Out of a pool of 120 aspiring opera singers from across the country, eight were selected to compete at Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition on November 3, 2015, our annual celebration of the next generation of opera stars selected from nationwide auditions for the COC Ensemble Studio—Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. The competition features the young singers vying for cash prizes ranging in value from $1,500 to $5,000. We interviewed our eight young finalists to learn more—check out all of the interviews, linked by name as they become available, here (or here if on a mobile device).
Stratford, Ontario native and soprano Eliza Johnson studied at the University of Toronto, 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. Additional credits include Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro (Highlands Opera Studio); Berta in The Barber of Seville and Soeur Valentine in Dialogues des Carmélites (Opera Theatre of St. Louis); Pamina in The Magic Flute (Opera Lyra’s Opera Studio); and concert appearances with the University of Toronto and Stratford symphony orchestras, and Stratford Summer Music. Recently, Ms. Johnson won First Prize in the Brian Law Opera Competition with the National Capital Opera Society and was a finalist for the Ryan Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Is this a trick question? I am literally obsessed with opera and honestly can’t imagine myself doing anything else. If my passion for anything else were equal to or greater than my passion for opera, I definitely would not have chosen this career or invested so much in it!
That said, if I had all the luxury of living multiple lives, I think I would pursue a career as a painter. When I was younger, it was a constant toss-up between art and music. I still work when I can, but paints and canvases are not very compact for a travelling opera singer; gowns and shoes take up a lot of space! I’d love to see what would happen if I devoted myself fully to painting, but for now that’s a question that will remain unanswered!
I love to paint and love to cook. I love reading and feeding myself artistically from a variety of mediums. I love to travel and learn about other cultures and communities. I love to bike and move my body! I love my friends: musicians and non-musicians (whose perspectives and ideas can be very refreshing!).
There are so many! The repertoire is so vast and each piece is so unique. In a way, any role that is a good vocal fit is a "dream role" since any opportunity to sing is exciting and rich.
If I have to choose, I think my absolute favorite opera of all time (for now) is Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. I had the opportunity to sing the role of Governess when I was studying at the University of Toronto and the experience has yet to be topped. I would love to perform this role again!
I’m also very interested in working with living composers and developing new works. I hope I am able to experience more of this process throughout my career.
Learn more about Eliza at elizajohnson.ca or follow her on Twitter at @ElizaJohnsonSop or on Instagram at @elizajanejohnson
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit COCCentreStage.ca, call COC Ticket Services at 416-363-8231 or visit the Four Seasons Centre Box Office (145 Queen St. W.).
To buy competition tickets, click here.
To buy Under 30 competition tickets sponsored by TD, click here.
For more information about the the Centre Stage Dinner event and how to purchase tickets, please contact the PC Office at 416-363-5801
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Originally from Kitchener, Ontario, soprano Samantha Pickett studied opera at McGill and Wilfrid Laurier universities. Her credits include Anna in Crush (Banff Centre); the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro (Opera McGill and Opera Laurier); La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi, understudy for the title role in Suor Angelica and Elle in La voix humaine (Opera McGill); Micaëla in Carmen and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni (Opera NUOVA); Mrs. Demers in City Workers in Love, Lady Gerstein in One Lump or Two, Sophia in May 23, and First Lady in The Magic Flute (Opera Laurier). She recently participated in the St. Andrews by-the-Sea Opera Workshop and the Bel Canto Summer Voice Program in Munich.
I fell in love with music at the tender age of three. My mother took my brother and me to see The Phantom of the Opera, and I cried at intermission because I thought it was over. My parents signed me up for piano, dance and voice lessons when I was five and I have been singing ever since.
I can't remember precisely when opera became my life's passion; I think that it is because large, intense music has always been close to me. I began singing opera when I was 16, and at that point I had a hope that it would become my career, but, as any 16-year-old should, I had many lofty ambitions for my future self. Opera is a long-form art; it is a process, and to be an opera singer is a protracted endeavour.
One of the things I love most about opera is the commanding power of the narrative throughout its sensory facets. The total, aggregate nature of opera is truly irresistible. In many ways it is the ultimate art; exposing the senses to the total power and fragility of the human body.
Somewhere between massage therapist, yoga teacher, stage director, make-up artist, animal rescuer, interior designer, writer, and nanny. But who's to say you can't be all of those things?! Certainly not all at once, but we shall see where life takes me.
I have been practicing Moksha (hot) yoga for seven years. The combination of dynamic physicality and deep meditative practice is essential to my daily life. I have been a Moksha yoga ambassador, both here in Toronto and in Montreal, for three years.
I am an avid reader. My favourite book is A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, a historical fiction account of the simultaneous, but nearly uncorrelated destruction of Rwandan genocide and AIDS in the same country.
I adore poetry. I'm particularly smitten with Shakespeare, but I am also partial to Robert Frost and James Joyce. I also have an encyclopedic knowledge of The Simpsons.
Learn more about Samantha from her blog, The Emerging Project at theemergingproject.com, and follow her on Twitter at @SamoSoprano
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A native of Laval, Quebec, mezzo-soprano Pascale Spinney studied opera at McGill University and is a current member of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. Her recent credits include Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly (Opéra de Montréal); Dora in A Little Too Cozy (Banff Centre); Fatmé in Zémire et Azor (Violons du Roy); Hänsel in Hänsel und Gretel (VIVace); Véronique in Le Docteur Miracle (Stu&Jess Productions); the title role in Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Third Lady in The Magic Flute, Epicene in Volpone, and Eustazio in Rinaldo (Opera McGill). Upcoming roles include Stephano and Gertrude in Jeunesses Musicales du Canada’s touring production of Roméo et Juliette.
I find two things that I can't live without in opera: music and the theatre.
I was introduced to classical music while studying jazz voice in CEGEP, and was fascinated by the level of technical skill that opera singers needed to achieve. I applied to classical voice performance in university, took an extra year to catch up to my peers, and never looked back.
I would have been a pilot!
I like to do yoga and I have a passion for fitness and nutrition. I also enjoy reading a great deal.
Photo Credit: Brent Calis
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001