Parlando: The COC Blog


Centre Stage 2015

Out of a pool of 120 aspiring opera singers from across the country, we selected eight 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.

The young singers featured in the 2015 vocal competition are: mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo (Toronto); mezzo-soprano Lauren Eberwein (London, Ontario); soprano Eliza Johnson (Stratford, Ontario); mezzo-soprano Marjorie Maltais (Clermont, Quebec); soprano Samantha Pickett (Kitchener, Ontario); baritone Zachary Read (Halifax); baritone Bruno Roy (Montreal); and mezzo-soprano Pascale Spinney (Laval, Quebec).

[For mobile versions: Emily D’Angelo (Toronto); mezzo-soprano Lauren Eberwein (London, Ontario); soprano Eliza Johnson (Stratford, Ontario); mezzo-soprano Marjorie Maltais (Clermont, Quebec); soprano Samantha Pickett (Kitchener, Ontario); baritone Zachary Read (Halifax); baritone Bruno Roy (Montreal); and mezzo-soprano Pascale Spinney (Laval, Quebec).]

Patrons enjoying the pre-competition cocktail celebration before the 2014 Centre Stage competition.

At Centre Stage, each finalist will give a performance showcasing their vocal technique, as well as artistic and interpretive range, before an audience and panel of judges. First, Second and Third prizes, worth $5,000, $3,000 and $1,500, are awarded, in addition to an Audience Choice Award selected by audience vote, worth $1,500. Select finalists are also invited to join the COC’s 2016/2017 Ensemble Studio, to be announced at a later date.

“The level of operatic talent being trained in this country is incredible, which is why we created an event like Centre Stage in the first place, to celebrate that richness of talent,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “We hear many promising voices through the Ensemble Studio audition process but it’s how a singer’s talent, hunger for an opera career and that unquantifiable ‘X’ factor come together that truly sets them apart. Looking at this year’s Centre Stage finalists, the stage is set for an exciting preview of the operatic talent to watch in Canada.”

COC Music Director Johannes Debus applauding the 2014 Centre Stage finalists.

Hosting Centre Stage this year are the competition’s previous winners: soprano Karine Boucher and tenor Charles Sy, both current members of the COC Ensemble Studio. These two rising opera talents will oversee the evening’s vocal fireworks on November 3, when the eight singers perform from the mainstage of Canada’s first purpose-built opera house before an audience of 1,000 people and accompanied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. Also performing is a surprise musical guest joined by the COC Orchestra led by Maestro Debus.

COC General Director Alexander Neef heads the jury for the vocal competition portion of the evening, joined by COC Director of Music and Artistic Administration Roberto Mauro, Director of the COC Ensemble Studio and Orchestra Academy Nina Draganić, and Head of the COC Ensemble Studio Liz Upchurch, as well as Canadian soprano and Ensemble Studio Head Vocal Consultant Wendy Nielsen, who is also a graduate of the COC’s program. The judging panel deliberates on location and announces the competition winners at the event’s conclusion.

In addition to winning the evening’s cash prizes, finalists hope to earn a place in the COC’s Ensemble Studio, which can be a singer’s first step towards an international career. The Centre Stage audience will hear the singers selected to follow in the footsteps of such renowned Ensemble Studio alumni as Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Wendy Nielsen, David Pomeroy, Joseph Kaiser, Allyson McHardy, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó.

Doors open to the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen St. W.) at 5:30 p.m. and Centre Stage takes place at 6:30 p.m. in R. Fraser Elliott Hall. Centre Stage Competition tickets are $100 and include a pre-competition cocktail celebration in the Four Seasons Centre’s sparkling Isadore and Rosalie Sharp City Room. Specially priced $35 tickets are also available for patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 through Opera Under 30 sponsored by TD.

The stage set for the 2014 Centre Stage Dinner. 

Following the competition, Centre Stage Dinner guests go on to enjoy an elegant formal dinner from the privileged vantage point of the Four Seasons Centre stage, joined by competition finalists and winners, notable COC artists and key supporters of the opera company. Guests are treated to a culinary experience by critically acclaimed chef David Lee, a rare opportunity to enjoy his gastronomic creations outside of dining at Nota Bene where Lee is the executive chef. Centre Stage Dinner tickets, encompassing the competitive vocal showcase and exclusive black-tie dinner, are $1,500, with a limited number available for purchase.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit, 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 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

Photo Credits (top-bottom): Cocktail Reception, Centre Stage, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo: Jenna Marie Wakani; Ensemble Studio Competition finalists with Music Director, Johanne Debus. Photo: Michael Cooper; Centre Stage Dinner. Photo: Jenna Marie Wakani.

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink


11 Things to Know: La Traviata

By Nikita Gourski

The gowns, the romance, the tragedy! La Traviata is an opera filled with the passion and pathos opera is known for, but did you know that it stands for so much more? Check out our top 11 things you need to know about Verdi's romantic epic, La Traviata, and get your tickets before it's too late! 

1. Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901): Defining Italian Opera 

From the 1830s until his death, Verdi was the reigning opera composer in Italy. Over the course of his career the art form underwent significant changes, including shifts in preferred subject matter, staging conventions and techniques of composition. Verdi was front and centre in driving many of the innovations that modernized Italian opera. 

2. Private Drama

La Traviata is based on the French play La dame aux Camélias (1852) by Alexandre Dumas fils, which the author had adapted for the stage from his own best-selling novel of the same name (1848). Dumas’ play attracted Verdi’s attention because it offered a new and invigorating realism. In this story, morality did not necessarily triumph, the scale was intimate and personal, focusing on people’s private lives, and the characters and situations were recognizably contemporary, speaking to all manner of issues that were relevant to, and vigorously debated by, the public in mid-1800s Europe. As Verdi wrote to a friend, it was “a subject of the times. Others would not have done it because of the conventions, the epoch, and for a thousand other stupid scruples.”

3. Too close for comfort

Verdi fought, but lost, to have La Traviata set in the present day—he wanted the sets and costumes to be continuous with the clothes and rooms of his 19th-century audience, as the opera depicted a part of their quickly changing, heady cultural world. But wherever Traviata was staged during Verdi’s life, censors and theatre managers demanded that the time period be pushed into remote history—around 1700 was the preferred chronological removeto dilute the shock and social critique inherent in the work. Its relevance to contemporary society was not lost on audiences, however, as evidenced by denunciations of La Traviata in many cities and countries. After its English premiere (1856), for example, The Times protested against the opera’s “foul and hideous horrors,” and sale of the English translation of the libretto was forbidden in the U.K. 

4. A Mediocre Beginning

La Traviata’s premiere on March 6, 1853 at the La Fenice opera house in Venice received decidedly mixed reviews. The next year, staged in another theatre and with some alterations to the score by Verdi, La Traviata triumphed magnificently, and has only grown in popularity since. One unverifiable legend claims that in the last hundred years, there has been a performance of La Traviata every single night somewhere in the world. 

5. A complicated heroine

La Traviata translates to “the woman led astray,” and Violetta is without a doubt one of opera’s most interesting examples of the “fallen woman.” As she changes throughout the opera, Verdi gives her unforgettable music that charts an authentic psychological trajectory of change and growth, making her not only of the best-loved heroines in opera, but one of the most real and complete as well.    

6. Violetta’s real-life inspiration

Dumas, the author of the novel and play that served as the basis of La Traviata, really did fall in love with a famous Parisian courtesan named Marie Duplessis (1824-1847) who was the model for the doomed heroine of La dame aux Camélias, as well as Verdi’s opera. Duplessis was born in Normandy and by the time she was twelve her alcoholic father had forced her into prostitution. Three years later she came to Paris and worked briefly at a dance hall, and then gradually made her way into wealthier and more refined circles as a courtesan. In addition to her physical beauty, she was graceful and charming; having learnt to read and write, she amassed a library, read broadly, and was a smart and fascinating conversationalist. She charged extraordinary rates for appearing with clients in public and cultivated expensive tastes. Camellias, her preferred flowers, cost three francs each, roughly the daily salary of a labourer. She had many famous lovers drawn from high society, including a passionate affair with the composer Franz Liszt. Like Violetta she suffered from, and ultimately succumbed to, tuberculosis.  

7. 19th-century specifics

Unlike Rigoletto, for example, in which the music does not carry any explicit messages about the historical or geographic setting of the action, La Traviata does. Verdi quite deliberately gives us music that is infused with the local colour of Paris in the mid-1800s. He does this by using and making frequent reference to the waltz, a dance that was symbolic of the very rhythm, pace and structure of 19th-century society, especially the fringes of respectability where courtesans and other persons of doubtful morality would have been located. 

8. Living fast and dangerous

Tuberculosis in the 19th century was thought to be closely connected to city-living and the moral recklessness it entailed, so Violetta’s ailment very specifically reflects her occupation and position in society. That being said, the illness also had a romantic aura. In the words of William Berger, suffering from it was the period’s “version of ‘heroin chic.’” 

9. Verdi’s favourite

When Verdi was asked later in his career which of his operas was his favourite he replied “Speaking as an amateur, La Traviata, as a professional, Rigoletto.” 

10. Acclaimed young director

This production is staged by Arin Arbus—“a star in the making” (New York Times)—who sets the work in the exciting demi-monde of 19th-century Paris, a world of parties, pleasure and debauchery, which Verdi’s opera depicts with such pin-point accuracy.

11. Stunning costumes

Costumes by Cait O’Connor are both decadent and playful, befitting the excesses that constitute the opera’s cultural ethos. Take a closer look at the designs with costume designer Cait O'Connor here, mobile version here.

To learn more about La Traviata and to buy tickets, click here.

Charles Castronovo as Alfredo and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta in the COC’s production of La Traviata, 2015. Photo: Michael Cooper.

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in La Traviata / comments (2) / permalink


Introducing the 2015/2016 Free Concert Series!


The 2015/2016 Free Concert Series kicks off on September 22 with a performance featuring the COC’s Ensemble Studio members. Spanning six sub-series (Vocal, Chamber Music, Jazz, Dance, World, and Piano Virtuoso), the 15/16 season is comprised of 72 concerts from September to May. We spoke with new Program Manager Claire Morley to learn more about the upcoming season.

What makes the Free Concert Series special to you?

The fact that we are able to offer over 70 concerts which feature an incredible array of world-class artists, for free—that is, in a broad sense, what makes the series so special. Our audiences are also amazingly diverse and they lend a unique energy to each and every performance, and the performers can feel that and can be very moved by it. And there’s a real sense of discovery within the series—I have spoken with numerous people who might have gone into the concert knowing nothing about the repertoire, and have come away with a newfound love for it. On the other hand, we have audience members who come to hear music they might have known for decades, and they rediscover their passion for it. I think the series allows and encourages audience members to make it a very personal experience.  

Which concerts are you particularly excited about this season?

It’s so hard to choose! I love hearing our COC musicians perform. Our orchestra members always present really compelling programs, and it’s such a pleasure to hear and see them in the intimate setting of the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, when we’re used to hearing them in the pit! Watching our Ensemble Studio singers is inspiring, too, because we get the chance to witness some of the most incredible rising operatic talent grow right in front of us.

Specifically this season?

I’d say some of my highlights include baritone Quinn Kelsey’s recital on October 27, when he’ll be performing Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel and Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring as well as a few Brahms Lieder. Here’s a clip of him singing “O du mein Holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser (get your tissues ready!).

The Eric St-Laurent Quintet on January 12 will kick some serious butt. He’s got such an incredible technique—his playing is spellbinding.

For dance lovers, it’s hard to beat the work of visionary choreographer and dancer Peggy Baker. She and her group of incredible dancers, Peggy Baker Dance Projects, always pull an audience in immediately, keeping them transfixed. You'll be able to catch them perform on January 28.

Young dynamite pianist Kara Huber returns to the series on April 14. Kara is a stellar performer, and has a special love for contemporary music. This program will feature a world premiere by David Rakowski, written specifically for Kara. Here she is playing one of his etudes, Fists of Fury.

In May, mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili sings a program of some of her favourite recital repertoire, including some rarely heard songs from her native Georgia. She’s a powerhouse!


Does the series bring fans of other music genres into the opera world?

I think it does. I’ve spoken to audience members who have told me that the series opened their eyes to something new, something unexpected, and it has led them to try out opera for the first time. Whether or not it “hooks” them is up to them, but it’s wonderful to know that they feel welcome in the Four Seasons Centre and encouraged to try out something new. Both the artists on the mainstage at the COC and the artists in the Free Concert Series all have a story to tell, no matter the art form. The Front of House team at the Four Seasons Centre has to be commended—they are a remarkable group of people who make it a top priority that everyone who walks through the front doors of our opera house feels welcome.


Check out complete listings of all 2015/2016 Free Concert Series performances here.

Photo: Claire Morley. Photo credit: Rider Dyce  

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Free Concert Series / comments (0) / permalink

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

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