The COC’s Ensemble Studio Competition
A. Halliday, M. Marsh, C. Siegel & M. d’Entremont (© Michael Cooper)
On October 30 the Canadian Opera Company hosted its annual gala evening during which the audience helps select new members of the company’s Ensemble Studio, now in its 39th year of operation. Once again a panel of six judges under the leadership of COC General Director Alexander Neef chose three winners after hearing seven finalists chosen from 109 applicants from across the country. The finalists were originally from six of the 10 provinces, plus one born in the USA. There were three sopranos, and one mezzo-soprano, one tenor, one bass-baritone, and one bass.
Also once again former ensemble member Ben Heppner hosted the evening, and he and a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer also chose a recipient of the CBC Young Artist Development Prize who wins a recording session that will be broadcast on the network.
Also once again the Canadian Opera Orchestra was on hand, led by the company’s music director, Johannes Debus, who opened the evening with the overture to Verdi’s Luisa Miller. This overture has an ominous tone (suitable to the drama that follows) but I am happy to report that the evening turned out to be upbeat and full of promise.
The contestants had spent a couple of days with the company preparing the evening during which they gave brief interviews which were projected prior to each aria. This was new this year and added a valuable personal touch to the audience’s experience.
The first prize went to Ohio-born soprano Midori Marsh, currently a masters student at the University of Toronto. She performed “Quel guardo, il cavaliere” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. She also won the Audience Choice Award. She brought notable exuberance to the aria while demonstrating outstanding technique in her handling of the vocal line.
Second prize went to Newfoundland bass-baritone Alex Halliday who is also working on his masters degree at the University of Toronto. He impressed with his deft handling of Handel’s “Sorge infausta una procella” from Orlando.
Third prize went to Toronto-born soprano Charlotte Siegel, currently studying at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music. She performed a very convincing “Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle” from Gounod’s Faust.
The CBC’s prize rewarded what was arguably the most fully realized performance of the evening, Nova Scotia tenor Marcel d’Entremont’s “Kuda, kuda” from Eugene Onegin. He has studied at both the University of Toronto and McGill and is currently a member of the Vancouver Opera’s Young Artist Program. I think he is fully ready to launch a career - I only wish Canada had a larger opera scene to employ singers like him. I see that he is to give a noon-hour recital at the Four Seasons Centre on November 28 - an event worth checking out.
Also worth checking out will be next year’s competition, a well-established “must” for many of the city’s opera-goers.