The COC Ensemble Studio is an innovative artist development program for emerging Canadian opera professionals.
The company’s uniquely collaborative approach blends advanced study and practical experience through a multi-year program that’s individually tailored for each member. Artists receive intensive vocal coaching; language, movement, and acting studies; as well as private masterclasses with renowned opera professionals. Ensemble singers perform and understudy mainstage roles, while Ensemble pianists participate in the preparation of the COC’s mainstage productions.
Members of the Ensemble Studio are the COC’s resident artists and important community ambassadors for the company. Through performances and collaborations with local schools and organizations, Ensemble members are often the first point of contact with opera for many; their ongoing participation in this area is integral to creating inclusive and welcoming opportunities for more people to engage with the art form.
Since 1980, nearly 230 young professional Canadian singers and pianists have acquired foundational opera experience through the Ensemble Studio. Former members include Ben Heppner, Krisztina Szabó, Emily D’Angelo, Claire de Sévigné, Gordon Bintner, Ambur Braid, Miriam Khalil, Wallis Giunta, and David Pomeroy.
New members are chosen through a national audition process that culminates in the Ensemble Studio Competition for vocalists, the feature event of the COC’s annual fundraising gala Centre Stage.
Brian Cho – Pianist
Brian Cho studied 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, the Accademia Europea Dell’Opera, and, most recently, Music Academy of the West. He won first place in the 2023 Marilyn Horne Song Competition and has been nominated numerous times in the Classical Musician of the Year category of the Forest City London Music Awards. 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. .
Ariane Cossette – Soprano
Canadian soprano Ariane Cossette is a graduate of Conservatoire de musique de Montréal and Université de Montréal. She has received bursaries from many foundations including Jeunesses Musicales Canada, Art Song Foundation of Canada, George-Cedric-Ferguson Foundation, Opéra Bouffe du Québec, and Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation. In 2023, she won Second Prize in the Louis and Christina Quilico Awards. As a concert soloist, she made her France debut in 2018 and 2019 in Chœurs Éternels Concert, under the direction of Andrei Feher and Aldo Salvagno. Her recent opera credits include Frasquita in Carmen (COC), Micaëla in La tragédie de Carmen (Université de Montréal) and Selene in Endymion’s Dream (COSA Canada). Cossette is looking forward to returning for a second year in the COC Ensemble Studio. She can be seen on the COC mainstage this season as Pepik/Woodpecker in The Cunning Little Vixen and as Norina in the Ensemble Studio performance of Don Pasquale.
Wesley Harrison – Tenor
Hailing from Windsor, ON, Wesley Harrison, named in 2023 as one of CBC's “30 hot classical musicians under 30,” is a tenor who holds his master’s degree in opera and voice performance from McGill University as well as a bachelor in vocal performance from Wilfrid Laurier University. In 2022, before placing third in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio Competition, he earned the Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation bursary, the Jean-Paul Jeannotte bursary; in 2021, he was also a finalist in the Wirth Vocal Prize. During his time in Montreal, Harrison was able to work with various local composers and companies such as Luna Pearl Woolf and Sortilegio and took great joy in the collaborative process of these workshops. Recent roles include Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Valcour in L’amant anonyme (Opera McGill). This season Harrison can be seen on the COC’s mainstage performing as First Prisoner in Fidelio and Parpignol in La Bohème.
Alex Hetherington – Mezzo-soprano
Mezzo-soprano Alex Hetherington, named in 2023 as one of CBC's “30 hot classical musicians under 30,” was most recently seen on the COC mainstage as Mercédès in Carmen (2022) and the Attendant in Salome (2023). Her recent concert performances include Mozart’s Requiem (National Arts Centre), Songs from the House of Death (Victoria Symphony), and Neruda Songs (University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra). Past operatic credits include Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Carmen in La tragédie de Carmen (UofT Opera), Nicklausse in Les contes d’Hoffmann, and [Riley] in Tapestry Opera’s R.U.R. A Torrent of Light, for which she won a 2022 Dora Mavor Moore Award. Hetherington holds a master’s in opera performance from the University of Toronto and has a passion for contemporary music, composition, and innovative recital programming. She can be seen at the COC this season as the Second Handmaiden in Medea, and in a relaxed performance of The Cunning Little Vixen as the Dog.
Queen Hezumuryango – Mezzo-soprano
Originally from Burundi, Queen Hezumuryango holds both her master’s degree and bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Montreal, where she earned a number of prizes that include the Ferguson Scholarship, the Gadbois Bursary, and the support of the Jeunesses Musicales Canada foundation. Performance credits include Marquise de Berkenfield in La fille du régiment (Festival d'opéra de Québec), Mercédès in Carmen (Canadian Opera Company), Larina in Eugene Onegin (Highlands Opera Studio), and Carmen in La tragédie de Carmen (Atelier d'opéra à l'Université de Montréal). Hezumuryango was a semifinalist in the OSM Competition in 2021 and has participated in several prestigious programs including the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute, the Toronto Summer Opera Workshop, and the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance.
Karoline Podolak – Soprano
Toronto-born Polish-Canadian soprano Karoline Podolak holds a master’s degree from the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Poland. She had her operatic debut at Silesian Opera House as Zuzia in Moniuszko’s Verbum Nobile, and Adele in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Recent opera credits include Violetta in La Traviata at the National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria, and Fire/Princess/Nightingale in Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges with Opéra de Montréal. Last season, Podolak was a member of the Atelier Lyrique of Opéra de Montréal. Since 2021, she has been a Jeune Ambassadeur Lyrique of Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20. In 2022, she took home both the First Prize and the Audience Choice Award at the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio Competition. This past year, Podolak won a George and Nora London Foundation Award and Second Prize at the Loren L. Zachary Competition in Los Angeles.
Charlotte Siegel – Soprano
Soprano and singer/songwriter Charlotte Siegel of Toronto holds a graduate diploma and a master’s in opera and voice from McGill University, and bachelor of classical voice performance from the University of Toronto. Previously named on CBC’s annual list of “30 hot classical musicians under 30,” Siegel was recently featured in the COC’s concert In Winter, as well as performed as Second Lady in The Magic Flute; her next COC roles are as Musetta in La Bohème, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Lead Hen/Inkeeper’s Wife in The Cunning Little Vixen, and First Handmaiden in Medea. Siegel completed Pacific Opera Victoria’s inaugural Civic Engagement Quartet program, and was a Buffalo/Toronto District winner for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. In 2019, she placed third in the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio Competition and was also a finalist for the Atelier Lyrique National Auditions. Off stage, Siegel is the co-founder and Managing Director of the Marigold Music Program.
Mattia Senesi – Pianist
Mattia Senesi is an Italian pianist born in Arezzo, Italy. He graduated with honours at Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali (ISSM) Franci of Siena and then completed his master’s in piano performance with honours at ISSM Mascagni of Livorno. During his studies, Senesi won several national and international competitions, both as a soloist and as part of chamber music ensembles. He has collaborated with different choirs and opera ensembles in Italy and North America, such as Coro Voceincanto, Ensemble Modulation, Choir Massenet, University of Tennessee Opera Theater, and Opera Viva! Summer program in Verona, Italy. Currently, Senesi is completing his doctorate in Collaborative Piano at the University of Montreal, where he also served as a collaborative pianist for Projet Nouvel Opéra, Opéra de l’Université de Montreal, and for the university’s École LUMI.
Korin Thomas-Smith holds a Master of Music in Opera and a bachelor’s in voice performance from the University of Toronto, and has completed a Master of Musical of Musical Arts at Yale University. Thomas-Smith is a past participant of the Ravinia Steans Music Festival, the Music Academy of the West, and the Rebanks Family Fellowship and International Performance Residency at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Recently, Thomas-Smith was a Young Artist at the Glimmerglass Festival, performing as Argante in Handel’s Rinaldo. In 2021, he was named one of CBC Music’s “30 hot classical musicians under 30.”
Korin Thomas-Smith – Baritone
Liz Upchurch – Head of Music, Ensemble Studio
Liz Upchurch is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London, England, where she won several prizes as solo pianist and accompanist. As a music director, vocal coach and repetiteur she has worked in 21st-century and traditional opera, music theatre, and theatre. She has also covered a wide range of working techniques with singers, actors and instrumentalists in community and educational projects. For many years she worked with young artists at the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh where she played for masterclasses with artists such as Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Suzanne Danco, William Pleeth and Dame Joan Sutherland. Ms. Upchurch has also worked at the Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg festival in Germany and the National Theatre in London. She held a faculty position in the 20th-century opera and song program at the Banff Centre for the Arts and was repetiteur and chorus director at Edmonton Opera. As a pianist she has performed all over Europe and has been broadcast with the BBC, Norwegian Radio and CBC. Ms. Upchurch also appeared as a judge on Bravo’s hit series, Bathroom Divas: So you want to be an opera singer!
Jennifer Swan – Performance Kinetics Consultant, Ensemble Studio
As Performance Kinetics Consultant with the COC Ensemble Studio, Jennifer Swan works in private and group sessions with Canada’s top emerging singers. Her methodology creates, sustains and strengthens a singer's breath support, a technique which evolved from her extensive dance and Pilates background. Her voice method has also been an integral part of the program at the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy (COSI) since 2008. She joined the teaching team at St Andrews by-the-Sea in 2016, has been a regular guest lecturer at the University of Toronto’s voice studies program since 2010, and has led annual workshops at Choirs Ontario since 2012. As resident choreographer for the Toronto Children’s Chorus since 2011, she choreographed the world premiere of Nikmaq by Donald Patriquin as well as debuts of Tsimshian Welcome Chant by Patriquin in 2015 and Arctic Lights by Lori-Anne Dolloff in 2016. Ms. Swan has also worked extensively with various international Olympic athletes, including figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. She choreographed their award-winning Carmen in 2013 and their programs for the 2014 Olympics. Ms. Swan is the artistic director of Performance Architects/Swan Studio Dance and Children’s Dance Project in London, Ontario. She obtained her bachelor of arts degree (honours) in dance from the University of Waterloo.
Wendy Nielsen – Head Vocal Consultant, Ensemble Studio
After a 25-year career on the international opera and concert stages, soprano Wendy Nielsen is now head of voice and assistant professor in voice and opera at the University of Toronto. She is also Head Vocal Consultant for the COC Ensemble Studio and maintains an active private voice studio in Toronto, teaching many of Canada’s prominent performers. Ms. Nielsen made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1996 as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte under the baton of James Levine. Subsequent performances at the Met over 12 seasons included: Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro, Micaëla in Carmen and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. Her international orchestral performances were numerous, notably opening the Lucerne Summer Festival as Elsa in Lohengrin with Ivan Fisher conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Other significant performances included appearances with the Beijing Philharmonic; New York Philharmonic; Beethoven Festival in Krakow, Poland; Madrid Sinfonica; Prague Autumn Festival; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Düsseldorf Philharmonic; and Montreal Symphony Orchestra. A native of New Brunswick, Ms. Nielsen attended Mount Allison University and earned a bachelor of music from the University of Lethbridge, as well as a master of music in opera from the University of British Columbia. She also holds three honorary doctorates and has garnered numerous awards recognizing her contributions nationally, provincially, and locally.
Steven Leigh – Corrective Phonetics for Opera Singers Specialist (C-PhOS) and Lyric Diction Coach, Ensemble Studio
Steven Leigh works with the COC Ensemble Studio to achieve standard stage-language pronunciation in Italian, German, French and English repertoire. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), where his research integrates pronunciation pedagogy theory with his background as a professional opera singer and linguist. Presentations of his research-in-progress have included a public demonstration-lecture with the COC's Spotlight Series, as well as workshops for the COC Orchestra Academy and Ensemble Studio.
He has also given masterclasses in opera lyric diction at UofT’s Faculty of Music and the Irish National Opera Studio, and has been a lyric diction instructor at the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute in Montreal and at Opera on the Avalon in St. John’s, Newfoundland. In addition to his work at the COC, Mr. Leigh teaches a series of lyric diction classes he developed for the Royal Conservatory of Music's Taylor Academy and has previously taught at the RCM's Glenn Gould School. Highlights as a singer include the world premiere performance of Srul Irving Glick’s A Life's Journey (Songs for Isaac) in Toronto, Don José with the Illinois Opera Theater, the Duke in Rigolettoat Fairfield Halls, England, and appearances in Montreal with the Cantabile Chorale and Orchestra.
AUDITIONS FOR THE 2024/2025 SEASON
Thank you for your interest in the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio! Applications have now closed for the 24-25 season.
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The Ensemble Studio Competition is held annually and is the feature event of the COC’s Centre Stage fundraising gala. It was first launched in 2011 to showcase and celebrate Canada’s exceptional opera talent and has since grown from an intimate series of performances in the COC’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre to a spectacular mainstage event hosted in R. Fraser Elliott Hall.
The audition process is open to Canadian citizens and permanent residents only and takes place in three rounds. The first round invites interested applicants to send in digital submissions for screening by a panel of artists and administrators. In the second round, COC artistic staff travel across the country for preliminary live auditions, with stops in Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary or Vancouver. Final callback auditions for finalists are held over several days that include rehearsals and working sessions before their performances at the Ensemble Studio Competition on the mainstage of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
For the competition, finalists are accompanied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. At stake are a number of cash prizes, as well as performance opportunities, and the opportunity to be invited to join the COC Ensemble Studio.
During their time in the Ensemble Studio, members are provided with an individualized program that generally includes:
- Regular voice lessons, music coaching, and lyric diction coaching
- Regular performance kinetics sessions (movement & breath)
- Drama coaching
- Italian, German, French, Russian diction coaching
- Other coaching tailored to specific mainstage production needs (eg. stage combat, Czech diction, or dance)
- Personal finance and tax seminars
- One-on-one career coaching
- Roundtables, workshops, and other seminars in career development
- Experience preparing, rehearsing and performing roles and understudy roles for mainstage operas (Singers)
- Experience working as music staff on mainstage operas and rehearsing singers for their roles (pianists)
- Mentorship and coaching opportunities with visiting music staff, artists, conductors, and special guests
- Additional public and community performance opportunities (COC Opera For Young Audiences, Free Concert Series, recitals, public events, scene programs, etc.)
- Auditions for artist management and agents or visiting general and artistic directors
- The chance to participate in new work creation workshops and performances
In order to be considered for this program, applicants MUST be Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Citizens of other countries who do not possess either a Canadian passport or permanent resident card are not eligible to apply for the program.
Please note: all of the above information is subject to change without notice.
Photo: Gaetz Photography