• Meet the 2019/2020 Ensemble Studio

    By COC Staff

    The start of the 2019/2020 season means the start for a new group of Ensemble Studio artists! Get to know each of our nine artists and learn what inspires them, both on and off the stage.  

    Joel Allison

    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 rabiits, Don Giobunny and Loporello. He also enjoys attending the Toronto Symphony Orchestra when he's not singing.

    Matthew Cairns

    St. Catharines, Ontario native Matthew Cairns joins the Ensemble Studio for his first year, after studying opera at the University of Toronto. He makes 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. Look for him at a Raptors game if he's not at the opera house. #WeTheNorth

    Vartan Gabrielian

    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 he admires renowned Italian bass, the late Cesare Siepi. He makes his COC mainstage debut this season as the Hunter in Rusalka and appears as the Officer in The Barber of Seville. 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.

    Simona Genga

    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 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.

    Jamie Groote

    Jamie Groote is in her first year of the 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. This season, she makes her COC debut as the Second Wood Nymph in Rusalka. In her spare time, she keeps active by running, practicing yoga and drawing portraits. 

    Rachael Kerr
    Pianist/Intern Coach

    Rachael Kerr is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, but now lives in Toronto where she is entering 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 rescue dog, Izzy. Interestingly, for a musician, she can't whistle a note!

    Lauren Margison

    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 understudies 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. 

    Anna-Sophie Neher

    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. With the COC this season, she sings the roles of First Wood Nymph in Rusalka, and the Sandman/the Dew Fairy in Hansel & Gretel. 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.

    Alex Soloway
    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.

    Don't miss the Ensemble Studio's first concert of the season as part of the COC's Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, presented by TD Bank Group, on Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 12 p.m. 


    The COC Academy is underwritten by The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, with additional support by Keith Ambachtsheer & Virginia Atkin.

    Major support for the COC Ensemble Studio program also made possible by Anne & Tony Arrell, Marjorie & Roy Linden, Sheila K. Piercey, RBC Foundation, The Slaight Family Foundation, Government of Canada, Hal Jackman Foundation, with additional support from ARIAS: Canadian Opera Student Development Fund, Margaret Harriett Cameron, Catherine Fauquier, Ethel Harris & the late Milton E. Harris, Patrick and Barbara Keenan Foundation, Joy Levine, Patricia & Frank Mills, The Stratton Trust, Janet Stubbs, Brian Wilks, Nora Wilson.

    All photos by Gaetz Photography.

    Posted in Ensemble Studio


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