It has been almost a week since the Canadian Opera Company hosted the Centre Stage Gala and the Ensemble Studio Competition. We took this opportunity to speak with finalist Chelsea Rus to discover how she lived through this once-in-a-lifetime experience and just how much she believes this competition will impact her life. A graduate of McGill University, Chelsea is currently part of the Atelier lyrique, an artist-in-residence program offered by the Opera de Montreal. #514rep
How did you react when you learned that you were a finalist of the Ensemble Studio Competition?
I was thrilled! When I got the phone-call, I was somewhere between tears and happy dance. I knew how important this opportunity was, and I was ready to get to work on my repertoire... but first I called my family to share the great news.
What did it mean to you to participate in this competition?
It was an incredible honour to be a part of such a prestigious competition, with a world class opera company, hall, and orchestra. Moreover, it was overwhelming to be among a group of such fine young talent. It did not take long to realize that each finalist has everything it takes to begin a prosperous career in opera. Much more than a notch on my resume, this competition was bound to be a place where I would strive to go beyond the limits of comfort, and learn something about myself as an artist!
How did you prepare for your performance on the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts stage?
I had several musical/dramatic coachings and voice lessons before I left for Toronto. I developed a routine that involved writing out my text every day, and making a daily list of manageable musical or dramatic goals. I tried very hard not to over sing, and instead use quiet, focused study to make small adjustments. In the last few days, I was only singing 2 hours a day which was ideal to stay healthy mentally and physically... and also to force myself to practice efficiently.
Pro tip: I made an effort to smile and laugh a LOT while doing all of this which helped me remember the joy in every step of music making!
Can you walk us through your few days in Toronto prior to your performance?
I was in Toronto for 6 days total. On our first day, we were treated to a shopping trip to The Bay and fitted with our choice of gown or tux for the final gala. Not only was this a very surreal and luxurious way to start the 6 day journey, it was also an extremely fun way to get to know everyone! My first two evenings in Toronto, I saw both of the operas that were happening at the COC, Elixir of Love and Arabella. I left the hall both nights inspired and beaming! During the day, we typically had two coachings or meetings per day with head of the young artist program, Liz Upchurch, resident voice teacher, Wendy Nielsen, Maestro Debus or General Director Alexander Neef. It was not an overwhelming schedule by any means, I actually felt very rested! I also had plenty of time to do my own study, go to the gym, swim, and have dinner dates with some friends from Toronto.
What was the highlight of the competition for you?
Hands down the highlight of the competition was performing in the gala. There was a wonderful energy coming from the audience and I could not wait for my turn to sing. Also, every time I sang with the orchestra and Maestro Debus, I felt that I was singing with so much ease and that a wonderful energy was running through me. It was an unforgettable feeling that I will continue to strive to find!
Can you describe your relationship with the other finalists? Did you learn something from them?
I had six wonderful friends with me during my time with the Canadian Opera Company. Not only was there an air of respect and admiration coming from everyone, we would often be backstage while someone else was singing with orchestra listening intently and cheering them on with genuine enthusiasm. If someone sang a glorious high note or a gorgeous phrase, a slew of high fives from the group would follow, or simple "woahhhh, did you hear that? He/she is killing it!!". We even had a group chat on Facebook called "the Real housewives of Centre stage" where we would organize walking to the rehearsal hall together, or grabbing dinner ect. It was all a huge laugh! Basically, it an incredible lesson in the fact that yes we were competing, but in a way we all knew that at the level we were at we had all won in a way. I know this to be a rare thing in a competitive setting, but thats honestly what made this experience so enjoyable.
How do you think this experience will impact your professional career?
This competition has set my sights very high for the level of music making I wish to make. Not only was I inspired by every single one of my colleagues, I was inspired by the performances that I saw at the Canadian Opera Company, and the level of support and love that exists for Opera. Having been a part of something so important, I feel a thirst to ask more of myself as an artist and musician so that I may continue on the path of being a part of a world that I am so deeply in love with.