Toronto – Matthew Cairns of St. Catharines, ON took home First Prize at the Canadian Opera Company’s annual Ensemble Studio Competitionon November 1, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The competition is the feature event of the COC gala fundraiser Centre Stage, an annual celebration of Canada’s best young opera artists. Cairns was selected from eight finalists to receive the $5,000 award, supported by the Chair of the COC’s Board of Directors, as well as a performance opportunity at Ontario’s Elora Festival. Vartan Gabrielian of Toronto won the Second Prize of $3,000, and Jamie Groote of Toronto was awarded the Third Prize of $1,500. Andrea Lett of Prince Albert, SK took home the Audience Choice Award, worth $1,500. In a surprising moment, judges awarding the new CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize were so impressed by the strength of performances, two winners were selected to win a professional studio recording session for future broadcast: Matthew Cairns and Andrea Lett.
“This year’s Centre Stage points to an exciting future for opera in Canada,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “Tonight our audience heard incredible young talent, from every corner of this country. It’s new voices like these, from diverse backgrounds of experience, that are crucial to the growth and evolution of the art form. Congratulations to all of our finalists on a superb performance! We look forward to welcoming them back to our stage.”
Eight finalists were selected from a pool of 123 applicants and the ensuing series of nationwide auditions. On November 1, Centre Stage attendees heard each finalist perform an aria accompanied by the COC Orchestra led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. The competition jury comprised COC General Director Alexander Neef; COC Director of Music and Artistic Administration Roberto Mauro; COC Director of Access and Training Nina Draganić; Head of the COC Ensemble Studio Liz Upchurch; and Canadian soprano and Ensemble Studio Head Vocal Consultant Wendy Nielsen — also a graduate of the COC’s program. Joining the judges’ table for 2018 was seasoned tenor and voice instructor J. Patrick Raftery and Evamaria Wieser, Director of Artistic Administration of the Salzburg Festival and European Casting Consultant for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. CBC Music Executive Producer Denise Ball, in consultation with famed Canadian tenor and CBC Radio broadcaster Ben Heppner, selected the winner of the CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize. Heppner, an Ensemble Studio graduate himself, was most recently seen onstage in the COC’s world premiere of Hadrian this fall and reprised his role as host of this year’s Centre Stage event.
The evening opened with the overture to Leonard Bernstein’s Candide performed by the COC Orchestra, led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. Guests were also treated to a special appearance by mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo, winner of the 2015 Centre Stage Ensemble Studio Competition; she recently took home first prize, among other top awards, at the 2018 international Operalia competition in Lisbon. D’Angelo’s “rich mezzo, assertive coloratura, and stage poise” (The Wall Street Journal) were on full display with her performance of “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and “Sein wir wieder gut” from R. Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.
Centre Stage finalists were also vying for an invitation to join the 2019/2020 Ensemble Studio, Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. COC artistic staff will confirm the 19/20 Ensemble Studio line-up at a later date. Those invited to the Ensemble Studio will join a prestigious program that, since its inception in 1980, has launched the careers of over 230 Canadian singers, opera coaches, stage directors and conductors, including Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Joseph Kaiser, David Pomeroy, Krisztina Szabó, Allyson McHardy and Lauren Segal.
During the pre-competition cocktail reception, Centre Stage guests enjoyed a selection of cheese and charcuterie, as well as a seasonal roasted heirloom squash, endive, and pumpkin seed salad, provided by Cheese Boutique. Following the competition, Centre Stage gala guests went on to enjoy an elegant formal dinner on stage of R. Fraser Elliott Hall stage, joined by competition finalists and winners, as well as notable COC artists and key supporters of the opera company.
The Centre Stage gala dinner was prepared by Toronto-based chef David Lee and provided a unique opportunity to enjoy his inventive take on culinary creation outside of Nota Bene, where Lee is executive chef. This year’s menu included appetizers of local hubbard squash and Nova Scotia haddock, a main course of slow braised beef forestiere with farmers’ market root vegetables and beef jus, and a classic crème caramel with oranges à la Grand Marnier for dessert.
Gala dinner guests were treated to additional performances from members of the COC Ensemble Studio. Soprano Lauren Eberwein was joined by baritone Samuel Chan, bass-baritone Joel Allison, and soprano Lauren Margison for “Musetta’s Waltz” from Puccini’s La Bohème. Margison and mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh then led the group in the Barcarolle (“Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”) from Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. And, in a fitting selection for a night of celebration, Ensemble Studio members finished their set with the Champagne Song (“Im Feuerstrom der Reben”) from J. Strauss’ Die Fledermaus.
Proceeds from Centre Stage on November 1 were raised in support of the COC and will go towards the company’s Ensemble Studio.
ABOUT THE WINNERS
Matthew Cairns, First Prize/Chair’s Prize ($5,000), Elora Festival performance opportunity, and CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize
Aria performed:”Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père” from Le Cid by Jules Massenet
Toronto-based tenor Matthew Cairns received his Bachelor of Music in voice performance from the University of Toronto (UofT), where he is currently pursuing his master’s degree in operatic performance. His credits include Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni (Centre for Opera Studies in Italy [COSI]/UofT Opera); Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi (COSI); John P. Wintergreen in Of Thee I Singand Sam Sharkey/German Lumberjack in Paul Bunyan (UofT Opera); Marcelo/Daniel in Miracle Flight 571, Colonel Fairfax in Yeomen of the Guard, General Krebs in Führerbunker, and Francesco in The Gondoliers (COSI Connection). Recently, he sang the role of Detlef in The Student Prince at the Chautauqua Institute Voice Program, where he placed first in its Sigma Alpha Iota Competition. As a concert soloist, he has performed with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra, COSI Connection, and the Arts and Letters Club. This month, he will sing Sam Kaplan in Street Scene(UofT Opera).
Vartan Gabrielian, Second Prize ($3,000)
Aria performed:“Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni” from La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini
Toronto-born bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian is pursuing a master’s degree in vocal performance at the Curtis Institute of Music, where his credits include the title role in Sweeney Todd, Prince Gremin in Eugene Onegin, Doc in A Quiet Place, Groves in Doctor Atomic, Collatinus in The Rape of Lucretia, Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro, and Colline in La Bohème. He has also appeared as Sparafucile in Rigoletto (Opéra de Montréal/New Jersey State Opera), Sarastro in The Magic Flute(Chautauqua Summer Festival), and a Cappadocian in Salome (Detroit Symphony Orchestra). In 2018, Mr. Gabrielian was a Santa Fe Opera Apprentice, as well as the recipient of a Metropolitan Opera National Council Encouragement Award. In 2019, he makes his role debut as Leporello in Don Giovanni with Curtis Opera Theatre.
Jamie Groote, Third Prize ($1,500)
Aria performed:“Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle” from Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod
Mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote, from Toronto, received her Bachelor of Music in voice performance from Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU), and is completing her Master of Music in opera performance at the University of Toronto (UofT). Her upcoming credits include Mercedes in Carmen (Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony). Her recent credits include Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni(UofT Opera); Nicklausse in The Tales of Hoffmann, Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos and Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen (WLU Opera); Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Jade Boucher in Dead Man Walking and Mrs. Gibbs in Our Town (Opera NUOVA).
Andrea Lett, Audience Choice Award ($1,500) and CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize
Aria performed:“Caro nome” from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi
Soprano Andrea Lett grew up in Prince Albert, SK. She received her master’s degree in operatic performance from the University of Toronto (UofT) and her Bachelor of Music from the University of Manitoba. This November she will sing Zerlina in Don Giovanni at Manitoba Opera. Her recent credits include the principal cover for Ah Sing in Girls of the Golden West (San Francisco Opera – world premiere); covering Adele in Die Fledermaus (Santa Fe Opera, as a 2017 Apprentice Artist); Musetta in La Bohème (Saskatoon Opera); Rose Maybud in Ruddigore (G&S Society of Winnipeg); and both Pamina and Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute (Manitoba Underground Opera).