Canadian Opera Company

Eight Canadian Singers Take Centre Stage in COC Vocal Showcase Competition

Out of a pool of 120 aspiring opera singers from across the country, the Canadian Opera Company has selected eight to compete at Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition on November 3, 2015 at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Centre Stage is the COC’s annual celebration of the next generation of opera stars. The Ensemble Studio Competition is the evening’s feature event: an exhilarating vocal showcase with the singers, selected from nationwide auditions for the COC Ensemble Studio – Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals – 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).

This year’s eight finalists were chosen following preliminary auditions in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. At Centre Stage on November 3, 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.”

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. Centre Stage culminates in an announcement of the competition’s winners and an exclusive dinner on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre.

COC General Director Alexander Neef heads the jury for the vocal competition portion of the evening. He is 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.

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.).


Platinum Sponsors: Peter M. Deeb, Mercedes-Benz Canada, RBC Emerging Artists Project
Opera Under 30 Sponsor: TD
Gold Sponsors: Brookfield Asset Management, Linden & Associates, Extuple
Artist Sponsors: Helen Burstyn, Ninalee Craig, Earlaine Collins, Patrick Hodgson Family Foundation, and June Shaw and the late Dr. Ralph Shaw
Prize Sponsors: First Prize – Colleen Sexsmith; Second Prize – ARIAS: Canadian Opera Student Development Fund; Third Prize – Tom C. Logan; Audience Choice Award – Classical 96.3 FM
Voting Technology Sponsor: Classical 96.3 FM and Turning Technologies
Event Supporters: Chairman Mills, Cheese Boutique, DMF Flowers, Evoke Designs, Hilton Toronto, Hudson’s Bay Company, The Knot Group, Nota Bene, Toronto Life, Peller Estates, Turning Technologies, Wellington Printworks


The Ensemble Studio Competition features singers from the final round of auditions for the COC Ensemble Studio, Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals, competing for cash prizes ranging in value from $1,500 – $5,000. The competition was launched in 2011 by COC General Director Alexander Neef to showcase the opera talent the COC had scouted from across the country and create a public platform for celebrating the future of opera in Canada. With the creation of Centre Stage in 2013, the COC introduced the Ensemble Studio Competition to an audience of over 1,000 opera lovers and interested guests. The competition showcases finalists like never before as they perform from the mainstage of the COC’s world-renown opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, accompanied by the acclaimed COC Orchestra led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. The annual Ensemble Studio audition process, open only to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, takes COC artistic staff across Canada and into the U.S. for preliminary auditions in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and New York, followed by a final callback audition at the COC’s Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre in Toronto. It’s from this pool of singers that finalists are selected for the Ensemble Studio Competition. .


The COC Ensemble Studio is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. Since the inception of the program in 1980, over 215 young professional Canadian singers, opera coaches, stage directors and conductors have acquired their first major professional operatic experience through the Ensemble Studio. Former members include Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Wendy Nielsen, Joseph Kaiser, David Pomeroy, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó. The members of the Ensemble Studio are the COC’s resident artists and important ambassadors for the company. They receive a blend of advanced study and practical experience through an individually tailored, multi-year program, involving understudying and performing mainstage roles, intensive vocal coaching, language and acting studies, and career skills development, as well as participation in masterclasses with internationally renowned opera professionals.


Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. The COC enjoys a loyal audience support-base and one of the highest attendance and subscription rates in North America. Under its leadership team of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC is increasingly capturing the opera world’s attention. The COC maintains its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation by creating new productions within its diverse repertoire, collaborating with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracting the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists. The COC performs in its own opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. For more information on the Canadian Opera Company, please visit its award-winning website,

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