Elisabeth St-Gelais Wins First Prize at COC’s 10th Ensemble Studio Competition

By Chris Ruel

The Canadian Opera Company’s (COC) 10th annual Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition took place on Oct. 26, 2023, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Soprano Elisabeth St-Gelais from Chicoutimi, QC, sang “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s “Tosca.” She won the First Prize of $7,500 and the Audience Choice Award of $1,000. St-Gelais was named Radio-Canada’s 2023/2024 classical breakout artist and is an Innu nation member from Pessamit. She recently earned a master’s from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music. St-Gelais made her European debut playing Rosalinde in “Die Fledermaus” at the Berlin Opera Academy. Last year, she also won the Wirth Vocal Prize at McGill and was listed among CBC’s “30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30.” Sharing her Innu culture is important to her as an artist.

Emily Rocha of Courtice, ON, sang “Caro nome” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and won the Second Prize of $5,000. Rocha finished her studies at U of T Opera and will perform with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra next year.

Bass Duncan Stenhouse from Calgary, also a composer, sang “The Song of the Varangian Guest/A skaly groznyje” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sadko” and received the Third Prize of $2,500. Stenhouse is a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

The event was available online, allowing people to watch the singers and vote for the Audience Choice Award.

COC General Director Perryn Leech said in an official press release that “All of tonight’s finalists should be exceptionally proud of where their dedication and hard work has gotten them to date–and where I know their talents will lead them, moving forward. It has been a thrilling night in the opera house and I’m delighted that we were once again, through livestreaming, able to share this night with audiences all over the world. “I know that Canada joins me in celebrating our winners and finalists and I can assure you will be hearing from these amazing artists soon.”

Adjudicating the competition were Perryn Leech and Roberto Mauro from the COC, singer Adrianne Pieczonka, conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, and Thom Allison, who works as an actor and director.