• Liz Upchurch: Celebrating 20 Years at the COC

    By COC Staff

    Liz upchurch
    On Tuesday, May 7, we marked a special milestone when Liz Upchurch, Head of the COC Ensemble Studio, celebrated 20 years with the Canadian Opera Company! In a special performance, part of the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre presented by TD Bank Group, she performed some of her favourite works alongside some special guests.

    Liz Upchurch May 7 Concert
    Celebrating Liz at a special concert on May 7, 2019

    Liz joined the COC in 1999 after studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and stints at the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh, the Kammeroper Schloss Rehinsberg festival in Germany, the National Theatre in London, the Banff Centre and Edmonton Opera. She has served on the music staff of over 150 operas. An accomplished pianist, she has performed all over Europe and has been broadcast with the BBC, Norwegian Radio and CBC.

    Since joining the COC, she has helped build the Ensemble Studio into one of the industry’s most innovative and comprehensive opera training programs. She has led an entire generation of singers and coaches through the program to become stars on the international stage, including Kristzina Szabó, Alain Coulombe, Michael Colvin, Allyson McHardy, Gordon Bintner and Emily D’Angelo, to name just a few.


    Liz Upchurch with 1999 EnsembleLiz Upchurch (centre) with her first Ensemble Studio cohort: (l-r) Andrew Tees (back), Alain Coulombe (front), Michael Colvin, Liz, Krisztina Szabó and Liesel Fedkenheuer


    In addition to training young singers for their first major operatic roles on stage, she also nurtures their artistry through recital, in particular as part of the Free Concert Series. She has curated and performed in over 100 concerts through the series since its inception, working alongside some of today’s most significant operatic voices, including composers John Adams, Kaija Saariaho and Ana Sokolović, and singers Adrianne Pieczonka, Barbara Hannigan, Jane Archibald, and Sondra Radvanovsky.

    Liz Upchurch and Jane ArchibaldLiz accompanying soprano Jane Archibald in the COC's Free Concert Series

    As a testament to the mark she’s left on her students and the impact she continues to make on the Canadian opera scene, we collected a few tributes from her friends, family and colleagues over the years:

    Liz Upchurch has the patience of a guru, the kindness of sunshine and the care of a mother. She knows when to laugh with a singer and when to cry with a singer. She knows how to help a singer reach the top of the mountain, but also when to ground us like a pack of fleeting balloons taking off too soon. Liz is a rock, a mentor and an inspiration to me.

    Claire de Sévigné, soprano (Ensemble Studio, 2012 – 2014)


    Liz is one of the best coaches I've ever worked with her attention to detail and genuine excitement about music-making is infectious and inspiring. And when she plays the piano, she sounds like an orchestra, with fullness and breadth of colour as well as incredible delicacy and nuance. Singing with Liz has always been one of my favourite things. But more importantly, Liz has been a wonderful part of my life, musically and otherwise her generosity and warmth as a human being, her passion for the music, and her integrity... she is a remarkable person, and I feel fortunate to know her. 

    Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano (Ensemble Studio, 1998 – 2001)


    I still recall our early days at the COC Ensemble Studio and the two wonderful years that we spent all together as a tight-knitted group of promising artists! I remember fondly that you so generously opened your home to all of us on numerous occasions, feeding us some of your wonderful culinary gems! These precious moments still resonate in me with warmth, love and gratitude. Thank you, Liz, for having been so welcoming; you were not only our sensational vocal coach, you were a friend. You opened your arms to us at uncertain times, when we were searching for a possible path in the opera business. The sense of belonging that it created in my very green, insecure and so-lost-in-translation French-Canadian self, was and still is to this day, one of the most precious gifts that was ever offered to me.

    Alain Coulombe, bass (Ensemble Studio, 1999 – 2000)


    Liz, you have left an indelible imprint on me as a musician but more importantly as an example of personal integrity and character. We all need people in our lives who inspire, challenge, and act as pillars of support – you are one of mine.

    Steven Philcox, pianist/coach (Ensemble Studio, 1999 – 2000)


    My favourite lesson from Liz Upchurch sounds like something out of a Game of Thrones episode: “Remember, Jenny - Head of Ice, Heart of Fire.” Liz said these words to me in 2006, when she first introduced me to the world of opera. Over these years, she has been the source of many inspiring lessons both musical and personal, but the most important ones I learned by watching her work:  how to intuit a singer’s breath; how to make the piano sing while being a total beast on the keys; how to lead and collaborate with humility and an open heart; how to recognize and celebrate potential in others, then help to make that promise grow…We have so much to continue learning from you, Liz, but in the meantime: thank you for always leading by example and “raising” so many of us young Canadian artists with love, wit, and integrity. Congratulations to Canadian opera’s own Mother of Dragons for this remarkable anniversary!

    – Jennifer Szeto, pianist/coach (Ensemble Studio, 2014 – 2016)





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    Photo Credits (top to bottom): Liz Upchurch, photo: Chris Hutcheson; Liz Upchurch in the Free Concert Series, 2019, photo: Chris Hutcheson; Liz Upchurch with 1999/2000 Ensemble Studio artists, photo courtesy of Kristzina Szabó; Liz Upchurch accompanying Jane Archibald in the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, 2018, photo: Kevin Lloyd

    Posted in Ensemble Studio

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