The National Arts Centre Gala, Nov. 1, Ottawa
The most famous American soprano, Renée Fleming, graced the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall for the fist time since 2018, on the eve of Nov. 1. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the NAC’s most important annual fundraising gala, a night that has raised since 2001 more than $14-million for the National Youth and Education Trust, which aims to foster the next generation of artistic talent across Canada. Fleming, who was in top form, was joined by the NAC Orchestra, led of course by musical director Alexander Shelley. Their ensuing performance of everything from Bizet to Bernstein, and the gala at large, was dedicated to philanthropists Earle and Janice O’Born in recognition of their longstanding commitment to the NAC as both key benefactors and leaders, with Janice having served as chair of the NAC Foundation board. The gala also marked the fist major gathering for Juniper Locilento, the recently installed CEO of the NAC Foundation, a key role that keeps the work undertaken by the NAC connected to the philanthropically minded from across Canada and beyond. A dinner was given before the performance, with tables of 10 dotted with many such national NAC supporters including Gail Asper, Susan Glass and Arni Thorsteinson of Winnipeg, David and Gail O’Brien and Ann McCaig of Alberta, Alice and Grant Burton of Toronto, and from Vancouver, Anisha Virani and Diane McCurdy, both of whom serve on the NAC Foundation board. Elsewhere in the room were distinguished guests including Isabelle Mondou, deputy minister of Canadian heritage; French ambassador Michel Miraillet; Supreme Court judge Suzanne Côté; as well as Guy Pratte, chair of the NAC Board of Trustees; and of course, there too was NAC president and CEO Christopher Deacon.
The Canadian Opera Company Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition, Oct. 26, Toronto
The previous week, back in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company on the evening of Oct. 26 held the 10th edition of Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition. The gathering is one part fundraiser – with ticket and table sales supporting the COC’s renown career development program ensemble studio – and one part musical competition that sees a handful of talented next generation singers from across Canada vie for cash prizes and an invite for a coveted spot in said ensemble. Soprano Elisabeth St-Gelais of Chicoutimi, Que., took home first prize and the Audience Choice Award for her performance of Vissi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca, while soprano Emily Rocha and bass Duncan Stenhouse took the respective second and third prizes – the seven finalists were selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants and nearly 90 live auditions held across Canada. Following the competition, dinner was given in the Henry N.R. Jackman Lounge. Seated to my right was Julianna Greenspan, a partner at Greenspan Partners and member of the COC board, and to my left was TV presenter Sangita Patel, who was host of the competition. Elsewhere in the room was longtime COC supporter Tony Arrell, chairman and co-founder of Burgundy Asset Management; event co-chairs Kristy Balkwill and Lily Li, who both serve on the COC board; and COC general director Perryn Leech and deputy general director Christie Darville.