Available from September 25-27 as part of Culture Days 2020

Songs of Hope: From Our Homes to Yours
takes the centuries-old concept of the salon-style home concert and reimagines it as a vehicle for hope and healing for modern audiences living through turbulent times.

The intimate showcase, recorded in May 2020, features performances by members of the COC Ensemble Studio, the Canadian Opera Company’s prestigious talent development program for emerging young opera singers.

With songs by Franz Schubert and Benjamin Britten, alongside a traditional Irish folk ballad and a stirring Rodgers and Hammerstein finale, the eclectic program reaches beyond traditional opera selections, with each young artist personally selecting a piece that holds a special place in their hearts.

To me, the Ensemble Studio represents hope.

– Liz Upchurch, Head of the Ensemble Studio

Thank you for tuning in to our re-broadcast of Songs of Hope in partnership with Culture Days 2020.

Please consider making a donation to ensure the COC can continue to provide Canada’s brightest talents with world-class training. 


  • 2019/2020 ENSEMBLE STUDIO

    Joel Allison, bass-baritone
    Matthew Cairns, tenor
    Vartan Gabrielian, bass-baritone
    Simona Genga, mezzo-soprano
    Jamie Groote, mezzo-soprano
    Rachael Kerr, pianist/intern coach
    Lauren Margison, soprano
    Anna-Sophie Neher, soprano
    Alex Soloway, pianist/intern coach


    Liz Upchurch, Head of the Ensemble Studio
    Wendy Nielsen, Head Vocal Consultant
    Jennifer Swan, Performance Kinetics Consultant
    Steven Leigh, Lyric Diction Coach

    Joel Allison knew he wanted to be an opera singer from the age of 19. Originally from Ottawa, he went on to study opera at the University of Toronto. One of the opera singers he most admires is acclaimed Canadian baritone Gerald Finley. Joel dreams of singing the role of Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress one day and his favourite opera is Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Joel’s also a big CFL and NHL fan, and likes spending time with his wife and their aptly named Holland Lop rabbits, Don Giobunny and Loporello.

    Recent COC roles: Fiorello in The Barber of Seville, Peter in Hansel & Gretel (Opera for Young Audiences), The Mandarin in Turandot, Schaunard in La Bohème


    St. Catharines, Ontario native Matthew Cairns joins the Ensemble Studio for his first year, after studying opera at the University of Toronto. He made his COC debut this season as the Prince of Persia in Puccini’s Turandot, and dreams of singing the role of Calaf in that same opera someday or Cavaradossi in Tosca, following in the footsteps of his opera idol, Luciano Pavarotti. His favourite opera is another Puccini classic, La Bohème. As passionate about cooking as he is about Puccini, Matthew loves a good charcuterie and cheese board – he even considered becoming a chef before he was bitten by the opera bug in grade 12.

    Recent COC roles: The Gamekeeper in Rusalka, The Prince of Persia in Turandot, The Witch in Hansel & Gretel (Opera for Young Audiences)


    A new member of the Ensemble Studio, Vartan Gabrielian grew up in Toronto and studied opera at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He dreams of singing the title role in Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele in the future – his favourite aria is the opera’s “Son lo Spirito” – and admires renowned Italian bass, the late Cesare Siepi. Outside the opera house, Vartan enjoys reading, jazz, Shawarma, and spending time with his Jack Russell-Poodle cross, Noosh. He’s also an athletic triple threat who trains for triathlons when he’s not training his vocal cords.

    Recent COC Roles: The Officer in The Barber of Seville, The Hunter in Rusalka


    Simona Genga, from Toronto, studied opera at the University of Toronto and was named one of CBC’s 2018 “30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30.” The first opera singer she learned about, and still deeply admires, was Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester. An avid interpreter of art song, Simona is drawn to works by German song composers because they remind her of her time studying in at the Schubert Institut in Baden bei Wien, Austria. Her ultimate dream opera involves performing in a splashy Cirque du Soleil-esque production staged inside a pool of water while wearing a glittery, scuba onesie. When she’s not singing, Simona enjoys listening to comedy specials, supporting her friends at recitals, and learning how to cook pasta fatta in casa and other family recipes in her Nonna’s kitchen.

    Recent COC roles: Berta in The Barber of Seville, Gertrude in Hansel & Gretel (Opera for Young Audiences), Second Maid in Elektra


    Jamie Groote is in her first year of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio program. She grew up in Toronto and originally wanted to be a surgeon, but after playing the lead role of Maria in her high school musical of West Side Story, she couldn’t imagine not performing. Jamie loves big bands and the old crooners, but on the opera side she looks up to renowned Spanish mezzo Teresa Berganza. Her favourite opera is Bizet’s beloved hit, Carmen, and her bucket list of dream roles includes Octavian in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther. In her spare time, she keeps active by running, practicing yoga and drawing portraits.

    Recent COC roles: Hansel in Hansel & Gretel (Opera for Young Audiences), Second Wood Nymph in Rusalka

    Pianist/Intern Coach

    Rachael Kerr is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan but now lives in Toronto where she is in her third year as a pianist and intern coach with the Ensemble Studio. She has always loved playing piano but fell in love with opera at school (where she received a chemistry degree!) because of its pageantry and the fun of working with so many people in rehearsal. When it comes to opera, the weirder it is, the better. One of her favourites is Stravinsky’s The Nightingale. Outside the COC, she keeps busy by cooking, practicing yoga, running, hiking, and spending time with her rescue dog, Izzy. Interestingly, for a musician, she can’t whistle a note!

    Recent COC engagements: Intern coach for The Barber of SevilleTurandot, La Bohème


    Toronto-born soprano Lauren Margison didn’t admit to herself that she wanted to pursue a career in opera until she was 17, but deep down she always knew. She actually started out as a jazz and pop singer, but opera is in her blood – one of her major inspirations is her father, tenor Richard Margison. She went on to join the young artist program at l’Opéra de Montréal before entering the Ensemble Studio in 2018. This season at the COC, she understudied the title role in Rusalka – a dream role for her – for celebrated Canadian-American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, one of her opera idols. When she’s not singing, you can find Lauren mixing cocktails (she has a degree in mixology!), painting, or knitting.

    Recent COC roles: Dew Fairy/Sandman in Hansel & Gretel, Mimì in La Bohème (Ensemble Studio performance), Trainbearer in Elektra


    Anna-Sophie Neher hails from Gatineau, Quebec and holds dual Canadian/German citizenship. After seeing her first opera as a teenager (Puccini’s Madama Butterfly), she knew she wanted to be an opera singer. She studied at McGill University, as well as Bard College and the Montreal Conservatory. Her favourite opera is Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites and she was lucky enough to have performed the role of Blanche in it two years ago. Another dream role is Susanna from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Anna-Sophie loves to take long walks while listening to music (especially folk like Mumford & Sons), cooking, travelling the world, and playing ice hockey with good friends on snowy winter nights.

    Recent COC roles: Dew Fairy/Sandman in Hansel & Gretel, Gretel in Hansel & Gretel (Opera for Young Audiences), First Wood Nymph in Rusalka, Lavia in Hadrian

    Pianist/Intern Coach

    Alex Soloway joins the Ensemble Studio this season as a pianist and intern coach. He grew up in Ottawa, where he spent lots of time as a kid skateboarding and snowboarding with his older brothers. He studied music at the University of Toronto and McGill University. While still a student, he discovered the operas of Alban Berg among others, and got really into 20th century opera. He also has a background in musical theatre, and likes jazz and spending time improvising at the piano. When Alex isn’t at the keys, you can probably find him reading, at the theatre, playing hockey in the winter, or walking in the park with his golden retriever, Mello.

    Recent COC engagements: Intern coach for Hansel & Gretel, Rusalka

    All 2019/2020 Ensemble headshots by Gaetz Photography.


    Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52a
    Johannes Brahms

    1. Rede, Mädchen, allzu liebes
    2. Am Gesteine rauscht die Flut
    3. O die Frauen

    Johannes Debus, piano
    Rachael Kerr, piano
    Alex Soloway, piano
    Liz Upchurch, piano

    “Highland Balou”
    from A Charm of Lullabies
    Benjamin Britten
    text: Robert Burns

    Jamie Groote, mezzo-soprano
    Liz Upchurch, piano

    “Silent Noon” from The House of Life
    Ralph Vaughan Williams
    text: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

    Joel Allison, bass-baritone
    Alex Soloway, piano

    D957 from Schwanengesang
    Franz Schubert
    text: Ludwig Rellstab

    Vartan Gabrielian, bass-baritone
    Rachael Kerr, piano

    Op. 90 No. 2

    Rachael Kerr, piano

    from Cabaret Songs
    William Bolcom
    text: Arnold Weinstein

    Lauren Margison, soprano
    Rachael Kerr, piano

    “L’entretien des muses"
    "La Poule"
    Jean-Philippe Rameau

    Alex Soloway, piano

    “Cradle Song”
    Liz Upchurch
    text: Sarojini Naidu

    Simona Genga, mezzo-soprano
    Jack Upchurch, toy glockenspiel
    Liz Upchurch, piano

    “Les chemins de l’amour”
    Francis Poulenc
    text: Jean Anouilh

    Anna-Sophie Neher, soprano
    Rachael Kerr, piano

    “Happy Days Are Here Again”
    Milton Ager
    lyrics: Jack Yellen

    “Get Happy”
    Harold Arlen
    lyrics: Ted Koehler

    arr.: Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand

    Lauren Margison, soprano
    Simona Genga, mezzo-soprano
    Alex Soloway, piano

    “Danny Boy”
    text: Frederic Weatherly

    Matthew Cairns, tenor
    Alex Soloway, piano

    “You’ll Never Walk Alone” 
    from Carousel
    Richard Rodgers
    text: Oscar Hammerstein II

    Lauren Margison, soprano
    Anna-Sophie Neher, soprano
    Jamie Groote, mezzo-soprano
    Simona Genga, mezzo-soprano
    Matthew Cairns, tenor
    Joel Allison, bass-baritone
    Vartan Gabrielian, bass-baritone
    Rachael Kerr, piano
    Alex Soloway, piano
  • At Home With... the COC Ensemble Studio
    by the COC Ensemble Studio artists

    COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives in countless ways. When your job relies on creating music and rehearsing face-to-face these times become especially challenging. We spoke to the artists of our Ensemble Studio training program to discuss how they’re coping with isolation and balancing the drive to continue making music together.


    An Update on Our Young Artists
    by Liz Upchurch

    As the Head of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, our training program for rising young opera stars, I wanted to give you an update on what we’ve been up to. As a program that focuses on performance and collaboration, switching over to digital methods has been an interesting and challenging time for us.

  • Ahead of the concert on July 9, take a look at some past performances and home updates from our Ensemble Studio in these videos.

    At Home With... the COC Ensemble Studio

    Although many of their performance opportunities were, understandably, put on hold at the end of this season, the young artists of our COC Ensemble Studio training program have been keeping busy with a “new normal” of at-home virtual training thanks to a little bit of modern technology and a lot of creative thinking.

    #OperaAtHome: Habanera from Bizet's Carmen

    As part of our Opera At Home series, COC Ensemble mezzo-soprano Simona Genga and pianist Rachael Kerr recorded this filmed-from-home performance of the Habanera ("L'amour est un oiseau rebelle") from Bizet's Carmen.

    La Traviata: "Lunge da lei...De' miei bollenti" | Matthew Cairns

    COC Ensemble Studio tenor Matthew Cairns performs "Lunge da lei...De' miei bollenti" in this excerpt from Verdi's La Traviata. Footage from our 20/21 Season Reveal event on February 10, 2020. The COC Orchestra is conducted by Johannes Debus.

    Turandot: "Signore, ascolta!" | Lauren Margison

    COC Ensemble soprano Lauren Margison performs Liù's "Signore, ascolta!" from Puccini's Turandot at our 2019/2020 Season Reveal event. Johannes Debus conducts the COC Orchestra.

    Carmen: "Votre Toast" (Toreador Song) | Joel Allison

    COC Ensemble bass-baritone Joel Allison performs the famous Toreador Song, "Votre Toast," from Bizet's CARMEN at our 2020/2021 Season reveal event. Johannes Debus conducts the COC Orchestra.

    The Marriage of Figaro: "Voi che sapete" | Jamie Groote

    COC Ensemble mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote performs Cherubino's "Voi che sapete" from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at our 2020/2021 Season Reveal event. Johannes Debus conducts the COC Orchestra.

    Ensemble Studio: One Year Later

    Our featured video at this year's Ensemble Studio Competition checked in with last year's winners — Matthew Cairns, Vartan Gabrielian, and Jamie Groote — and highlighted their first few months as artists in the COC Ensemble Studio.

Banner image: Gaetz Photography


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