the 2014/2015 COC Ensemble Studio,Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionalsThe 2013 competition is a showcase of the opera talent the COC has scouted from across the country on its national audition tour and features those artists from the final round of auditions for the prestigious program.
COC artistic staff will confirm the lineup of the 14/15 Ensemble Studio over the next few weeks. The 14/15 Ensemble Studio members will be joining an illustrious program that, since its inception in 1980, has launched the careers of over 180 young professional Canadian singers, opera coaches, stage directors and conductors, including Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Wendy Nielsen, Joseph Kaiser, David Pomeroy, Allyson McHardy, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó.
During the pre-competition cocktail reception, Centre Stage guests enjoyed a sumptuous charcuterie spread by Cheese Boutique and a selection of wines from Trius Wines. Following the competition, 280 Centre Stage Gala Dinner guests went on to enjoy an elegant formal dinner from the privileged vantage point of the Four Seasons Centre stage, where they mingled with competition finalists and winners, notable COC artists, Centre Stage host Rufus Wainwright and Centre Stage co-chairs Trinity Jackman and Jonathan Bloomberg. The uniqueness of the gala evening was further highlighted by the rare opportunity to enjoy the gastronomic talents of critically acclaimed Nota Bene Executive Chef David Lee.
Centre Stage on November 26 marked the inauguration of the COC’s fundraising gala. Proceeds from the evening were raised in support of the COC and will go towards the company’s Ensemble Studio.
From left: Third prize winner, Iain MacNeil, First Prize and Audience Choice
Winner, Karine Boucher, and Second Prize winner, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure
Competition Supporters: RBC and RBC Foundation, Peter M. Deeb and Hal Jackman Foundation
Platinum Sponsor: Mercedes-Benz
Gold Sponsors: Brookfield Asset Management, Philip C. Deck and Kimberley Bozak, and Scotiabank
Artist Sponsors: Earlaine Collins, Ninalee Craig, OCC LASIK, Patrick Hodgson Family Foundation and an anonymous donor
Prize Sponsors: First Prize – Colleen Sexsmith; Second Prize – ARIAS; Third Prize – Tom C. Logan; and Audience Choice Prize – Classical 96.3 FM
Voting Technology Sponsors: Classical 96.3 FM and Turning Technologies
Event Supporters: Chair-man Mills, Cheese Boutique, ev3nts, Gatsby Valet, Hilton Toronto, KnotPR, Lilium, Nota Bene, Trius Wines and Wellington Printworks
An event unlike any other in Canada, Centre Stage features the competitive vocal showcase of the COC’s Ensemble Studio Competition with a twist that intensifies the already awe-inspiring display of operatic talent being fostered in this country. For the first time, finalists in the 2013 Ensemble Studio Competition performed from the mainstage of the Four Seasons Centre, accompanied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus.
The competition was launched in 2011 by COC General Director Alexander Neef to showcase the opera talent the COC had scouted from across the country and create a public platform for celebrating the future of opera in Canada.
With the creation of Centre Stage, the COC now opens the Ensemble Studio Competition to an audience of over 1,000 opera lovers and interested guests as it moves from the intimate setting of the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre to R. Fraser Elliott Hall. This is a must-see event for all who are invested in and intrigued by the future of opera in Canada. An exclusive insiders’ experience, the Ensemble Studio Competition introduces the stars of tomorrow well before they step onto the COC stage. The audience at the vocal competition will hear the singers selected to follow in the footsteps of such renowned Ensemble Studio graduates as Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Joseph Kaiser, Wendy Nielsen and John Fanning, among many others.
The annual Ensemble Studio audition process, open only to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, takes COC artistic staff across Canada and into the U.S. for preliminary auditions in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and New York, followed by a final callback audition at the COC’s Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre in Toronto. It’s from this pool of singers that finalists are selected for the Ensemble Studio Competition.
The Ensemble Studio Competition is underwritten in part by RBC Foundation, Peter M. Deeb and the Hal Jackman Foundation.
Information about tickets for the 2014 Ensemble Competition will be available in early 2014.
Check back soon for an announcement regarding which of the nine finalists will join the 2014/2015 Ensemble Studio
Photo: Third Prize Winner bass-baritone Iain MacNeil, First Prize and Audience Choice Award winner soprano Karine Boucher and Second Prize winner tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, 2013. Photo by Michael Cooper.