Centre Stage 2015, the Canadian Opera Company’s ensemble competition gala, was a celebration of Canada & Canadian talent. Co-hosted by two former winners, we were treated to both official languages, thanks to Karine Boucher’s exquisite French pronunciation as a charming extra in her partnership with Charles Sy, and a visit from the Lieutenant-Governor herself, Elizabeth Dowdeswell. As a further showcase of domestic talent we were treated to wonderful performances from Andrew Haji & Joyce El-Khoury.
We knew it had to be different from last year, when three men (two tenors & a baritone) won the three prizes at the 2014 Centre Stage competition. If the Ensemble Studio was not to become totally unbalanced we couldn’t have the same sort of results.
A big clue as to what was to come? the list of the eight finalists.
- Four of the finalists were mezzo-sopranos
- Two were sopranos
- Two were baritones
….and no tenors!
I picked up one obvious clue –no tenors—while missing the even more obvious clue, that half the finalists were mezzo-sopranos. All that was missing was a banner saying “welcome mezzo-sopranos!” perhaps with an apology as well.
And so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that first & second place went to mezzo-sopranos. First place went to mezzo Emily D’Angelo, while second place went to mezzo Lauren Eberwein. D’Angelo, a University of Toronto alumna, was a popular winner with the crowd, who also picked her as the audience favourite.
In a season when we finally see a Canadian composer’s opera grace the stage, it’s a feather in the general director’s cap. Alexander Neef has much to be proud of, along with conductor Johannes Debus leading the COC orchestra. The evening felt like a genuine celebration.