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More new singers for the COC

G. Schellenberg, S. McIntosh, M. Leblanc, S. Chan (© Michael Cooper)

One of the delights of November is the Canadian Opera Company’s annual Centre Stage gala, featuring a vocal competition for singers aspiring to enter the company’s Ensemble Studio. From 119 singers auditioned across the country, seven were chosen to perform at Centre Stage. This year there were four sopranos, one mezzo-soprano, and two baritones. The country was represented coast-to-coast, with singers from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland.

The competition is held on the company’s main stage in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, with the company’s orchestra in the pit under the direction of Johannes Debus. Returning as master of ceremonies was Ben Heppner, a former ensemble member.

The judging panel of six, under COC General Director Alexander Neef, included the company’s top musical staff plus guest vocal consultant (and noted tenor) Neil Shicoff.

The three winners of the competition were:

1. In first place, mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh from Vancouver, currently studying at McGill University. Her comedic and vocal talents were displayed in “Voi che sapete” from Le nozze di Figaro and “Una voce poco fa” from Il barbiere di Seviglia.

2. In second place, baritone Samuel Chan from Calgary, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He impressed with Harlekin’s “Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen” from Ariadne auf Naxos and “Hai già vinta la causa” from Le nozze di Figaro.

3. In third place baritone Geoffrey Schellenberg, USA-born and currently studying at the University of British Columbia. He opened with “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Faust, and then sang a well-characterized Largo al factotum.

I was rather surprised that the sopranos were passed over (the final choices could not have been easy). However a soprano did win the audience choice award: Myriam Leblanc, currently a member of the Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. Her two arias were “Je veux vivre” from Roméo et Juliette and the pyrotechnical “Regnava nel silencio” from Lucia di Lammermoor.

True to form there was a surprise guest to entertain us while the panel deliberated. This year it was Russell Thomas, who created a frenzy with a heartfelt “E la solita storia” from Cilea’s L’arlesiana, then Lehàr’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz”.

The musical event was preceded by a reception and followed by a costly dinner. The money raised goes a long way in supporting the operations of the Ensemble Studio which, in its 36-year history has trained more than 230 opera performers.

Michael Johnson



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