It’s about mid-morning in Riverdale, when a voice rings out through the neighbourhood.
Rihab Chaieb, a mezzo-soprano with the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, warms up her voice in the shower before heading off to rehearsals for the young artist production of Mozart’s La Clamenza di Tito.
The show is the fourth Ensemble Studio production, and takes place at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 6. Tickets are at a reduced price of $25 for the night.
The Ensemble Studio is an apprenticeship program that gives young artists the opportunity to participate in the COC’s bigger onstage productions. Artists stay in the program for two or three years before moving into their independent professional careers.
“It’s a cool thing to kind of step on the stage, full chorus, full orchestra in the house. It’s a wonderful thing that the company does.”
“Toronto is a very open-minded city. They’re waiting for us to touch them,” said Chaieb.
The young Montreal native, formerly the lead singer in a high school metal band, plays the ‘pants’ role (i.e., theatre term for a woman playing a male role) of young Sesto. She moved to Toronto three years ago after gaining a spot in the ensemble.
“Luckily my landlords are opera fans and they have a membership at the opera so when I told them I was a member of the Ensemble Studio they were really happy,” said Chaieb. Her landlords told her the house across the street from hers was late Canadian Opera Singer Maureen Forrester’s house.
Historically played by castratos, she plays a young man who is torn between keeping the woman he loves, and the betrayal of his best friend, Roman emperor Tito.
“It’s very intense and it’s very disturbing role in character,” said Chaieb. “I was so happy when I knew I was going to do it because vocally it’s a beautiful challenge.”
Christopher Enns is in his third and final year of the Ensemble Studio, and takes the lead in this performance as Tito who advocates a more enlightened rule over Rome.
“What the COC does, there aren’t a lot of young artist programs that allow their young artists one show to sing on the stage,” said Enns. “It’s a really great opportunity for us, and it’s one that I can say that we’re all very thankful for.”
Enns moved into the Beach neighbourhood after studying opera at the University of Toronto, and getting into the Ensemble Studio.
He noted the audience for the Ensemble’s annual performance is usually a younger crowd due to the lowered ticket prices.
“You just kind of come out and the energy is really great,” said Enns. “Toronto audiences are really great. They really have a hunger for new things.”
Neil Craig, who plays the part of Publio in the production, said “It’s great, we have a great group this year, everyone is very collegial, everyone is really supportive of each other.”
Craig, who lives in the Beach neighbourhood, is in his fourth year with the Ensemble Studio. He’s enjoying the strong military character that he plays as Tito’s right-hand man.
“We come in and we listen to each other, we encourage each other, and you know it’s a great environment to grow in.”