This week our Ensemble Studio program started back up with a few new faces! It’s not a typical start to the season, but even though they’re training remotely for the next few weeks, we wanted to help you get to know the voices you’ll be hearing throughout the season. While our physical stage is dark, the show must go on!
Matthew Cairns — Tenor
Toronto-based tenor Matthew Cairns is in his second year with the Ensemble Studio after studying opera at the University of Toronto. In 2019, he was named one of CBC’s “30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30.” He made his Canadian Opera Company debut last fall as the Prince of Persia in Puccini’s Turandot and dreams of singing the role of Calaf in that same opera someday, or Cavaradossi in Tosca, following in the footsteps of his opera idol, Luciano Pavarotti. His favourite opera is another Puccini classic, La Bohème. As passionate about cooking as he is about Puccini, Matthew loves a good charcuterie and cheese board — he even considered becoming a chef before he was bitten by the opera bug in grade 12. Besides opera, he is an avid Raptors fan and can’t wait to get back to a game in person. #WeTheNorth.
Vartan Gabrielian – Bass-baritone
Now in his second year of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio program, Vartan Gabrielian grew up in Toronto and studied opera at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He dreams of singing the title role in Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele in the future — his favourite aria is the opera’s “Son lo Spirito” — and admires renowned Italian bass, the late Cesare Siepi. Outside the opera house, Vartan enjoys reading, jazz, shawarma, and spending time with his Jack Russell-Poodle cross, Noosh. He’s also an athletic triple threat who trains for triathlons when he’s not training his vocal cords.
Jamie Groote — Mezzo-soprano
Jamie Groote just completed her first year in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio program. She grew up in Etobicoke and originally wanted to be a surgeon, but after playing the lead role of Maria in her high school musical of West Side Story, she couldn’t imagine not performing. Jamie loves big bands and the old crooners, but on the opera side she looks up to renowned soprano Leontyne Price. Her favourite opera is a tossup between Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and Verdi’s La Traviata and her bucket list of dream roles includes Octavian in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther. In her spare time, she keeps active by running, practicing yoga, and drawing portraits.
Alex Halliday – Bass-baritone
Alex Halliday joins the Ensemble Studio for his first year after studying opera at the University of Toronto. Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, he has lived all over Canada, rarely staying in the same place for long. His all-time favourite bass-baritone is Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, whom he’s looked up to from the first day of his singing journey, and he dreams of someday singing the role of Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro or Il Commendatore in Don Giovanni. Alex makes his COC debut this season as Devon/Tino the Clown in Fantasma (Opera for Young Audiences). When he’s not training or preparing for a role, he practices beatboxing and its unique vocal techniques.
Midori Marsh – Soprano
Midori Marsh hails from Cleveland, Ohio and joins the Ensemble Studio for her first year after studying opera at the University of Toronto. This year, she was named one of CBC’s “30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30.” She makes her COC debut this season as Annina in La Traviata and hopes to sing the role of Violetta in the same opera one day. One of her opera idols is soprano Lauren Michelle, for both her talent and commitment to raising awareness of social inequities and racism across the opera industry. In her spare time, Midori loves to draw, paint, watch really terrible disaster movies, and eat pho at her favourite Vietnamese restaurant at the end of her street.
Anna-Sophie Neher – Soprano
Anna-Sophie Neher hails from Gatineau, Quebec and holds dual Canadian/German citizenship. After seeing her first opera as a teenager (Puccini’s Madama Butterfly), she knew she wanted to be an opera singer. She studied at McGill University, as well as Bard College and the Montreal Conservatory. Her favourite opera is Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites and she was lucky to have performed the role of Blanche in it two years ago. Another dream role is Susanna from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Anna-Sophie loves to take long walks while listening to music (especially folk like Mumford & Sons), cooking, travelling the world, and playing ice hockey with good friends on snowy winter nights.
Alex Soloway – Pianist and Intern Coach
Alex Soloway returns to the Ensemble Studio as a pianist and intern coach. He grew up in Ottawa, where he spent the majority of his time as a kid either outside playing sports or inside at the piano. He studied music at the University of Toronto and McGill University. While still a student, he discovered the operas of Alban Berg among others, and got really into 20th-century opera. He also has a background in musical theatre, and likes jazz and spending time improvising at the piano. When Alex isn’t at the keys, you can probably find him standing over his barbeque, playing outdoor hockey in the winter, or playing with his golden retriever, Mello.
Jonah Spungin – Baritone
This is Jonah Spungin’s first year in the Ensemble Studio. Originally from Ottawa, he studied opera at McGill University and graduated from Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artist Program. He dreams of singing the role of Figaro in The Barber of Seville, and looks up to fellow Canadian baritone Gerald Finley. His favourite art song to perform is Vaughan Williams’ “Silent Noon,” which always moves him to tears because of all of the fond memories it brings back. An avid hiker and cyclist, Jonah hopes to someday bike-pack – a mix of mountain biking and camping with the bare necessities – across Canada from St. John’s to Victoria. Jonah also really enjoys beatboxing and would love to use it in an opera setting.
Frances Thielmann – Pianist and Intern Coach
Frances Thielmann joins the Ensemble Studio this season as a pianist and intern coach. She grew up in Vancouver and loves visiting Gabriola Island, where she lived this past summer and had fun helping out with her sister’s brass mouthpiece manufacturing company there. Following a transformative summer at the Schubert Institute in Austria, she decided to pursue a career as a collaborative pianist with singers. She dreams of being head coach on an opera production, where she, the singers, and the conductor are in such harmony that they can nearly read each other’s minds. Frances can’t live without coffee and loves listening to podcasts and watching horror movies — even the really bad ones!
The COC Academy is underwritten by The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation.
Major support for the COC Ensemble Studio program also made possible by Anne & Tony Arrell, Marjorie & Roy Linden, RBC Foundation, The Slaight Family Foundation, Government of Canada, with additional support from Keith Ambachtsheer & Virginia Atkin, ARIAS: Canadian Opera Student Development Fund, Marcia Lewis Brown, Margaret Harriett Cameron and the late Gary Smith, Catherine Fauquier, Ethel Harris & the late Milton E. Harris, Patrick and Barbara Keenan Foundation, Joy Levine, Patricia & Frank Mills, Sue Mortimer, C. M., in memory of Clive Bennett Mortimer, The Stratton Trust, Janet Stubbs, Brian Wilks, Nora Wilson.