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.
Beyond opera, Aaron is quite the techie. “If I wasn't pursuing a degree in opera I would probably be working in international business, and trying to come up with the next big tech innovation.” He is the co-founder, along with some friends from Newfoundland, of the upcoming iOS/Android application Bendr, which aims to give every user an unforgettable and safe nightlife experience. His other hobbies include fly fishing, and "pretty much every sport."
But opera remains Aaron’s passion. The role he would most love to tackle? Well, it probably hasn’t been created yet. “I'd love to do something new and be the first to sing it,” he says. The Social Network: The Opera, anyone?
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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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!
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001