Oct 30, Toronto — Last night, seven incredibly talented young singers selected from a pool of 109 applicants from across the country competed in the Canadian Opera Company’s annual Ensemble Studio Competition. The event was hosted by Ben Heppner. In addition to cash prizes, the finalists were vying for a coveted invitation to join the 2020/21 Ensemble Studio, Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. They were accompanied by the COC Orchestra, led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus.
Soprano Midori Marsh from Cleveland, Ohio, took home the $5000 First Prize and the Audience Choice Award worth $2000. She is completing her Master of Music in Opera at the University of Toronto. Her chosen piece, “Quel guardo, il cavaliere” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, was a thrilling showcase of her coloratura and secure execution of high notes. Dynamic and effervescent, she exudes confidence.
Second prize of $3500 went to bass-baritone Alex Halliday from St John’s, Newfoundland, who sang “Sorge infausta una procella” from Handel’s Orlando. A natural performer with magnificent stage presence, he delved effortlessly and precisely into Handel’s long, intricate phrases. Halliday is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Toronto.
Soprano Charlotte Siegel from Toronto was a rather surprising choice for the $2000 third prize. Her voice has an unusual dark timbre that sounds more like a mezzo-soprano. Although her performance of “Ah, Je ris de me voir si belle” from Gounod’s Faust was a bit restrained, her high B was bright and secure. She holds a Master’s from the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, from which she is also currently pursuing a Graduate Diploma.
The best voice of the night came from Tenor Marcel d’Entremont from Merigomish, Nova Scotia. He took home the CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize, with which he receives a professional studio recording session with CBC Music to be broadcast across Canada. His lyrical sound was pure and creamy yet powerful. His rendition of “Kuda, kuda” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was expressive and focused, but this song unfortunately only showcased the mid-range of his voice. D’Entremont is a graduate of the Vancouver Opera’s Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist Program, and holds a Master of Music from the University of Toronto and a Graduate Diploma in performance from McGill University.
Although there was no guest performance like in previous years, the audience was treated to the COC Orchestra’s Overture to Luisa Miller by Verdi. The performances from the rest of the finalists — Sarah Bissonnette (Soprano, Boucherville, QC), Kirsten LeBlanc (Soprano, New Brunswick) and Brenden Friesen (Bass, Langham, SK) were all excellent and engaging. It was an exhilarating night of vocal fireworks from our country’s next generation of opera stars, and the future is bright for opera in Canada.