Spring Break at the COC: Exploring New Opera
Interactive Digital Video Series
April 12 – 16, 2021 at 2 p.m. ET daily

Designed for youth ages 12-18 and anyone interested in learning more about opera behind-the-scenes!

Hosted by COC Opera Teaching Artist Makenzie Morgan, Spring Break at the COC: Exploring New Opera gathers a group of artists and craftspeople to explore different career paths in the performing arts. Get a behind-the-scenes look at Fantasma, the company’s upcoming original Opera for Young Audiences for youth ages 12-18. Tune in for daily, hour-long sessions with the artists involved in its creation, to learn about what it's like to work with a composer, design props and costumes for the stage, and much more!

Facilitators include COC Composer-in-Residence, and composer of Fantasma, Ian Cusson, Ensemble Studio artists Matthew Cairns and Alex Soloway, Wigs & Make-up Supervisor Sharon Ryman, Costume Supervisor Sandra Corazza, Props Supervisor Wulf Higgins, music therapist Dr. SarahRose Black, and dramaturg and director of Fantasma, Julie McIsaac. Each artist will offer their perspective of the creative process from the point of view of their unique contribution to this highly anticipated new work.

Thank you for participating in Spring Break at the COC: Exploring New Opera. All five days of programming are now available to view below.

Day 1 – Music Making

Fantasma composer and COC Composer-in-Residence Ian Cusson takes participants through the genesis of the opera’s story and how this translates into his music.

Day 2 – From the Performer's Perspective

COC Ensemble Studio artists Matthew Cairns (tenor) and Alex Soloway (pianist) talk about what it’s like to work with a living composer, and workshopping a new role in an opera.

Day 3 – The Real World of Props

COC Props Supervisor Wulf Higgins shares a behind-the-scenes look at how the visual world of Fantasma (the COC's upcoming Opera for Young Audiences) is created and brought to life.

Day 4 – Creating the Character

Wig & Make-up Supervisor Sharon Ryman and Costume Supervisor Sandra Corazza give a sneak peek at two characters from Fantasma, Ms. Macaroni and Tino the Clown, as well as share some of their quick-change secrets.

Day 5 – Staging the Show

Stage director and dramaturg Julie McIsaac speaks with music therapist Dr. SarahRose Black about her considerations in staging Fantasma, as well as her thoughts on creating an engaging experience for young people from the moment audience members walk in the door.

To find out about more programming like this – sign up for eOpera and choose ‘Educational Programs’ under ‘My Email Preferences.’




Makenzie Morgan is the Interim Manager of Organizational Partnerships and Programs at the Canadian Opera Company. Her role is primarily responsible for supporting the Community Partnerships & Programs department in design, planning, and execution of the Canadian Opera Company’s school-based partnership and programming initiatives. Makenzie also supports the implementation and curriculum design of school and organization based programs, maintains relationships with current and future school program partners; along with supervising and supporting the Opera Teaching Artists team.

Makenzie is a firm believer in arts education and in giving back her creative talents to develop the love of music while creating new pathways and experiences in learning; through equitable and inclusive practices. Her portfolio of leadership experience has led her to hold former Headship positions within the private sector, various teaching positions at Regina Public School Board, York Region District School Board and was previously the Lead (Vocal Music) ARTS Program with the York Region District School Board. Her academic background includes a Masters of Music in Literature and Performance degree; alongside an Artist Diploma degree from the University of Western Ontario. She also holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree with a minor in Drama from the University of Regina and has completed A.R.C.T diplomas in both flute, voice and Gr.10 piano from the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto).

Ian Cusson (composer) takes us through the genesis of the story of Fantasma and how this translates into his music.


Ian Cusson is a Métis and French-Canadian composer of art song, opera, and orchestral work. His work explores the Canadian Indigenous experience, including the history of the Métis people, the hybridity of mixed-racial identity, and the intersection of Western and Indigenous cultures. He is the inaugural artist of the COC’s newly developed Composer-in-Residence program, with a residency at the COC Academy that officially began on August 19, 2019.

As part of Cusson’s composer residency, the COC has commissioned a new work with award-winning Canadian playwright and librettist Colleen Murphy and staged by COC Director/Dramaturg-in-Residence Julie McIsaac. Fantasma is being developed with families and young people in mind. The opera tells the story of two teenagers visiting an old-fashioned carnival and confronts an age-old dilemma: When you become aware of suffering, do you turn away? Or do you take action?

“The COC’s commitment to the development of new and diverse voices in the opera world speaks to their ongoing leadership in the opera community,” says Cusson. “For me, as a Métis person, this opportunity tells of the hope, resilience and long tradition of excellence in art-making of Indigenous peoples of this land, our ability to transcend borders and traditions, and our commitment to partner with forward-thinking institutions in the creation of powerful and transformative art.”

Ensemble Studio artists Matthew Cairns (tenor) and Alex Soloway (pianist) share what it is like to work with a living composer, and originating a new role in an opera.


One of CBC’s 2019 “30 Hot Classical Musicians Under 30,” Toronto-based tenor Matthew Cairns was the First Prize winner of the 2018 Ensemble Studio Competition and winner of the CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize. He earned his master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Toronto (UofT), where he studied in the studio of Dr. Darryl Edwards. Some of his recent roles include the Gamekeeper in Rusalka, Prince of Persia in Turandot, and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel (Canadian Opera Company, Opera for Young Audiences). Other credits include Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni (Centre for Opera Studies in Italy [COSI]/UofT Opera); and Detlef inThe Student Prince at the Chautauqua Institution, where he placed first in its Sigma Alpha Iota Competition. 


Pianist Alex Soloway, from Ottawa, received his Master of Music from the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. While at McGill, he won the Chamber Music Competition (2015) and the Classical Concerto Competition (2017). He has performed in Canada, Europe, and the United States, including in the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, and Weill Recital Hall in New York. In 2019, he was the winner of the Best Pianist Prize at the Festival Classica 3rd International French Mélodie Competition. Alex is a 2020 Music Academy of the West alumnus.
Wulf Higgins (COC Props Supervisor) gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how the world of Fantasma is created and brought to life through the use of props and set dressing.


Props Supervisor Wulf Higgins first came to build props for the COC in 1986, when the "prop shop" was only a couple of folding tables in an unlit, unheated corner of the scenic shop. By the early 90s he had moved on to work at other theatre and ballet companies from Alberta to Newfoundland, but is glad to have come back to the COC, in the "new" prop shop he helped move the department into over thirty years ago. "Opera is the most complex of theatre forms," Wulf says, "and I am never bored by it. Every opera, whether a massive production or a tiny one, offers new challenges to overcome and puzzles to solve."

Sharon Ryman & Sandra Corazza give us a sneak peek at the Zombie character in Fantasma, and share some of their backstage tips & tricks.


Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sharon Ryman began her career as a make-up artist in the fashion industry.  An eye-opening experience volunteering with the Manitoba Opera Association led her to the Manitoba Theatre Centre where she learned the art of wig-making and honed her technical make-up skills. Summers were spent at the Banff Festival and the Shaw Festival, which offered valuable practical experience working behind the scenes. In 1990, Sharon moved East to take up a post at the National Arts Centre as the Head of Wigs and Makeup, working under Robert Lepage for French theatre, and Andis Selms for English theatre.  During this time, freelance projects presented unique challenges, including work on the touring productions of Les Misèrables and The Phantom of the Opera.  Upon her return to Toronto, Sharon was invited to join the home base of Live Entertainment to help create wigs for its productions.  For the next eight years, she designed wigs for Showboat, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Ragtime, Fosse, and The Phantom of the Opera.  After the demise of Live Entertainment, 17 years ago, she was hired by the Canadian Opera Company as wig and make-up supervisor for all COC productions. She has toured with the COC’s production of Oedipus Rex/Symphony of Psalms to the Edinburgh Festival, The Nightingale and Semele at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Sharon has been delighted to help create the wonderful space which she can now call home at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts. There always seems to be time for the wonderful experiences that freelance work brings as well.


A distinguished graduate of the Niagara College Technical Theatre Program, Sandra Corazza began her career as Costume Coordinator with the Canadian Opera Company in 1989, applying practical knowledge gained from three seasons spent at the Stratford Festival and the Banff Festival.

In 2008 Sandra became the Head of the COC costume shop. Over 31 seasons she has had the privilege of working with such creative people as Robert Lepage, Robert Carson, Michael Levine and Constance Hoffman.

Sandra has represented the COC across Canada and the United States and as far afield as Denmark, New Zealand and Japan.  Touring with the COC productions of Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung and Oedipus Rex/Symphony of Psalms has taken her to Melbourne, Hong Kong, and Edinburgh.

As a result of her demonstrated creativity, extensive training and hands-on experience, Sandra is a sought-after speaker for tours and special events.


Julie McIsaac (Stage Director & Dramaturg) speaks with Dr. SarahRose Black (Music Therapist) about her considerations in staging Fantasma, as well as creating an engaging experience for young people from the moment audience members walk in the door.


Julie McIsaac was named the Canadian Opera Company’s inaugural Director/Dramaturg-in-Residence in 2019 and is now the curator of Opera Everywhere, the company’s reimagined 20-21 season. Last season, she assisted Joel Ivany on his contemporary reimagining of Hansel and Gretel and recently became co-host of Key Change: A COC Podcast. Other directing credits include the world premiere of Beauty’s Beast (East Van Opera), Le nozze di Figaro (Opera Studio), Pride and Prejudice (Chemainus Theatre Festival) and the multiple award-winning Poly Queer Love Ballad, most recently at Theatre Passe Muraille. She is the Associate Director of Corey Payette’s ground-breaking musical Children of God (Urban Ink) and is the co-bookwriter & co-lyricist of Les Filles du Roi (BroadwayWorld Vancouver award – Best New Work). As Artist-in-Residence at Pacific Opera Victoria (2016-18), Julie worked alongside Atom Egoyan, Maria Lamont and Peter Hinton on new productions of Jenůfa, La bohème, and the premiere of Missing (Current/Clements). She will stage the premiere of Fantasma (Cusson/Murphy) as part of the COC’s 2021-2022 season. www.juliemcisaac.com


Dr. SarahRose Black is an accredited music therapist and registered psychotherapist, specializing in palliative care and psychosocial oncology at both the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Kensington Hospice in Toronto. She is a pianist, vocalist, violinist, and music health educator, and has performed, taught, and presented on her clinical work and research across Canada. As a lecturer and educator, she specializes in educating health care providers in the use of music as a tool for optimal health care. She has presented at conferences, arts-based workshops and medical education events across the country.

Dr. Black has published on music and health care, music therapy, as well as oncology, palliative and end of life care in a number of academic journals, as well as   Toronto Star, Maclean’s  magazine, and the Cancer Knowledge Network. Her music therapy specializations include improvisation and songwriting, and her clinical work has been featured on Global TV, The WholeNote, CBC, and a number of podcasts and radio programs.

She obtained her doctorate from the University of Toronto in February of 2020, including a Collaborative Specialization in Aging, Palliative and Supportive Care across the Life Course. Her doctoral research explored music therapy in the context of assisted dying. Dr. Black is the Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, and continues to teach, research, and provide music therapy and psychosocial care in her daily clinical practice.

Dr. SarahRose Black - Podcast episode: https://www.brainshape.ca/podcast/music-therapy-sarahrose-black

Dr. SarahRose Black's work with Pulse Music Media: http://www.pulsemusicmedia.com/index.html#theteam


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