LIFESTYLE: Charles Sy Is Canada’s Next Opera Star

Charles Sy became a star on the evening of November 25, 2014. That night, the Canadian Opera Company (COC) presented Centre Stage, an Ensemble Studio Competition Gala affectionately referred to as “Opera Idol.”
Sy walked away with First Prize ($5,000) as well as the Audience Choice Award ($1,500) after performing two arias –“Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” (from Die Zauberflöte) and “Una furtiva lagrima” (L’elisir d’amore).
His voice was both powerful and sensual, a perfect pairing with the amazing COC orchestra, expertly led by conductor Johannes Debus. Uproarious applause and shouts of “Brava!” accompanied the end of his performance. At that moment, it seemed, Sy was a shoo-in as the audience favourite.
Dimitri Katotakis took the Second Prize ($3,000) after performing “Hai gia vinta la causa…Vedrò mentr’io sosprio” (Le nozze di Figaro) and “Mab, la reine des mensonges” (Roméo et Juliette). Aaron Sheppard completed the trifecta of male talent by claiming Third Place ($1,500). He performed “Vainement, ma bien aimée” (Le roi d’Ys) and “Un’aura amorosa” (Così fan tutte).
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It was an evening of splendour and romance – as the lights dimmed to start the show, I spotted a woman in the balcony reaching over to squeeze her partner’s hand. The seven finalists – narrowed down from a pool of 175 young opera hopefuls – shone among the starry background and lanterns illuminating the stage at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, along with the baubles and sparkly dresses donned by the female contestants.
Mozart was definitely in the house that night, as each of the seven finalists sang a Mozart composition.  Canadian tenor Ben Heppner pulled the evening together, hosting with charm and humour.
Before the finalists performed, the audience was shown a video compilation of the auditions in four cities – Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and New York City. Peppered with comedic moments – such as when one performer was asked if she felt relief after her audition was over and her response was: “Ummmmm….No.” – it allowed us to catch a glimpse of what it’s been like for these finalists. The excitement, the wonder, the fear, the nerves.
The nerves never did show through in any of the performances. Though all seven performed well, the men definitely stole the show, as evidenced by who was awarded the three prizes.
That is, until the surprise guest came onstage.
“And that’s how you do it!” Heppner declared as Adrianne Pieczonka, Canadian opera soprano royalty, finished her third piece. Pieczonka’s performance was like looking into the future – what the finalists could achieve after a few years spent training in the Ensemble Studio.
Those finalists who are also granted a place in the Ensemble Studio will be announced by the COC at a later date.
Check out the COC’s website for future performances, and remember to check out the under-30 tickets priced at $22 (or best available seats at $35) if you’re lucky to fit that criteria.
– Kaitlin Bardswich
Photos Courtesy of Jenna Marie Wakani

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