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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001