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A young singer’s competition

J. Allison, S. Genga & A.-S. Neher (© Michael Cooper )

November is here which means it’s time for the Canadian Opera Company’s annual gala, called Centre Stage, featuring a competition among young singers for prize money plus a chance to enter the company’s Ensemble Studio.

Once again Ben Heppner, an ensemble member back in the early 1980s, was the host. And once again the COC Orchestra was in the pit, under the direction of music director Johannes Debus.

And once again there was a judging panel of six, led by general director Alexander Neef. Four were senior members of the company’s musical staff, while the special guest was Mary Morrison, who performed the role of Mimi in La bohème during the COC’s first season in 1950. She she still teaches at the University of Toronto.

Leading up to the event a total of 134 young singers were auditioned in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The seven finalists (three sopranos, one mezzo-soprano, one tenor, one baritone, and one bass-baritone) spent two days with the panel. The audience on Nov 1 attended the final event of the selection process, with each singer performing just one aria.

The top prize winner (also winner of the Audience Choice Award) was mezzo-soprano Simona Genga, a student in the University of Toronto’s opera program. She displayed a notably opulent voice in the aria “Adieu, forêts” from the French translation of Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans, Jeanne d’Arc.

Second prize went to bass-baritone Joel Allison, another University of Toronto student. Panel notes described his performance as “elegant and stylish” in “Scintille, diamant” from Les Contes d’Hoffmann.

Third prize went to soprano Anna-Sophie Neher, a student at Montreal’s McGill University. She had opened the program with the sparkling “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

While the panel deliberated we were treated to a surprise performance of two arias by this year’s Artist in Residence, Jane Archibald, first with a gripping “Crudele? Ah! No giammai mio ben... Non mi dir” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni , then a thrilling “Ah fors’è lui... Sempre libera” from La traviata.

This was the fifth annual gala and, judging from the turnout, it seemed to be as successful as the previous four. We can look forward to a sixth in 2018.

Michael Johnson



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