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    By Public Relations

    Read the PDF version here.

    Toronto – Matthew Cairns of St. Catharines, ON took home First Prize at the Canadian Opera Company’s annual Ensemble Studio Competition on 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.


    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 Sing and 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).


    Platinum Supporter: RBC

    Competition Sponsor: The Hal Jackman Foundation

    Gold Sponsors: Brookfield Asset Management

    Prize Sponsors: Chair’s Prize (First Prize) – Justin Linden and Elora Festival; Second Prize – ARIAS: Canadian Opera Student Development Fund; Third Prize – Tom C. Logan; Audience Choice Award – Classical 96.3 FM; CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize

    Event Sponsors: Bespoke Audio Visual, BT/A Advertising, Chairman Mills, Cheese Boutique, DMF Flowers, Faulhaber Communications, Nota Bene, Hudson’s Bay Company, Turning Technologies, Wellington Printworks


    BMO Financial Group: Season Sponsor

    About the Ensemble Studio Competition
    The competition was launched in 2011 by COC General Director Alexander Neef to create a public platform for celebrating the future of opera in Canada. The annual Ensemble Studio audition process, open only to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, takes COC artistic staff across Canada for preliminary auditions, followed by a final callback audition at the COC’s Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre in Toronto. It’s from this pool of singers that finalists are selected for the Ensemble Studio Competition.

    About the COC Ensemble Studio
    The COC Ensemble Studio is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. Since the inception of the program in 1980, over 230 young professional Canadian singers, opera coaches, stage directors and conductors have acquired their first major professional operatic experience through the Ensemble Studio. Former members include Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Wendy Nielsen, Joseph Kaiser, Allyson McHardy, David Pomeroy, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó.

    Members of the Ensemble Studio are the COC’s resident artists and important ambassadors for the company. They receive a blend of advanced study and practical experience through an individually tailored, multi-year program, involving understudying and performing mainstage roles, intensive vocal coaching, language and acting studies, and career skills development, as well as participation in masterclasses with internationally renowned opera professionals.

    The COC Ensemble Studio, underwritten in part by Anne & Tony Arrell, Peter M. Deeb, Marjorie and Roy Linden, Sheila K. Piercey, RBC Foundation and The Slaight Family Foundation, is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals and provides advanced instruction, hands-on experience, and career development opportunities. The Ensemble Studio is also supported by the Government of Canada, the Hal Jackman Foundation and other generous donors.

    About the Canadian Opera Company
    Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. The COC enjoys a loyal audience support-base and one of the highest attendance and subscription rates in North America. Under its leadership team of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC is increasingly capturing the opera world’s attention. The COC maintains its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation by creating new productions within its diverse repertoire, collaborating with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracting the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists. The COC performs in its own opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. For more information on the Canadian Opera Company, visit

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    For competition inquiries and photography, please contact:
    Avril Sequeira, Director of Public Relations, tel: 416-306-2387, email: [email protected]
    Kristin McKinnon, Publicist and Content Producer, tel: 416-306-2383, email: [email protected] 

    For gala inquiries, please contact:
    Erika Ceddia, Faulhaber Communications, [email protected]
    Taylor Jantzi, Faulhaber Communications, [email protected]

    Posted In Press Releases


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