The COC Ensemble Studio is an innovative artist development program for emerging Canadian opera professionals.

The company’s uniquely collaborative approach blends advanced study and practical experience through a multi-year program that’s individually tailored for each member. Artists receive intensive vocal coaching; language, movement and acting studies; as well as private masterclasses with renowned opera professionals. Ensemble singers perform and understudy mainstage roles, while Ensemble pianists participate in the preparation of the COC’s mainstage productions.

Members of the Ensemble Studio are the COC’s resident artists and important community ambassadors for the company. Through performances and collaborations with local schools and organizations, Ensemble members are often the first point of contact with opera for many; their ongoing participation in this area is integral to creating inclusive and welcoming opportunities for more people to engage with the art form.

Since 1980, nearly 230 young professional Canadian singers and pianists have acquired foundational opera experience through the Ensemble Studio. Former members include Ben Heppner, Krisztina Szabó, Emily D’Angelo, Claire de Sévigné, Gordon Bintner, Ambur Braid, Miriam Khalil, and Wallis Giunta, and David Pomeroy.

New members are chosen through a national audition process that culminates in the Ensemble Studio Competition for vocalists, the feature event of the COC’s annual fundraising gala Centre Stage.

**Due to ongoing public health restrictions, the public Ensemble Studio Competition and Centre Stage gala will not be held in 2021. However, national auditions for the 2022/2023 Ensemble Studio will take place, with further details below under “Applying for the Ensemble Studio.”


Matthew Cairns – Tenor

One of CBC’s 2019 “30 Hot Classical Musicians Under 30,” Toronto-based tenor Matthew Cairns was the First Prize winner of the 2018 Ensemble Studio Competition and winner of the CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize. He earned his master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Toronto (UofT), where he studied in the studio of Dr. Darryl Edwards. Some of his recent roles include: the Gamekeeper in Rusalka, Prince of Persia in Turandot, and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel (Canadian Opera Company, Opera for Young Audiences). Other credits include Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni (Centre for Opera Studies in Italy [COSI]/UofT Opera); and Detlef in The Student Prince at the Chautauqua Institution, where he placed first in its Sigma Alpha Iota Competition. 

Vartan Gabrielian – Bass-baritone

Toronto-born bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian completed his master’s degree in vocal performance at the Curtis Institute of Music, where his credits include the title role in Sweeney Todd, Leporello and Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Prince Gremin in Eugene Onegin, Groves in Doctor Atomic, Collatinus in The Rape of Lucretia, and Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro. He has also appeared as Sparafucile in Rigoletto (Opéra de Montréal/New Jersey State Opera), Sarastro in The Magic Flute (Chautauqua Summer Festival), and a Cappadocian in Salome (Detroit Symphony Orchestra). Gabrielian was a Santa Fe Opera Apprentice, as well as the recipient of a Metropolitan Opera National Council Encouragement Award.

Jamie Groote – Soprano

Soprano Jamie Groote earned her master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Toronto (UofT) and is now in her second year with the Ensemble Studio. Some of her roles to date include: Wood Nymph in Rusalka (COC); Page in Rigoletto (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis [OTSL]); Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni (UofT Opera); Nicklausse in The Tales of Hoffmann, Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen (Wilfrid Laurier University Opera); as well as  Roméo in Il Capuleti e I Montecchi  (Opera NUOVA). She was also a Gerdine Young Artist with OTSL, a Bonfils-Stanton Foundation young artist with Central City Opera, and has attended Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artists Vocal Academy, Opera in the 21st Century at Banff Centre, and Opera NUOVA.

Alex Halliday – Bass-baritone

Alex Halliday is from St. John’s, Newfoundland, where he received his Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from Memorial University. He received his master’s degree at the University of Toronto in opera performance where his roles included Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro, Sir Thomas Bertram in Mansfield Park, Colonel Denison/Samuel Miller in Maid & Master: The Massey Murder, Nardo in La finta giardiniera, Inspector Brinks in Who Killed Adrianna?, Carl Olsen in Street Scene, Alexander Throttlebottom in Of Thee I Sing, and Masetto in Don Giovanni. Additional roles include Father in Silent Light (Banff Centre), Berto in Un avvertimento ai gelosi, and Sir John Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Memorial University).

Midori Marsh – Soprano

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Midori Marsh recently completed her Master of Music in opera at the University of Toronto. Past engagements include Sarah Thorpe in No One’s Safe and Johan’s Mother in Silent Light (Banff Centre); Frasquita in Carmen (Waterloo Symphony); Arminda in La finta giardiniera, Rose Maurrant in Street Scene, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, and Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park (UofT Opera); Annina in La Traviata (Cambridge Symphony Orchestra); Zerlina in Don Giovanni (Portland Summer Opera Workshop); Laurie Moss in The Tender Land and Antonia in The Tales of Hoffmann (Opera Laurier). In 2019, she took home both the First Prize and the Audience Choice Award at the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio Competition.

Anna-Sophie Neher – Soprano

Gatineau, Québec native Anna-Sophie Neher completed her Master of Music at McGill University, where she won the prestigious Wirth Vocal Prize. She has also studied at Bard College and the Montreal Conservatory. Winner of the First Prize at the 2019 Christina and Louis Quilico Awards and the 2017 OSM Manulife Competition, her Canadian Opera Company credits include Gretel in Hansel & Gretel and Clorinda in WOW Factor: A Cinderella Story (Opera for Young Audiences), First Wood Nymph in Rusalka, the Sandman/the Dew Fairy in Hansel & Gretel, and Lavia in Hadrian. She also sang the role of Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites with Opera McGill. A three-time winner of the Jacqueline Demarais Scholarship, Neher has also appeared as a soloist with Clavecin en Concert, Montreal Bach Festival, and Orchestre Symphonique de Gatineau.

Alex Soloway – Pianist and Intern Coach

Pianist Alex Soloway, from Ottawa, received his Master of Music from the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. While at McGill, he won the Chamber Music Competition (2015) and the Classical Concerto Competition (2017). He has performed in Canada, Europe, and the United States, including in the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, and Weill Recital Hall in New York. In 2019, he was the winner of the Best Pianist Prize at the Festival Classica 3rd International French Mélodie Competition. Alex is a 2020 Music Academy of the West alumnus.

Jonah Spungin – Baritone

Ottawa native Jonah Spungin earned his master’s degree in voice and opera from McGill University and graduated from Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artist Program. Recent credits include Marullo in Rigoletto, Mike Groom in Everest, King Melchior in Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Paris in Roméo et Juliette (Calgary Opera); Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Gideon March in Little Women (Opera McGill); Baron Mirko Zeta in The Merry Widow, and Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore (McGill Savoy Society). He also created the role of Ludovic Athenodorus in the world premiere of Ghost Opera (Calgary Opera and The Old Trout Puppet Workshop). As a concert soloist, he has performed the title role in Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the McGill Symphony Orchestra and Calgary Philharmonic, and has been the baritone soloist in Fauré's and Goodall's Requiems.

Frances Thielmann – Pianist and Intern coach

Frances Thielmann, from Vancouver, completed her master’s degree in collaborative piano at the University of Toronto and holds a bachelor’s degree with distinction in piano performance from the University of Victoria. In 2018, she was selected to be an Art of Song fellow at Toronto Summer Music, where she trained with Julius Drake and Christoph Prégardien. Thielmann has studied a broad range of repertoire at other prestigious programs, including the Vancouver International Song Institute, Orford Summer Academy, Franz Schubert Institute, Stratford Vocal Academy, Opera NUOVA, and the St. Andrews Opera Workshops in 2018 and 2019. She was an apprentice coach with the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal for its 2019/2020 season. In the summer of 2021, she will be training at the Music Academy of the West as a vocal piano fellow.

Liz Upchurch – Head of the Ensemble Studio

Liz Upchurch is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London, England, where she won several prizes as solo pianist and accompanist. As a music director, vocal coach and repetiteur she has worked in 21st-century and traditional opera, music theatre, and theatre. She has also covered a wide range of working techniques with singers, actors and instrumentalists in community and educational projects. For many years she worked with young artists at the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh where she played for masterclasses with artists such as Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Suzanne Danco, William Pleeth and Dame Joan Sutherland. Ms. Upchurch has also worked at the Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg festival in Germany and the National Theatre in London. She held a faculty position in the 20th-century opera and song program at the Banff Centre for the Arts and was repetiteur and chorus director at Edmonton Opera. As a pianist she has performed all over Europe and has been broadcast with the BBC, Norwegian Radio and CBC. Ms. Upchurch also appeared as a judge on Bravo’s hit series, Bathroom Divas: So you want to be an opera singer!

Jennifer Swan – Performance Kinetics Consultant

As Performance Kinetics Consultant with the COC Ensemble Studio, Jennifer Swan works in private and group sessions with Canada’s top emerging singers. Her methodology creates, sustains and strengthens a singer's breath support, a technique which evolved from her extensive dance and Pilates background. Her voice method has also been an integral part of the program at the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy (COSI) since 2008. She joined the teaching team at St Andrews by-the-Sea in 2016, has been a regular guest lecturer at the University of Toronto’s voice studies program since 2010, and has led annual workshops at Choirs Ontario since 2012. As resident choreographer for the Toronto Children’s Chorus since 2011, she choreographed the world premiere of Nikmaq by Donald Patriquin as well as debuts of Tsimshian Welcome Chant by Patriquin in 2015 and Arctic Lights by Lori-Anne Dolloff in 2016. Ms. Swan has also worked extensively with various international Olympic athletes, including figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. She choreographed their award-winning Carmen in 2013 and their programs for the 2014 Olympics. Ms. Swan is the artistic director of Performance Architects/Swan Studio Dance and Children’s Dance Project in London, Ontario. She obtained her bachelor of arts degree (honours) in dance from the University of Waterloo.

Wendy Nielsen – Head Vocal Consultant

After a 25-year career on the international opera and concert stages, soprano Wendy Nielsen is now head of voice and assistant professor in voice and opera at the University of Toronto. She is also Head Vocal Consultant for the COC Ensemble Studio and maintains an active private voice studio in Toronto, teaching many of Canada’s prominent performers. Ms. Nielsen made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1996 as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte under the baton of James Levine. Subsequent performances at the Met over 12 seasons included: Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, Micaëla in Carmen and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. Her international orchestral performances were numerous, notably opening the Lucerne Summer Festival as Elsa in Lohengrin with Ivan Fisher conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Other significant performances included appearances with the Beijing Philharmonic; New York Philharmonic; Beethoven Festival in Krakow, Poland; Madrid Sinfonica; Prague Autumn Festival; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Düsseldorf Philharmonic; and Montreal Symphony Orchestra. A native of New Brunswick, Ms. Nielsen attended Mount Allison University and earned a bachelor of music from the University of Lethbridge, as well as a master of music in opera from the University of British Columbia. She also holds three honorary doctorates and has garnered numerous awards recognizing her contributions nationally, provincially, and locally.

Steven Leigh – Corrective Phonetics for Opera Singers Specialist (C-PhOS) and Lyric Diction Coach

Steven Leigh works with the COC Ensemble Studio to achieve standard stage-language pronunciation in Italian, German, French and English repertoire. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), where his research integrates pronunciation pedagogy theory with his background as a professional opera singer and linguist. Presentations of his research-in-progress have included a public demonstration-lecture with the COC's Spotlight Series, as well as workshops for the COC Orchestra Academy and Ensemble Studio.

He has also given masterclasses in opera lyric diction at UofT’s Faculty of Music and the Irish National Opera Studio, and has been a lyric diction instructor at the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute in Montreal and at Opera on the Avalon in St. John’s, Newfoundland. In addition to his work at the COC, Mr. Leigh teaches a series of lyric diction classes he developed for the Royal Conservatory of Music's Taylor Academy and has previously taught at the RCM's Glenn Gould School. Highlights as a singer include the world premiere performance of Srul Irving Glick’s A Life's Journey (Songs for Isaac) in Toronto, Don José with the Illinois Opera Theater, the Duke in Rigolettoat Fairfield Halls, England, and appearances in Montreal with the Cantabile Chorale and Orchestra. 



The Ensemble Studio Competition is held annually and is the feature event of the COC’s Centre Stage fundraising gala. It was first launched in 2011 to showcase and celebrate Canada’s exceptional opera talent and has since grown from an intimate series of performances in the COC’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre to a spectacular mainstage event hosted in R. Fraser Elliott Hall.

The audition process is open to Canadian citizens and permanent residents only and takes place in three rounds. The first round invites interested applicants to send in digital submissions for screening by a panel of artists and administrators. In the second round, COC artistic staff travel across the country for preliminary live auditions, with stops in Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary or Vancouver. Final callback auditions for finalists are held over several days that include rehearsals and working sessions before their performances at the Ensemble Studio Competition on the mainstage of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

For the competition, finalists are accompanied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. At stake are a number of cash prizes, as well as performance and recording opportunities, and the opportunity to be invited to join the COC Ensemble Studio.


Merci pour votre intérêt pour la Compagnie d’opéra canadienne.  Les demandes pour devenir membre de l’Ensemble Studio 2020/2021 sont fermées.   Retrouvez toutes les informations pour les auditions de la saison 2021/2022 en été 2021.

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