Arts

Rising opera star Charlotte Siegel is a destined diva

Siegel, the Canadian Opera Company’s new star soprano, workshopped her own songs at small shows in Toronto, with plans to go pop. If she’s honest, it was always going to be opera.
Courtney Shea
Saty+Pratha_Charlotte Siegel 0048

The first musical Charlotte Siegel ever saw was a dress rehearsal of The Phantom of the Opera at Toronto’s Pantages Theatre (a family friend hooked her up). Siegel, then four, remembers running to the foot of the stage during the famous chandelier scene. “My sister was crying and hiding under her seat,” Siegel says. “I was totally obsessed.”

Siegel’s mom, Pearl, enrolled her at the Regent Park School of Music—now Community Music Schools of Toronto—which provides geared-to-income music lessons. When her voice teacher heard nine-year-old Siegel’s confident delivery of “Fly Me To the Moon,” she suggested private lessons. By high school, Siegel was recording her own songs: alt anthems in the vein of Florence + the Machine. Charlotte had pop star–sized ambitions, but Pearl, like many hard-working single parents, envisioned a university degree.

As a compromise, in 2013, Siegel auditioned for the University of Toronto’s super-competitive voice studies program and landed one of 12 coveted spots. By day, she rehearsed arias. By night, she was playing fast and loose with her instrument at local shows. One of her U of T instructors told Siegel she’d eventually have to pick a lane. They convinced her to do a study-abroad stint in Germany—after that, the choice was easy. In Munich, Siegel soaked up centuries of culture in the form of museums and music. “I remember one performance of La Traviata that got a half-hour standing ovation—for opera,” she says.

Back in Canada, Siegel auditioned for the Canadian Opera Company’s ensemble studio, an incubator for future stars. She didn’t make the cut and, instead, devoted her newfound time off to giving back. In 2020, Siegel co-founded the Marigold Music Program, a Black-led non-profit that provides musical education to marginalized kids via an annual camp and year-round mentorship program. “I’m very aware that without my mom, and without the community programs I started out in, I would not be where I am,” says Siegel.

In 2021, Siegel auditioned once again for the COC via Zoom. The pandemic had given her time to recover from a jaw injured from practice. Her voice, more robust with age and all that technical work, sealed the deal. In the spring of 2022, Siegel made her company debut in Fantasma, an original piece by the COC’s former composer-in-residence Ian Cusson. And this month, she plays Musetta in the COC’s staging of La Bohème, the 1896 Puccini classic that provided the source material for Siegel’s favourite musical, Rent. “It’s funny—I’ve always seen myself as more of a Mimì,” she says, referencing Puccini’s doomed damsel. “Musetta is brash, bold, unafraid. She feels right for me now.”

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PROSPECT POP QUIZ

Celebrity doppelgänger: “People say I look like Jordin Sparks—and she can sing!”
Late-night snack: A soft chocolate-chip cookie
Favourite classical score: “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” by Samuel Barber
Essential app: ForScore, a digital sheet-music reader. “I need it for work.”
Stage-fright cures: Preparation, soca and Céline Dion

Tags:Culture