Preview: Centre Stage Gala (Canadian Opera Company)


In a world of American Idol and Canada’s Got Talent, The Voice and X Factor, it’s easy to imagine that everyone in the world is angling for their fifteen minutes of fame whether singing or juggling pumpkins or performing feats of acrobatics. In the case of the Canadian Opera Company‘s Centre Stage gala competition, eight rising young Canadian opera singers will vie for a spot in the renowned Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio – giving them a great deal more than fifteen minutes of fame.

Ensemble Studio members, in addition to financial support and further musical and acting study, have the opportunity to learn with greats of the opera world in COC productions. They participate in master classes and are able to perform along side them – including such distinguished graduates of the Ensemble Studio as world-class tenor Ben Heppner and Toronto soprano Wendy Neilson.

This year’s class of hopefuls includes no competition for Heppner, as it’s tenorless (boo), but guests at the gala (after enjoying a cocktail reception) will hear eight finalists culled from auditions across the country: mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo (Toronto); mezzo-soprano Lauren Eberwein (London, Ontario); soprano Eliza Johnson (Stratford, Ontario); mezzo-soprano Marjorie Maltais (Clermont, Quebec); soprano Samantha Pickett (Kitchener, Ontario); baritone Zachary Read (Halifax); baritone Bruno Roy (Montreal); and mezzo-soprano Pascale Spinney (Laval, Quebec).

The eight finalists will be judged on vocal technique, as well as artistic and interpretive range, and First, Second, and Third prizes (worth $5,000, $3,000, and $1,500 respectively) will be awarded at the end of the night along with an Audience Choice Award. Nominations to the Ensemble Studio will be made at a later date.

COC Director Alexander Neef, having come to the company from giant artistic festivals like the Salzburg Festival and the Ruhr Trienniale, has an obvious and useful appreciation for spectacles. In the process of revitalizing the Canadian Opera Company – inducing younger people to take tickets, creating events to support the opera that combine food, fashion, and glamour, and so on – the Centre Stage gala event not only provides a glamorous evening but also a sense of ownership among attendees.

Here in my third year attending the Centre Stage event, I have already seen previous prizewinners take roles in productions at the COC and been pleased to say to my date that I saw him or her at the beginning of her or his career. I imagine that regular opera-goers who also attend the gala event will similarly root for favorites and enjoy the pleasure and pride of seeing them continue to do well as their careers progress.

Following the competition, Centre Stage Dinner guests go on to enjoy an elegant formal dinner from the privileged vantage point of the Four Seasons Centre stage, joined by competition finalists and winners, notable COC artists and key supporters of the opera company. Guests are treated to a culinary experience by critically acclaimed chef David Lee, a rare opportunity to enjoy his gastronomic creations outside of dining at Nota Bene where Lee is the executive chef. Centre Stage Dinner tickets, encompassing the competitive vocal showcase and exclusive black-tie dinner, are $1,500, with a limited number available for purchase.


The Centre Stage Gala is presented on Tuesday, 3 November 2015 at 5:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre, and will include a cocktail hour and a surprise musical guest performing with the COC orchestra under the direction of Johannes Debus. Tickets are available for purchase online, or by calling the box office 416-363-8231.