Toronto: Four artists join COC’s Ensemble Studio for the 2022/23 season

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The COC Ensemble Studio welcomes four new artists for the company’s 2022/2023 season: soprano Ariane Cossette, mezzo-sopranos Queen Hezumuryango and Alex Hetherington, and pianist Brian Cho. The four officially join the highly specialized development program for Canadian opera professionals this August, alongside returning sopranos Charlotte Siegel and Midori Marsh, baritone Jonah Spungin, bass-baritone Alex Halliday, and pianist Vladimir Soloviev.

In addition to gaining invaluable performance experience on the mainstage, which always has been a foundational pillar of the Ensemble Studio, artists will also work directly with COC General Director Perryn Leech, COC Music Director Johannes Debus, and Director of Artistic Planning Roberto Mauro, in receiving tailored mentorship and career guidance, alongside training from some of the industry’s best vocal, language, movement, and acting coaches, as well as masterclasses with internationally acclaimed visiting artists.

“The term ‘emerging’ is often applied to the young artists of this program, but I cannot stress enough the incredible talent of these incoming artists,” says Leech. “By giving opportunities on our mainstage, in recital, and across all company work, we’re not only better able to provide the real-life experience every artist requires to grow and flourish in this industry, we’re also proudly presenting the next generation of Canadian opera talent to our audiences throughout each and every season.”

Ariane Cossette hails from Trois-Rivières, Quebec and holds a bachelor’s degree from Conservatoire de musique de Montréal and a master’s degree from Université de Montréal. As a concert soloist, she has performed with Choeurs Éternels in France and, on stage, her credits include Micaëla in La tragédie de Carmen (Université de Montréal) and Selene in Endymion’s Dream (COSA Canada).

Queen Hezumuryango’s experience and passion for music spans a variety of styles, including opera, recital, and musical theatre. Originally from Burundi, her credits to date include Tisbe in La Cenerentola (Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance), Carmen in La tragédie de Carmen (Atelier d'opéra à l'Université de Montréal), and Third Wood Sprite in Rusalka (Toronto Summer Opera Workshop). Recently, she began a doctorate in vocal performance at l'Université de Montréal, with a thesis exploring the contribution of Black composers to classical music.

Alex Hetherington of Toronto is currently completing a Masters of Opera Performance at the University of Toronto. Her recent engagements include performances as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, the title role in La tragédie de Carmen (UofT Opera), as well as The House in Tapestry Opera’s cast recording of Rocking Horse Winner. As a composer with an interest in musicology, she is currently completing a research-creation project examining art song performance practice through the lens of modern gender theory.

Brian Cho grew up in London, Ontario, where he completed his Bachelor of Musical Arts and Masters in Collaborative Piano at Western University and has since participated in the Orford Summer Music Academy and the Accademia Europea Dell’Opera. In addition to being an accomplished concert pianist and music director, Cho is the co-founder and head coach of Can of Soup Collective, a non-profit organization dedicated to making opera accessible and relatable to wider audiences.

“More than ever, we’re looking to take a holistic approach to artist development,” says Roberto Mauro. “With each member of the Ensemble Studio, we’re considering their pathway to this career, their personal goals and priorities, and seeking out how we can best support their individual journey in a way that sets them up for long-term success.”

Auditions for the 22/23 Ensemble Studio kicked off with a round of video submissions in the fall of 2021 that led to live, follow-up auditions from 70 singers in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. After initial delays due to changing COVID-19 conditions, eight finalists were invited to the COC in March to participate in working sessions and vocal coachings that culminated in a final round of auditions. This year’s finalists were: soprano Sydney Baedke, soprano Ariane Cossette, soprano Hannah Crawford, mezzo-soprano Alex Hetherington, mezzo-soprano Queen Hezumuryango, tenor Elias Theocharidis, baritone Alex Mathews, and baritone Mikelis Rogers.

The final auditions were adjudicated by COC General Director Perryn Leech along with key members of the COC’s artistic and music staff: Johannes Debus (Music Director), Roberto Mauro (Director, Artistic Planning), Dorian Cox (Director, Ensemble Studio), Liz Upchurch (Head of the Ensemble Studio), and Wendy Nielsen (Head Vocal Consultant).

“The level of applicants we saw from across Canada was extraordinarily high, a fact that is especially impressive given that many were only able to sing from their living rooms for most of the two years leading up to these auditions,” says Dorian Cox. “We are also so proud of our graduating artists for their ongoing success through an industry still in recovery, and will be eagerly watching as they lead the way to a new era of live opera!”

At the end of the 2021/2022 season, four Ensemble Studio members will mark the end of their time in the program: soprano Jamie Groote, tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian, and pianist Frances Thielmann. All four were prominently featured in the company’s 2021/2022 digital and in-person offerings, with exciting new professional opportunities ahead: Thielmann has been named Head Coach at Edmonton Opera, Gabrielian will debut with Vancouver Opera, Groote will make her debut with Manitoba Opera, and Cairns has been accepted into Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program beginning in the 2022/2023 season. All three singers will return to the COC mainstage in the upcoming season.

The COC Ensemble Studio Competition will return for live audiences on November 3, 2022, with full details to follow at a later date.

For more information on the Ensemble Studio and its artists, please visit coc.ca.

Photo: Queen Hezumuryango, Ariane Cossette, Alex Hetherington and Brian Cho.