Stage Door News

Toronto: Seven young singers selected for Canada’s biggest opera competition

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

After a months-long, nationwide search, seven talented young opera singers from across the country have been chosen to compete in the Canadian Opera Company’s ninth annual Ensemble Studio Competition on October 30, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Finalists are competing for cash prizes, performance opportunities, and a chance to earn a coveted place in the COC Ensemble Studio, Canada’s top training program for young opera professionals. 

The 2019 Ensemble Studio Competition finalists are: sopranos Kirsten LeBlanc (Moncton, NB), Midori Marsh (Cleveland, Ohio), and Charlotte Siegel (Toronto, ON); mezzo-soprano Sarah Bissonnette (Boucherville, QC); tenor Marcel d’Entremont (Merigomish, NS); bass-baritone Alex Halliday (St. John’s, NL); and bass Brenden Friesen (Langham, SK). 

Finalists were selected by a panel of judges, who reviewed 109 applications and travelled to Calgary, Montreal and Toronto to hear 72 young artists in preliminary live auditions. The Ensemble Studio Competition opens up the final round of auditions to the public, where competitors sing one last aria for the judges, accompanied by the acclaimed COC Orchestra led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. Canadian opera legend, Ben Heppner, returns to host the evening. 

“The Ensemble Studio Competition is always one of the most exciting events of the season – for both the judges and the audience,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef, who also serves on the judging panel. “It’s a joy and a privilege to be part of a singer’s journey from the very beginning, which is why we open up this process to the wider community.” 

Competition guests have a chance to vote for their favourite singer with the Audience Choice Award, valued at $1,500. The First Prize winner takes home $10,000, as well as the invaluable opportunity to perform at The Elora Festival, Ontario’s annual summer celebration of song. Second Prize is valued at $3,000 and Third Prize is $1,500. Finalists also compete for the CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize, a professional studio recording session provided by CBC Music that will be shared with listeners across Canada on CBC Music’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.

Joining the judges’ table for 2019 is Jeffrey Remedios; the president and CEO of Universal Music Canada is a long-standing champion of trailblazing artists, promoter of independent thinkers, and advocate of distinct voices in our rich culture. He also co-chairs this year’s Centre Stage Gala, which follows the competition, with his wife Lucia Remedios. Returning judges are: COC Director of Artistic Planning Roberto Mauro; COC Director of Access and Training Nina Draganić; Head of the COC Ensemble Studio Liz Upchurch; and Canadian soprano and the Ensemble Studio’s Head Vocal Consultant Wendy Nielsen, herself a graduate of the Ensemble Studio program. CBC Music Executive Producer, Alison Howard, will select the winner of the CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize.

All Ensemble Studio Competition attendees are treated to a complimentary cocktail reception, provided by The Cheese Boutique, when doors open at 5:30 p.m. The competition begins at 6:30 p.m. in R. Fraser Elliott Hall.

All proceeds from the competition and ensuing Centre Stage Gala directly support the COC Ensemble Studio.


Tickets for the Ensemble Studio Competition include cocktail reception and range from $35 (for patrons 30 years of age and younger, through Opera Under 30), to $50, $65 or $80. They are available online at, by calling 416-363-8231, or in-person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office, located at 145 Queen St. W., Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.